Hi guys! For those of you who don’t know, I’m in my second year of the MA in Writing program at Rowan University. What this means is I am now taking Seminar I and beginning the bulk of work on my 30,000-word MA project, which of course is my memoir detailing my cochlear implant experience. I already have two drafts of my novel, plus this blog here, under my belt so now comes the fun (or not-so-fun, depending on how you look at it…) part of revising.
I have a general map of the table of contents and the material I want to include in my final novel. The general table of contents at the moment looks much like this:
1. I’m not THAT Special: The Argument Against Special Education
2. Confessions of a Deaf Girl in Corporate World
3. A Life Changing Homework Assignment
4. Everything in God’s Perfect Timing
5. The Last Day as a Def, Deaf Girl
6. The Christmas Song
7. The Most Magical Place on Earth With the Most Magical, Bionic Ears, on Earth.
8. Maybe Two is Better Than One
9. Epilogue: It’s Not Over Yet.
Some of these chapters are going to be arguably easier than other ones to write. I am particularly having trouble with Chapter 1. In my first two drafts I wrote several chapters on my experience growing up in public schools in the hearing world and fighting for my rights to take standard college-level and honors/AP courses as a deaf student. I am realizing now I don’t need ALL of that material, but rather than I should be focusing on maybe just one specific memory, but I’m not sure which memory is worth focusing on. I think this is an area where I really need the help of my second reader, Professor Julia Chang, for advice.
Rather than delaying my progress and work on this project as I consider what to do with Chapter 1 I thought it made more sense to kind of write my third draft out of order by choosing the memories I know I want to write and have a vivid memory of already.
I decided to begin with my favorite post-cochlear implant memory…the trip I took to Smithville with Larry on Day 4 post-cochlear implant activation. Check out the link to my original post for reference, and read the re-write down below. I hope you all like it as much as I did.
Please note: Larry and I have been broken up for two years now and have not said a word to each other since hanging up on each other and calling it quits. We are not on good terms or any terms at all. This lovely memory was just that – a lovely memory that exists only in past and that’s all I’d like to say about that. Everything I said is 100% truth. I write about Larry in order to tell my story and my story only.
Chapter 6: The Christmas Song
On day four of post-cochlear implant activation, all of the little pieces began to click. It was like the newly implanted electrodes and magnets finally learned how their relationship was supposed to work to connect the dots from the sound in my ear drum to the processing unit in my brain. Mom suddenly didn’t sound like Minnie Mouse anymore (okay, well not as much anyway) and some songs were beginning to actually sound like songs, and not just random noise. I knew I still had a long way to go and many new sounds left to discover and learn, but things were finally beginning to sound ALMOST normal, whatever that meant.
I had plans to see Larry for what would be our first date in over a month and I couldn’t have been more excited. Our silent games of cards and Nintendo were nice, but I was itching to get out of my house and to finally have a little alone time with Larry. Plus, I couldn’t help but consider the big question on everyone’s mind – How would Larry’s voice sound to me now that I’d actually be able to hear it?
Larry picked me up at around 6pm in his trusty old, beat up green truck. I was never a big fan of the truck, but for the first time in my life I was thrilled by the sight of that truck because I knew what it meant: I was finally going somewhere. Alone. With Larry. At last.
“I’m here.” read the latest text on my Android phone, but I already knew and had the door wide open before the message even came through. I mapped out his route and knew exactly when to expect him at my condo and watched him pull up. I was excited to see him, but I really couldn’t wait to finally hear him.
He looked so handsome. For once, he actually made an effort and traded in his faded, worn out t-shirts and dirty jeans for a nice collared shirt and a pair of jeans that at least didn’t have any dirt on them (so what if they were a little faded?). The smell of his British Sterling cologne was intoxicating.
“Hi angel!” He said, “Can you hear me?”
I smiled from ear to ear. I could actually hear him without having to ask him to repeat himself for once. I was too excited to speak, so I just smiled and nodded.
“That looks so cool. It’s blue, my favorite color!” he exclaimed.
“Yeah I know. I wanted the red one but they stopped making it so blue was my second choice.” I said.
“So, where do you wanna go?” he asked.
“Did you get the thing I sent you on Facebook?” I asked.
“Which one?” he asked.
“Smithville,” I said.
“Yeah. Did you wanna do that or Longwood Gardens?” he asked.
