Category Archives: Post-Activation

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I often times speak out against how frustrating it can be to have people see my cochlear implants and automatically assume that I sign. This is annoying but an easy mistake for people who are not familiar with the difference between lowercase d deaf and capital D Deaf to make. What is infuriating to me is when I tell people that I don’t sign and they don’t listen and insist on trying to sign to me anyway, such as what recently happened to me at Human Village.

I’m realizing more and more as I talk to different hearing adults that they just simply don’t understand why I don’t sign and how I can still communicate with others without sign language. People are especially confused by how I managed to get through school and to survive in a hearing world without sign language. I want to use this blog post to try to clear up some of the confusion.

Here are 5 reasons why I never learned sign language. As you read through my reasons I ask that you remember that I am and have always been mainstreamed. I am lowercase d deaf meaning that I have significant hearing loss but I live in a hearing world. I have never been a part of the capital D Deaf community. I support Deaf culture and sign language and the capital D Deaf community, but this is not my world. My experiences are unique to me just as someone else’s are unique to them. What worked for me isn’t right for everyone and vice versa.

1. It Wasn’t Practical.

I was first introduced to sign language when I was five and in the process of enrolling in kindergarten at Oakview Elementary School. My speech teacher, Mrs. Smeltz, offered to teach me sign language. My parents asked me if I wanted to learn it. They were very supportive of it but ultimately allowed me to make my own decision. I decided against it because it didn’t interest me, mainly because I didn’t know anyone that spoke sign language. It seemed to me at the time that learning it would be a waste of time and not worth the effort because I wouldn’t really have anyone to sign to. My parents would have had to learn sign language in order for me to sign with them and any friends or loved ones or honestly anyone I’d want to communicate with would need to learn how to sign in order to talk to me. It seemed much easier for me to learn how to communicate in spoken English and to learn strategies on how to exist in the hearing world than it was to have everyone I wanted to talk to learn sign language.

2. Nobody Cares About Sign Language (Except the Deaf Community).

If you are capital D Deaf, you care about sign language. It’s very, very, very important to you. Sign language is your world, and I get that and support it.

But I’m not capital D Deaf. I am lowercase d deaf living with hearing loss in a hearing world where most people don’t really care about sign language. Some people might choose to study it for fun or as a hobby, but a lot of people don’t really take it seriously.

Unfortunately, this can make learning it very difficult, especially if you try to learn it later in life like I did.

I tried to take ASL in college as an elective at Rowan University, but at the time I was enrolled in undergraduate studies (September 2010 – December 2012), it wasn’t an option. I remember asking about this before and they said they weren’t offering because they didn’t have the money/funding for it and there wasn’t an interest. This is no longer the case…ASL is seen as being almost trendy now and there are classes (which I’ll get into in a later point), but that was unfortunately not the case when I was an undergraduate student there. One of the biggest problems with how people view sign language is they see it as a hobby rather than as an actual language. This is a problem because people lose interest in hobbies and pass them off to the side to forget about when they get bored. Languages on the other hand are seen as essential communication skills needed to survive in the world. ASL sadly is not viewed in this light by people outside of the capital D Deaf community.

I to enroll in a non-credit course at Gloucester County Community College multiple times to learn ASL. It was always cancelled though due to low enrollment. They couldn’t get enough people to sign up for it as a non-credit class to make enough money to pay the instructor I guess. People will enroll in ASL if they can get college credit. It’s often seen as an “easy” and “fun” class to take for credit. But when people aren’t getting something out of it for themselves (they don’t see learning ASL as being important, especially since many of them don’t know anyone who is capital D Deaf…), they don’t see a point in learning it.

3. Learning Sign Language Was Too Expensive.

I know what you’re thinking.

“This isn’t true.”

“My best friend’s cousin’s dog sitter is fluent in sign language and could teach you for free…”

“There’s YouTube!”

“Blah blah blah insert random noise/nonsense here.”

Okay, first of all when the concept of sign language was first introduced to me back in/around 1995, there was no YouTube.

As stated in my previous point, I didn’t want to learn sign language as a kid and could you blame me? A five year old usually has better things to do or other interests…

As mentioned in my last point, the non-credit courses were constantly cancelled due to low enrollment. These did cost money and at one point my family and I shelled out a few hundred dollars so the whole family could learn it together, but it ended up being refunded to us all after the course was cancelled.

The non-credit courses were about all that I could afford. With Rowan not offering ASL courses for credit my other option would be to take the classes at a local community college for credit but it wouldn’t be covered by my financial aid/loan and I couldn’t afford to spend that kind of money on a class that wouldn’t even count towards my degree.

