Author Archives: kimerskine

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Hey guys! I’m sorry it took me so long to update this blog. I’ve had a few ideas and have been meaning to post for awhile, but what can I say…life happens.

I spent most of my summer working only one job and not focusing on writing (I probably should’ve focused on it at least a little bit, but I really needed that break!). I wanted to spend as much time with Evan as possible before I had to go back to school. As a result, we grew closer and our love for each other is stronger than ever. He’s such a gem. There’s definitely a few stories about our adventures together in the works – so stay tuned!

What I want to talk about today though is my current cochlear implant book project and the genre I am writing in. As you guys all know I have been working on a memoir about my cochlear implant experience. Writing a memoir has been a no-brainer for me and strongly encouraged by my professors, mentors, and peers. Memoirs are reflective pieces of non-fiction that draw largely on a person’s memories which is exactly what I have been doing with this project –  discussing my life before cochlear implants and the memories I have with hearing loss, talking about how my life has and is still changing since being implanted, and reflecting on what it all means.

But am I limited to writing just a memoir, or do I still have other options? That is the question I find myself asking now and I believe the answer may be “No.”

This semester as I finish up the last two classes I need to earn my MA in Writing, I will be working on a special project in my Creative Non-fiction class. I had my first class on Tuesday night where I met with my Professor Joe “Sam” Starkins. I was honest with him and talked to him after class explaining how I already finished my Master’s project (which confused the heck out of him and well honestly it confuses the heck out of the entire department, from what I’ve been hearing) but still want to work on my project since it remains largely unfinished. I explained how it was a memoir about my cochlear implant experience and asked if it would be okay if I continued to work on it and to revise it.

To my surprise, while Professor Starkins did not necessarily say no, he also didn’t exactly say yes. He explained how the class was a workshop and as a workshop would work better if I presented an entirely new project.

“Can I write a book of devotions? I do have an idea for that. I know it’s a kind of weird idea but it’s something I’d really like to explore,” I said.

Surprisingly, he said yes and actually seemed kind of excited about the project.

So, here I am. Initially my idea for the book of devotions was to write using all bible verses that focus on hearing the word of God and listening to what God has to say. Verses like Isaiah 35:5 and Romans 10:17 came to mind.

I took my first stab at the idea of writing a book of devotions when I revised my in-class exercise. The exercise was simply to write a scene in class for 15 minutes without stopping. My memoir came to mind first (I didn’t know at this point in class that I would be discouraged from working on that project) so I had to think back to what parts of my memoir I didn’t already have written and/or what needed the most work. The scene where I met Sherry in Miracle Ear came to mind first, probably because I have been thinking about it a lot lately as it happened almost exactly four years ago to date.

To revise, I had to condense a lot of the scene and focus on only the most important parts and then expand it to at least 500 words. This scene in particular I don’t think quite fit in to the idea I had of focusing the book on verses that relate to hearing God’s word and listening to what he has to say, but it did fit in nicely with trusting the Lord, so I pulled from Proverbs 3:5-6 (my life verse) as the main verse and also referred to Psalm 27:14 and Jeremiah 29:11 for reference.

Whether or not I stick with my initial plan of writing a book of devotions about hearing the word of God and listening to what he says or if this becomes an entirely different book of devotions focused more on hearing loss and my cochlear implant process is to be determined, but I’m super excited about this project and proud of what I’ve done so far. I’d like to share it with all of you, so please see the very first devotion posted below.

I welcome your feedback and critique, but at the same time please keep in mind this is my first time dabbling with this genre. I have read many books of devotions but am still learning what the form/style is (side note – if anyone can recommend a craft book on writing devotions I’m definitely in need of suggestions!) So please read, enjoy, and leave a comment letting me know what you think!

 

Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not onto thy own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight thy paths.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with today?” Sherry asked as she handed me back my left hearing aid. She had finished cleaning both of my hearing aids and changing the plastic tubing on them. I placed the old, yellowed ear mold inside of my ear and swung the processor around my ear. I smiled, happy to finally be able to hear some sounds, even if it was limited and even if I didn’t always know exactly what those sounds were.

I looked up at Sherry who was sitting on the other side of the table in her office chair so that I could read her lips and make out what she was asking me. “No. I’m good,” I said.

“Actually, if you don’t mind there’s something I’d like to ask your opinion on,” Mom said. I looked at her, puzzled. Every month or so I visited Miracle Ear to have the plastic tubes changed on my hearing aid since they would get moisture in them and harden and shrink, making it difficult to hear. While this was my first time meeting Sherry and attending the Turnersville Miracle Ear location, the appointment itself was nothing out of the ordinary, just the same tried and true routine.

“Sure,” Sherry said.

“We’ve been saving up for these new super powered hearing aids. Kim has been seeing Mindy at the Cherry Hill location and she says they’re supposed to be great. But back when she was seeing Greg at Deptford he said the same thing about the ones she has now and to be honest I never thought they were that great. What’s your opinion on them? They’re very expensive and I guess I’m just wondering, are they worth the money? Will they really help her?”

I let out a sigh and rolled my eyes, hoping my mom didn’t notice my natural reaction. Dad asked Mindy all about the hearing aids at my last appointment and Mindy told us about them and even let me try on the model they had on hand. I felt like I already knew everything there was to know about these hearing aids. They were not only the best option for me at the time, but my only option. Or so, I thought.

I looked back at Sherry as she inhaled deeply and held her breath for awhile before slowly exhaling.

“You don’t have to say a word, your expression says it all,” Mom said.

“I don’t mean to say the hearing aids aren’t good.” Sherry explained, “But what Kim really needs is clarity which no hearing aid, no matter how good, will ever be able to give her.”

“Okay, so then what do we do?” Mom asked as I listened, unsure of what to expect.

“Have you ever considered getting a cochlear implant?” Sherry asked.

Mom and I both looked at each other before saying no and explaining how we were previously led to believe that cochlear implants were a dangerous form of brain surgery that would likely not work anyway.

“Oh no, not at all. You guys need to go home and do your homework then let me know what you think,” Sherry said.

That night Mom and I began our cochlear implant research process. I turned to social media to look for real cochlear implant recipients and what their experiences were while Mom looked for more academic sources and articles. Together we shared notes and our thoughts. We didn’t know what would happen, but we knew that if we put our faith and trust in the Lord he would walk with us and show us the right path to take.

Psalm 27:14; Jeremiah 29:11

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Image Credits: Vox on YouTube

Hey guys! Hope all of my East-coast friends are staying warm and dry in this crazy snow storm!

I don’t know if it’s the snow or what, but I received an incredible surge of inspiration and had a major Eureka moment in regards to the opening chapter of my memoir. I thought a better opening would be something more reflective in which I show what is going through my mind moments before I received my first cochlear implant tied in with flashbacks on my life before I was implanted and the time when I was first diagnosed with profound hearing loss (the yellow brick road chapter).

This needs A LOT of work still, obviously, but I’m pretty happy with the first 1,000 which are the new words that I added today. I am also in the process of interviewing my mom for more details with the original yellow brick road chapter. She said she’d need some time to think about many of the questions I had as she tries to remember, but I’m hoping to get some answers from her soon to better flesh out that chapter/add more details.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy the revised opening chapter. Feel free to leave a comment on this post letting me know what you think!

Entering Into a Technicolor World of Hearing

I’m lying in a hospital bed at Jefferson University hospital in Philadelphia. There is an IV inserted in my right arm and Mom is standing to my left. Dad, who has never been a fan of hospitals, is outside in the waiting room. Everything looks like your typical hospital setting except for two things:

  1. I am not sick or injured.
  2. I cannot stop smiling.

My journey begins now. Today I will receive my first cochlear implant, and if all goes well with the surgery and recovery, next month I will be activated and Lord-willing, hear, like a normal hearing person, for the first time in my life.

If this works, my black and white and sometimes sepia world will become technicolor and I will not just hear the sounds I’ve always heard, but I will be able to understand what those sounds are and hear them the way they are supposed to sound. Conversations will sound like actual conversations (without me needing to exhaust myself by practicing heavy lipreading). I’ll know when music is playing, and it will sound like actual music. I may even be able to hear what a flute sounds like. I’ll be able to go to the movies without having to awkwardly ask for a pair of caption glasses which A. The ticket salesman won’t understand, or B. won’t work anyway. After the movies, I may be able to go out to dinner with my friends or a date and order my own food without awkwardly staring at another person as if to say, “Please lend me your ears, I can’t hear a thing the waiter is saying.”

If this works, my world will forever change, hopefully for the better.

If this doesn’t work, I risk losing the approximately 7% total residual or natural hearing I have left in my left ear. This residual hearing is currently being amplified by hearing aids.

Amplify [am-pluh-fahy]. Verb. – Increase the volume of (sound).

Notice how it doesn’t say anything about clarity or being able to understand or comprehend what those sounds are. That’s what’s missing. Hearing aids amplify sound, but they don’t give me any clarity. My cochlear implant is supposed to fix that. But if it doesn’t work, I’ll lose my ability to even amplify sounds. I’ll be left with absolutely nothing in my left ear — silence.