“I was kinda leaning towards Smithville. Longwood Gardens is expensive and the tickets are timed and if you’re late you’ll miss it and they don’t refund you.” I explained.
“How much is Smithville?” he asked.
“I think it’s free unless you like buy stuff there.” I said, “but it’s not too far is it?”
“Where that at?” he asked.
“Galloway. I think it’s like at the shore but not the shore. Like before you get to the actual shore,” I tried to explain.
“Wait, what?” he asked.
“I don’t drive. I dunno. GPS it!” I said.
Larry pulled out his phone and looked it up. “Okay I remember this. I went with my grandparents and cousins as a kid. It’s not too bad.” he said.
“Where are you guys off to?” My mom said as she came out from her bedroom.
“Smithville” Larry said.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“It’s like this little village or something. Some of my friends went and it sounded cool. I think they have a lot of Christmasy things. I want to hear a lot of noise!” I exclaimed.
“Well okay then,” my mom smiled. “I’ll let you guys get on your way.”
“Your voice is beautiful,” I said. I wasn’t sure if I meant it or if I was just saying it because of how in love I was and how happy I was to finally be able to hear him speak and to have a conversation that existed outside of writing down notes or texting each other. It’s been a rough month as far as communication went.
“Thank you,” Larry said, as we both laughed together.
“This is weird. I know. But I can hear now.” I said.
“What do I sound like?” he asked.
“Pretty much the same.” I said, “But your voice is a little deeper.”
“I got a Spotify playlist,” Larry said. “Do you want to hook it up?”
“Sure,” I said. “What do you got on here?”
“Take a look.” he said as he handed me his phone and pulled out of the parking lot.
I scrolled down the list searching frantically for a familiar song. Celtic music. Scottish music. What in the world? Only my boyfriend would have music this weird on Spotify…I thought.
Finally, I found something I recognized: “As Long As You Love Me” by the Backstreet Boys. Everyone told me that music was the hardest sound to learn after activation. Some people couldn’t ever learn it, but I was determined. Music still sounded terrible to me, but better than it did on day one at least. If I could find a song I was familiar with it didn’t sound too bad because I could use my memory to remember how it SHOULD sound and almost pretend that what I should have been hearing was what I was actually hearing. It’s like I was playing a game with my mind. Fake it until you make it, right? I just wanted to impress Larry with all of the things I could suddenly hear, even if I couldn’t understand them.
Larry knew that I love the Backstreet Boys. We sang “I Want It That Way” together on our first date at Nifty Fifties, but did he realize I’ve been listening to “As Long As Your Love Me” practically on repeat since I discovered it nearly twenty years ago? Did I even care? I began to sing along to the radio, “I don’t care who you are…where you’re from…what you did….as long as you love me…”
Larry joined me and we sang together in harmony, “Who you are…where you’re from…don’t care what you did…as long as you love me…” and it felt like he was singing directly to me, serenading me with his love. Larry’s always sung to me, but now that I could hear him and almost understand him, his voice sounded ten times sweeter.
When we arrived in Smithville I was immediately reminded of one of our first dates when we went to Wheaton Village. This was another cute, small village with mom and pop shops and crafts all over the place. Except there was SO much noise and it looked like Santa came through town and painted everything with Christmas cheer. There were lights everywhere I looked, a train going by every 10 minutes, and Christmas music constantly playing.
“Look at the lights!” I said.
“It’s a Christmas lights show,” Larry explained after reading the sign. “Want to watch?”
“Sure!” I said.
We watched as the Christmas trees lite up and flashed new colors every few seconds. Some were purple, others were blue or orange.
“Can you hear that?” Larry asked.
“Christmas music?” I guessed. It was an obvious answer; we were in Christmas town, after all.
“Yes.” he said.
“I can’t tell what song it is.” I admited, “But I know it’s Christmas music.
“It’s Rudolph.” He said as he began to hum the tune.
I nodded along, wondering if there were any songs I’d “get” that night. I haven’t really been able to understand any of the songs on the radio since we’ve arrived, but I was enjoying the sensation of hearing sounds and being able to at least tell there was some kind of music playing.
“Do you want to go in the shops?” I asked. The lights were cool, but I was ready to explore everything else.
“Ok. That one looks cool,” he said as he pointed to a native American shop. Larry has always been interested in Indians, just like me.
We entered the shop and looked around. “I always thought Native American art was beautiful.” I said as we admire the crafts. Larry walked by the hat rack and tried on a feathered headdress.