Another issue with learning sign language for free – while people definitely mean well, the people offering to teach it often are not fluent or experienced in sign language. They may know the basics and a few sentences here and there but not enough to really hold full conversations in sign language, which makes it not entirely practical. Those who are really fluent and certified to teach sign language typically want to be paid for their services so they teach the college classes which I already stated I couldn’t afford to take. This isn’t true for everyone of course, but it is true in a majority of cases.

4. Learning Sign Language Wasn’t Worth the Trouble.

For some unknown reason, learning sign language was designed to be the toughest subject I could ever study or learn. I have been working to teach myself German recently and it has been a much, much, much easier experience than learning sign language which is just ironic.

Here’s a list of some things I think are easier to learn for me than sign language:

  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Amish quilt-making
  • Homemade cheese
  • Calculus
  • Quantum Physics
  • Flying an airplane

I’m serious. This has been made to be impossible for me to learn.

Backing up a bit, remember how I said that Rowan University *did* in fact get an ASL course after I finished my undergraduate studies?

Well, I tried to enroll in it as an elective as a graduate student. I tried to make my case that this course would be perfect for my graduate research since my Master’s thesis was a memoir on my cochlear implant/deaf experiences. The writing department and professors such as Dr. Drew Kopp were so supportive of this and really tried to advocate on my behalf to make this happen.

But it always comes down to one person who has a little bit too much power and is the final decision maker…

I don’t know who that one person is, but if you’re that person and you’re reading this now – just know I’m glaring at you from my computer screen. Yep. Glaring. Mad hard glare.

So here’s the shortened version of what actually happened:

Since I was a graduate student, under Rowan University’s policies I was not permitted to receive graduate level credit for what was an undergraduate class. I would need to do something more to have the work qualify as graduate-level work.

Okay, that makes sense, right? No problem. I was planning to use this course for my research for my MA thesis anyway. I would take the course as a form of an independent study and keep a research journal and check in with Dr. Kopp who would be my adviser of the project. I just finished taking his Core II course where I had to keep a research journal as I conducted research for my MA thesis anyway. This would be essentially a continuation of the work we’ve already started together.

But that one person who I am glaring at through my computer right now said that wasn’t enough.

Instead I needed a detailed description of what exactly I’d be studying and using for my research. I needed to create a very, very, very detailed research proposal about how I’d be studying students. I needed to explain what I’d ask students, who would participate, how their data would be used, and so forth. It was so much more than what I had intended to do. I wanted to learn the language, not how students used their experiences or what they thought of the course or whatever, but if it got me into the classes, I was willing to comply.

But of course it wasn’t that easy. Nothing in life is ever that easy – I had to submit a research proposal to the IRB and have it approved.

It took me several weeks that summer to put together my application for the research proposal. There were so many parts and it needed to be as detailed and specific as possible. I also realized I would need to hire an intern to help me with my research along with a videographer to film students. I would also need permission from the students. There were so many different loopholes and approvals I would need. Dr. Kopp worked with me every step of the way to help me in writing down the steps and just what I would need. We didn’t submit the application until the last minute when we were confident we had covered all of our bases.

I think I worked harder and longer on that application that I did in most of my graduate level courses combined.

And yet, the application was STILL denied for many, many, many different reasons. The overall theme was that they needed more specific information and more approvals from people involved.

I was tired and getting burned out and the class wasn’t even approved yet, let alone started.

After having my application rejected I decided not to move forward and just accept that I wasn’t going to learn ASL that semester (or even study people who would learn it). I accepted my next point…

5. I Wasn’t Meant to Learn Sign Language.

God’s ways are better than mine. Every time I tried to learn sign language he put roadblocks in my path that prevented me from learning it. Sometimes this seemed extreme, as was the case with the hardships I faced trying to take the ASL course in grad school. He simply did not want me to learn it. I will never know exactly why he didn’t want me to learn it until I am face to face with him in heaven and have a chance to actually ask him, but I do have a few theories.

Have I had learned sign language, my life would be very different. I may not have been mainstreamed like I am today and I may not have accomplished all that I have. I know that these is controversial and this statement may infuriate anyone from the capital D Deaf community who may be reading this, but you can’t deny the fact that it’s true:

Not being able to interact in the hearing world will hold you back in society. Is it right? No, it’s not. But it is the truth. 

If I learned sign language from an early age and made it my dominate language and chose to become a part of capital D Deaf culture, I may not have been as prepared for the “real” world because my communication skills may not have been as good. I wouldn’t have had to rely on lipreading as much and I wouldn’t have learned ways to navigate the hearing world because I wouldn’t have had to. I probably wouldn’t have went to mainstream school, let alone college, and wouldn’t have had the same experiences and may not have had as many job opportunities.