I made a list of the things I want to do post-cochlear implant activation, should this work. It looks like this:

THINGS TO DO POST-COCHLEAR IMPLANT ACTIVATION

  1. Get caught in the rain.
  2. Experience church in a whole new way.
  3. Watch movies without captions.
  4. See a movie at the drive-in.
  5. Hear a flute, bell, violin, and any other instrument I couldn’t hear before.
  6. See an orchestra.
  7. See a play.
  8. See a ballet.
  9. Listen to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety.
  10. Talk on the phone.
  11. Order food out on my own (restaurant and takeout/Dunkin).
  12. See a concert (preferably Good Charlotte).
  13. Hear my cat meow.
  14. Listen to the radio.
  15. Hear a cricket chirp.

I didn’t even want to think about what my life would look like if the cochlear implant didn’t work. Would I be forced to learn ASL? Would I join the Deaf community? Could I manage to get by with the remaining, un-implanted ear? Thinking about what would happen if the cochlear implant worked was fun but thinking about the alternatives was terrifying.

I had faith and trust in God that the cochlear implant would work. I prayed constantly and attended church as much as three times in a single day. For the weeks leading up to this day I had both Gloucester County Community Church and Washington Baptist Church praying for and with me and even met with the deacons and deaconesses at both churches.

“God is going to give you an incredible gift. Now it’s your job to figure out how you can use it to serve the Lord,” the deaconess at whose name I cannot recall told me as I met with her in the chapel at GCCC.

I was so excited to begin my new life as a hearing person that as the date of my surgery came closer, sleep became more and more difficult. I’d stay up for 20 or more hours at a time, keeping myself busy by binge watching all 9 seasons of How I Met Your Mother and when I got bored of that, I’d clean everything in sight. I no longer had any concept of time.

“Do you really have to clean your toilet at 3 in the morning? I’m trying to sleep and all I can hear is your toilet flushing,” Mom complained.

“No more cleaning. I don’t wish to smell all of your chemicals first thing in the morning,” Dad pleaded.

Last night, I could hardly sleep at all. The Patriots played the late night 8:15pm game against the Colts.

“Don’t stay up too late, you have a big day tomorrow. You know the Patriots are going to win anyway,” Mom warned.

“Oh, let her stay up. She’s just going to sleep through the surgery anyway. Does it matter if she’s tired?” Dad said.

I stayed up for the whole game and then spent most of the rest of the night in bed, browsing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on my phone. By 5:30 AM, I was wide awake, dressed in my brand-new button down fleece pajamas (mom said there was no sense in wearing real clothes, I’d be better off being comfortable and I’d need to wear button downs to avoid pulling shirts over my head post-surgery anyway), and ready, a full two and a half hours before I was scheduled for surgery.

Now the day is finally here. Dr. Wilcox just came in to tell me everything would be okay and to instruct the anesthesia team to begin. I have a plastic mask on my face, covering my mouth and nose. I can hardly keep my eyes open anymore as I feel my body surrender itself to the anesthesia.

When I wake up, I’ll be a cyborg.

In another month, I’ll be activated, and I’ll finally be able to hear, Lord-willing.

If this works, I’ll be able to hear for the first time in my life, or at least, the first time since my mother discovered I was deaf at the mere age of two.

When I was two, Mom would call out my name, but I never responded. When she mentioned it to my pediatrician  during my next checkup, the pediatrician thought it was just a phase or a case of the “terrible twos”.

“No, I know my daughter. She can’t hear me,” Mom would argue.

When my mom clapped behind my back and I didn’t flinch, she knew something was wrong. Against my pediatrician’s advice, my mom took me to see Miss Terri, an audiologist at Cooper Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.

After performing a series of hearing test,  Miss Terri confirmed what we already knew: I had hearing loss. What we didn’t realize was how severe my hearing loss was. Miss Terri explained that my hearing loss was profound, meaning the only sounds I could hear were those that were at a volume of 90db or higher such as airplanes, helicopters, firetrucks, and possibly a lawn mower. Hearing aids were recommended to amplify these sounds, but my ability to hear and comprehend sounds, even when amplified, would always be a challenge.

***

 After being diagnosed with profound hearing loss, I made the journey to Camden once every two weeks for speech therapy lessons. Mom and I would drive from our small condo in Washington Township to the big city every other week. On our way in, we’d pass endless food and street vendors selling everything from hot dogs to pretzels and even random t-shirts. It amazed me how at 9 o’clock in the morning people would still be out selling lunch foods. Everyone always had a smile on their face and seemed happy to be working.

“Mom, I want to live here one day. I love the city,” I said on our way in for my appointment.

“That’s because you don’t understand what this city is really like. It’s not safe,” Mom explained. I’d understand it more when I got older and would see individuals hauled off by police for God knows why on more than one occasion. But as a child, it was a magical place with audiologists and speech therapists that thought the world of me and were helping me to hear and speak well.

Cooper Hospital had many departments and was easy to get lost in. Fortunately, they developed a system to help speech and audiology patients find their way around. By placing strips of yellow tape on the floor, patients could simply “follow the yellow brick road” to their appointment. Every time I had an appointment I knew to look down at the floor for that yellow tape and I’d sing along and skip to the tune of, “Follow, follow, follow follow follow the yellow brick road!”

Since speech and hearing worked so closely together, my appointments were run by both my audiologist, Miss Terri, and my speech therapist, Miss Vicki.

Miss Terri would always start my appointments by testing my hearing. She would lead me into a gray, audiology testing booth that was no more than 50 feet wide while my mom waited and watched outside in the hall. Miss Terri would then crookedly place a special pair of headphones over my ears and hook some wires up to my hearing aids and hand me a button.

“First we’re going to test the beeps. Push the button whenever you hear a beep. We’ll start with your left ear first before moving to the right,” Miss Terri explained.

I’d smile and nod and occasionally give a thumbs up to let her know I understood. I loved pressing that button. It felt like I was playing a video game where hitting the button was the equivalent of shooting the monsters and bad guys and freeing the victims. I never even noticed that the button didn’t get pushed half as often as it should have.

Once that portion of my hearing test was completed, I would be given a series of words that I’d have to say back.

“Say the word hot dog,” Miss Terri said.

“Hot dog,” I answered.

“Say the word baseball.”

“Baseball.”

“Say the word airplane.”

“Airplane.”

“Say the word ice cream.”

“Ice cream.”

“Terri, I’m sorry but I have to stop you,” mom interrupted.

Miss Terri and I both looked up. I was doing so well with the words, what could possibly be wrong?

“She’s not actually hearing you – she’s reading your lips,” said mom.

“I can fix that,” Terri said as she grabbed the sheet of paper with her word list.

“I’m going to cover my lips now. I want you to focus on what you hear, not on me.” Miss Terri said. I was nervous, but knew I had no choice but to try my best. I nodded in agreement.

“Say the word kite.’

“Height.”

“Say the word chair.”

“Stare.”

“Say the word sub.”

“The.”

“Say the word third.”

“The.”

“Say the word ran.”

“Than.”

I didn’t know what Miss Terri was saying, I could only guess, but I knew I was wrong.

When Miss Terri finished with the hearing test, it was on to either Miss Vicki for speech therapy where we would do different activities. One of my favorites involved using what I liked to refer to as the “magic mirror”. It was a long, oval-shaped mirror that rested in a tan wooden frame on wheels. There was nothing actually magical about it; it was just a regular mirror that I was allowed to draw on with magic markers, but I always loved this activity. I was never allowed to draw on the mirrors at home. I thought that this mirror was special since I could draw on it and the markers would wipe right off when I was done. As a two-year-old, the only logical explanation for how this could work was that it must have been magic.

Before I could draw on the mirror, Miss Vicki put me to work by having me practice my speech.

“Okay. Let’s practice our “Sh” and “Ch” sounds,” she’d say. “We’ll start wi“Sh!” I said. It was easy for me to think of the sound as a syllable, as if Miss Vicki was the teacher and I the student, getting yelled at for talking.

“Very good!” she said. “Now, I’m going to give you a word. Can you say “choose”?

“Shoes!” I said.

“No, not shoes like on your feet. Choose like when you choose something to eat,” she said.

“Shoes!” I said.

“No, look in the mirror. You want to move your tongue up a little bit and touch your teeth,” she said.

“Tooze,” I said.

“Try again. Remember, you only want to touch your teeth a little bit, not a lot.”

“Choose?” I said.

“Yes, that’s right! Very good! Want to take a break and draw on the magic mirror?” she asked.

I nodded yes and reached for the bucket of magic markers, choosing the pink one first, my favorite color. I drew a big heart on the mirror with several smaller hearts for arms, legs, and even eyes. My little heart person, my favorite thing to draw.

When I finished my masterpiece, Miss Vicki would continue with our lesson.