“Beautiful.” I said and we both laughed. He began to take it off. “No! I need a picture of it first.” I said.
“Okay, but no Facebook!” he says.
“You don’t know me very well,” I said. “Your grandmother will love this!”
We walk further in the back of the shop and Larry discovered an old-fashioned rack of CDs with a little machine that allowed you to play samples of the music. He read from the choices and pushed one of the buttons. “Indian music,” he said. “Can you hear it?”
“I can.” I said. There weren’t any words, so it was easier to follow along.
“What do you hear?” he asked.
“Drums?” I guessed.
“Yes. What else?” he asked.
“Uhm. I want to say guitar?” I guessed.
“Mmhmm.” He said.
“I know there’s other stuff, too, but I am not sure what else it is.” I admitted. “I want to hear a flute.” I say.
“I don’t think we’re going to find that in Indian music.” he admitted, almost apologetically.
“It’s okay.” I said as I push another button.
Larry and I pushed every single button until we run out of songs. “The people in here must hate us.” I said, “Oh well I’m having fun.”
“That’s all that matters then.” Larry said. “Love you.”
“Love you too.” I said. “Let’s go somewhere else.”
We made our way from shop to shop. Most of the shops were filled with homemade goods that we had no intention of ever buying, but it was fun to look at them all anyway.
“Check this out.” Larry said as he picked up a bell. “Can you hear it?”
I listened carefully, it’s a sound I’ve always wanted to hear but never could. “I can. Oh my god. I can.” I said. “Let me see it.”
I picked up the bell and held it to my ear, ringing it over and over again. Tears began to fill in my eyes. I can’t believe that I was really able to hear a bell. I may not have been able to hear everything clearly yet, but this was huge. I’ve never been able to hear high frequency sounds before and now I was clearly hearing one of the highest forms of high frequency sounds.
“There’s some more over here.” Larry said.
I walked over to the table where Larry was and carefully pick up each and every bell and rang it to my ear. They all sounded the same, but I had to ring them all just to be sure. I picked them up and placed them down carefully, being cautious not to break any of the glass or porcelain materials. The shop owner glared at me. Surely, she didn’t understand or appreciate this little routine.
“Let’s go somewhere I else,” I whispered to Larry. “I don’t think she likes us doing this.” I said as I glanced up at the shop owner.
“Great idea.” he said.
Our next stop was a little punk rock shop known simply as “Underground”. Underground didn’t look like any of the other shops we’ve been too. The outside of the building was green like all the other shops, but the bright red doors made it stand out. There were no handmade goods or bells or frilly things. Everything almost looked like it was dead and there was hundreds of thousands of old records everywhere you look and walls adorned with famous concert posters from heavy metal bands.
“I feel like I’m home!” I yelled over the heavy metal music blaring through the speakers.
“What? I CANNOT HEAR YOU!” Larry yelled back. He looked horrified.
“I LOVE THIS PLACE. IT REMINDS ME OF THAT RECORD STORE IN OCEAN CITY!” I said. I was pretty sure this was what heaven looked like, or at the very least, sounded like.
“I can’t do this – I’ll wait for you outside,” Larry said. I was afraid I may have broken my country boyfriend, but I’m in no hurry to leave. I was in my element, whether he chose to be a part of that or not. I nodded back and said, “I’ll just be a few minutes.”
I browsed through the stacks of records, but I didn’t recognize any of the names. This really is underground, I thought to myself. I reminiscenced on my middle school days back when I’d spend hours searching for local punk rock bands that no one has ever heard of, dedicating my life to being their little groupie, whether they wanted it or not (most of them didn’t). I focused on the songs blaring from the radio. I could feel all of the vibrations and could understand why Larry had to leave…it was LOUD! I had no idea what they were shouting through those speakers, but I didn’t mind. I was in pure bliss simply by the fact that I knew there was music playing, a feeling I hadn’t experienced in several years. Besides, wasn’t the point of heavy metal music to shout things in a mic and pair it with heavy drumming and guitars so no one knew what you were saying any way? “It’s screaming music. It’s not even music, they just scream,” my dad would always say. Like Larry, Dad never quite “got” the concept of heavy metal either.
I spent a few more minutes soaking in the entire experience and all of the sounds before spotting and purchasing an Edgar Allan Poe shirt. It wa a nod to my Bachelor’s degree in English, but also a little memento to help me to forever remember this moment.