I know it’s not right, but the world is designed to operate for people who can hear and while it’s discrimination, employers get away with it. Most employers don’t want to hire someone who can’t hear, especially if they need a lot of accommodations such as sign language interpreters. These things cost money and people don’t want to have to pay for it and if employers aren’t the ones responsible for paying for it (ex – if health insurance or disability services cover it…I admit I’m not entirely sure how this works) it still won’t change the fact that employers will view it as a hassle that they may not want to deal with. Meetings will take longer, phone calls may go on unanswered, and work days may be less productive. Again, I’m not at all saying I agree with this. It’s horrible and it should not be this way, but you can’t deny the fact that this is how the world operates and even anti-discrimination laws can’t change the way people think and feel – that’s something only God can change.

If you want to get ahead in life, you need to be able to sell yourself and adapt to the outside world, knowing that a majority of people exist in a hearing world. This is similar to how a majority of the world speaks English (and most of the US). If immigrants want to get ahead and make a future for themselves in America, it is very wise for them to learn the language. We can and should support them by trying to speak their native language or becoming familiar with it and offer translators, but at the same time it is easy for them (and perhaps more practical) to learn our language then having all of our people try to learn theirs.

Have I had learned sign language, I may not have ever gotten cochlear implants. I know that this isn’t the right path for everyone to take, but it was the right path for me. My cochlear implants have opened a whole new world of opportunity for me and greatly improved my quality of life. If I had sign language then getting cochlear implants wouldn’t have mattered or been a priority for me and I would’ve missed out on so many amazing experiences (not to mention sounds!)

And yes, I did try to learn sign language post-cochlear implants. I am not sure why God still doesn’t want me to learn it, but I even have my theories about that, too. I am still training my brain to hear sounds and I imagine I will for the rest of my life since there’s always something new to hear. My hearing is fantastic now and “almost” perfect, but it will never be natural. I will always need a minute to think about and process what I am hearing. I’m never going to “just hear” – my body is not capable of that. If I would’ve learned and became fluent in sign language I may not have had the need to work so hard at hearing the sounds and training my ears post-cochlear implants. Simply put, I may have gotten lazy with my training and rehab.

Sign language is important and should never go away. I understand the point oralists were trying to make way back when and I agree that being able to communicate in a hearing world without sign language will help the deaf to advance in society. However, sign language is a tool or a strategy that works better for some than for others. For some people they may be the son or daughter of Deaf parents born into the capital D Deaf culture where sign language makes the most sense for them to use. For others like myself, lipreading and cochlear implants are better tools to help prepare us for the hearing world we choose to live in.

There are some people who absolutely need sign language, but I am not one of those people and I shouldn’t be made to feel bad or wrong about my decisions. As a child I was able to get by in school and society through lipreading, sitting in the front of class, reading a lot of books and text to gather messages, and relying on others to lend me their ears when in need. As I got older, cochlear implants gave me nearly perfect hearing. In either case, I managed without sign language and I regret nothing. I was still able to live a happy and fulfilling life and never felt cut off from communication.

Everyone has their own communication preferences, especially those who are living with hearing loss. It is important to remember that no two people are exactly the same and just because some individuals with hearing loss sign, doesn’t mean that they all do and it’s perfectly fine if you choose to sign or not to sign. It’s a personal decision and you should never feel the need to apologize for the way you wish to be spoken to. People should respect your decision and if they don’t understand it, they should take the time to ask questions and educate themselves so that they can learn rather than judging, speaking for or on behalf of someone else, or flat out ignoring someone’s requests or communication preferences.

 

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Hey guys, so the name of this blog is Confessions of a Def Deaf Girl, right? Well, I have a confession for you all today:

I never went to my high school prom.

Overall, I have no regrets. I didn’t want to go to my prom back in high school because junior year none of my friends went and my senior year prom was being held in my former hometown that I wanted no parts of. I thought it was a waste of money to spend hundreds of dollars going back to the town I lived in for nearly a decade and didn’t enjoy, so I didn’t go.

I don’t care much about skipping my prom, but sometimes I do still wish I would’ve had a chance to get all dressed up and go dancing. Needless to say, when I saw that Human Village Brewery was hosting their first ever “beer prom” where attendees were strongly encouraged to dress up in prom attire, I jumped at the opportunity to go.

So I grabbed my prom date, Evan, and we both donned some of our formal attire (nothing too crazy – we were worried no one else would go through with it!) and headed to the brewery!

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Me with my amazing prom date and forever love, Evan. 

Human Village put on such a great event. They closed the brewery early that night to prepare for the prom (which took place during what is normally their after-hours/closing time). They went with a beach/nautical theme and decorated the walls with pool floats such as blow up dolphins, whales, beach lizards, beach balls, etc. The owners all got dressed up in prom attire as well. They offered the first round of drinks for free with the purchase of a ticket and also had free snacks such as Chick Fil A chicken nuggets (with their famous sauce!), Philly soft pretzels, a veggie tray, popular prom appetizers like cocktail hotdogs, and more.

decorations

Human Village did a great job decorating the place with a beach/nautical theme!

