Riss reflects on her experiences as from a child perspective to an adult perspective living with Single- Sided Deafness. She wants the reader to understand that there are so many incidents and not enough time. (October 2020)
By Riss •
My mom places the phone to my left ear. I hear nothing. It feels hot. It feels uncomfortable. I know something should be coming out, but there’s nothing but silence.
“Mommy, I don’t hear anything.” She looks at me quizzically and puts her cigarette on the kitchen counter. I switch it to my right ear, and I smile. “Ahhhh, hi Auntie Shaina!” I exclaim with joy. My mom furrows her eyebrows and asks me (for the hundredth time) why do I keep doing that.
My mommy takes me to the doctor. She says that she always knew something was weird. She says she never felt the need to take me until now. And I don’t know how to feel about that…There were so many times my mom would scream at me for “ignoring” her. I don’t know why she waited for so long.
I sit on the doctor’s examination table and smile. He asks me why am I here. I nervously tap on the table. He starts making these corny jokes as he pulls out a clipboard. I laugh to myself. He looks like those annoying white doctors off Grey’s Anatomy.
“I can’t hear anything…” I pause. “I mean, I can hear you now, but if you talk on my left side I can’t really hear anything.” He moves over to my left side and speaks.
“Don’t worry. I’m gonna check you out with my otoscope!” I laugh. I don’t know what that means, but I’m happy he cares. “Can you hear me now?” He gives me a smile.
“Yeah…but that’s because it’s so quiet right now.” I feel confused. “I can’t hear if you whisper closely.” I try to explain, but the words sound jumbled in my head. He gives me a look and raises his eyebrow. He looks at my mom. “Like, if everyone is talking, I can’t her you,” I begin again. “Everything sounds so mixed up.”
I feel like they think I’m lying.
He pokes the thingy in my left ear and then my right ear. He’s not really explaining anything…He tells me not to be scared and not to worry. He asks some more questions, but I feel so dumb. He’s not even writing anything down. He’s just staring at me with an annoyed face. I don’t feel like speaking anymore. My mom begins to look at me, clearly irritated by my sudden awkwardness.
We leave the office thirty minutes later. My mom looks annoyed. She won’t look at me. She yanks on my hand as we walk across the street.
She plainly says, “Sweetie, they say you have hearing loss. You just can’t hear in your ear. You just have to make a few adjustments. They can’t really do anything.” My mom sighs. “Just be grateful you’re not Deaf.”
My mom screams at me at the park in front of all the children because I didn’t hear her call my name. She screams at me in the car ride home. She screams at me in the house, and my right ear is ringing. I break down and cry. I tell her that it was too noisy at the park. I tell her that it was too noisy with all the kids yelling. She listens but doesn’t apologize. She tells me to practice listening harder. She gives me chocolate ice cream which I hate, but I don’t want to seem ungrateful.
I run to my bedroom to play this game I invented. I press my ears onto our fan. First, I press my right ear on it and listen. I listen for the loud sounds, the waves, and the “whirring” sound. It sounds so…complete. I put my left ear on the fan and listen. It sounds weird though. It sounds like nothing. I feel like I’m hearing from my right ear instead. It feels incomplete.
“Let’s play the telephone game. Everyone sit in a circle and let’s start!” Mrs. Wilde announces. We all get in a circle. Everyone is eager to play this game but me.
I hate this damn game.
I walk up to Mrs. Wilde to tell her, again, that I don’t want to play because I’m always messing the words up. She laughs and tells me that the point of the game is to practice our listening skills. Mrs.Wilde pats me on the head and asks me how can I not hear if it’s quiet, and she playfully rolls her eyes. “Marissa, this happens all the time… You need to listen harder.” I hate her. I can tell from her voice that she thinks I’m being dramatic.
Aaron, one of the cutest boys in my grade, sits on my left side. He leans near. He whispers something. I can’t hear it. I hear gibberish. I feel hot air against my ear. I give him a smile and tell Alicia, the girl on my right, something random.
Once we’re done, we go down the circle, reciting what the person told us. Alicia repeats what I said and everyone laughs at me…again. I thank God for my brown skin because I feel my cheeks burning red.
I hear stupid and dumb again in all the laughter and gossip. I sigh and put my hand on my right ear. It doesn’t stop all the sounds but it makes things more quiet when I feel like disappearing.
My mom does this thing where she yells my name when I’m three floors above her. I told her so many times that I can’t hear exactly what she’s saying, but I can hear she’s yelling something. She screams at me. She tells me that I always do this shit when I don’t want to clean up. She tells me to stop fucking ignoring her or else she’ll slap the shit out of me. I stand there with a straight face, and I try not to cry.
My therapist tells me to keep quiet and expressionless when my mom gets in these moods. It’s hard to keep quiet when my mom is being a bitch but whatever. It stops her from punching me sometimes.
I run to my room and vent to my little sister. She’s Deaf, and we understand each other more. I’m so lucky to have her. I sign to her what my mom says while I cry uncontrollably. She hugs me, and I calm down almost instantly. We talk for hours, but we keep getting stuck in the conversation. I know some sign language but not enough. I have to fingerspell everything out, and sometimes I neglect to look at my sister’s hands. I’m a lip reader by nature. She helps me by correcting my signs as we I speak. Every now and then she rolls her eyes and gets frustrated with me.
Sometimes, I get defensive and annoyed that she corrects me so much. Then, I remember that my sign language vocabulary sucks, my grammar is atrocious, and that I should know way more ASL at this point.
I will admit. I am a little jealous of my sister because she has a community. I feel so stuck in between the hearing world and the hearing loss world.
I never received any guidance on how to deal with my hearing loss, but collectively my experiences have allowed me to adapt to any environment.
I always stand or sit on the left side of people. I always tell people that me being in the passenger seat of the car usually means no talking. If you’re not loud and the windows are down, all I hear is noise. I can pick up fragments of the conversation, so I usually respond based on tone. Sound happy? I nod and give a shallow “wow”. Sound upset? I cock my head to the side and furry my eyebrows a bit. (I should’ve been an actress, right?) I ask a question that keeps the speaker talking. If I can’t decipher anything, I just say “yeah” and stop giving a fuck.
Busy restaurants are the worst. I tend to keep quiet and sit at the end of the tables. If I’m stuck in the middle, I always end up in this awkward position where I can’t hear the person next to me, and I seem like a huge btich for not sounding as engaged as I am with everyone else. I tend to get a little anxious and uncomfortable. I’m not hearing as much of the conversation like everyone else. I’ll politely say, “Oh, I just have hearing loss in my left ear. Just speak up a little.” I’ll add a little chuckle at the end. People say sorry and give me these pity faces that quickly fade away. Nobody really cares through.
I can probably write so much shit about how my hearing loss affects me. I can go on and on about how people will get annoyed with me in the store and actually fucking shove me. Presumably, they’ve probably said excuse me multiple times, but I couldn’t hear them. I can tell you about so many times in the club when my friends have been talking to me drunkenly on the wrong side. I understand that they’re drunk and may have forgotten, but they’ll get upset and roll their eyes. And pleeeeeease don’t get me started on people talking to me while watching a movie. Too many sounds at once and it makes my brain feel hot.
No, I don’t expect everyone to remember all the time. I know people make mistakes, and I know people are allowed to get a little annoyed with me, right? I do know that I don’t have to surround myself with people who roll their eyes when I ask them to repeat something. I do know that I have so much more to learn about my hearing loss and how I navigate this world in between two communities.
Riss is passionate about creating safe spaces for QTBIPOC. She is also passionate about evolving in her actions, language, and advocacy efforts (for all).