I don’t know how different each person’s threshold is, but for me, at a certain volume, I am unable to focus on any one sound. They all become one roiling mass, a storm of noises that have lost all their identity or point. This happens a lot at parties, standing around a group of people in the kitchen, hearing them, and the people in the living room, and the beer pong going on outside, and yet also hearing none of them, all at the same time. So, the mind wanders away from the present. One person in the group becomes the focus. At some point, they were just a stranger in the room. I didn’t know them at all except as someone I was attracted to physically. Now, this is a person that I know, and they’re telling a story that maybe I heard before, but I can’t tell, because I can only focus on one or two words at a time before the other combating sounds take over.
Often, the results of this inability to discern noises are embarrassment, or taking leave of a group of people when the pins in the brain are too much to take. Sometimes, that embarrassment goes a little bit like this: in a busy café, I was hiding behind headphones to create a little pocket of sound to overpower the swelling waves. However, getting up to leave, I take the earbuds out, and a crash of voices moves in all at the same time. Two dozen conversations overlap, none of them directed at me. As I move toward the trash can, one of the people is saying something like “no, it’s empty.” Only after I drop my trash in the bin and hear the metallic clank, however, do I realize the person saying “it’s empty” was looking directly at me.
I make a quick, useless attempt to grab the contents, but they have fallen far past arm’s reach. The person just sighs, rolls their eyes, then says (louder than the original warning) “just leave it. We’ll get it.” So, I slink outside, where the sound of the cars rushing by is deafening and makes most other thought impossible.