The aluminum screen door slammed shut.
I jumped, looked behind me and clapped my hands. Laughing, I turned to my parents and asked, “Did you hear that?”
Mother smiled broadly. My father stared back with sad, watery eyes.
I had just heard the back door close for the first time in my life. I was 12 years old.
Earlier that day, Mother and I had picked up my first hearing aid.
I fought my parents bitterly about this alien contraption. I cried many tears, fearful of what lay ahead with my classmates. I envisioned them staring, jaws agape, at the bulky piece of plastic, jutting unwanted through my thick blonde hair. I saw them running away from me in horror on the playground. I dreaded questions about how long I had been deaf and why I had hidden my defect for so long. Even worse, I feared this device would banish me forever to the nerd-clique.
To be deaf, I believe, can be harsh. Hearing aids are mostly hidden, unlike eyeglasses that reveal themselves each time they’re worn. Deafness is considered life destroying. What people cannot see, much less understand, they judge, often brutally. Yet I wouldn’t exchange my deafness for perfect hearing. That would sacrifice benefits I gained from five decades of learning to listen.
I learned to read lips early. Even now I can hear you from across a room, unless you turn your back on me. An English teacher did that once during a test. I failed – a first. I can’t hear words I can’t see.
When the television censor bleeps a forbidden word, my family yells “Melanie! Quick! What’d she say?” I laugh and tell them unless my grandchildren are nearby.
I hear what people don’t say. I see body messages that souls want heard. Fluttering hands, nervous eyes, crossed arms – all send me hidden meanings, secret intentions, and emotional truths.
Having harnessed this gift, I fully understand the loneliness of too many people who are not heard in this noisy world of ours.
Mother drove the station wagon as we returned home that long ago day. I sat alone in the back seat. The hard plastic hearing aid sat tucked uncomfortably inside my left ear. I heard a soft noise behind me. I turned my head to the left then to the right, sliding my long hair against the vinyl seat. The sound of my hair across the plastic was sweet and tender, a swooshing back-and-forth unlike anything I had ever heard, the simple sound that I could make in the world. Mother watched me from her rearview mirror.
“What are you doing?” she asked
“My hair, Mommy, it’s whispering.”
So began my listening journey. This gift reveals what begs to be heard. It allows me to heal my world with ears that now hold two hearing aids. To hear and to listen: in my life, I believe listening is more important than hearing.