“Okay, Kimmy. We’re going to play a game now,” Vicki said.

“You’re going to take this ball and throw into the trashcan across the room. But as you throw the ball, I’m going to give you a word to say and I want you to imagine your voice going with that ball. As you throw the ball you’ll want your voice to get louder. Got it?” she said.

I nodded. I wasn’t sure if I really understood, but the idea of throwing a playing a game sounded like fun. The game sounded like basketball, a game I’ve always enjoyed watching my dad play.

“Okay. Your first word is suitcase,” she said.

“Suitcase,” I whispered as I threw the ball.

Vicki threw the ball back to me. “Try again,” She said. “Remember, Mr. Loud Mouth. Your voice travels with the ball.”

I took the ball back from her and paused as I remembered Mr. Loud Mouth. “SUIT CASE,” I said.

“Very nice! You got it!” she said.

Being a toddler with profound hearing loss was easy. Nobody asked any questions about my hearing loss or questioned anything that I did or didn’t do. My parents couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding of my hearing loss. My sister paid no mind to it. And my audiologist and speech therapists couldn’t help me enough. I was a toddler without a care in the world. The only thing that made me different from any other toddler in the world was the fact that I couldn’t hear. I was able to live my life in black and white or sometimes sepia. My world was full, but not always beautiful or complete. The older I got the more I realized that living as a deaf girl in a hearing world was a lot like living in a world without color.

 


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Image Credits: Pinterest

Hey guys! It’s been awhile. Thanks to being sick with a really weird ear infection (the inner corner of my ear is blistered/inflamed…) I’ve been home bound with a lot of free time this week, so I figured I’d give you all an update.

My MA project is…going. It’s crazy how soon symposium is coming up. I feel so not ready for that, but it’s a month and a half away whether I’m ready or not. It’s definitely crunch time and that means making some hard decisions, too. Among the hardest of decisions was the decision to fire my original second reader. I’d rather not go into details about that decision other than to say it simply wasn’t working for me and I needed more. Fortunately, Professor Block assigned me Katie Budris as a new second reader and everything’s been going much better ever since then, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

My main focus has been on my travel chapters lately. Travel is something that was difficult if not impossible pre-cochlear implants, but since getting implants I’ve been to Disney, Nashville, Chicago, Langhorne, and will very likely be traveling to St. Louis in May. Travel has definitely become very important to me since getting my implants so I really wanted to highlight that in my memoir. However, it’s been a challenge to figure out the best way to approach this topic. I initially only had one chapter on Nashville, but it felt really out of place. Then I tried to write two chapters on Disney…one before cochlear implants and one after cochlear implants. That felt redundant and Professor Block didn’t think I needed the post-cochlear implant Disney chapter at all since he felt it didn’t really add anything to the story.

In my most recent revision which is below for your reading pleasure, I combined both Disney chapters together and re-wrote 90% of the Nashville chapter and combined that in here as well.

Please note this is very much still a rough draft. Some things I want to work on with my next few drafts include my shift in time periods/tenses and transitions between pre-post cochlear implant stories.

As always, I hope you enjoy reading my story and I welcome your feedback!

 

Traveling Through the Sound Waves of Life

            I didn’t sleep at all the night before my high school senior trip to Disney World because I was too excited. I never really been anywhere without my parents before, unless you count sleeping over my Aunt Christ and Uncle Don’s house in Riverside when I was a child (which I don’t). Sure, I wouldn’t really be alone, but just the idea of being away from my parent’s control and in a new city and even taking a flight was cause enough for excitement. Plus, I never been to Florida before.

I never quite understood why so many people hated flying or were afraid of it. I never been on a plane before, but the idea of being up thousands of miles high above the sky thrilled me. I was a little nervous about going through airport security. After all, this was post 9/11 and I heard horror stories on how crazy airport security could be, but even that I was able to brush off as not being a very big deal.

Woodbury High School always did a fantastic job with working with me and my hearing loss. Everyone always knew to speak loudly and to let me see them, so I could read their lips. My mom also instructed me to make sure I always stayed with someone at all times, so they could be my ears, she meant.

“Everyone get out your ID and have them in your hand along with your plane tickets. Everyone must have both in their hands to go through the luggage check. I should not see anyone struggling to find either item and holding up the line at the luggage check,” Mr. Shivers commanded.

I grabbed out both items from my wallet as instructed and clenched them in my fist and allowed my eyes to gaze back and forth between our three main chaperones: Mr. Shivers, Mrs. DiRenzio, and Mr. Cannulli. I kept my eyes fixated on the three of them, fearing that if I so much as blinked I’d miss important instructions which would cause me to miss my flight and the trip at whole.

“Okay, everyone make sure you have your IDs and plane tickets ready and follow me!” Mrs. DiRenzio instructed in a much more pleasant tone than Mr. Shivers.

I followed her behind the rest of my classmates as instructed. I examined each student in front of me as they displayed their IDs to the luggage check attendants along with their plane tickets. I watched them as they lifted their luggage up on a scale, tagged it, and then placed it on the conveyor belt.

Okay. Display ID, place luggage on scale, tag it, and place on the conveyor belt. I got this, I told myself.

Getting through the luggage check was easy enough. I figured that the rest of the airport would be just as easy. Maybe this isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be after all, I thought.

I looked for Mrs. DiRenzio in the sea of faces and followed her along with the rest of my classmates as she helped to lead everyone upstairs to the security line. I watched as the people in front of me held out their IDs and plane tickets. I watched as people took off their shoes, belts, and jewelry. I found it strange that people had to remove their shoes. It seemed impossible to me that anyone could hide a bomb in such a small place, but apparently, it’s already happened before.

“EVERYONE TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES AND KEEP YOUR ID AND PLANE TICKET IN YOUR HANDS. REMOVE BELTS AND JEWELRY. DON’T HOLD UP THE LINE. KEEP MOVING,” Mr. Shivers yelled to the crowd of students. I’ve been concentrating so much on Mrs. DiRenzio that I didn’t even notice that he was already upstairs. Mr. Cannuli must be the only one left downstairs, I thought.

I already had my ID and plane ticket in my hand along with my carry-on strapped to my back. I didn’t have on a belt or any jewelry, so I assumed I was safe as far as metal items were concerned. I untied my shoes and took them off and carried them in my hands and moved forward in line, waiting for my turn.

As the line moved closer to the security check point, I could see the people in front of me grabbing bins to place their shoes and belongings in. As soon as the bins were within reach I grabbed one to place my shoes, cell phone, and, carry on in.

Nice and easy. I’m almost done. This isn’t bad at all, I thought.

I was wrong. Very very very wrong.

Once I walked through the body scanner, the alarm sounded. Metal.

Except, I couldn’t hear the metal detector go off. It made a high-pitched beeping sound that was out of the range of my hearing capabilities.

“I need you to stand over here,” the security guard said as she pointed away from the line.

“Wait — what’s happening?” I said as I felt my face get hot. All of my classmates and everyone else still in line was staring at me.

“Point out your items,” she said. Except I couldn’t hear her. Puh. Items.”

“What? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” I explained.

“Puh,” she repeated.

“I’m sorry I’m hearing impaired,” I said.

Mrs. Direnzio came to my rescue to see what was going on. I was about ready to burst into tears. What was that woman saying? Why was everyone staring at me as if I was some sort of a criminal?

“Kim, do you have on a belt, any jewelry, or anything metal?” she asked. She pointed to her waist and her wrist as make-shift signs, so I’d be able to understand what she meant.

“No, I don’t have anything on,” I said.

I saw her ask the security guard a question that I can only assume was something along the lines of, “What do you need her to do?”

The security guard relayed a message back to Mrs. DiRenzio and she repeated it to me. “Kim, she needs you to point out your things. Which items on the conveyor belt are yours?”

I pointed.

“Okay, is that everything?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Kim, you set off the metal detector, but don’t worry it’s okay. It happens. You’re not in trouble. They just need to do a pat down and move their wand over your body,” she explained.

I nodded. I didn’t hear all of what she said, but it looked like she was signaling that they had to search me for something. Did they think I had a weapon? I was scared.

The female security guard explained to me that she would be patting down my entire body including my breasts, buttocks, and in between my legs. She asked me if I understood, so I nodded. I’m not entirely sure what is going on, but I just want to go to Disney, I thought.

The next thing I knew the woman was groping every inch of my body. She did exactly what she told me she was going to do, but it still felt so wrong. I felt as if she was violating me, even though I knew in the back of my head she was only doing her job. My classmates stood by and watched. I was humiliated.

After she finished patting me down, she ran a hand scanner over my body again. It was still going off, but I could not hear it. I watched as the lights flashed on the scanner. Something was wrong.

She ran it through again, this time more slowly. She stopped when she reached my head.

“Are you wearing any earrings or jewelry?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“She has hearing aids, could that be it?” Mrs. DiRenzio asked.

“Possibly,” the security guard said.

“Do your hearing aids contain any metal? Mrs. DiRenzio asked.

