I remember the day my hearing impairment was first diagnosed. First grade.
The hearing test. High-pitched tones.
Then silence. As absence. My internal metronome. Clicking out an intuition. That I was missing something. That something was missing in me.
I remember when the call came home. My mother on the phone. The feeling. As I listened from the other room. The dull excitement of having been discovered.
The heightened attentive quality to my mother’s voice. The slight urgency. Something a little bit scary. Slightly foreboding. Foreboding. As sounds, when I listened, always were. And always would be.
I remember having my hearing tested more thoroughly. New York City. The large room. Small me. Sitting in front of a machine. Oversized headphones. Adults behind glass. Watching me discreetly. Me. Obedient. Following their instructions. Tapping my response to sound. Sitting through the silence. All that I was missing.
I remember falling in love with the song of the cardinal. I young. Alone. In our small family room with the large picture window. My heart soared. And broke. From the beauty of it. It sang the color red. And light glistening through leaves.
I remember my guitar. Against my six-year old body. The resonance of wood. Air in my small lungs. My heart pulled with each string. No thing between it and me. Calm, joyful glow.
And when I grew older, I sent myself on journeys. Flung myself all around the world. First to France. Where sounds had no correlating meaning. And I would have to adapt. To the blurred sound of Parisian French. My mind’s desperate pursuit. Of the foreign sounds of my new home. The loneliness in failure.
And then to Japan. To the sharp inflexion of the language. The sweet surrender to each consonant-vowel combination. The relief. The exhilaration.
And years later. To Mexico. A house under construction. The unrelenting assault on my nervous system. The constant fight or flight response. The panic attacks. When the jackhammers powered up, pounding all around me. Stabbing at my skull.
The fight to halt the sounds. And then the flight. Running. On the beach. Into the jungle. To my secret enclave. Where birdsong. The surf. And wind-clattered palms. Sent sounds as emotion. From sources unseen. Soothing me. Shielding me. From the relentless attack. Of my own tattered well-meaning brain.
And then came the day. Christmas. When I got a glimpse. Of what it could mean. To just be. Without the low-frequency buzz. The chemical cocktail. The lone wolf in the woods.
Twelve of us were gathered around the kitchen table. For the noisy game of spoons. Adults. Teens. Kids. Screeching. Banging. Pushing.
I was in the middle.
My brother-in-law had told me earlier that he had just gotten a hearing aid. In his left ear. The same ear as my faulty one. My interest piqued. My vanity placated. It was nearly undetectable. He pulled the hearing aid out of his ear and handed it to me. Right in the middle of the game. “Try it.”
I hesitated. Then placed it in my ear. Looked at him. Startled.
I looked around bewildered. Time suspended. Tears flowing freely. Half the room, suddenly lit. Where I had never noticed the dark. Where I had never known anything else. A bright glow.
After a moment, I took a deep breath, removed the hearing aid and handed it back to Greg. And as suddenly as it had lifted, the dark returned. And the low hum of anxiety. In the small flicker of absence, I suddenly saw its face. The silent buzzing. My lifelong companion.
Words flew. Jostling me.
My mother, overwhelmed with emotion. “Honey, we are going to get you one of those.”
My sister-in-law. “Isn’t it amazing?”
My brother-in-law. Nodding. Smiling. Knowing.
My son, “Mommy, why are you crying?”
I looked around for a place to hide. And there was my husband across the table. Quietly smiling. Pure love. And recognition.
And I understood that now my life would change.
And change. And Change.
In ways unimagined.
My boys laugh loudly. My dog suddenly barks. The wind slams the door shut. My husband walks into a room. No sharp hit of adrenaline. No sudden flash of anger. No cause for alarm.
My husband and I started playing music together. His drums no longer an assault. We added a bass player. A keyboardist. And finally, another guitar player. As we collaborated, I translated. The images that came to me. As I listened to the sounds. I could see what others could hear. The landscape of my aural brain overgrown by visual. I could see. What I could also now hear. As the wires became entwined. The neurons of sound. Growing into their rightful home. Like a parasitic vine. Sounds I’d never heard. Dropped by birds. Onto branches. Tendrils reaching for the light. Dewdrops glistening on leaves.
Today I listen to the rough cut of our band’s first album. And I hear. All the parts and pieces. Gifts I could not have received. Like sparrows in the branches. I’ve always heard but never seen. I watch as I listen. As the images appear. Filling in the spaces with colors I’ve never known. Each line a new design. Splashed colors on a canvas. Dancing to sounds I can only now see.
That was eighteen months ago. The land is overgrown. Now I have a friendly brain. A safe and happy home. Sounds abound. Like a thousand tiny dancers. Holding shiny boxes. For me. And for six-year old me. Happy as can be. Sitting quietly. Alone. With her tiny disability.