It’s been two years and six months since I last heard music.
My best friend, Crystal, was visiting me in Colorado. She was helping me proof pages for my husband’s first wedding anniversary gift (a big ass book all about him and why I love him) and we decided to listen to some music while we worked. I fetched our iHome and brought it downstairs. I plugged it in, made sure my iPod was good to go and selected some Destiny’s Child to listen to. And it came on, but I was working across the room, Crystal was closer. And I couldn’t hear it. I thought maybe the iPod had become dislodged so I went up to it and saw it was playing.
“Can you hear any music?” I asked Crystal.
“Mmhmm,” she replied without looking up.
She was helping me get the graphics of a page just right and was completely focused. But I knew that she could hear it because she told me what was playing, which was the same song my iPod claimed was playing. I remember frowning, and wondering why I couldn’t hear it. The iHome was at its regular volume, which was already on the loud side. Still I turned it up, until I could hear it. The volume read 49 instead of its usual 26. Crystal grimaced from the sound, which was probably an onslaught on any normal hearing person’s ears. But to me, it was barely a muffle. And I while I could hear the bass and the basic rhythm and I could hear the voices of Destiny’s Child singing, I couldn’t make out what the voices were saying. It was all just a bunch of noise.
I turned it back down to a more comfortable level for Crystal and just figured I was having an off hearing day. It was all a fluke. And I’d figure it out later. I never listened to music again after that day. Not for the lack of trying, I tried everything on every device, even having the sound go directly into my hearing aids and shutting off the room on this device, which means there could be an explosion right next to me and I would not hear it – think about the ultimate earplugs – and still the best I could do was hearing a voice (maybe) above the bass, but having no idea what that voice was saying or even how it sounded, as much as I simply knew it was there.
So really it’s been longer since I last heard music, or understood it, because this memory is more of the realization that I no longer could. But I don’t know when the last time I heard and understood music was, because at the time there was nothing significant about it. I had no idea it would be the last time, it was never even an option at that point…
And now all I have are the echoes of what I used to hear. Songs stuck in my head, simply because I remember. I cling to these memories, because it’s almost like hearing them now.
“Ladies leave your man at home/The club is full of ballers and their pockets full grown….” –Destiny’s Child “Jumpin’ Jumpin’”
“You think you got the best of me/Think you’ve had the last laugh/Bet you think that everything good is gone/Think you left me broken down/Think that I’d come running back/Baby you don’t know me, cause you’re dead wrong/What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger/Stand a little taller/Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone/What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter/Footsteps even lighter/Doesn’t mean I’m over cause you’re gone.” –Kelly Clarkson “Stronger”
“Heart, don’t fail me now!/Courage, don’t desert me!/Don’t turn back now that we’re here/People always say/Life is full of choices/No one ever mentions fear!/Or how a road can seem so long/How the world can seem so vast/Courage, see me through/Heart, I’m trusting you/On this journey to the past.” –“Journey to the Past” off the Anastasia soundtrack
“But now I’ve found my second wind, wind/Now I’ve found my second skin, skin… One of me is wiser/One of me is stronger/One of me’s a fighter/And there’s a thousand faces of me/And we’re gonna rise up/Yeah we’re gonna rise up/For every time you wronged me/Well you’re gonna face an army, army of me.” –Christina Aguilera “Army of Me”
“Come to me now/And lay your hands over me/Even if it’s a lie/Say it will be alright/And I shall believe/I’m broken in two/And I know you’re on to me… But I do believe/That not everything is gonna be the way/You think it ought to be/It seems like every time I try to make it right/It all comes down on me/Please say honestly you won’t give up on me/And I shall believe” –Sheryl Crow “I Shall Believe”
These are just some of the songs stuck in my head right now. They have been for about a week. Some are often repeats (Army of Me, Journey to the Past) and some are constants (Stronger) and some are new this week, because something reminded me of them (Jumpin’ Jumpin’, I Shall Believe).