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Beer flights – because everything tastes good and decisions are hard.

Evan and I’s friend, Ian Goode’s band, The Collective Force, performed all night long minus about an hour where some crabby old person (or at least that’s what I assume) tried to call the cops on the event due to noise. They played some popular prom and beach themed songs along with popular radio hits that everyone recognized. At one point everyone at the prom even joined together to form a love train going all around the Brewery!

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The Collective Force Performs at Human Village’s first ever Beer Prom 6/01/2019

Evan and I danced to a handful of fast songs and just about all of the slow songs. We are always looking for opportunities to go slow dancing together, so we finally had our chance at the prom and he made waiting 29 years to go to prom worth it. He’ll always be prom king in my heart!

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Sharing a passionate kiss with my prom date and forever love. Fun fact: in addition to it being prom, it was also our 20 month anniversary!

Towards the end of the night, however, Evan left for about 10 minutes to use the bathroom and I waited at our table by myself. During this time two girls approached me and asked me to dance with them. I felt a little strange about it since I didn’t know them, but there was a family-feel to this event with everyone dancing with everyone all night long and I assumed they just didn’t want me to be by myself at the table so I joined them and kept thinking in the back of my head Evan, please hurry up and rescue me.” 

A few minutes in they asked me if I was deaf. I told them that I was. The rest of the conversation went like this:

Girl #1: *Points to Girl #2* We both study ASL at Camden County College.

Me: Oh, that’s cool. I don’t sign.

At this moment Evan finally came back from the bathroom and hugged me from behind, which naturally scared the crap out of me since I never saw him and the girls laughed and introduced themselves to him as well.

Shortly after Evan and I were reunited, the conversation with the two girls resumed.

Girl #2: So, like, you can’t hear any of this music playing, right?

Evan: She has cochlear implants.

Me: Yes, I can probably hear better than you can right now. I can hear everything. I have about 97% total hearing with my cochlear implants. I just can’t hear when I take them off.

Girl #1: Do you ever take them off when you don’t want to hear?

Me: Oh, yeah. All the time. Especially when reading. 

Girl #2: That sounds useful. I wish I could do that!

Me: Yeah, it definitely comes in useful. It helps me to focus and concentrate more on what I’m reading.

The conversation then died down with them a bit as Evan and I went our separate way and had our own conversation. It was getting towards the end of the night and things were wrapping up. We were saying our good byes to Ian and talking to the owners about some of our favorite craft beers and asking about what some of there upcoming releases would be.

As we were leaving the two girls said goodbye to us and then thanked me for talking to them about my experience with cochlear implants and being deaf.

There was just one problem…

They were signing to me. Instead of actually saying “Thank you” they signed it to me. Fortunately I knew what this sign meant, but I still couldn’t help but be annoyed since I literally just explained to them how I didn’t sign.

This is one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to people wanting to know more about the deaf/Deaf communities – people who aren’t from either community (meaning they have no hearing loss or real experience with those who do). People take ASL and automatically think it gives them a right to enter these communities or they think they know everything about what it’s like to be deaf/Deaf. But they have no idea.

Not everyone with hearing loss is a part of the Deaf with a capital D community. Not everyone with hearing loss knows sign language. I for example know hardly any sign language at all. Signing to me is highly ineffective as I won’t know what you’re saying. My preferred method of communication is verbal or text. In this scenario I could hear the two girls perfectly fine. I never once had to ask them to repeat themselves and I explained to them very thoroughly and clearly that I could hear everything perfectly fine – conversations, music, etc.

What bothered me the most wasn’t at all the fact that they tried to sign to me, it was the fact that they didn’t listen to me. Half of the problems in the world I think stem from people not taking the time to truly listen to one another. This causes miscommunication, confusion, and disconnects in how we converse with one another.

For those of you who are reading this in hopes of gaining a better understand of what it’s like to be deaf/Deaf or hard of hearing…for those of you who want to learn communication strategies for how you can best talk to those who are deaf/Deaf/hard of hearing my advice to you is short, sweet, and simple:

LISTEN.

Don’t just assume that every deaf/Dead/hard of hearing person you know automatically knows and prefers to use ASL.

Don’t assume that they are all verbal.

Don’t assume that because someone has cochlear implants they can hear perfectly fine (this is true in my case, but not true for everyone).

Assume nothing.

Ask everything.

Most deaf/Deaf/hard of hearing people will be more than happy to explain their communication preferences to you and to have a conversation and to educate you on their world, but if you choose our communication preferences for us and assume you already know everything, you’ll miss out on these opportunities to really get to know us and engage with us (and you may be completely rejected by us anyway if we can’t effectively communicate with you).