“Nnnn-ot really. But they take batteries which have metal.” I said, my voice trembling in fear.

“Can you take those off for me?” the security guard asked.

I nodded and pulled both hearing aids out of my ears. I looked at Mrs. DiRenzio for approval.

“You can sit them down here for a minute,” she said as she pointed to a small counter.

I placed my hearing aids on the counter and then spread out my legs and arms as instructed. The security guard once again waved her hand scanner across my body. Except this time, it never flashed or set off any alarms.

“That must be it. Okay you’re good to go,” she said.

Mrs. DiRenzio lead me to where my items were and I put my shoes back on and gathered my things. I apologized to my classmates for the delay.

“Don’t worry about it,” Mrs. DiRenzio said. “Are you okay?”

I nodded, although I still wanted to cry out of humiliation. This has been the worst experience of my life.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be in Disney soon. The worst is over!” she said.

I smiled. She’s right. Soon I’ll be in Disney, the most magical place on Earth, I thought.

But it turns out, the trouble was only just beginning.

I tried my best to just stay with my group and my roommate Sam. I figured so long as I followed them I’d be fine.

This philosophy worked well at first. We went exploring in Magic Kingdom and took a bunch of photos at Cinderella’s castle together. We also enjoyed the spinning tea cups, Space Mountain, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. It was an estimated 100 degrees in Florida that day, so the parks weren’t at all crowded and the lines were short except for the more popular attractions like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, but even that wasn’t too long of a wait.

When my group decided that they wanted to go on the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride, I decided to pass. I’ve never been much a fan of rides that spin like that, probably due to my fear of heights, so I decided to wait for them. Besides, I spotted a souvenir stand that was selling unique black and white baseball hats featuring Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse. I thought it would make the perfect gift to bring back home to my dad.

I walked up to the stand and took a closer look at the baseball hats and made a purchase. Then I began to walk back to the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride in search of my group. I figured the ride should be over by that point.

I looked all around, but I didn’t recognize any of the faces. I walked around and around and around the ride, but I had no luck.

Why didn’t they wait for me? They were supposed to wait for me. I thought.

I grabbed out my phone to check the time. It was nearing 12:30 and we were supposed to meet back at the gate for check in by 1. Well, I better get going back anyway. I thought before making my way back.

There was just one major problem:

I couldn’t remember my way back.

Was I supposed to move forward? Go backwards? Left? Right? I had no idea. I remembered seeing the different characters carved out of bushes and shrubs by the entrance. If I could find them again, I’d be in the right area. I looked around me…nope, no shrubs or bushes or characters in sight.

I decided to just go back. Going back rather than forward sounded right. After all, it would be going backwards from where we came, right?

I walked and I walked and I walked. My feet were achy and blistered and I was soaked in sweat and beginning to dehydrate. The 100 degree Florida weather and the hot Florida sun rays were really beginning to take their toll on me, but I needed to get back to the entrance for check in, so I kept walking.

I looked down at my phone again. It was now 1:03. I was already late. Time to ask for help.

I stopped at a souvenir stand, similar to the one that sold the Mickey Mouse hats that got me into this whole mess and I asked the man, “Excuse me. Excuse me sir, can you tell me how I can get back to the main gate?”

The man was not American; I’d guess and say he was either Mexican or Indian and he spoke broken English. That mixed with my deafness meant that I couldn’t understand a word he said. Still, I thanked him for his time and pretended I knew exactly where to go.

I kept walking until I found another souvenir stand to ask for help, but it was just the same experience all over again. Finally, I pulled out my cellphone and called my mom’s work. I didn’t know how she would help being that I was in Florida and she was back home in New Jersey, but I also knew that she was Mom and Mom could do anything.

Before she even said, “Hi” she asked me, “What’s wrong?”

I began to sob. I told her how I was lost and I was missing check in but only because I couldn’t find the gate and how I got lost because my group didn’t wait for me after riding Dumbo the Flying Elephant. I cried about how I was afraid I’d get in trouble and not be allowed out tomorrow or worse – that I’d be sent home for missing check in. I was so scared, and I just let all of my emotions pour out.

“Relax. Ask someone for help,” she said.

“I tried and I can’t hear them,” I cried.

“Kim I’m in NJ. I can’t help you. Where are you at now?” she asked.

“I don’t know. By a stand or something,” I said.

“Okay the doctor is going to look up a map of Magic Kingdom on his work computer and try to help you. We will call you back. Stay where you are.” She said.

A few minutes later I received another phone call from my mom’s boss, Dr. Roth, but I could not hear him.

“Hello? I said. Are you there?” I can’t hear you.

I heard my mom in the background; they must have put the phone on speaker.

“Kim, Dr. Roth is on the phone. He’s trying to help you.”

“Hi Kim, I want you to go.”

“Wait? What? I can’t hear you,” I said.

“Go.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Kim, just go.”

I began to cry again. I was so scared. I couldn’t hear a word that anyone was saying, and I was lost in not only a new place, but a whole new state. I felt completely helpless.

I hung up the phone and kept walking, in what felt like circles. I passed Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin for what felt like the hundredth time along with the spinning swings. I lost count of the number of helpless souvenir stands I passed. Why was it that the more I walked, the further away I felt? Still, I kept trying, hoping that even if I didn’t make it to the gate, I’d find someone I recognized that could take me there.

After approximately another twenty minutes, my wish came true and I found Mrs. DiRenzio.

“What happened?” she asked.

“My group wanted to go on a ride and I didn’t want to go on it, so I was waiting for them and as I was waiting I stopped by a souvenir shop and when I came back they were gone and I kept trying to get back, but I couldn’t find my way. I am so so so sorry. I know I missed check in, but I’ve been trying to get back since around 12:30.”

“It’s okay. You’re not in any trouble. Just try to do a better job of staying with and communicating with your group next time,” she said. I nodded to let her know I understood.

When we finally arrived back to the gate I apologized to my classmates for keeping them waiting. Then we took our class photo in front of the bushes that were carved into Mickey and Minnie and the sign welcoming us to Disney before receiving information on our next steps such as when and where to meet up for the next check in and when the buses would arrive to take us back at the hotel. I couldn’t hear anything, so I just nodded and made a mental note to ask someone in my group later, or to just follow everyone else. I knew one thing for certain was that I wouldn’t leave anyone ever again. If they went on a ride, so would I. If they went to a shop, so would I. If they went to the bathroom, even if I didn’t have to go, so would I. I wasn’t going to risk getting lost again.

 

It’s April 11, 2017. It has been over two years since my first cochlear implant, and one since going bilateral. I am sitting at a table making small talk with Kerry Flynn, the Business Editor at Mashable, while sipping away at a bottle of Coors Light and eating an assortment of southern food in the beautiful and historic Bell Tower located in the heart of Nashville. Our conversation feels forced and she is looking at me weird for asking her whether she knows my old high school classmate, Natalie DiBlasio. I regret asking her this question immediately after it slips from my lips. Of course she doesn’t know Natalie. Natalie’s never worked for Mashable…she works for Wired; Mashable’s top competitor, I think. Still, despite my nerves and awkwardness I am stoked to be talking to someone who works for Mashable, and I even have a photo of us together to bring back home to all of the people who would never believe that this night actually happened.

Kerry isn’t the only important person I’ve met tonight. I also chugged shots of Tennessee whiskey with Leah Schultz, the Social Media Manager at Papa Johns along with Scott Plocharcyk, Director of Business Development and Micah Donahue, Leads Brand Engagement Strategy both at Mechanica. Out of all of the people I’ve met at this conference so far, Leah has been my favorite. She only looks at the most a few years older than me, but she is insanely smart. The key takeaway I’ve gotten from her presentations on social listening has been to HAVE FUN on social media and to not worry so much about politics. Penn could sure learn a thing or two from her, I thought.

Scott and Micah are both very nice to me and seem to be following me everywhere, but I can’t tell how sincere they are. Do they actually like me for who I am, or do they like me because I work for Penn Medicine? I only like Kerry because she works at Mashable, but that’s obvious by our forced conversation. The conversation with Scott and Micah flows naturally, but I can’t help but feel this is only because A. They want me to tell my boss about Mechanica so they can earn a new client, or B. They are fascinated in my cochlear implants because they’ve never seen them before. I decide that it doesn’t matter either way; the fact that I am able to talk to business professionals, let alone drink whiskey with them, in a crowded bar with a cover band playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is pretty amazing in and of itself.

I don’t remember much about what Leah, Scott, Micah, and I talked about that night other than our jobs and responsibilities and my cochlear implants. I blame all of the alcohol on my foggy memory, after all, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a moment throughout the entire conference when I didn’t have either a beer, glass of champagne, or shot of whiskey in hand (I’m not sure if the purpose of the conference was to teach us about an unenterprised approach to social media marketing or what type of alcohol was the best to drink in Nashville…to this day the topic is still open to debate), but I do remember how proud I was to be holding conversations and networking with so many top business executives and to not have to say “What?” or “I’m sorry, can you repeat yourself?” every .02 seconds. I was proud to be doing this all on my own, without my mother holding my hand or the need to look at a co-worker or manager for approval. As each glass of alcohol ran through my veins I felt myself loosening up more and more and I finally felt free – free to be whoever I wanted to be in a brand new city filled with new people. Free to hear the music that constantly played throughout the capital of country music. Free to be a deaf girl in a hearing world, and free in my knowledge that my deafness no longer mattered one iota.

