I was scrolling through the notes section of my phone looking for some perfect phrase, probably a hyper-lyrical and pretentiously snobby way to describe a feeling, or a girl, or a gutter. The kind of crap that I expect to spark to the best prose I’ve ever written. The kind of junk that only comes at nighttime. Usually, utter garbage. Instead I found this:
I like your Wagon!
Word. I had a 73 242 when I was in HS – never should have sold it
Are you INTO Volvos?
It took me a beat to figure out just what the heck this rambling meant. Or when I had recorded it (obviously it was written under the influence of sunlight). Then it hit me. I was talking with Hunter.
Hunter is a guy I work with. Hunter is deaf. Like everyone else in the office, I converse with him by typing into the notes section of my device. I show him my phone. He shows me his. It’s an odd way of communicating with someone, really.
But, I know Hunter uses sign language. He brought his girlfriend to the company Christmas party, and they spent most of it off in a corner, signing away and laughing, kissing, being people. So, the next week I made a decision – I was going to learn how to say ‘Good Morning’ in ASL and lay it on him the next time we crossed paths, before noon.
I always tell myself that I’m going to do more than the bare minimum. It’s harder than it looks. I usually fail.
After choosing a random day at the end of a week, I got to work early, and sat in the car practicing what I had learned on YouTube. Good Morning. Good Morning. Good Morning. The more I practiced it, the more fraudulent I felt. I talked myself into and back out of it. Hunter pulled up in his Volvo. Right next to my car. It was thirty degrees outside and I was sweating all my courage out.
I got out of my car just as he did. We exchanged eye contact and our usual wave – that placeholder for ‘Good Morning.” He walked inside, and I stood there frozen. In that moment it hit me. I was afraid of his judgement. What if I did it wrong? Worse – what if he was offended?
Hunter was not the first hearing-impaired person I have known. In fact, I used to date a girl who was deaf.
In my early twenties, after college was finished with me, I came back home to Mesquite, TX to try and figure out my life. I had been hanging out with some new friends and they introduced me to this girl named Lindsey. It was low-key. Just friends at first.
Lindsey had an odd accent. Her ‘Rs’ were like those of a child first learning to speak, sounding more like sad “Ws.” Everything else rode on a slow and heavy lisp. But I could understand everything she said. She was funny and intense and had eyes like a hurricane sky. And she constantly touched my chin to make sure we were looking into each other’s souls as we talked. It was romantic, exotic even.
At least I thought it was until one December afternoon. We were hanging Christmas lights at my Mom’s house. It was windy and cold, and I was in a hurry to get back inside for more face-to-face snuggle-time. Lindsey had been handing me light brackets while I stood on the ladder. But she stopped after I asked her to open a new box. I asked her again. She bent down like she was tying her shoe. I climbed off my perch to see what she was doing, and I found her sobbing. But Lindsey was not sad. She was furious. At me.
I had been talking to her while looking away, she said. The bone head I was – I still did not get it. She didn’t have a phone. We only had daytime dates. She talked funny.
It hit me like a fist to the forehead. All that romantic eye-contact was nothing more than her need to read my lips. Man, I was a dumbass. I was almost-dating someone who was deaf, and I was too self-absorbed to even notice. I just thought she was different.
She left. I sulked. Now, this was years before text messaging was invented, so to grovel I had to go to her house, in person, and get past the gatekeeper – her mom. I didn’t make it far. Her mother handed me a letter and told me to go home and read it. It was sweet. I was a moron. We reconnected later that week and ended up having a relationship that lasted about six months. We made some nice memories that I’ll always cherish. It didn’t end well, but that’s a story for another blog post.
We take our culture of distraction, on the most basic level as people who can hear, for granted. Not to say that we are better off for having functioning ears. More the opposite. There is a level of intimacy, one that I’ll never understand, that comes with interacting with a hearing-impaired person. Yes, that sounds insensitive. And maybe it is, but I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone to be stuck inside their own head 24/7. To be that close to yourself. It makes me shiver.
Music is going, in some form, for about 80% of my waking hours. And I do this to keep some of the thoughts away, or at bay. To keep them from driving me off. If I didn’t have music I’d go insane. Or maybe I’d be a truly thoughtful and introspective person. But, that sounds dark and horrifying. I need noise.
About a week after I chickened out with the Good Morning thing, Hunter showed up in a different car, a non-Volvo. I jumped at the chance to talk to him about it. After a quick and dirty ASL internet lesson, I went and found him. I asked, sans phones, and in my best broken-ASL where his car was. He didn’t miss a beat and went right into signing-for-dummies (for my sake) and explained to me that it was at home because the transmission was broken. I asked him if he knew how to fix it and he said that he did – he was going to take parts from one of his other dead cars and get the wagon back on the road.
Hunter didn’t berate me or reply with a forehead-fist-bounce (the slang sign for dumbass). Really, he didn’t care. We just talked. About cars. Like people.