People often said that she was a beautiful child.
She had the face of an angel, with long, dark hair that hung about her face and blue eyes speckled with gold flecks – like her mother’s.
They couldn’t know from looking at her that her world was mostly silent. When she turned and faced people the hearing aide in her pocket attached by a long wire to her ear was a dead giveaway.
In the early 60’s they didn’t know what to do with a child who suffered from hearing loss. In McLean, they shuffled her from special education rooms, to handicapped classrooms, to special schools for the handicapped. Finally, in a small town in Pennsylvania, they included my sister in a regular classroom. (Long before it was fashionable or acceptable.)
After numerous trips to many doctors and specialists, my parents were resigned to the fact that K. was totally deaf in one ear, and partially deaf in one ear. Many things were tried in her early years to help her, but in the end she learned to live with one hearing aid, an amazing ability to read lips, and two annoying siblings who treated her as any other sibling would. Like crap. (As it should be.)
As a teenager, I would sneak into the house late at night when the house was quiet, and on occasion I would stumble upon my mother sitting in the dark on the long stairway leading up to the second floor. The martinis at cocktail hour had made her weepy, and she would hug me and release her feelings of guilt about my sister’s deafness.
“If only I hadn’t had German measles. I will always blame myself.” And her voice would catch in a sob as she would pull me close and cry quietly.
I will never forget those heartbreaking moments.
I was preparing to teach school one morning, a little over ten years ago, when my phone rang. It was 7:30, and I knew it exactly who it was. We spoke every morning, and I thought nothing of it.
“Hello! I am leaving for work in ONE minute – what’s up???” I yelled into the phone.
“D. You are not going to believe this. I got my new hearing aides – you know, the two that the doctor said would probably help me? Well, I put them in, and guess what? Guess What??
I heard the birds. I have never heard birds before. And the crickets! THE CRICKETS! Oh My God. And the backhoe up the street! I heard the backhoe! Can you believe it? Are you there? HELLO?”
Oh, I was there all right.
I was there.
The tears pouring from my eyes and the joy I felt in my heart was almost too much to describe.
And at that moment, I saw the mother sitting on the stairs, smiling down upon her precious, precious girl. And I knew that she was finally at peace.