As a young kid, I had the usual childhood fears—of the dark, of weird sounds at night, of dying, of the deep unknown, and so on. Recalling those years, I got rid of many of these fears by age 10. By the time I was 17 (and freed from Marcos jails), I was truly and literally fearless—except for an irrational phobia or two that took me many years to fully defeat.
Recalling these stuff leads me to reflect on how I was able to overcome many of my childhood fears and even a few hardcore fears of my later years. It was certainly a complex tangle of situations and encounters, worthy of a book to be edited by a psychiatrist no less. But since it’s now past midnight going into a nice Sunday and I’m enjoying Neil Young’s “Rust Never Sleeps” album on my lonesome own, I’ll be content to inspect just one persistent pattern: memories of sounds that carried the message, “Fear not, everything’s alright.”
Yes, that’s my secret weapon, my secret shield, my armor of sounds—acquired since childhood and nurtured into adulthood with the help of family, comrades and friends. For this good fortune, I guess one way to thank the cosmic spirits is to share my 11 most reassuring sounds. Here they are:
My parents softly talking in the bedroom while I lulled myself to sleep. When I was a very young child, my parents would allow me to sleep between them (perhaps because of my many fears). Often I would wake up in the middle of the night and listen to them chatting with each other—not really whispering but talking in a soft voice. I don’t recall about what, maybe it was about work or business or some family concern—I didn’t care at all. It was a huge comfort just to listen to the gentle sound of their voices, like snuggling into a soft and fluffy pillow on a rainy night. Which brings me to…
The patter of rain on the roof. I know, I know. Many Filipinos traumatized by killer storms like Ondoy, or Pepeng, or Pablo will probably object to this, because rain battering their roofs or even the steady overnight pitter-patter of monsoon rains can trigger their terrors anew. I’ve been victimized by killer storms too, but perhaps my trauma threshold for rain is much higher. In fact, I enjoy rain. I’m mesmerized by it. I want to drench myself in it. Just the sound of it induces me to sleep. As Joey Ayala said so poetically in his “Ulan sa Siyudad” song: Ang bawat patak ng ulan sa syudad ay patak ng payapa sa bubong ng isipan.
Sounds of a fast-flowing river, or the surf hitting the beach. I think this is related to my fond memories of the sound of rain. Our Quezon City home was just a stone’s throw away (literally) from the Diliman creek, which quickly swells during strong rains. When we were kids, this creek was dammed to create a wide boating pool near Bernardo Park. The roar of water falling across the dam echoed in our neighborhood throughout the night. I must have associated this sound with that of monsoon rains that lasted for days and days and had a calming effect on me. Come to think of it: an inordinate number of places where I stayed were also near rivers or fast-flowing creeks that imparted the same sense of reassurance. A similar sound with the same effect on me is that of the surging surf, slapping and smashing onto a rocky beach on a quiet night. This bunch of sound memories deserves its own blog for later.
The sounds of frogs, crickets and cicadas. This is a bit funny, because when I was a young child, the millions of frogs croaking in unison all along the swampy ponds of Guisad Valley terrified me at night. Ok, maybe “millions” is a hyperbole. But my parents, again, had to repeatedly assure me at bedside that the frogs were friends. I must have been convinced, because later I always looked forward to their nightly monsoon celebrations. It was easy to associate them with my other favorite night sounds. The rasping crickets and the awesome cicada army, on the other hand, had other memory associations for me. Just the same, they were also soothing concertos that one could almost put to sheet music.
Soughing wind through a pine grove. When wind blows through trees with thick foliage, their rustling leaves produce a sound that’s technically called “soughing.” Take note, however, that pine trees create a distinct soughing voice. That’s because pine trees don’t have blade-shaped leaves but needles in thick bunches. In their zillions, they produce a unique soughing sound, almost like a crowd of humanity sighing in unison. Camped on the slopes of a pine forest on a full moon’s night, one could actually imagine a wailing chorus of banshee women that makes one’s hair stand on end. Ah, but once you get used to it, you will miss its absence. Take it from me.
The early-dawn sound of trucks, buses, and train in the distance. Because of Benguet’s mountainous terrain, a loud continuous sound like the clangor of trucks and buses may reverberate and travel farther in the quiet night. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and there would be absolutely no sound except that tiny distant hum of a truck negotiating the zigzag roads, its pitch shifting up and down as it changed gears and picked up speed. I can’t explain why, but this microscopic sound tinkles in my ears like a Zen bell.