Originally, Mom and Dad were both hesitant to allow me to go on this trip.

“I think Mom should go with you. She can help you with the airport and everything and keep you safe. I don’t know anything about Nashville, but I heard that Memphis could be a little rough. I don’t think it’s a good idea to go by yourself,” Dad said.

“I’ll be fine,” I said. “I’ll be with a lot of other people – it’s a big conference. Besides, Penn will only pay for my own airfare and Mom can’t get into the conference…what will she do when I’m working?”

“I’ll hang out in the hotel. I’m sure they have a pool or something,” Mom replied.

“You’re going to spend over $1,000 to hang out alone in a hotel and use the pool?” I asked. The entire thing sounded completely ridiculous.

“I’m fine with it. This way I can help you out. I know how much you hate the airport. Remember Disney?” she asked.

“Yeah, but I’m going to have to figure this out for myself at some point. People at Penn travel all the time. You can’t always come with me,” I said.

“What about your schooling? Will they be okay with you skipping class and cancelling your classes?” my mom asked.

That’s when it hit me: I could use my schooling to my advantage. My parents knew that it had been a challenging semester for me as I began the research process for my MA project. I have been reading, analyzing, and examining everything in sight and growing more and more frustrated from it all in the process. I worked constantly and rarely ever slept anymore. I even ended up accidentally overdosing on caffeine two weeks into the semester. It made sense that they’d worry about me missing this class, but I knew exactly how to get around it.

“Actually, this will count as research for my MA project, so Dr. Kopp is fine with me missing class and Dr. Maxson and Dr. Courtney don’t mind. They know I’m not screwing off, that I have a legitimate reason for missing class and cancelling my students’ classes. It’s all for my MA project,” I lied.

“What? How?” my mom asked.

“We’re allowed to use experiences for our research, so I want to write what it’s like to travel alone with cochlear implants and to fly alone and all of that,” I said.

“But it’s not your first trip with your cochlears. You flew to Disney with Larry right after you were implanted. Isn’t that the same thing?” Dad asked.

“No because I had him there to help me and that’s when I only had one cochlear. Now I have two and I’ve never done anything completely by myself before,” I explained.

“Okay. I still think I should go with you, but I understand why you want to do this. But we’ll see.

“I’ll be fine.” I said, “Besides, Penn only pays for my flight anyway.”

“We have the money. That’s not a problem,” mom said. “I could help you, but I understand why you want to do this.”

“I’ll be fine,” I said. The truth was I was a little bit nervous flying on my own for the first time, but I knew I had to do this for myself just to prove I could do it, if for no other reason. The idea of flying alone to a whole new place also thrilled me. It would be a completely new experience where I could become anyone I wanted to be without the fear of what my friends, family, or anyone else would think. I didn’t even have any co-workers traveling with me, so even work wasn’t much of an issue.

As I partied with the fellow business executives and conference attendees at the Bell Tower that night, I couldn’t help but feel proud. I was proud for finally branching out on my own. Proud for finally doing things without my parents or colleagues around dictating my every move. Proud for making it through not one, but two airports on my own without even being on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Proud for my newfound ability to wander around the 526-square mile town of Nashville on my own without getting lost even once. Proud of my ability to make small talk even in noisy environments and to be able to follow and hear every word.

While I may have felt proud, I also knew better than to allow all of my pride to get to my head. There was another word floating around my mind that triumphed any ounce of pride I may have felt. That word was Blessed.

I was blessed to be having this experience right now, that was due in no small part to my newfound gift of hearing. I knew that this experience wouldn’t have been possible just two years prior before I received my first cochlear implant. I remembered how difficult travel was in the past when I only had my hearing aids and very limited modes of technology on hand to help me out. Now that I could hear, I no longer had to depend so heavily on others to “be my extra set of ears”. I could be my own, independent person. I had an entire world in front of me. The only question I had was Where should I travel to next?

 

 

 


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Image Credits: Quotes Pictures

Hey guys! I’m back with draft three (or is it four) of chapter 6 which at this point I’ll just refer to simply as “the music chapter” considering how many revisions I have done of it and how many times I’ve already changed the title lol.

Every time I revise it it gets drastically different. The last time I posted about my revisions I worked on creating stronger scenes and making it more of a love story between my ex-boyfriend, Larry and I discovered music with him for the first time post-cochlear implant activation. However, much of the feedback I received from my peers was that I didn’t make it very clear what it was like to hear music before I had cochlear implants and to discuss how it differed. I tried to make that more clear this time around with my references to Good Charlotte and how I knew my hearing was declining and what it was like to regain it and to have it better than ever before.

It’s still a tough challenge for me to write about what it’s like to not hear and what it’s like to hear some things but not everything and to know you can hear things but maybe not quite the way you’re supposed to be hearing it. I think what makes it difficult is it’s such a strong part of me that I don’t always think about it. It’s my identity. So when I do stop and think about it, let alone write about it, I don’t always know how to put it into words. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s always heard what it’s like to not hear when much of your life was spent not being able to hear, if that makes any sense at all?

I realized as I wrote this revision that the love story exists far beyond what I had with my ex, Larry. The real love story I would suggest wasn’t with him at all; but rather with music. I fell in love with music at a really early age, and that love was only strengthened in my middle school years when I discovered Good Charlotte. Like all good love stories, this one wasn’t without heartbreak, which I experienced as I began to lose my ability to hear music. However, love always triumphs, hence my ability to regain my hearing and ability to listen to music.

I’m not sure if any of those 400 or so words I wrote above make any sense at all but regardless, the latest revision is below. This is likely what I’ll be submitting as my final for Seminar I, because after four of five revisions I’m getting a little tired of revising this and also running out of time. :). This is still a work in progress though and I expect there will still be many more revisions to come as I go through Seminar II next semester, so feel free to leave a comment with any suggestions, questions, or any other feedback!

 

Chapter 6: The Memory and Memorization of Music

My middle school years were some of the toughest years in my life. I didn’t have many friends, but what I did have was music. Music was my friend. Good Charlotte was there for me when no one else was. Songs like “The Anthem” told me it was okay to be an outcast, to not be with the “in” crowd and that I should be proud to be different and not like my peers. Not to sound meta or anything, but “The Anthem” literally did become my anthem throughout middle school.  I’d come home from school and play Good Charlotte on my stereo in my room for hours.

I also saw them live every chance that I got. My first time seeing them live was on June 20, 2010. It was Father’s Day, and I felt kind of bad leaving my dad home alone for the holiday while Mom and I made the journey to Philadelphia to surround ourselves with a bunch of hot, sweaty, and drunk 20-somethings who were all pushing and shoving each other to the rhythm of early 00’s alternative rock bands, but I knew my dad would understand. My world always stopped for Good Charlotte.

Mom was disappointed that we wouldn’t be home with dad for Father’s Day, but she understood. In fact, when the car broke down just a few days prior to the show and we didn’t have the money to get it fixed right away, she did what any crazy mom would do and rather than chalking it up as a lost and selling the tickets, she looked up bus schedules and mapped out our plan. It would be a long bus ride with a 10-15 minute walk each way. No big deal, except for one small problem:

It was over 100 degrees.

Father’s Day. No car. An outdoor concert. In 100-degree heat. But for Good Charlotte, it was worth it. For the band who has given me so much in my life, any amount of suffering faced in order to see them perform live was worth it.

The show started with a familiar set of what I assumed were guitar riffs I have memorized and fallen in love with over the years, followed by the opening lines of “It’s a new day, but it all feels old…”

“The Anthem”. I know this, I thought. Singing, or rather screaming, along while jumping up and down and pushing my way closer and closer to the stage was no problem. I knew this song from the back of my hand. I could remember the song length, the lyrics, and the basic structure of the song.

“Move back.” Mom warned, “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I’m fine. I can always move away if people start a mosh pit,” I said.

“It’s LOUD. I don’t want you to hurt your ears,” mom said.

I rolled my eyes. I was already about as deaf as one could be and she was worried about me hurting my ears. Really?

“I’m fine,” I contested.

“Do you want to take one of your hearing aids off?” Mom asked.

“No really, I’m fine and if I do that I won’t hear anything. It’s really not that loud to me,” I said. It wasn’t a total lie. I could hear the music and the volume felt comfortable. I could feel the vibrations from the speakers, but it still didn’t seem dangerously loud, just average.