There is nothing wrong with being hearing and wanting to talk to someone who cannot hear, but there is everything wrong with choosing for someone else how to communicate with them and not listening to their needs or preferences. We have our own unique voices and HATE being silenced, so give us a chance to use our voices and sit back and listen to us before you speak for us.

 

 


I’ve written in the past about how my cochlear implants have improved my career and what it was like to have a job interview with them, but I don’t think I ever really discussed what it’s like to work in a busy, noisy city with cochlear implants. I have been working for Penn Medicine for almost exactly three years now and it’s definitely a big change from the smaller offices I worked for in the past, especially since my office moved from 3600 Market Street to 3600 (we sure do like the number 3600, don’t we?) Civic Center Boulevard, which is much closer to the hospitals.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about working in a busy city is this:

1. It’s Always Extremely LOUD!

One of the first things I ever “heard” with my cochlear implants was the sound of sirens coming from both police cars and ambulances. I was, after all, activated at Jefferson University Hospital which is located right outside of Center City and being a hospital has ambulances coming and going constantly. However, it took me awhile to really learn how to hear the sound of siren. At first my brain couldn’t recognize this sound because it was so high-pitched. When I heard it after being activated on day 1 my brain couldn’t process it at all and I didn’t even know it was a siren I was hearing.

Since receiving my first cochlear implant in 2014 (and the second a year later in 2015), I must have heard sirens a few hundred times. I live almost directly across the street from what was formerly known as Kennedy Memorial Hospital (which, ironically has since been brought out by Jefferson and is now known as such…) and my office is located right outside of several major hospitals — The Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP), the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC), the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine (PCAM), and I am sure I am missing a few. Needless to say, that results in A LOT of ambulances crossing my paths and a LOT of sirens.

Unfortunately, sirens have become one of my least favorite sounds to hear because they are SO LOUD. Prior to receiving cochlear implants, I never understood how or why people would cover their ears when the ambulances would come by. I know people would say it hurt their ears, but this never really made sense to me because it never seemed loud enough to me to do any damage. Back when I had hearing aids it was the equivalent of hearing from a straw. Even if I was standing directly next to an ambulance with its sirens on, I could only hear enough sound being produced by it to give me the impression that the ambulance was about 5 miles away or so. The sound didn’t both me at all.

Now that my cochlear implants have given me almost normal hearing, it’s a whole different story. I am very fortunate to have been blessed with so much hearing especially after living so many years of my life in silence. However, no matter how good my hearing may now be it doesn’t change the fact that it’s not natural hearing. Every time I hear something, my brain needs to stop to process it. I have noticed lately that the louder the sounds are, the more difficult it seems to be for my brain to process it. My brain simply feels overwhelmed by loud noises, especially sirens. In my last blog post about graduation I explained how hearing the confetti poppers physically hurt me. Sirens are no different. In fact, especially when they go directly past me, they may be even worse. This leads me to my next point:

2.     It Increases My Anxiety.

I’m fortunate to have the ability to work in one of the safest parts of Philadelphia, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still Philadelphia and I need to be alert and aware of my surroundings.

Growing up deaf, I learned to rely on my other senses more to make up for my deafness. This especially included my eyesight. While I don’t have 20/20 vision (I always have to wear either glasses or contacts), I still have good perception and can sense something coming from miles away and I am also very sensitive to light. However, Philadelphia is still a whole different ballgame.

I have quite the commute some days to work, depending on which office I am working at (I work at 3600 Civic Center Boulevard on some days and 3930 Chestnut on other days given my unique role). On the days when I have to work at 3600 Civic Center Boulevard, my anxiety is usually the highest because there is SO MUCH going on. Most professionals these days would describe my experience as being a sensory overload. I am not sure if I am comfortable defining it as such, but I will say this: it is stressful, overwhelming, and anxiety inducing.

My day starts with a car ride of 20-30 minutes depending on traffic to the train station which is no big deal. The first train station in Patco in NJ and I take that from Woodcrest to 8th and Market. Again, no big deal. Then I switch over to Septa and take that to 34th street. Sometimes on the way there I grab a Lucy which isn’t too bad, but if I can’t take a Lucy then I walk the 15-20 minutes to 3600 Civic Center Boulevard. I also take the walk back home rather than the Lucy.

This walk is where the stress comes in. People say that NJ drivers are bad, well they must have never seen a Philly driver because I promise you this:

The. Cars. Never. Stop.

It doesn’t matter if you have right of way or not. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the cross walk. It doesn’t matter if the sign with that white man lights up. It doesn’t matter if the light is red, green, or yellow.

The. Cars. Stop. For. Nobody.

So being alert is now crucial. Because you have at least four places to look for the cars, which as we established, never stop for anyone no matter what. You have to make sure you won’t get hit by a car. The cars are also super loud as everyone is always in a giant rush and everyone is always very angry and constantly beeping their horn. It is difficult to determine why they are beeping their horns. My anxiety usually convinces me it’s all my fault and they are beeping at me, which further drives up my anxiety and causes my heart to race at the thought that I am in the wrong.

