Thanks mom, I motion. My mom is excited. Her curly brown hair is tucked up into a neat bun. She keeps it out of her face so she doesn’t play with it and say something on accident. My mom is quite pretty, her eyes bright blue like my own and a smile that is rarely missing. I guess it is because of the procedure.
The doctor smiled, his lips pulling open to show off the well manicured teeth. Occasionally they will move
together and apart in different combinations as he addresses my mom. His eyes are a deep brown, the wrinkles absent from their corners. He smells like rubbing alcohol; his breath like coffee.
He tried to tell me what it was going to be like; the whole world is going to change for me. I’m going to be so happy. Not that I’m not now, they just say it will be easier for me. All I can think of is the little piece of plastic that will be suctioned to my skull, signaling what an alien I truly was.
My mom wants me to be like everyone else. I think this procedure will make her feel better about my condition, somehow she feels responsible. I don’t mind being me though.
I’m going to go for a walk, my hands extended in and away from my body twice. She nods and flips over the paperwork. She’s been reading other patients work for the last couple days. Success stories they call them. To be honest, the more we discuss it the more anxious I feel. It’s already here. Tomorrow I’ll be a new person.
I opened up the door and stepped outside. The sun is finally warming up the ground and soaking my face in its last few hours of life. The smell of rain on the grass fills my nostrils and will linger there for hours after I leave to go back inside. My neighborhood doesn’t take long to get through, but I can make it last for hours
I turned onto another block. The streets are perfect cut lines, keeping the houses and people in perfect order. I smiled at the lawn clippings that have caked to the sidewalk; a mistake in the manicured neighborhood.
Walking helps clear my mind. I love to see how much the colors can change in the day; the smells and sights are constantly shifting and moving with the world in a perfect order. The leaves full and green will explode into a chaos of colors; the trees pallets will erase themselves, and by spring start over again a constant design. I used to collect the prettiest leaves I could find and have my mom iron them in between sheets of wax paper. When the leaves were finished they would hang in my window, out lasting the barren months until the ground thawed again. The best tree is a red maple. There’s one that sits at the end of my street, and when fall arrives it looks like someone sets in on a three month fire. The red maple however, was not the reason I made it a point to walk past this particular yard, and then there it was and there he was.
He’s climbing out of his black jeep. A back pack slung loosely over his shoulders, it doesn’t look full. Does he get good grades? My feet start pushing me forward, more quickly than planned. He’s taller and plays baseball at the high school in town. I’m sure he must be popular with good looks like that. His smile is nice, the teeth all straight, and lips a warm pink color. He must be a good person.
He must hear me approaching, because he looks up and mouths the familiar hello, which I have learned to recognize. I nod, just like always. We never have anything to say to each other as we don’t know the same language. Even if we did, I doubt I could force the words out or stop my hands from shaking when talking with him.
I feel the heat well up in my face as I walk closer to his house. His mouth moves again so I wave and quicken my pace. I cut through my front yard a couple houses down; the wet grass sticking to the sides of my shoes. I can smell that dinner is already on the table. She’s made homemade macaroni. It has been my favorite thing since I was younger. Even when gluing it to pieces of paper for art or stringing it together to make my mom jewelry, it was always something that comforted me. Weird, I guess.
My dad tells me about his day, but I’m not really watching. My mind has gone to other places. I wonder what their voices sound like. I think I might have used to know, before I lost my hearing. I was two when they realized that it was deteriorating. That part of the world was lost to me by three. I wonder if in some deep part of me I’ve locked their voices away, but even when I dream it’s quiet.
My dad’s hand taps me on the shoulder; a worried expression covering his face. I throw back on a smile and put the cheesy noodles in my mouth. After a few more bites, I excuse myself and leave the conversation. I’m looking to solve my own thoughts.
I laid awake for what felt like the majority of the night, running my fingers through my dark, thick hair. I should have asked the doctor how much they were going to cut off. I tried counting sheep, but each time they hopped the imaginary fence wires sprang from their ears turning them into huge satellites. The thoughts of surgery filled the darkness of my sight. What if they froze my face, or hit my brain, or cut my ears off?
It was only when a warm touch from my mother prodding me back to reality that I realized the day had arrived. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink before the anesthesia, but my stomach didn’t seem to mind the negligence. My hands shook as I forced the toothpaste on to my brush. I tried using the shower to calm me, but the steam was suffocating. I quickly dried and left the bathroom.
My mom was already in the car, all smiles as always. I forced a smile for my mom, but my teeth were pressured together. My stomach was twisted tightly as I climbed into the car.
My mom twisted the knobs back and forth on the radio, her mouth opening and closing widely as she rolled the steering wheel. My hands remain in my lap, not saying a thing.