At this point, my hearing while bad, wasn’t yet completely disabling. I was able to comfortably identify and follow along with a majority of Good Charlotte’s songs. The only time I struggled with a little bit was towards the end when Good Charlotte announced that they would be debuting their new song, “Like It’s Her Birthday”. Since this was a brand new song, I haven’t had the opportunity to hear it in the past, let alone memorize the lyrics and song structure. I could see Benji and Paul strumming along with their guitars while Dean banged along on his drums. I could watch Benji play his bass, although I had no way of deciphering its sounds from Benji and Paul’s electric guitars. I could hear Joel singing, but I was only able to make out the first few words of the main chorus, “Acting crazy, like it’s her birthday….” Still, being able to get the gist of the song was better than nothing at this point.  However, by the time I attended my third Good Charlotte concert nearly a year later, I’d see this ability rapidly diminish.

In November of 2010 after much anticipation, Good Charlotte finally released their fifth studio album, Cardiology. Every song on this album was beautifully crafted and one of my all time favorite albums from them. I purchased the album from Best Buy the day it was released and spent the next several weeks listening to it on repeat, studying every single music note (or what I believed them to be) and memorizing all of the lyrics. When they announced that they would be going on tour in March I couldn’t buy the tickets fast enough.

On March 9, 2011, I attended what was the most depressing concert of my life: Good Charlotte’s Cardiology Tour at the Theater of Living Arts (TLA) in Philadelphia. This concert was depressing not because of the show itself (it looked like a great show!) but because of one major problem: I could barely hear or understand anything that was being said and any song that was being performed.

I did okay with some of the newer songs. The good part about their new album that they were promoting, Cardiology is that the songs were so unique and distinct from any of their other songs that it was easy to study the structure of the songs and to distinguish one from another. “Silver Screen Romance” was milder and laid back than many of their other works and had an almost old-fashioned kind of sound that none of their other songs did. I could pick that song out easily. “Introduction to Cardiology” was another easy song to pick out simply because it was first. It only made sense that they would perform it first. Also, the song was one of the only instrumental songs that Good Charlotte had. However, it was hard to tell when the song ended and moved into another song, “The Anthem”. I could not hear the words that Benji and Joel were singing. I only knew the song was different a few minutes in when I noticed that the tone seemed to have changed not just with the song, but the concert atmosphere in general. Everyone was rather calm when Introduction to Cardiology was playing. No one was really jumping up or down or singing along to anything. Now suddenly, the girls were going crazy jumping up and down while the men were forming their own mosh pits. Everyone was singing along to something, but what exactly were they singing along to? I couldn’t tell, and I was afraid to ask. I should know this, I thought to myself. Better luck with the next songs I thought as I hoped for the best.

Song after song after song kept playing, and I wasn’t getting any better. In fact, if anything I was getting worse. What were they performing? Was this “Bloody Valentine”? No, I think they did that already. “Lifestyles of the Rich an Famous”? No, it couldn’t be; that’s their biggest hit and the one they always save for the encore. Would I get any of these songs right? Am I really this deaf?

The music stopped and Benji and Joel talked to the audience. They were laughing. Why were they laughing? What was even going on? I looked at my mom and she was laughing and smiling, too. “I love watching them talk. They always make fun of each other,” she said. Not only was this my third Good Charlotte concert, it was her third one, too. She had become my concert buddy and was beginning to enjoy the Good Charlotte concerts every bit as much as I did, if not more so. Or at least as much as I did before this night… I wanted to cry. I had no idea what was being said, what was being performed, and I didn’t even know why I was there. Would I ever be able to enjoy a Good Charlotte concert ever again? I didn’t want to let her know how bad of a time I was having or how I couldn’t actually hear anything. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, but above all else, I felt defeated. Instead I just said, “Yeah, me too. I love them, they’re hilarious.” I figured pretending I could hear them and giving a vague response was my best bet.

March 9, 2011 was the first night I realized that maybe I was deafer than I ever imagined. It was the first time that I was ever a little bit afraid of my deafness. Up until that night, I thought I was doing an excellent job of existing in the hearing world and “getting by” despite my deafness. But music has always been such a huge part of my life. If I was going to lose my ability to hear music, what did I even have left in my life?

I couldn’t accept the fact that music may only be a past memory for me. Even though I was struggling to hear it, I never gave up. I saw many concerts in 2010 – 2014 including Simple Plan, Yellowcard, The Ataris, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Pat Benatar, and Rick Springfield. Many of these musicians sounded very different from one another, but each concert had one thing in common:

I couldn’t hear them.

I tried to focus more on the experience I was having at each concert rather than on the fact that I couldn’t hear the music at all. Sometimes the experience was great, and other times not so great. Simple Plan’s concert was one of the worst concerts I ever been to in my life, despite them being one of my all-time favorite bands. I couldn’t hear any of the songs and throughout the night.

Avril Lavigne was a concert even more depressing than the March 9, 2011 Good Charlotte concert I attended. At least with Good Charlotte I could remember what it was like to attend their concerts and to be able to hear them. I waited over 10 years to see her perform live and she has always been one of my all time favorite musicians. However, I couldn’t hear a word she said. I couldn’t understand what any of the songs she sang were. I didn’t know if she was good live, not good, or even in between.

I was bored. Concerts become less fun when you have no idea what is going on. Not only was I bored, I was downright depressed. One of the most anticipated concerts in my entire life and I couldn’t even hear anything.

Unfortunately, it only got worse from then on out. Not only was I losing my ability to hear live music and to enjoy going to concerts, something that has become a favorite pastime of mine, but I was losing the ability to hear music on the radio, too. Catching a song mid-way through on the radio and I’d have absolutely no idea who sung it or what the song was called, even if it was a song I’ve heard millions of times before. The only way I knew what it was is if I knew the name and artist ahead of time, but even that was becoming more and more difficult. I couldn’t hear or understand what the radio DJ’s were saying; the only way for me to know would be to have someone tell me such as my mom or dad if they were in the car with me at the time, or to look it up on their website to see what was “Now Playing” and hope it was updated (it usually wasn’t).

Listening to my own personal music collection via CDs or my iPod was a bit easier for me, because then I could select the songs on my own I wanted to listen to. I knew exactly what the song was called and who it was by. I could use my memory of how I thought the song was supposed to sound, the lyrics and the basic song structure to figure out what the song was and to almost enjoy it. It was at times an exhausting process. Music was becoming less of an enjoyable activity to me and more of a chore. Because it took so much work for me to “study” the music and to be able to listen to it based off my memory, I found myself listening to it less and less. I used to love finding new music and discovering local, unsigned bands, but that hobby became a thing of the past as my hearing continued to decline. Hearing music was only working for songs I had a past memory of hearing, not something I’d need to discover for the very first time.

My ability to hold on to my memories of music and the way I thought it was supposed to sound would come in handy a few years later after I received my first cochlear implant.

“Don’t be too discouraged if music doesn’t sound like how you remember it at first. Remember, for some people they are never able to hear music at all even with the cochlear implant,” I remembered Wayne’s words, but I chose not to accept them. Music has always been such a huge part of who I am, and I refused to accept the idea that I may not ever be able to enjoy it again. I wanted to not only hear it the way I remembered it, but I wanted to hear it the way it was supposed to sound, too. I didn’t want music to consist only of memories; I wanted music to be exactly what it was – music.

“Can you tell what this?” Dad asked as he turned on the car radio.

“Jesse’s Girl?” I asked. We had the song burned on one of our car CDs and my dad knew it was my favorite, so we played it often.

My mom shot my dad a concerned look before whispering something. I’ll never know what was said, but if I had to take a guess it was probably something along the lines of “Why can’t she hear it?”

“No – it’s the Grinch,” my dad corrected.

“What?” I asked.

“The Grinch,” my dad repeated.

“I can’t really hear you. I mean I can, but I can’t understand what you’re saying – everything still sounds like a baby crying,” I said.

“The GRINCH. GUR-INCHHH,” my mom said. In between the sounds of a baby crying, her voice squeaked through. She still sounded like she was sucking on helium, but I could read her lips well enough to tell she was saying “the Grinch”.

“Oh, the Grinch!” I said, “yeah, I didn’t get that at all.”

“It will probably take time. You’ll get it eventually,” my dad said.

“Yeah. Wayne and everyone in the Facebook groups said that music is the hardest thing to learn,” I said. I left out the second half of the sentence, some of them never learn to hear music at all or at least not the way it was before being implanted.

“You can try some more when we get home. Remember, we have the new Mandisa CDs I got from G triple C,” my mom reminded me.

“Yeah, I’ll try those,” I said.

Once I got home I was so excited to make noise and to hear literally anything I could. Gizmo, my Maine Coon cat meowing. The sound of running water. The clicking noise that light switches apparently make. Even the sounds of ice cubes cackling in a cup of soda amused me. But the thing I wanted to hear most of all was music, so I wasted little time popping a CD in the stereo and pressing play.

I started with Mandisa as my mom suggested. It was a brand-new CD that I’ve had for a month but have yet to open since I couldn’t hear anything before my activation. I have been eager to open it as a sort of “gift” for my new bionic ear. I wasn’t that familiar with Mandisa’s music other than the occasional song here or there that played on K-Love, so I was excited to discover her music for the first time with my new bionic ear.