On top of being alert and on the lookout for cars, you also need to pay attention to your surroundings and the people around you. Keep a close ear on your surroundings. Don’t look anyone in the eye. Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t do anything that could increase your chances of getting murdered, raped, robbed, or jumped. Just because it’s a good part of Philadelphia doesn’t change the fact that it’s still Philadelphia.

Oh, and the ambulances are also never going to stop because it’s University City AKA Hospital City and you work for the healthcare system so you should come to expect that.

So you have the cars beeping at you, the ambulance sirens, the people being people.

And did I mention the lights?

I already mentioned how the cars don’t pay mind to the lights, but it goes much deeper than that.

Trying to determine when to or not to cross the street has absolutely nothing to do with the lights. Because when you have what you think might be the right of the way, given that the light just changed for you, there may be a traffic cop directing you not to go or they may tell you to go when you’re not supposed to go under normal circumstances.

Even though I can hear now, I still rely on my eyes for safety and guidance more than my other senses and probably always will. Have so many things thrown at me to look at and not being able to receive a clear signal or message or direction from any of the various things in my sight of vision just further overwhelms me.

By the time I get through all of the traffic to and from work I often feel completely exhausted and defeated and ready to end my day even if it’s technically only just begun. This in a way is similar to my next point:

3. It’s Hard to Focus.

This one is a little more for the actual office environment. We’ve recently switched to more of an open-office environment since we moved from Market Street to Civic Center Boulevard. This has more people closer together, which unfortunately has created more noise.

One of the things I have been struggling with the most since getting my cochlear implants is filtering out background noise and being able to separate it from other sounds or ignore side conversations. I do have settings on my cochlear implants to filter background noise which is helpful, but doesn’t always work especially if someone is having a conversation right alongside of me (but not with me).

Now that I am able to hear my brain is trained to pick up on everything it hears and to process it as sound. I hear everything, but I don’t always want to or need to hear everything. Unfortunately, I am not always able to pick and choose what I do or don’t hear.

This can make it difficult to focus at times. It is hard to read and concentrate on what I am reading when I keep hearing other conversations or especially if people are on the phone. I will often take my magnets off so I can better focus and concentrate when reading. This is an overall effective solution, but it doesn’t work for everything.

For example, with my work in social media sometimes I need to watch videos to work on YouTube or video marketing strategies. Other times I may be the one on the phone and struggling to separate outside conversations/background noise with the conversation I am trying to hear. My brain has to work extra hard to focus in on what it’s supposed to be hearing and separating it from the other sounds, which naturally causes me to feel exhausted by the end of the day. This leads me to my fourth and final point:

4.  It Makes Me Appreciate Being deaf.

This one might be a little confusing for some people who see my cochlear implants as a “cure” for deafness.

News flash: there is no “cure” for deafness; merely tools to help us to hear or better manage our deafness.

My cochlear implants are an incredible tool that I am very blessed and fortunate to have. With them, I can hear. But that’s exactly it:

With cochlear implants I can hear.

With my cochlear implants I go back to being almost completely deaf again, and at the end of the day, I am very fortunate to have that ability.

Hearing is exhausting, especially after working in a busy, noisy city all day long. I look forward to being able to come home and take my cochlear implants off and not have to hear anything. This is my way to unplug and unwind and to give myself “deaf time” where my brain doesn’t have to continue to work to process sounds.

I also like to have the option between hearing and not hearing. I can take my magnets off at any time in the day to unplug and to not hear. This, as previously mentioned, is one strategy I use while at work to help me to better focus and concentrate, and is a strategy that many have told me they are envious of.

All in all, working in a busy, noisy city is challenging and exhausting, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am beyond blessed that I can do this now, because prior to getting cochlear implants I don’t think I would’ve been able to successfully navigate the city and the train systems and everything else I have become so dependent on. While it’s true that the constant noise causes me to be more anxious, not being able to hear and being conscious of my inability to hear would’ve been even worst for my anxiety.

God has given me these challenges for a reason – perhaps to keep my mind active and to help me to not become lazy with my hearing progress. For this I am grateful and determined to keep working through the challenges and to come out on top.

Or, at the very least, to make sure I don’t get hit by a car (That. Never. Stops!!!) in Philly….


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Hey guys! Long time, no blog! I have been a little bit more active on my other blog, KimErskine.WordPress.com lately. Feel free to check that out if you get a chance. It has a lot of book reviews if you’re into that kind of thing!

