What Do You See

February 9, 2017
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“Your voice is really pretty,” I would say.
“Thank you!” Was the general response.

Unfortunately, this meant nothing to me. They didn’t understand. I doubted I would find someone who ever does.

When I was born, I would reach out and grab things that weren’t there whenever people cooed at me or whispered something. It was thought to be a normal reaction because of course every child did that. What they didn’t know is that I saw their voices. I saw lines and bars of colours that would run across my eyesight. Higher toned sounds would run thin and closer to the ceiling, and lower sounds were thick stripes that crossed the floors. At six years old I would raid my parents’ vinyl collection to see the colours that made me happier, these included blues, yellows, and the occasional green or purple.

I have synesthesia, a mental condition that no one knows the source of and is different for everyone. Synesthesia is a condition where the stimulation of one sense triggers an involuntary and automatic response in another. Some people see the months as cars on a ferris wheel, and some people think the letter ‘G’ is a powder blue. For me, numbers have personalities (seven is in love with eight but she has a thing for nine), sounds produces colours, and smells make sounds. Oranges smell like trumpets and the entire citrus family sounds like a fanfare. The sound of rain hitting a window creates tiny spots of a cloudy pink that drop into my vision like ink into water before fading away.

It is suspected that Vincent Van Gogh was a synesthete. He ate yellow paint because he thought it would make him happy. He believed that the lines produced by the shaking hand of Daumier sounded like a violin, whereas the steady drawings of Karl Bodmer sounded like a piano. I often wonder if he understood what he was seeing. If someone else understood what he was seeing.

I wonder if I would have understood what he was seeing.

Art has been the only way for me to show people what I see. When I’m angry I can cover large canvases in stripes and circles of colours made by mixing oranges and reds and blacks and greens. People will look at the finished product and somehow know how I felt when I made it.

Why can’t you see that all the time? I would think. Why is this the only way you understand?

Sometimes I think back to the first time I told someone they had a beautiful voice. It was a girl with brown hair and freckles that bridged her nose and green eyes and a voice that looked like coffee with one too many creams. She didn’t understand, and I was too scared to explain. I rarely tell people what their voice looks like since then, because I’m afraid of them not understanding.

If there was one thing I could change, it wouldn’t be my condition, it would be the human condition. I would want people to understand, or at least try to. They would welcome this New Me with open arms, even though there is no New Me, it’s been the Old Me the entire time pretending to be a Different Me. People have this idea that if they have already formed a concept of others, that can never change. People are forced to stick to the path others have crafted for them, and if they stray, who even are they anymore? No one knows them.

Even with all my differences, I want to change the way people see others in general. Synesthesia is just one thing that challenges the ideals of the world and the societal norms, and there are hundreds of illnesses and conditions, mental and physical. Everyone is different, yet comprehending that difference is one of the most difficult things for some people. People should want to understand. I know I want to.

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