These echoes – these snippets of song are the only thing close to music that I will ever have. The memories are sharp and focused, and I can still hear the music, hear the voices and the different notes they hit on each word or lyric, but they are also incomplete. I can’t play a song from beginning to end in my head. As much as I try, not even my greatest anthems are able to play from start to finish. The best I can do is half of a song, and only if it’s less than four minutes. I’m a writer, but it’s hard to put into words how much I miss music and how much of a part of my life it was up until it wasn’t.
I have known I was profoundly deaf for years. That means I am truly deaf to some pitches (in my case roughly half, a little more) and profoundly hard of hearing with everything else. But what matters even more than hearing the sound (I think, but at least just as much) is the ability to discriminate the sounds you hear. The words barn, owl and telescope all sound the same to me – like two trashcan lids banging together. I can hear the sound of the words, but I can’t make out the actual words. Three years ago, my sound discrimination was still very decent at 84%. Then without reason, it took a dive the following year at 60%. Now, after having my first hearing test in two years because of how much the last one upset me, my sound discrimination has taken another dive at 40%.
I knew to expect something like this, hearing and understanding has become increasingly harder. But my husband keeps acting like getting my hearing tested and my hearing aids reprogrammed is going to help, when it isn’t. All of the hearing assistance technology out there, to aid in actually hearing (so not technology to help those who are deaf) only concerns itself with volume. Everything from fancy high end hearing aids to the free devices at a theatre, when stripped down are just amplifiers. They make things louder. They don’t help you make out the difference between a “g” sound and a “w” sound. Nothing out there does.
I know I need to learn sign language, and I’m not sad about that. I love learning, particularly other languages and about other cultures. And deaf is a culture. I don’t see it as a disability, it’s not something to try to fix. When I’ve been around deaf people, their expressions and body language, the way they communicate, it’s beautiful. But something keeps holding me back from learning, and I know what it is now: Grief.
For a long time I didn’t talk about losing my hearing and how I felt. Because I’m not a “woe is me” kind of person. Pity isn’t cute on anyone, and it just isn’t me. But in all honesty, I feel nothing short of devastated. It’s not just about the practical side of things (even after I learn sign language, I can only communicate with those who also know it, and my husband’s memory sucks, so…. challenges…) or about music (but oh, how I miss it), but it’s about all of the things I am losing. I can be Pollyanna, and out of all the things to happen to me in my lifetime, this is may not be that big of a deal, and yes I will learn ASL, and I will communicate with others and live my life, and be happy… but it is still an incredible loss. I don’t feel sorry for myself, or feel like I’m being punished, and I don’t ask, “Why me?” But I still need to acknowledge that loss and let myself feel all of these feelings, something I haven’t allowed myself to do, because pity and grief often look the same – not on others, but when looking at myself, they become hard to distinguish, one from the other.
I feel depressed and frustrated. And then I think of all of the things I will eventually stop hearing (my husband’s laughter, when he tells me he loves me) and all of the things I will never hear (the laughter of my children, we hope to have, but don’t yet, or when they say my name) and I have to accept this reality because denial is also not my style, and doesn’t really work for anyone. It’s impossible to be completely ready for losing the rest of my hearing and/or sound discrimination capabilities. It’s like a death you know is coming. You can try to be ready. You can know that it’s coming. You can prepare. But until it happens, you can’t be ready and once it does it will knock you down or at least take your breath away. And you’ll grieve and accept and move on.
I can’t accept it completely until it happens, and the same goes for moving on. So I guess this time is for grieving. And preparing. Because even though being fluent in ASL won’t make losing my hearing any easier (the emotional aspect anyway) it’s better than dealing with learning after it becomes a necessity. And I’m always a planner anyway, I have to prepare as best I can. I’m not the kind of person who can sit around and do nothing. And I know I am still luckier than many, I have friends willing to help me learn, and others who are willing to learn with me. So I won’t be in this alone in that aspect.
But I’m already doing it again – it’s hard for me not to look for the bright spot and look at how to move around an obstacle (the obstacle in this case, losing my hearing) if I can’t plow right through it. It’s hard for me to be still and acknowledge the loss. It’s easier to listen to my echoes of music and not think about the day when I’ll stop hearing my husband speak, and wonder if I’ll ever hear my future children. Even the saddest echo is easier than that.