November 5, 2019
I watch a show, I see a young girl, perhaps five, skipping ahead of her mother. Her mother follows, perhaps a half block behind, a look of happiness on her face as she watches her little girl’s joy.
I tried to remember if that’s something I ever did. And I can’t. I never did that. I always stayed very close to mom, in case she needed me. I was her ears. I was her voice. My brother stayed close because he was shy. But I stayed close because I was needed. Because there was no one else to do the job for her. The job that must be done. To help her be a wife and a mother and a person in a world of hearing people. It was my responsibility. I didn’t know that. But I knew that. I fulfilled my role. Where there’s a vacuum, I’ve always stepped in to fill. She had me on the phone as early as the age of four, making doctor’s appointments. I thought nothing of it, no trepidations. Whatever my mom told me to do, I simply assumed I was capable of doing. I was never afraid, so long as she was confident, so was I.
When I was in first grade, we were assigned to go home and read to our parents. I’d sit on her lap and read. She didn’t know what I was saying. She couldn’t hear my voice. She didn’t know if I was pronouncing the words correctly. (I was.)
One day, tired of the futility of listening to me read for hours a day, she said, “Go ahead and keep reading. You’re doing fine. You don’t need me to listen. You’re doing great!”
I remember my surprise at hearing this. The teacher told us to read to our parents. It didn’t occur to me my mom couldn’t hear what I was reading. She was mom. I knew she was deaf, but I didn’t realize how truly different she was than any other of my classmate’s mothers.
It never occurred to me I could read to myself, by myself. But my mother’s faith in me propelled me forward. I knew I could do anything she told me I could do. My courage came from her.
I finished that book. And another. Book after book after book. And I remember the first time I checked out a “grown up” book; one with more than a hundred pages; one with no pictures. I was reading several grade levels above. I was very proud. I was intelligent. I knew I was.
My mother took it for granted. She just believed in me. I was an extension of her, her communication bridge to the world. There were times when my father spoke to her and she looked to me with a look of confusion and I would revise and rephrase so she understood. I just did it. No matter how uncomfortable the topic, even during heated arguments. I stayed. She needed me to be her ears.
Sometimes it took several times for me to explain for her to grasp. All the while my father getting more and more impatient with us, sometimes telling me to leave the room. I wouldn’t. I’d hear him rail at her. She was silent. When you are stripped of your right to communicate, to hear and be heard, you are stripped of your very humanity.
At times, there were bruises on her upper arms, where he slapped her hard. Both my brother and I would attempt to intervene when there was violence. My father usually stormed out of the house and was gone for hours. Then returned with flowers for my mother. And everything was right with the world.
I am who I am — this reader, this writer, this speaker — because of my mother. Would I wish being the hearing child of a deaf parent on anyone? Absolutely not. The difficulty, the complexity, desperately trying to decipher all the nuanced context of every adult interaction so I could convert it and translate it into language my mother would understand, it exhausted me. It exasperated me. It angered me. I resented it. Still do. Maybe even more now than ever.
Layer on the fact my parents did not have easy communication with one another, there was sometimes violence, and there was constant anxiety while we ever vigilantly tried to gauge my father’s mood so we could adjust our actions and our speech.
Yet, I am who I am — this reader, this writer, this speaker — because my mother is deaf. And because of all the other fucked up circumstances of my childhood. And I have achieved much. And I have much more to achieve.
I Persevere. And life goes on.