“What did you say?”
“It’s nothing. Never-mind.”
“No, tell me. You know it really pisses me off when you do that.”
“Just let it go. It wasn’t important.”
It’s always important.
Anyone with hearing loss can tell you how difficult it is to converse with others, how self-defeating, physically exhausting and excruciatingly painful it is to carry on a normal 15-minute conversation without issue. And when you’re dating someone, are in love with someone, the conversations you have can become a source of sadness and sometimes a reason to fight.
I’ve dated the most amazing guy for about three years now, and we still have issues with my hearing, on a weekly, if not daily basis. He does his best to be patient, but in all honesty, I can’t really blame him for sometimes getting frustrated and just giving up. I mean it’s been three years after all, and if I were him, I’d probably have pushed me off a bridge at this point.
He’s normal, has perfect hearing; has two ears that function just as they should for a 24-year-old adult. He has no hearing loss, and there is no indication that he will ever suffer from any in the future. I on the other hand, hear just slightly better than my now 54-year-old father without his hearing aids, and well, let’s just say that isn’t very well at all. “What?” or “Excuse me?” are the two most commonly used phrases in my vocabulary. I’d say they both get used at least 10 times a day. The songs birds sing in the early morning are voiceless, sports whistles are silently mocking pieces of plastic, whistling is no longer a trick I am capable of (who know this would go as my hearing did?), and in short, the list of things I can actually hear is far shorter than the list of things I cannot.
Everyone talks in hushed whispers of the difficulties faced when a couple is interracial or has conflicting religious views, but no one has really talked about the couple that is hearing and non-hearing. Obviously when compared to race or religion, hearing loss doesn’t seem a big issue, but for those with hearing loss, it is a pivotal element in every relationship they have – professional and personal.
For me, as a “deaf” person, there are a few words and phrases that initially piss me off and then eventually lead me to frustrated tears: “Whatever.” “Just forget it.” “It’s not important.” And my personal favorite, “Never-mind.”
Such simple words. Such seemingly harmless 20th century linguistic productions. Such horrid, hurtful and disgusting aberrations.
I don’t hear these words when they are spoken. Instead, these short, blunt and utterly defeating noises simply remind me of how different I am, how less I am, how abnormal I am. “Whatever” really sounds like “I’m not willing to be patient and take the time to repeat what I’m saying until your ruined ears can get it.” “Just forget it” translates to “You’re really not important enough for me to repeat it to.” “It’s not important,” while it really may not be important, simply says to me that if I can’t hear it the first time and everyone else did, that I’m simply not worth the effort of repeating it to or telling it in a different way. And let me just say, no matter whether you consider it important or not, to me, it’s always important.
And of course the most painful of all, “Never-mind,” well to me it’s just a hidden “F*** you!”
So here I am with this amazing guy, three years into dating, and just about every morning in the car my hearing is an obstacle. When I drive, it’s not quite as bad. My Jeep’s small engine hums softly, and while during the course of our conversation I may miss a few things here-and-there, by the time I drop him off at work it’s been an all-around pleasant trip. While I am sure the SXM fantasy football stations help to encourage more repetitions than normal without complaint, talking is still much easier and much nicer than when we are in his Camaro.
I’ve had the big engined car. Hell, I used to love the subs blasting bass beats in my high school buddies’ trunks, but now, whether as a subconscious effort to protect what little hearing I have left or whether my sensitivity to the “loud noise” has increased due to my older years, I dread talking in that Camaro. I dread it because he can’t look at me and drive, and more-than-half the time while driving I can’t hear without reading his lips. Conversation in the Camaro is exhausting, defeating and there are times when I have purposefully sat in silence just to avoid being abnormal for an hour.
And in his car, and sometimes in my own, the words I hate come out.
“Never-mind.” “Just forget it.” “Whatever.” “It’s not important.”
Early in the week, I can handle the brutal sting of these words. I can remember that he’s not trying to be mean, he’s just frustrated. I would be too.
By the middle of week, the words hurt more. Sometimes when I exit the car and am buckled into my own driver’s seat, I sit in silence for five minutes, hug the steering wheel and let some tears fall. Self-pity it may be, but it’s also more. It’s frustration that I can’t have a normal conversation with my boyfriend. It’s anger that I am only 23 and hear as bad as my father who’s almost twice my age. It’s self-hatred of a physical part of me I cannot change. And it’s sadness and hurt that the one I love has used those words.
By the end of the week, if I’ve heard those words enough, or if they have suddenly been accompanied by a loud, exasperated sigh, multiple deep breaths or fingers clenching and unclenching on the steering wheel, well the tears don’t usually wait until I’m in the safe haven of my own car. They can’t wait. I can’t help it, and I can’t deal with it. I am exhausted from work, from listening for five days straight in the morning, during the day and at night. I am frustrated with myself for having the problem and with others for just not getting it. I am already hurt to the point that the knowledge that he really doesn’t mean it, is simply gone. So, I turn my face away towards the window, curl my legs up to my chest and try to stifle the stuffy nose that always accompanies the tears.
It’s like this all the time, and no matter how hard I wish, it will never change. He will continue to be patient each week for as long as he can. He will continue to be careful of the words he uses, when he talks and where. He will still do his best to make sure I can see his face, to wait for somewhere quiet to talk about things that are important, and he will always know that I will never hear normally.
He will forget, and for a while I will not blame him. But then he will forget, and I will simply turn away, hide and cry in silence. We will both say nothing, because what really is there to say. There is nothing. Neither of us can fix my ears or make it easier. We cannot always be patient, always be aware, and we cannot always be accommodating. It is as exhausting for him to accommodate and adjust for my deafness as it is for me to compensate and try to adjust for his normality.
There is no changing it, no turning back the clock, no waving a wand and chanting “bippity-boppity-boo!” There are no fairy godmothers for ears, and there is no permanent or perfect solution.
All we can do is keep going, keep pushing, and keep trying. I will never be able to fully appreciate whispered nothings in my ears, and he has accepted that for the rest of our lives conversations in the dark will never happen. We will fight, a lot, and my ears will always be the problem, but we know this, accept this and choose to move forward. I will be angry and hurt when he can no longer be patient, and he will be angry and frustrated when I cry.
He will always hear normally, and I will always be disabled. And yet, at the end of the day, he still wants to try. I still want to try. We want to try.
Love is a powerful thing, and while it’s never a solution, it helps. There are issues a couple faces when they are of different races, religions or socio-economic backgrounds. These issues are the sources of fights, break-ups and life-altering decisions. There are issues a couple faces when they are of different hearing abilities. These issues are the sources of fights, break-ups and life-altering decisions.
It will never be easy being deaf. I know this.
It will never be easy dating someone who is deaf. He knows this.
It will never be easy, but then again, the best things never are, are they?