Here, in another city, living just a block away from EDSA, the 24/7 buzz of honking buses and trucks along the avenue that never sleeps, like a paradox, actually lulls me to sleep. But now, more than anything else, it’s the distinct whoosh of the first trains at dawn that tell me everything’s alright with the world of MRT.
Oh, I can also tell you about my stay with an urban poor family, right beside the rail tracks in Sampaloc district. The overnight train to La Union rumbled just a couple of meters away, several times each night, shaking all posts of our rickety shack regularly like clockwork. Believe me when I say that after a month’s stay, the jolting rumble became a soothing massage, er, message that told my mind the world was still turning.
The crowing of roosters and chirping of birds. Dawn. The sleepy winks of first light filters through the windows. Strange trills on the manga and allokon trees tell me migratory birds have taken over the territory. A neighbor’s roosters crow, but it’s still an hour before daylight. They tell me I can steal a 30-minute snooze. Paradise regained on earth. Enough said.
The pealing of cathedral bells and the UP Carillon. This has nothing to do with my religion (or lack of it). From childhood onwards, the pealing of cathedral bells and the UP Carillon—especially at dawn—always resonated with me. The wind that carried their music for miles also lifted me up, or so I imagined. I always did have a wild imagination. That’s it, no need for further explanation. If the thought resonates with you, then good. Deep down inside, I think, we are all bells waiting for the right time to peal.
Midnight radio music and talk, morning news. This isn’t a childhood legacy. It’s more of a habit that was formed in high school and became a full-blown addiction during my young activist years. My obsessive attachment to radio, especially to night music and talk all the way to morning news, has a very long and complex history that’s best told in a separate blog piece. There were some years when I forgot my obsession, other years when it tapered off into a casual FM-Lite listening habit, and still other years when it served as a hardcore security blanket, the constant remedy for my insomnia, the soporific syringe that eased my nightmares and drowned the inner voices. Recalling it now, I did write a blog piece that exposed this object of my affections. Sshh. Be quiet now, voice, and let me change the subject.
Balut at night, ‘potpot’ puto at dawn, taho in the morning. In my childhood years, street food came direct to our doorsteps in the Chinese style of ambulant peddling. At night it was the ubiquitous “Baluuuut!” calls of a peddler selling boiled duck embryo wrapped in cloth inside a bamboo basket. At dawn, it was a pandesal peddler sounding off his ancient bicycle horn (“Potpot! Potpot!”). With the proliferation of neighborhood bakeries, however, the pandesal guy has been replaced by potpot peddlers of puto, bibingka, and other kakanin from nearby provinces. The whole morning we would wait for the “Tahooo!” of the guy selling soybean custard in shiny metallic drums. This was inevitably followed in hot afternoons by the tinkling bells of the gaudily painted sorbetes cart.
The Marcos regime created dark undertones when its intelligence agencies adopted the practice of deploying surveillance agents dressed as ambulant peddlers, to spread through urban streets and observe and report on any suspicious person or movement in the vicinity. But that didn’t ruin these innocent childhood memories for me. Somehow, I can still distinguish a surveillance agent’s manicured hands and shifty eyes from that of a real peddler’s easy manners, genuine smile, and practiced cry of “Tahooo!”
Boisterous children reciting loudly in class, playing in the schoolyard. I’m not sure how and when this kind of campus cacophony grew on me until it was almost a musical delight. As a young student, I was indifferent to or annoyed by rambunctious school kids. So, whether in class, along the corridors, on the school grounds, even on field trips, I usually stayed in the margins as a peripheral observer. (Later, as an activist, I was of course into other kinds of youthful cacophony in the campuses, streets and plazas, but that’s another story.)
I think the big epiphany came when I started to raise my own children. Bringing and fetching them to and from school gave me time to contemplate the changing seasons of our lives. As I sat there regularly on a park bench, waiting for my kid to come out and meanwhile listening to the same cacophony as my own school generation produced, I began to enjoy the ambience. It’s a sweet symphony of noise sorely missed.
There you go. A glimpse into the sounds that play gently in my dreams, like little boys playing in the rain. # Follow @junverzola