However, when I pressed play all that I could hear was the sound of a baby crying blocking the sounds of Mandisa’s voice. Since I had little to no previous experience with listening to Mandisa, my brain was unable to process the sounds of her voice and the instruments in the background. Everything was completely new and overwhelming. Still, I didn’t want to give up just yet. I hit “next” and choose another song. Same results. I kept on trying and trying and trying until more than an hour passed by and I had still made no progress.

“It still sounds so weird. All I can hear is the sound of a baby crying,” I said.

“Why don’t you try something else that you’re more familiar with?” my dad suggested.

I look around a bit before spotting the Kelly Clarkson “Thankful” CD sitting by the stereo. Kelly Clarkson was never someone I’d say was my favorite musician, but I did always like and appreciate her music. I looked at the back of the CD case to refresh my memory on what songs were on that album.

“’Miss Independent’. ‘Low’. ‘A Moment Like This’. Hmm. Okay I think I know these pretty well,” I said to myself before swapping CDs and pressing play.

I couldn’t understand it all at first, but by my third time through I could pick out words like “Miss independent” or “What is this feeling taking over” from her songs. The music was slowly beginning to filter through the noise and sound like actual music. It wasn’t yet pretty, but it was a glimpse of what music is supposed to sound like – actual music.

The more I listen to it, the more familiar it becomes. It’s like a new way of studying and learning to hear music. I thought to myself. But this is going to take a lot of work.

I was exhausted. The one thing nobody tells you about hearing or being activated with a cochlear implant is how truly exhausting it can all be. Once activated, you need to really think hard about what you’re hearing and give your brain a lot of time to process the sounds and figure out what it is. After listening to music for several hours, I needed a break.

I guess that’s a little bit of progress. I thought. I’ll try again tomorrow.

For the rest of the week I focused almost all my attention on learning how to hear music the way it was supposed to sound. I learned quickly that the more familiar a band or song was, the better the chances I had of hearing it properly. Good Charlotte was my band of choice, for obvious reasons. There was no band I knew better than Good Charlotte. Still, for the first few days post-activation I struggled. However, I was determined to not become another statistic; I didn’t want to turn into a cochlear implant recipient that lost their ability to enjoy music post-activation. I was determined to defy the odds and to not only hear music, but for it to be completely and mesmerizingly beautiful; like I’ve never heard it before.

By the third day post-activation, after spending countless hours listening to Good Charlotte on repeat, it finally began to click. I was working from home for an advertising agency, WebiMax, and listening to my iPod as I worked on my assigned tasks. I had Good Charlotte’s complete discography playing on repeat. The song that was playing at that moment was Good Charlotte’s “Predictable”. Suddenly, I recognized an entirely new sound. It wasn’t the sound of a baby crying or someone sucking on helium or any other “side effect” kind of sound. It was beautiful.

Duhn duhn. Duhn duhn. Duhn duhn.

What was that?

I backed up and hit play again.

Duhn duhn. Duhn duhn. Duhn duhn.

Is that a drum? No, it couldn’t be. It wasn’t quite loud or hard enough to be a drum.

Guitar? No, I was fairly sure I was already hearing the guitar, and this was something different.

What other options were left?

I decided to take to Google and look up facts about Good Charlotte’s “Predictable” to see if I could find anything that stated what instruments were used.

BAM! Found it.

BASS.

It was a bass.

The one instrument I have always known of and knew Good Charlotte could play, but could never actually hear. Up until that moment I thought that the bass and the regular guitars were synonymous. For the first time ever, I was hearing the bass the way it was supposed to sound and it was so beautiful. I’ve always enjoyed listening to “Predictable”, but I’d never quite referred to it as being one of my all-time favorite Good Charlotte songs. That is, not until that moment. At this particular moment, I knew I was making extreme progress. I was so happy and excited I could cry.

I spent the rest of the afternoon playing “Predictable” on repeat. I was in complete awe by the sound of the bass and I was excited to see what else I could hear.

By the end of the day I could sing along to most of the words in “Predictable”.

The best part? I was singing along because I could hear and follow the song, not simply because I had it memorized.

On day four of post-cochlear implant activation, 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.

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.

“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. Music still sounded terrible to me, but better than it did on day one at least. I just wanted to impress Larry with all the things I could suddenly hear, even if I couldn’t understand them.

Larry joined me and we sang together, “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 overwhelmed by all the noise and it looked like Santa came through town and painted everything with Christmas cheer. It looked like a cute little Christmas village with 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 admitted, “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 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 before heading to 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 looked 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 was 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?

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 was 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 was 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 left Applebees and finally arrived back home, it was after 10. Larry parked the car in the back lot, away from all 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 sang along to the radio, holding me as tight as he could. He only stopped 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.

“Love you, Angel,” Larry whispered in my ear. A soft, delicate whisper, and perhaps one of the only whispers I’ve ever actually heard in my life.

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.


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Image Credits: Pinterest 

SPOILER ALERT:

This post has nothing to do with drugs or anything you’d expect from Camden, so sorry to burst your bubble if that’s what you were looking for.

This post does still have a very special story about Camden though. I present to you, the newly revised (and most difficult chapter to write) of my novel, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”.

Chapter 1: Follow the Yellow Brick Road

            Loss. It’s one word with a multitude of feelings attached to it including despair, emptiness, and hopelessness. For some people, loss means nothing. You can’t lose something if you’ve never had it to begin with, right?

That’s how hearing loss worked for me. My mother, on the other hand, can remember the exact moment when she discovered my hearing loss.

I was two years old and my mother would call out my name, but I never responded. The doctors thought it was just a phase or a case of the “terrible twos”.

“No, I know my daughter. She can’t hear me,” Mom would argue.

When my mom banged a handful of pots and pans together behind my back and I didn’t flinch, she knew something was wrong. Defying the doctors, my mom took me to see Miss Terri, an audiologist at Cooper Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.

After performing a series of hearing test, Miss Terri confirmed what we already knew: I had profound hearing loss.

The best way to treat it — or at the time, the only way to treat it — was with hearing aids. I needed them in both ears.

***

 After being diagnosed with profound hearing loss, I made the journey to Camden once every two weeks for speech therapy lessons. My mom and I would drive from our small condo in Washington Township to the big city every other week. On our way in, we’d pass endless food and street vendors selling everything from hot dogs to pretzels and even random t-shirts. It amazed me how at 9 o’clock in the morning people would still be out selling lunch foods. Everyone always had a smile on their face and seemed happy to be working.

“Mom, I want to live here one day. I love the city,” I said on our way in for my appointment.

“That’s because you don’t understand what this city is really like. It’s not safe.,” Mom explained. I’d understand it more when I got older and would see individuals hauled off by police for God knows why on more than one occasion. But as a child, it was a magical place with audiologists and speech therapists that thought the world of me and were helping me to hear and speak well.

Cooper Hospital had many departments and was easy to get lost in. Fortunately, they developed a system to help speech and audiology patients find their way around. By placing strips of yellow tape on the floor, patients could simply “follow the yellow brick road” to their appointment. Every time I had an appointment I knew to look down at the floor for that yellow tape and I’d sing along and skip to the tune of, “Follow, follow, follow follow follow the yellow brick road!”

Since speech and hearing worked so closely together, my appointments were run by both my audiologist, Miss Terri, and my speech therapist, Miss Vicki.

Miss Terri would always start my appointments by testing my hearing. She would lead me into a gray, audiology testing booth that was no more than 50 feet wide while my mom waited and watched outside in the hall. Miss Terri would then crookedly place a special pair of headphones over my ears and hook some wires up to my hearing aids and hand me a button.

“First we’re going to test the beeps. Push the button whenever you hear a beep. We’ll start with your left ear first before moving to the right,” Miss Terri explained.

I’d smile and nod and occasionally give a thumbs up to let her know I understood. I loved pressing that button. It felt like I was playing a video game where hitting the button was the equivalent of shooting the monsters and bad guys and freeing the victims. I never even noticed that the button didn’t get pushed half as often as it should have.

Once that portion of my hearing test was completed, I would be given a series of words that I’d have to say back.

“Say the word hot dog,” Miss Terri said.

“Hot dog,” I answered.

“Say the word baseball.”

“Baseball.”

“Say the word airplane.”

“Airplane.”

“Say the word ice cream.”

“Ice cream.”

“Terri, I’m sorry but I have to stop you,” my mom interrupted.

Miss Terri and I both looked up. I was doing so well with the words, what could possibly be wrong?

“She’s not actually hearing you – she’s reading your lips,” my mom said.

“I can fix that,” Terri said as she grabbed the sheet of paper with her word list.

“I’m going to cover my lips now. I want you to focus on what you hear, not on me.” Miss Terri said. I was nervous, but knew I had no choice but to try my best. I nodded in agreement.

“Say the word kite.’