There is one big thing that has happened since I last blogged on here…

I graduated with a Master’s in Writing degree from Rowan University! I technically graduated in December of 2018, but since Rowan only does commencements in the spring I had to wait until this coming semester for commencement. I technically could’ve walked last spring, but it didn’t feel right to me to walk when I still had two more courses to come back and take in the fall, so I waited.

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Attending graduation ceremonies with cochlear implants was a very different experience then my graduations prior with just hearing aids, which is what I’ll be focusing on in this blog today.

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My original graduation cap worn in the main ceremony. Lend Me Your Ears: My Journey as a deaf Girl in a Hearing World was the name of my Master’s thesis/book.

 

My commencement ceremonies at Rowan University took place on Saturday, May 11, 2019 and Wednesday, May 15, 2019. The first ceremony was an all-college University ceremony that included literally everyone – all majors, undergraduates, graduates, etc. This was naturally a huge and informal ceremony that took place on the University’s football field. The ceremony on Wednesday was for my department – the College of Communications and Creative Arts – and was the more formal ceremony where my name was called to receive my degree.

The first ceremony was a bit of a disaster. Since I was graduating with my Master’s degree, I wanted to look a bit nicer and get more dressed up than I did for my Bachelor’s degree. This resulted in me making a special appointment to see my hairdresser to get my hair curled before commencement, buying a few new dresses, and a new pair of shoes.

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My first dress for the main college ceremony and my freshly curled hair. 

My favorite store to shop at is Burlington. I always get great deals on name brand clothing there and I am kind of obsessed with buying shoes. They have never let me down before, but I guess there’s a first time for everything, right?

I should’ve known better when I saw the label name was Chinese Laundry, but the shoes were cute and actually comfortable which is a rarity for dress shoes, so I shelled out $25 and bought them.

This was my first mistake.

Upon arriving in D-lot at Rowan University I quickly discovered I was not in the right area. I walked all around by the parking lots and football field asking for directions on where to go. Most of the people were a bit less than helpful and said something along the lines of “Somewhere by the engineering building – Masters’ are in the front” or simply “I don’t know”. With so many people around, this took awhile to find.

My shoes unfortunately did not make it for the full journey.

I was walking pretty fast because I wanted to get where I needed to be before everyone started walking in. Right as I just about found the right spot I tumbled down onto the ground, scraping my knee and dropping everything in my hands in the most ungraceful way imaginable.

When I fell, my right cochlear implant processor flew off and my left one on my dominate ear was bumped so the magnet came off. I couldn’t hear and was trying not to panic over losing my cochlears. Fortunately, I was able to find them both rather quickly and to put them on. A girl I never saw before came running to my rescue as several other strangers stared at the scene I was creating. The girl offered me a hair tie for help. Confused, I thanked her and said I was fine.

Then I tried to stand up, only to realize the strap on my shoe was broken. The girl was offering me her hair tie in an attempt to try to “fix” my broken shoe by creating some kind of a band with it. It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, but was still a nice gesture. Hey, she tried, right?

Embarrassed, I tried to keep my cool and tell myself I could just rip it off and wear my shoes as strap less sandals, no big deal.

But when I looked down I noticed that strap also was broken. The entire shoe has fallen apart in every way imaginable and was completely unwearable.

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My broken graduation shoes…worn for less than a half hour total before completely falling apart. 

My mom who went with my dad and boyfriend to find their seats sent me a text to make sure I found where I needed to go. The text read, “Are you okay?”

“No. My shoes broke.” I wrote back as I tried to hold back tears.

Not long after I was reunited with my parents and boyfriend. Mom offered to take me home, saying I didn’t have to go through with the ceremony. It would be starting in just a few minutes so going home and getting a new pair of shoes was not an option. “No, I have to do this. I can’t miss my graduation,” I said.

Then my mom looked down at her feet and took her shoes off. “If you can fit in these they are yours,” she said. She was about two sizes smaller than me so I wasn’t sure if would work, but I was desperate.

Fortunately, I was able to get the shoes on. They were very tight, but better than no shoes. My mom attended the rest of my graduation ceremony barefoot and I think this is the moment I truly realized what a mother’s love was.

I would like to say the rest of the University ceremony was smooth sailing, but that would be a lie.

I was worried about how I was going to wear my cap with my cochlear implants. Hats don’t usually work for me because they knock my cochlears off. I tested it prior to the ceremony and found that I could place the magnets over top of the cap and it would stay in place.

However, as my shoes proved – just because something worked at home didn’t mean it was still going to work at commencement.

My right cochlear was fine but my left one would not stay in place. I spent a majority of the commencement ceremony fidgeting and trying to fix it. Another challenge I had is that I had a ton of bobby pins in my hair to keep my cap in place. Naturally, bobby pins are made of metal which tends to get stuck to the magnet. Even when I had my cochlear positioned correctly it would often still give me trouble by sticking to the bobby pins and limiting my ability to hear.

