Lull

hey ash! your deaf and sound-related posts are really interesting! i wanted to ask, do you think being deaf is a bad thing? do you prefer to be hearing?

——

Six months after having a surgery that allowed me to experience sound for the first time, my newfound hearing failed.

We were driving up into the mountains to see the leaves turn along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was mid-October and the trees lining the roads were aflame with color, wearing hats of red and yellow and blazing pumpkin-sear orange.  I was trying to watch them because they were pretty, so pretty, but my head hurt—had been hurting since the highway’s first incline—and one side of my face was uncomfortably hot.  As we approached a tunnel, my brother dug his elbow into my hip and told me to hold my breath.  Puffing out his cheeks, he said, “You’ll get a wish if you make it to the other side.”

I sucked in a huge gulp of air.  The tunnel swallowed us—faint specks of light stippled over the windshield and in the distance the maw of the exit was a fuzzy lemon circle.  There was a faint twinge behind my eye:  next, a wet rush of warmth down my jaw, my throat, my shoulder.  The last sound I heard was my brother letting out his breath before mine in a slow, shivering sigh.

I forgot to wish.

——

Imagine waves on a beach.

One crashes down into the sand with a great surging ssssshbooom-hiss-shaaaa.  When it runs back into the ocean, there is long, sweeping, stretching moment of something before the next wave:  a pause.  A quivery, reluctant kind of quiet.  A lull.

My hearing was like that for a long time.  Waves.  Lulls. 

Changes in pressure took away sound.  Often brought on by things as simple as going up to the top of a building on an elevator, by diving into the deep end of a pool, by driving across the city, there were sprawls of silence that lasted months at a time.  I learned words, syllables, tones one week:  found them muted the next.  Over and over again I forgot and was forced to relearn the concept of volume.  In the midst of a crowd, once, my mother and I were separated, and I was unable to recognize—to distinguish, to know—the sound of her voice amongst the others.

Other kids at school made fun of me. 

Anon, hey, I want to say I never thought being deaf was a bad thing, because being deaf period—regardless of what I think—is never a bad thing.  But aside from the interpreter I was finally assigned in primary school, I had almost no one to talk to when my hearing was gone:  no support.  No community.  No conversation.  Ignorance is a profoundly terrible affliction, and nearly everyone—my parents, my teachers, my peers—seemed to think I was defective when my ears weren’t working.  They acted as though my deafness was a barrier between us, impenetrable, too high to scale:  they acted as though it was a wall that kept us from speaking, and I hated every brick of it with an incredible passion.

Hated.  Hated.  I hated being deaf.  I thought it was horrible.  I thought it meant there was something wrong with me.

But anon, waves fall.  Lulls never last.  And walls, you know—they crumble.

Ironically enough, all it usually takes is a little pressure.

——

“How do you say my name?”

My family moved to a different city.  There was a new house, a new room:  a new school and new faces.  I was in second grade, and a girl sat down next to me on the bench at recess, her eyes fixed on me expectantly.  They were blue—her eyes, I mean.  She had pigtails.  Driving a finger into the meat of my thigh, she repeated, “How do you say my name?”

“…Candace?” I offered.

“No!”  A scowl erupted over her face.   “I mean,” she insisted, “in sign language.  Mrs. Adams said you can’t hear sometimes—”

“Just sometimes,” I hurried to defend.

“—and you do sign language,” she finished, unfazed.  “So how do you say it?  Show me.”

Gingerly I did.  She mimicked my motions, clumsy at first but faster soon.  She was the first hearing person outside my family who had ever tried to talk to me for fun, and on that bench I taught her not just her name, but cat and dog and horse—“Horses are my favorite,” she confessed, so I showed her gallop too—and Ash, the last one shy.  As she was working on it, another kid ran up and yanked maliciously at one of her pigtails.

“Thomas, you PEABRAIN!” she screamed after him.  Whirling immediately to me, she demanded, “Ash!”  As she yelled my name her fingers crafted it perfectly—match-pow-ssshk!—and she seethed, “Ash, how do you sign peabrain?”

Smiling, I showed her that too.

A month or so later, winter rolled away and my hearing went with it.  I walked into school depressed, and when Candace came rushing up to me in the coat closet, her mouth moving animatedly but her voice lost to me, taken, gone, I turned away from her and started to cry.

She yanked me back around again, lips forming the words ash whoa ash what’s wrong.  Lifting my hands, I pressed them over my ears, shook my head:  dropped them and looked at her miserably.  My nose was running, a faucet.

She stared at me.  Then she grinned, shrugged—pointed at me.  Pinching her thumb and forefinger together next, she touched them to the freckle just above her eyebrow, pulled them away, gave them a shimmy, and dropped them back to the freckle again.  Finally she signed my name.

Her sentiment was clear.

Ash, you’re a peabrain.

——

My hearing is still intermittent.  No longer do I fear its lulls, though, because I know now that I am the same person whether hearing or not, and being deaf does not mean being defective.

Being deaf is simply being Ash.

(And sometimes a peabrain too.)