woke in a pool of conspicuous silence and immediatley felt strange. Then I remembered I was deaf today and I suddenly felt excited. The earplugs I wore didn’t block out the sound completely, but they blocked out enough noise that I couldn’t hear much. The little I did hear was completely distorted, sounds seeming to come from places they shouldn’t, and not sounding anything like they did before. In my 24 hours of ‘deafness’ I learned a lot of things about myself and my relationships. I also understood why deaf people call themselves a linguistic minority, and don’t think of themselves as disabled in any way. My morning, afternoon, and evening seemed to separate themselves in to natural parts of a regular day – alone, out in a hearing world, and a typical evening at home.
My morning was very odd. It struck me immediately what I was missing, and I realized that everything has a sound. It’s not just the things you think about making noise, like a squeaky door or the tick of the clock. As I turn over, the bed sheets make a rustling noise, and even my hand makes a soft thunk as it connects with the hard cover of my book. Missing all these things made me feel quite disoriented.
At the same time, it was an average morning. I typically spend much of my time alone, and you don’t need hearing to appreciate The Sims 3 computer game. Watching TV in closed captioning was different for me, but I found it oddly peaceful not to be bothered with the din of comercials. It was only when I lost my keys and I had a panic attack about being incapable of finding them that I realized how much not being able to hear affected me. When I realized what was happening, I had to sit myself down and give myself a pep talk. I found them quickly after that, but more importantly, I lost the feeling of incapability. I realized fully that there wasn’t anything I usually do that I couldn’t anymore because of being deaf.
My husband, Brian, and I had made plans to go out to lunch together at the college where he works. Usually, I give him a call, he comes out of his electronically keyed office, and we pick a place to eat.
“I’m here” I texted him as soon as I arrived that day, but evidently he felt texting wasn’t hard enough for me. Instead, he insisted I come to the office and write what I wanted to the woman at the front desk before he would come out. My note “I’m deaf today. Is Brian there?” brought him out with a sadistic smile of glee.
“Dining hall OK? It’s buffet style.” He wrote to me, and when I nodded, we set off.
We winked, made silly faces, and shared jokes with pen and paper all of lunch time, but he was definitely treating me differently than normal. He physically stopped me from walking into the dining hall first so he could talk to the woman and pay for us. It felt so unnatural. He also proceeded to take my hand and lead me around to each station so I could see all that they offered. If he couldn’t attract my attention, he would just reach out and grab me. I also noticed that in moments when I didn’t understand his gestures, he would resort to talking to me (which I couldn’t hear, because of the ear plugs). I felt a little bit like a child. We did have a great time anyway. Brian doesn’t really sign, althogh he knows the signs I use most (like ‘keys where?’ ‘ready?’ and ‘your mom’) but he learned a few new ones that day. We laughed and wrote and generally had a wonderful time, just like we normally do at lunch. I went away from the experience thinking that the communication barrier between us wasn’t such a big deal after all.
After lunch, I decided to go to Target and test out being deaf among strangers. By this time, I was feeling confident about navigating in the hearing world. I looked at a million things, tried on a bunch of clothes, and bought a sweater. The only think I noticed that was different from a normal Target experience was that people aren’t very nice to you when you don’t speak to them after they’ve said hello. Otherwise, it was just the same as being hearing.
I took a very peaceful car ride home to make dinner. Out of habit, I turned on the oven and then went to check my e-mail until I hear the beep tell me it was pre-heated, without thinking about the fact that I couldn’t hear the beep. A half-hour later, I realized that the oven had been pre-heated for a while, and that I was going to be making dinner without the aid of timers. No reading fiction and cooking at the same time for me. When Brian came home from work, we ate dinner without communication. Without the notebook between us, things felt stinted and strange. We stared off into space awkwardly. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I went and grabbed a piece of computer paper and a pencil and placed it on the table between us. Brian started writing right away.
“Isn’t it odd that we have to have a paper and pencil to communicate even the simplest thing?” he asked me.
I nodded. “I wonder if we would still like each other after a while if one of us was deaf and the other wasn’t.” I wrote back.
“I was thinking that too.” He wrote. “There’s a lot I wanted to tell you today that I didn’t because I didn’t want to write a novel.”
I realized right then that although we had joked around and been silly at lunch, I really had no idea how his day had gone. We didn’t talk about office drama or how school had been for me the day before. We hadn’t talked about anything that really mattered to us. I imediately felt so disconnected. Superficially, things were just the same as always, but under the surface there was a definitive communication barrier that we couldn’t cross.
When I took stock of my day, things were surprisingly normal I had to make a few adjustments to my regular life for not being able to hear, but otherwise I acted and functioned just as I always do. Certainly, I lived a more solitary existence than usual that day, but my morning alone, time out with others, and typical evening home were much like they always are. It was only when I tried to connect with Brian on a non-superficial level that I ran into problems. I realized that if I became deaf tomorrow I wouldn’t really miss hearing things, but my relationships with those I care about would change in immesurable ways if we suddenly didn’t speak the same language. And change is always scary.