There were multiple times throughout the ceremony where we were asked to rise then sit down, rise and sit down. At one point our commencement speaker, Shaun T (AKA the guy who created Insanity) asked us to do a bunch of these like dance movements. On a normal day in normal circumstances this would be no big deal. However, the chairs at commencement were so tightly packed together that you literally couldn’t move without touching someone. The people on my sides kept accidentally bumping into me and even the slightest touch caused my cochlear to fall off or get bumped out of place.

By the end of the ceremony I was so annoyed by constantly adjusting my cochlear that I decided to just completely take it off and use my non-dominate right ear to get by.

This solved all problems with the main ceremony then, right?

WRONG!

The main University ceremony ended with a literal bang as confetti was shot at the students from the stage. Confetti is fun and festive, so no big deal right? Wrong again. The problem with the confetti is that it was REALLY LOUD. Think confetti party poppers…it was like that. Since I was graduating with a Master’s degree I sat in the very first row closest to the stage. When the confetti shot out it scared the crap out of me but also physically hurt me.

The thing with cochlear implants is that while it took me from about 0% – 93% total hearing, it is still not natural hearing and it never will be. The way I use sound involves a lot of brain power as my brain needs to process what it is hearing before I hear it. This is why after a loud and noisy day working in the city I often come home so exhausted. The confetti was so incredibly loud and unexpected that my brain struggled to process it and it physically hurt me.

I really wish the University could have some how warned us about the confetti and how loud it would be ahead of time. The way the stage was designed you couldn’t tell there was confetti inside of it ready to be shot out. Had I have known ahead of time I could’ve prepared for it by taking both of my cochlear implant processors off so I wouldn’t hear it and be affected by it.

The University ceremony was  a bit of a hot mess and a disaster. I was certainly glad for it to end and to have a drink afterwards. Lord knows I needed it!

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You say “cheers!”, we say “shoes!”

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Chocolate pretzel martini from Riverwinds. Very much needed after the day I had!

The one good thing about all of my troubles with the main University ceremony is that it prepared me for and made me even more excited for my college ceremony that took place a few days later. This one went MUCH more smoothly. I chose to wear my fancy baby pink silver glitter converse sneakers and I packed an extra pair of Converse in the car just in case. I have had dozens of pairs of Converse over the years and they have never failed me. This time fortunately was no different.

The volunteers this time around were generally much more helpful and happier to be there which made me all the more excited and helped me to find where I needed to go more quickly. Given all of the trouble I had with the first ceremony, I decided to redesign my cap for the second one to say “Not today, Satan!”. Many people commented on how much they loved that and asked to take pictures.

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My new graduation cap worn for the college ceremony. After all of the trouble with the University ceremony this updated was much needed!

My graduating friends were all present for this ceremony as well, so it was a lot more fun and I wasn’t alone. We all had fun catching up and taking pictures with each other prior to the start of the ceremony.

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Since I had so much trouble with my cap with the first ceremony, I changed the position and placed my magnets inside of the cap rather than outside of it. My cap fit snuggly and was secured with bobby pins that were away from the magnets. This secured everything in place. I never once had to readjust my cochlears during the ceremony. I was able to just enjoy the ceremony.

I enjoyed Trymaine Lee’s speech far more than Shaun T’s. This could just be because he didn’t make me move and I related more to him being a journalist. Also, the fact that I wasn’t fidgeting with my cochlear implant the entire time certainly helped.

I have no memory of previous graduation speakers. I remember that Steven Sweeney spoke at my last graduation. I remember finding most of my previous graduation ceremonies to be boring because I couldn’t hear them.

Trymaine spoke about his experiences as a journalist and how growing up he was taught to always believe that he was somebody – something he instilled in the minds of the graduates as he had them complete the phrase, “I AM Somebody!” As a deaf individual, growing up and even to this day I was often told that I wouldn’t amount to anything. I always had the support of my parents of course, but my classmates would say things like “You’ll be lucky to be a 7-11 worker.” I never forgot these words and have dedicated my life to proving these individuals wrong and I think that is largely why Trymaine’s speech resonated so much with me.

This ceremony went smoothly all around including at the end. I was prepared for confetti this time around, but very happy that there was none (my ears/brain says “Thank YOU!”, Rowan).

After the ceremony I had the challenge of finding my family and boyfriend in the crowd of people. I actually called my mom to try to find her – something I never could’ve done in the past since I couldn’t hear on the phone!

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While my combined graduations had their downs and then ups, it’s an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. I don’t think I would have ever went back to school to get my MA in Writing had it not been for my cochlear implants and I know I couldn’t have succeeded and managed to graduate with a 4.0 if it weren’t for them. God opened my ears to hear and in doing so, he opened many doors to my future, too.

Next step……………………………………………………………………………………………….to be determined.


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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: 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.