“We better get going,” I said to Larry when I reunited with him outside of the shop. “It’s getting late and we still need to stop for dinner.”
“Okay, where to?” he asked.
“Up to you,” I said.
“How about Applebees?” he suggested. I never liked Applebees in the past because it was always too loud for me, but with my new bionic ears, I’m more than willing to give them another chance tonight.
“Sounds good.” I said as we walked back to his trusty green truck.
It’s a long way from Galloway to Deptford. I was sure there must have been another Applebees in a closer town to us, but Deptford was all that either of us knew, and we didn’t mind spending some extra time together. It was our first night out in over a month, and with Larry on the road all the time as a truck driver, we knew that opportunities like tonight would be rare and far between in the months to come.
“I have something for you to listen to,” Larry said.
“Hm. What’s that?” I asked.
“Listen.” he said as he pushed play on a Spotify playlist on his phone.
I listened closely for a few seconds before realizing there were no words to the song.
“Instrumental?” I asked.
“Yes.” Larry admitted.
“Drums?” I questioned. I was confident that whatever I was hearing must be drums.
“What? No.” he said.
“I could swear I heard drums.” I said. I knew I was learning sounds, especially for instruments, but I didn’t trust Larry’s words at that moment. A drum was a drum was a drum. This was not a high frequency sound. I knew what a drum was. Or did I?
“Nope. It’s 100% bagpipes.” He said.
“Oh wow. That’s different.” I said. I was impressed that he remembered my love for bagpipes. I WAS Scottish and Irish after all. Bagpipes were what we did.
“Yeah, thought you’d appreciate it. I know you said you wanted them at your wedding when we get married.” He said.
“Yes I do. I always thought they were cool.” I admitted, “they sound beautiful but I could swear I heard drums. It’s weird.”
When we arrived at Applebees, we were quickly seated and a waitress asked us what we wanted to drink. For the first time since we’d started dating, I was able to answer, “Water, please.” without having to look at Larry for clarification. For the first time in years, I didn’t need someone to translate or repeat what the waiter asked because I was able to hear for myself.
The waitress took both of our orders and ran back into the kitchen. “I can hear!” I exclaimed. “I could actually hear the waitress and I can hear you and the TV and I can separate all of the noise and tell what is what.”
“You’re doing amazing,” he said. “I’m impressed.”
The waitress brought out our food and we continued to talk as I glanced up at the football games playing on the TV every couple of minutes and Larry played his Transport Empire game. Usually I yelled at him for playing his game throughout dinner, but tonight I didn’t mind. His stupid game made so much noise, but I never noticed it before. Tonight was the kind of night where even the most annoying sounds were a blessing, because it was all so new and I couldn’t believe not only what I was hearing, but the fact that I was hearing at all.
When we left Applebees and finally arrived back home, it was after 10. This may have seemed late for some people, but not for us. For us our first night together in a world of sound could have gone on forever, and we were in no hurry to watch it end.
Larry parked the car in the back lot, away from all of the houses and other cars so as to not disturb my elderly neighbors who may have been trying to sleep. “Let’s not go inside,” I said.
“Why? Mom asleep?” he asked.
“No…” I admitted. “I just want to talk.”
“About what?” he asked.
“I dunno. Can you sing to me?” I asked.
Larry knew exactly what I was asking for. I was asking for more noise. More sound. More of him and his voice and to experience him in a way that was still foreign to me. I wanted to learn what music REALLY sounded like. I wanted to learn his voice. I wanted this night with just the two of us to last forever.
He put his Spotify playlist on and we listened to each and every song. He moved our seats back so we could cuddle. I rested my head against his chest and felt his heartbeat as he sung along to the radio, holding me as tight as he could. He only stops singing every few minutes to kiss me above my eyes.
When the last song played, it was Brad Paisely’s “She’s Everything” and I could swear he was singing each and every line from the bottom of his heart directly to me.
“She’s a warm conversation that I wouldn’t miss for nothing…She’s a fighter when she’s mad and she’s a lover when she’s loving… And she’s everything I ever wanted and everything I need… I talk about her, I go on and on and on, ‘Cause she’s everything to me…” he sang and I felt exactly like I must have been the girl that Brad Paisley wrote his song about.
“Love you, Angel,” Larry whispered in my ear.
We fell asleep that night in his trusty, beat up green truck under a full night of stars to the sounds of Braid Paisley. Our own version of a Christmas song.