All too quickly I was in a stiff hospital bed and cloth gown. The hair around my ears shaved and the skin sterilized. I tried not to watch the dark curls fall away as the trimmer vibrated up my head. The smell of my skin matched the rest of the hospital. Sterilized with chemicals, all familiar scents of the outside have been stripped away. The nurses don’t know how to talk to me so they just smile from behind the surgical masks, their crow’s feet inked onto their skin appearing for comfort I can’t find.
I touch my ears softly, for the past sixteen years they have been ornaments. Now, a computer called Cochlear is going into my head, opening up a hold new world to me.
The nurse’s needle bites my skin, and the burning liquid makes my eyes droop. How different will this world be? How different would I be?
I woke up, my vision blurred. There were nurses around me, but they don’t seem to notice my consciousness. What about jellyfish? Or was that just fish? I hate people who move their hands while speaking, as if words aren’t enough.
Closing my eyes, blocking out the nurses, I waited for their voices to come to me. But nothing felt different. My head felt as though weights had been tied to it, how big was the machine in me? I slowly brought my hands up my head, grazing my jaw lines smooth skin, heading towards my new bald spot. Two rubber handed gloves ceased my own, their smell bringing back the feelings of nausea. The other nurse wagged her finger at me. I guess she’s trying to say ‘no.’ I would correct her, but she wouldn’t understand. I wait for the doctor to enter the room, the nurses’ crows’ eyes not moving from my hands.
Finally he arrived, the coffee smell refreshing my head. He moved quickly; his hands barely completing the thoughts as he moved his thumbs across his palm describing the surgery. His fingers interlocked, brushing his chest. I needed to be synched up to a machine for the implant to work.
He quickly departed from the hospital room; coat tail swinging out of sight, brushing my mom as she entered the room. Her smile became her whole face as she pulled me into a hug, not bothering to sign a word. Eventually, breaking away from me, her hands move around her face before coming together: “Beautiful.”
Hours later, the anesthetic mostly worked its way out of my body and a blueberry muffin worked into it. I was getting excited as I touched what would be my new ears. The worries of the alien plastic caps were out of my thoughts. Finally everything that everyone had been trying to explain to me could be understood.
Maybe I could go to school with him, have more friends, date him, sing, kiss him. Maybe this wasn’t such a scary thing after all. My mother showed how happy she was for me, that I was going to be just like everyone else now. I smile weakly, wondering how big of a change this could really make.
Before synching me, the doctor signed that it would be a slow process, because my brain hadn’t developed the pathways yet. I hoped it wouldn’t take too long.
He brought the machine close to my ear, almost like a magnet. The doctor worked with the buttons and gears. I sat nervously waiting for it to start. I sat wondering what the world was like with this thing signed
Was this it? Is this what they understood? It was vibrating; I was twitching everywhere. This strange feeling kept moving throughout my body. I continued vibrating, waiting for it, when would the sound start? I tried to focus on feeling my ears, but the vibrating continued. Finally, the vibrations seemed to be localizing in my head. Was this it? This must be sound.
I felt all of the eyes in the room waiting for my reaction, my miracle. Not sure of what sign to say, I smiled.
When we left the hospital, a sick feeling enveloped me. The medicine or vibrating, my stomach twisted tightly inside me. Each turn of the car sent my insides rolling. I closed my eyes tightly waiting for the comfort of silence, but the vibrating wouldn’t stop.
Finally, the car came to a quick halt, at last in the driveway. The blueberry muffin, however, remained creeping its way back into my mouth. The acid filled my mouth as I tore open the front door. My legs rushed me to the toilet just in time to empty my stomach contents.
I leaned my damp face against the counter as my hands reached for the toilets flushing handle. A fuzzing sound filled my head while the water was rushing away my sickness. What was that? I touched the tender part on my skull. Could they be broken already?
I remained fixed at the toilet, waiting for the fuzz sound to come back. Leaning my head in close to reenact the movements, but nothing happened. I grabbed the handle and as the water moved the fuzzing noise grew louder. It rushed past through the toilet and my head. It was sound. I flushed again, it was wonderful.
By the twelfth flush my mom opened up the bathroom door. There are no signs to explain what is happening to me. I’m ok, I show her. The rests her head on her hands and signs to me, “sleep.”
I laid into my bed cautious not to disturb the machine at work. Resting my head as carefully as someone would handle a new born I took care not to disturb the machine. It didn’t take time to steal my consciousness away from me.
The familiar sun greeted me the same as always. Groggily I walked off to the bathroom, my head throbbing from some half forgotten dream. I grabbed the cool metal, the water spitting out. What was that? Sound. My heart leapt.
