I think I remember what it was like to hear as you do. But now the world communicates with me as if I’m pressing mittened hands over my ears. It’s not like my ears have gone blind to all sound. If I sit in a quiet room I hear a kind of hissing sensation. And if I’ve run for a while, I can hear the thud-up thud-up of my heart pumping the blood uphill to my neck. At least it’s pumping, right?
But if you were outside with an armful of groceries, kicking the front door and to calling, “Cal, will you open the door,” while I’m watching television with my Bluetooth amplifier blowing in my ears, I might not hear you until you drop the groceries on the entryway floor eight feet away. Maybe.
Here’s the thing about slowly losing all your hearing: You don’t really notice it until you start pissing people off. And I’ve pissed off Jenna at an increasing rate for five years.
“Jesus, Cal, didn’t you hear me kicking the door?” Jenna will say. And all I can do is take that sapphire blue laser look of hers right in the eyes and shake my head.
“No, sorry. The television amplifier was on and my hearing aids were…”
“Stop yelling. Half the neighborhood will think we’re fighting.”
“Sorry,” I’ll say and shut off the receiver around my neck, which brings the whole world back to muffled normal. Well, at least my current normal.
“But I did finish hooking up the baby monitor in our bedroom. The sound-trigger on the warning lights and closed-circuit TV work great. I tossed a basketball in there to be sure.”
“Ohh, that’s great, honey. Now would you put the beets in the crisper and the meat in the freezer?” she’ll ask.
And I’ll do exactly what she said. Until…
“Calvin, what are you doing?”
“Putting the beets in the freezer, like you said.”
“The meat in the freezer, honey. The beets in the vegetable crisper.”
Ohhh, I thought it was odd you’d want to put beets up there. But what the hell do I know? I’m just the deaf guy fucking up around here.”
And then Jenna will step over a couple of bags of groceries and hug me, saying something like, “I’m sorry, Cal. Beets, meats. I should’ve considered what I said before…”
“No, you shouldn’t have to, Jenn. I just have to pay better attention.” Which is true. when you have happened to you what happened to me, you tend to burrow inside and think too much about yourself and how the world doesn’t understand and really can’t take the time to try. Though Jenna’s been an angel, really. Even through my therapy and her morning sickness.
There’s nothing in this world I would love hearing clearly again more than Jenna’s voice. Hearing it without the assistance of these hearing aids, which have become the equivalent of a white cane to a blind guy. Or they will someday when I go totally deaf. The docs tell me they don’t know for sure.
Sometimes, when the wind’s just right and I strain really hard, I think I hear mourning doves when I walk out to the end of the driveway for the paper at dawn. But instead of their low whistling coo — hoo-hoo-ah-hoo — like I used to make in fifth grade by putting my hands together, keeping space between the palms, and blowing across an opening between my thumbs, it feels more like a tinny syncopated sensation in my ears.
That’s the best I can describe it. So maybe it’s robins. Or it just as easily could be the hunnh-hunnh-huh-hunnnhof the semis’ horns combined with the whine of their wheels as they pass one another on the interstate. Or the whoooo-whoooo-wuh-whoo over the tick-a-ta-tick-a-ta-tick-a-ta of a freight train crossing Pierce Road a couple of miles from here. But I choose to think it’s the mourning doves.
But I have memories of all the birds, can even recall which thweet-thweet-thweet or pew-pew-pew went with who. I can remember how the tone of Jenna’s dad’s voice went from baritone to tenor and back down again the day she brought me over to introduce me, her new boyfriend.
I can remember how a bullet going right past your head can sound like a zipping whissss, while one that’s going by ten feet away can crack or pop in a miniature version of a sonic boom. I can tell how the sound of a dual rotor old Chinook helo differs from a single rotor Blackhawk. I can tell you the difference between the sound of an RPG exploding in the vehicle behind you and an IUD going off under the one in front of you. But I only vaguely recall the sound of one that detonated next to my M1151, knocking me cold, killing most of my hearing and two guys on that side of the vehicle.
I also remember the sound of Jenna’s voice when I sat down with her after I was discharged, clean as a whistle on the outside, but pretty fucked up on the inside. She told me she was just happy to have me home. In one piece. At least that’s what I think she said. I’m pretty sure.
Things haven’t gone as well as she planned when she said she’d stick with me through it all, though. I mean it was going to be tough enough with me Black and her White, Italian no less. But, son of a bitch, she’s stronger than I could ever be, which is why we had another sit-down six months ago when she told me we were pregnant.
“Cal, I want to have your child more than anything I’ve ever wanted besides getting you home, but I can’t lie. I worry about things. You have this way of staring at me when I’m speaking to you — there’s that look right now. It’s like you’re saying, ‘I hear you, Jenn,’ but I can’t be sure you really do.”
“I know, but I’m hearing you now, Jenn. And I understand you…”
“And there are other times I think you hear one thing, but it’s the exact opposite of what was said. That’s the thing that scares me. Especially with the baby coming,” she said.
Don’t think I hadn’t considered all those things when I got home. Some days I thought she’d be better off without me, others I’d be better off without her. But I kept coming back to the same answer.
“Jenn, I understand what you’re afraid of. I am, too. There are times you say you love me and I miss it. And that must hurt you awfully. But that’s just hearing. We can find workarounds for that. I’m sure of it. But know this, I don’t want to live without feeling your words bumping up against my ears, freezing and teasing, scolding and holding, their temperature and speed sometimes more important than their meaning. They bump up against me and fall away so I have to imagine their meaning and insinuation. But they’re yours and I can’t live without feeling you there one way or another.”
So we are doing our best, despite meats and beets. And last week, when Jenna delivered little Bella the sound of her first cry was the sweetest thing I ever heard. Well, at least the vibration of it reaching more than the two tiny sets of bones and other machinery in my head. Heard it like I hear her Mom. Warm and loud enough.
My first draft response to Sarah Salecky’s Six Weeks of Senses fiction project. I just finished this in about an hour and a half. It was slow and it was difficult to get going on because I couldn’t find a story in me to use the sense of sound I wanted. Maybe it’s because I can’t hear worth crap. Hearing aids in both ears. So I “wrote what I know.”