This is going to sound like farce, but ever since I suffered a concussion last summer, I’ve been hearing a live studio audience around me 24/7. The doctors reassured me they were merely auditory hallucinations brought on by the bump to my noggin, and that they’d eventually go away on their own once my brain healed. It was actually kind of funny at first. I mean, once I got over the initial shock and fear of hearing the unsolicited reactions of a bunch of strangers. They started off more entertaining than disturbing, but that balance eventually shifted, and I’m afraid of them now.
The very first time it happened was the day I was discharged from the hospital. It was a beautiful August day, and I was psyched to finally go out in the warm sun. Eric, my boyfriend, picked me up from the hospital to take me back to our apartment. I was in high spirits, despite a persistent headache, which had followed me since the bike accident. (Kids, wear your helmets!) Eric made a joke, and suddenly, a flurry of hysterical laughter came flooding in from every corner of the car. I screamed at Eric to turn off his surround sound system, covering my ears to drown out the noise, but the laugher only got louder. I could tell by the freaked-out look in Eric’s eyes that he hadn’t been playing a practical joke on me. Once the chuckles subsided, I explained what happened. Eric turned the car around and drove me straight back to the medical facility.
A brain scan, a few blood tests, and countless hours later, the doctors assured me it was a harmless side-effect of the concussion, and not a case of sudden onset schizophrenia, as I had feared. It was perfectly normal. Well, as normal as hearing a room full of easily-entertained spectators could be. They told me to go home and rest.
It took me a few days to adjust to the auditory hallucinations, but I eventually started to see the humor in my predicament. Meetings at work were a lot more entertaining, what with the peanut gallery projecting annoyed groans whenever my boss slipped into a boring tangent. I didn’t even have to secretly roll my eyes: the voices in my head were the perfect vessel through which I could express my innermost feelings without getting in trouble. At home, my captive audience laughed at each of my jokes, even when Eric failed to react to the punch line. When I went to bed, they’d “Awwww” as I wrapped my arms around Eric, and again when my cat curled up between us for warmth. The voices even became a sort of early-detection system, warning me of unseen dangers through a series of suspenseful gasps.
It started going downhill about two months ago, when I was taking a shower alone in my apartment. Eric was out of town that night, and I had this lingering fear that I’d forgotten to lock the front door. As I was pouring conditioner into the palm of my hand, I heard the studio audience gasp in fear. It startled me enough that I spilled the coconut-scented beauty product near my feet. My spectators continued to breathe in in a stressed manner that suggested I was about to get attacked by a psycho-murdering home invader. I could feel myself tensing up, as I stood there naked and unprotected. Thinking I heard footsteps, I took a step back, and slipped on the small puddle of conditioner. I remember feeling my feet flying towards the air while my upper-body swung towards the floor. With a sharp pain to the side of the head, everything went black. By the time I came to, the water was running cold. I called my dad, and he brought me to the hospital. I was rewarded with 9 stitches to the temple.
It’s amazing what peer pressure can make you do, even when your peers don’t actually exist. In a matter of weeks, my captive audience managed to completely disrupt my life. After the shower incident, it was as though they were no longer on my side. One morning, I was crossing the street when I heard them gasp. I stopped, thinking a car was heading my way. Fortunately, the street was empty. Unfortunately, my rapid stop caused me to slip on the ice and break my wrist. They laughed. Several days later, I had an important marketing presentation at work. The studio audience kept making disapproving noises, sometimes even booing me mid-presentation. It got me so tongue-tied that I messed up the whole sales pitch.
The worst was what they did to my relationship with Eric. Whenever we fought, they conveyed to me through “Urrrgh!”s and “Pffftt!”s that Eric was a complete scumbag. I’m not even sure what our last fight was about. I think it started with asking him to close the laundry room door. It was such an insignificant little fight, but made worse by the advice and reactions of a bunch of imaginary strangers. They made me doubt my feelings for him, until I finally cut him loose, much to their delight.
My relationships with my parents and friends devolved in a similar manner. It was shocking for me to hear what my subconscious mind actually thought about the people that had surrounded me all my life. After a few more incidents at work, my boss fired me. I was left without loved ones, friends, or a job. I felt so isolated, despite being accompanied at all times by the voices in my head. Alone in my living room, I drunk-dialed my ex, and he came over to cheer me up. We got back together that night, and it was wonderful.
Everything went back to normal after Eric and I rekindled our flame. I still heard the constant and distracting laugh track, but I tried my hardest to ignore them. I was happy again, and slowly but surely, I mended every bond I’d broken. I even got my old job back. Apparently, my boss couldn’t handle the workload without me. Or so I’ve been told. For a while, all was right with the world, until one dreadful night.
I was half-asleep when I heard a knock at the door. I peeked through the window, only to find a squad car in the driveway. My heart stopped, and my faithful audience “OOOOOO”ed. I opened the door, but of all the things those cops told me, all I remember hearing was this:
“I’m sorry ma’am…. There’s been an accident.”
The studio audience roared with laughter and applause. Eric had died. My heart broke, but my spectators continued chuckling wildly. When Eric’s casket was lowered into his grave, they laughed even harder. Tears streamed down the sides of my face, but they did not stop giggling and snickering the whole time.
I must be some kind of sick monster, because I can’t keep them from laughing whenever I think of him. I just can’t get them to stop.