I shut the water off, it vanished. I turned it back on again. Was this water? Is this the sound water makes? Why is it different than the toilet? I turned the faucet to warm; does hot water make a different sound? The sound I learned changed when different amounts came out. I stood there, my teeth unclean. The water running.
A new sound. What was that? Where did it come from? The water? The door opened, my mother’s fist pressed against it. What was that, I showed her my question. She motioned again, the sound coming with it. Her smile was bright. “You can hear that?” A sharper sound moved with her lips, the language I had never known whisking out of it.
I nodded and turned on the water again, watching it cascade into the porcelain sink. She made the motion again, the sound blending into that of my water. Why couldn’t it come out, what was happening to the sounds? They blended, indistinguishable from each other. My mom smiled encouragingly. How could she not understand this?
Bringing her fingers to her mouth and again around her arm; it was time for breakfast. My feet and hers pounded onto the floor on the way to the table, the vibrations rushing through me with each step. I stomped in different patterns tapping and slamming my feet into the hard wood, eventually reaching the table.
My dad smiled at me, and waved good morning. He looked slightly different, anxious almost. His eyes were wide and glassy. His smile looked like it was stapled onto his face. His lips pursed together as he signed “good morning”, a low vibration passing through them. My mother’s voice also sounded as she looked at me and back to my father, though her hands said nothing.
There pitches intertwined as the language gushed in between us. Why didn’t I understand them yet? It was stupid, but for some reason I thought it would just, click. An instant connection to the world I had been missing. I sat myself into the hard surface of the chair, trying to separate my mother’s voice from my father’s. Did they always speak this much?
It was a long breakfast. I scraped my spoon against my bowl, listening to the squeal it made on the glass. The cool utensil full of cereal poured into my mouth, nearly exploding my ears. The food crunched and cracked in my jaws drowning out the stream of my parents’ words. I bit down into the metal, hearing my own teeth chime against it. Finishing the cereal I brought the bowl of milk close to my lips, carefully dumping it inside. Milk, I noted, did not make the same sound as the sink.
I tested the world around me as the next few weeks sped on. The clink of the glasses, the fan on the computer, the rushing water of the sink; everything had its own identity. I couldn’t understand more than one at a time. Everything could quickly become jumbled in my mind. My walks had also taken a toll. The sounds and sights overwhelmed me and my walks became shorter and shorter with each day.
It was on the second week after surgery that my mom had signed me up to work with a speech therapist. It was something I hadn’t tested yet, afraid of what might come out, the sound that could betray me. My voice.
I wanted to understand everyone, I wanted to learn, but what if it didn’t work? Just like my ears, what if my voice had quit developing?
My mom pointed at me, pulling her hands then around her face; the third motion moved her index and middle finger up against her throat. “You have a beautiful voice.”
I cringed at the thought of other people hearing it without me, but I agreed to go.
Driving had become one of my least favorite tasks. The sound of the pavement against the tires, melted into the movement of the world around me. To overpower this, my mother played the radio. It sounded the same as the humming of the computer with different pitches and rates. My nerves wouldn’t let me sit still; I watched the road fly behind us down the interstate until we reached the speech therapists.
The doctor’s office smelled unlike any other one I had been to. It was less sterile in a way, more like newspapers, mixed with algae from the fish tank. I watched the fish bob up and down in the water. I wonder if they can hear. I tapped my finger against the glass, but no acknowledgement came.
“Mira?” my mom points me in the direction of where my name came from. It was the one thing I had her repeat over and over to me. MIRA.
I enter a small room set up like a classroom; posters of letters and sign language covered the wall. A white board sat on an easel and a pile of note cards on a table beneath a window. The sun is shining outside.
“Hello,” she says and signs. I nod my head, unsure of what language she expects from me. She doesn’t seem to mind and introduces herself, the high pitch rhythm flowing with her hands. Her name is Dr. Sherry Morton, but I can just call her Sherry.
“How are you?” she signs.
Fine, I motioned back.
“Do you like your new ears?”
I shrugged. I don’t know, I like the sounds, but I didn’t think hearing was so slow? It all makes my head fuzzy. Is this what hearing is like? My hands are moving quickly through my thoughts.
“No, hearing is different for us,” She told me about a patient named Brian. He used to be able to hear when he was younger, until an accident left him completely deaf. Brian got the cochlear implant, but said that the things sounded different now. Like a robot, who would translate voices and sounds differently than the normal human ear.
What am I hearing then? I pointed to my ear with a little more force than necessary. The anger of my experience was flowing out of my fingertips.