“Height.”

“Say the word chair.”

“Stare.”

“Say the word sub.”

“The.”

“Say the word third.”

“The.”

“Say the word ran.”

“Than.”

I didn’t know what Miss Terri was saying, I could only guess, but I knew I was wrong. Thanks a lot, Mom. I thought.

When Miss Terri finished with the hearing test, it was on to either Miss Vicki for speech therapy where we would do different activities. One of my favorites involved using what I liked to refer to as the “magic mirror”. It was a long, oval-shaped mirror that rested in a tan wooden frame on wheels.

“Ready to use the magic mirror?” Miss Vicki asked.

“Yes!” I would exclaim.

“Okay. Let’s practice our “Sh” and “Ch” sounds,” they’d say. “We’ll start with ‘sh’ first.”

“Sh!” I said. It was easy for me to think of the sound as a syllable, as if Miss Vicki was the teacher and I the student, getting yelled at for talking.

“Very good!” she said. “Now, I’m going to give you a word. Can you say “choose”?

“Shoes!” I said.

“No, not shoes like on your feet. Choose like when you choose something to eat,” she said.

“Shoes!” I said.

“No, look in the mirror. You want to move your tongue up a little bit and touch your teeth,” she said.

“Tooze,” I said.

“Try again. Remember, you only want to touch your teeth a little bit, not a lot.”

“Choose?” I said.

“Yes, that’s right! Very good! Want to take a break and draw on the magic mirror?” she asked.

I nodded yes and reached for the bucket of magic markers, choosing the pink one first, my favorite color. I drew a big heart on the mirror with several smaller hearts for arms, legs, and even eyes. My little heart person, my favorite thing to draw.

When I finished my masterpiece, Miss Vicki would continue with our lesson.

“Okay, Kimmy. We’re going to play a game now,” Vicki said. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I hated being called “Kimmy”.

“You’re going to take this ball and throw into the trashcan across the room. But as you throw the ball, I’m going to give you a word to say and I want you to imagine your voice going with that ball. As you throw the ball you’ll want your voice to get louder. Got it?” she said.

I nodded. I wasn’t sure if I really understood, but the idea of throwing a playing a game sounded like fun. The game sounded like basketball, a game I’ve always enjoyed watching my dad play.

“Okay. Your first word is suitcase,” she said.

“suit case,” I whispered as I threw the ball.

Vicki threw the ball back to me. “Try again,” She said.“Remember, Mr. Loud Mouth. Your voice travels with the ball.”

I took the ball back from her and paused as I remembered Mr. Loud Mouth. “SUIT CASE,” I said.

“Very nice! You got it!” she said.

Being a toddler with profound hearing loss was easy. Nobody asked any questions about my hearing loss or questioned anything that I did or didn’t do. My parents couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding of my hearing loss. My sister paid no mind to it. And my audiologist and speech therapists couldn’t help me enough. I was a toddler without a care in the world. The only thing that made me different from any other toddler in the world was the fact that I couldn’t hear. As far as I could see, I was one in the same with the rest of the hearing world. Unfortunately, as I’d learn in my grade school years, not everyone saw things that way.

 

 

 

 


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Image Credits: Anime Next

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.

 

 

 


 

Video Credits: TEDx Talks

Today I watched Heather Artinian’s Georgetown TEDxGeorgetown Talk, “Not the Hearing or Deaf World”. Heather Artinian was the star of the popular documentary Sound and Fury and its sequel, Sound and Fury: 6 Years Later. As the daughter of two Deaf parents, Heather grew up in Deaf culture and was taught to speak with ASL from an early age. Some of her other family members like her cousin were also deaf, however, they supported and got a cochlear implant (or two, not entirely sure to be honest). While Heather supported Deaf culture and was proud of her cultural heritage, she also had many hearing friends and was eager to be a part of the hearing world. At the mere age of 5, Heather knew that she wanted a cochlear implant.

However, her parents were not fully supportive of her decision. Instead of allowing her to get the cochlear implant, the family moved to Maryland which has many more Deaf individuals than her hometown in New York did. They lived there for about 3 or 4 years until her Mom got very sick and had to go back home to New York. During her time in Maryland Heather grew up in a comfortable Deaf environment where she was taught at a Deaf school and ASL was her primary language.

When Heather returned back to New York ASL was no longer the norm and doing the simplest of things like trying to order food from a restaurant was a difficult and frustrating experience for her and her family. Heather wanted to be able to communicate with her hearing friends and to be a part of their world. This is something I can relate to very much. I feel like in many ways Heather’s story is my story. Anyway, as Heather desired to be a part of their world she once again longed for a cochlear implant and this time her family didn’t fight it on it – they allowed her to get her first cochlear implant when she was 9.

Heather has since went bilateral and she is doing very well. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and currently attending Harvard Law school. In her talk Heather focused on bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds and what I loved is that Heather isn’t concerned in being in either the hearing or the deaf world – she wants to be in the Heather world which is a little bit of each world.

Watching Heather’s Ted Talk honestly made me think about my own life and where I am with always having lived in the hearing world and now wanting to learn ASL. People think it’s weird that I never learned ASL and I never belonged to Deaf culture but I didn’t really know about it since everyone I know is from the hearing world so it makes sense that I would want to be a part of that world. Sometimes I feel almost guilty for not belonging to Deaf culture. I’ve had people in a round about way also say that I’ve turned my back on my own culture or I don’t even know who I am or am supposed to be since I’m so out of tune with Deaf culture. Then there’s another part of me that wonders if I’m doing a disservice by wanting to learn ASL. Is this offensive to the Deaf community? I went my entire life trying to fit in to the hearing world and going bilateral and I think being able to hear now is the greatest thing ever and sometimes it’s mind-boggling to comprehend that some people wouldn’t want to hear even if they have the ability to with cochlear implants…and yet here I am after going bilateral wanting to learn ASL and join in the Deaf world. Is this okay or is this cultural appropriation? Have I’ve been missing out on a big portion of my life by not belonging to this culture that I maybe should have been born into? Has my entire life been a mistake for choosing not to belong to this culture? There’s so many questions I don’t have the answers to and may never have the answers to.

Why do I want to learn ASL and why now? Maybe it is because I wonder if maybe I’m missing out on something. Maybe I do want to join in with Deaf culture or maybe I just don’t know yet but I at least want to see what is there. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to go against or abandon the hearing world I worked so hard to get into. It means that whereas Heather wants to live in the Heather world I want to live in the Kimberly world. I want the best of both worlds. I don’t want it to be hearing world and deaf world – I want it to just be 1 world where everyone can co-exist.

I loved Heather’s Ted Talk. I think she is a very smart girl (she’s studying Law at Harvard after all…) and what she says really makes sense. She doesn’t just reject the hearing world the way some Deaf individuals do (I’m looking at you…Mark Drolsbaugh…) she embraces it. Heather wants to make the best future for herself and she knows that in order to do that she needs to learn to adapt to the world around her and the world around her is primarily hearing. However, Heather didn’t forget where she came from. She was never about abandoning Deaf culture. I do get the impression she prefers the hearing world hence why she chose to live with her grandparents, attend a hearing school, and notably didn’t sign during her presentation, but it will always be a part of her and something she is proud of. Heather successfully balances both world to create one universal world that makes her who she is – Heather Artinian. I think we can learn a lot from her and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.

I was so inspired by Heather that I sent her the following message on LinkedIn:

Hi Heather,

My name is Kimberly Erskine and I am an adjunct professor and graduate student at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. I was born profoundly deaf but always lived in the hearing world and got by with lipreading until receiving cochlear implants in 2015 and 2016.

For my MA project I am writing a memoir about my cochlear implant experience. I have been doing extensive research on Deaf culture and ASL as well. Some of my research involved watching both of your documentaries. I also just finished watching your Georgetown TedX talk tonight. I just wanted to say you are a huge inspiration for me and I believe many other deaf/Deaf individuals as well. I admire the way you chose for yourself which world to belong to – the Heather world – and how you’re working to build bridges in both the hearing and deaf communities.

I don’t think I ever had a choice but to belong to the hearing world. I was offered to learn ASL at a young age but declined because I didn’t know anyone who was Deaf and learning to adapt to the hearing world made more sense to me. I never knew that Deaf culture was its own thing. Once I got older and began to learn more about it it completely fascinated me though. I am trying to learn more about it and hoping to learn sign language (I am applying to take an ASL class as independent study this Fall) so that I can meet more Deaf people and communicate with them.

I can understand how challenging being in both worlds might be for you at times. Sometimes people look at me weird for never having learned ASL or belonging to Deaf culture. They think that means I don’t know who I really am or they don’t understand my sudden interest in Deaf culture now especially since I can hear with my cochlear implants. Maybe in some ways I’m also still trying to figure it all out. I really loved your Ted Talk though because it was so relateable to me. I saw a lot of myself in you and your presentation.

I honestly really hope Heather responds because I think she is really cool and would like to make friends with her haha. We shall see…