“You’re hearing sound, Mira. It’s just a little slower. Since you are getting the implants so late in life, your brain can’t catch up with developing the sound pathways.” Her hands are moving elegantly through the air like a ballerina. The soothing motions attempt to calm my nerves.
Defeated, I stared into my hands. The smooth ridges that were sewn into the dark complexion and the prints that made words my own were unlike any others. Her ballerina hands touched my shoulder, forcing my eyes to hear her words.
“It takes time. Your brain doesn’t know how to ignore sounds. You’re hearing everything at once, so it’s going to take time to process it.” She rested her hands for a moment to smile at me. “Are you listening to music?” she moved her hand to mimic that of a string instrument.
I don’t understand it. My heart sank low in my stomach as I raised my fist to my head and pointed up to the florescent lights signing that I don’t understand anything.
It wasn’t until the fourth visit to the speech therapist that I was ready to vocalize. I had been practicing the movement of my lips, pushing my tongue against my teeth and keeping it out of the way. It took me a while to pick what I wanted my first word to be. Most babies say ma or pa; I didn’t want to do that. Instead, I chose “hi.” It was the perfect one syllable word. Hi would be the first thing I would say to him and to the rest of the world.
I had my parents and Dr. Sherry repeat the word hundreds of times for me. Hi. I could do this. I sat firmly in the little wooden chair. My normal tools of speech gripping into the handles for support as I opened my mouth wide.
Taking a deep breath I forced out the air quickly to form the “H” sound, praying what I had for a voice would be picked up by it. Nothing happened. I clenched my fists tighter as Dr. Sherry made the movements with me. Mouth open, tongue lying flat and mouth closes slightly to make the “I” sound.
Again, we tried and it finally happened. Somewhere in between the breathing and disappointment a small vibration picked up in my throat and poured into my mouth. My voice filled the cochlear, but it didn’t sound like the word we practiced.
I moved my mouth again, forcing the breath and voice out of it, attempting to elongate the sound. Still nothing, it sounded like word drool compared to the sharp pitches of everyone around me. I shut my mouth tightly; afraid my new voice would not do as I wished it to. I couldn’t control it.
“You’re doing great,” Dr. Sherry signed, her bright smile shining into my face. Hot tears brimmed over my eyelids streaking down my face. Crying didn’t sound like the faucet either. The hands said no words, but covered my betraying eyes.
I knew the ballerina hands were dancing in front of me, but I couldn’t look. Instead, my legs took control and walked me from the room.
At home, I stared out the window, wishing to be outside, but in the daytime the noise that would pass through my head was unbearable. I would wait until evening when the traffic died down and animals went inside. I sat in my room, waiting for the sun to fall. The air conditioner hummed through my thoughts as I observed.
Finally I caved to the stuffiness of the room, and went outside. The sights were slightly duller than I had remembered. The world wasn’t like I had thought; sound wasn’t like I had imagined. I turned onto different streets, wishing to turn off the constant hum in my head. I kicked and scraped my feet along the sidewalk. The cement filing away at my shoes as they dragged forward down the street.
SLAM. I look around, unable to place the noise. Was it a car door? A black Jeep’s car door? His car.
There he was, only feet away. How long had he been watching me pull against the cement? I smiled stupidly and waved hello. He says my first word back. Another sound is added while his mouth moves.
I can hear him now, but we still can’t understand each other. I touch my ears and shake my head. I don’t know what he is telling me. Defeated, I walk past him headed home.
My mom is sitting at the kitchen table again. I don’t want them anymore, I showed her. We fought for awhile; our hands cutting through the air around us. I know she is upset that I don’t like sound, but it’s just too much noise. I tell her I don’t know my own thoughts anymore and it hurts my head.
Eventually she agrees to let me have them removed. Within another month the Cochlear is gone and my world is back to normal. Happy, I go back on my walk. Fall is near and the leaves of the red maple are changing again. Not far, I smell that grass is being cut. It grows stronger as I round the corner.
I see him, he’s mowing the lawn, the ear buds plugged into his head. I nod my head and step aside so he can push the lawn mower past me. Instead, he stops me and waves slowly.
My name is Jake. He shows me, looping his pinky finger to spell his own name for me. His mouth is moving along with his childish hands. What’s your name?
M-I-R-A, I spell out. I smile at the clumsiness of his letters. Is he signing to me?
I like that remind, he motions.
What? I don’t understand his hands. He looks around awkwardly, before bringing his hands up to his head. Reindeer? I try to smile encouragingly, since my own hands are shaking.
When did you learn sign language? I pull my fist up and point my hand slowly.
He looks confused and turns away, taking off back into his house. I wait for a moment feeling awkward. He finally emerges, a large book in hand. Flipping through the pages frantically, he finally finds what he is
I like that name, he shows me.