“This won’t work,” I told my mother. “I’m not ready yet.”
“Maybe not,” she said. “But might as well start practicing.”
This is crazy. I heard the door close, then a set of footsteps down the hall, leaving me alone in the room with the telephone. I stared mistrustfully at it. Despite seeing phones for my entire life, I still perceive them as strange objects that only hearing people talk on. Not me, certainly. The thought made me want to laugh. A few seconds – a noise penetrated the room. Yes, yes, the phone was ringing!
I let it ring again before picking it up, positioning it awkwardly by my ear. “Hello,” I said, half-expecting to hear nothing back – or, at the most, a mangled sound. To my surprise, I heard my mother's voice, tiny and squeaky as though inhaling helium at the far end of a tunnel, but unmistakably saying the words from our prearranged script.
“You sound like a duck,” I said, bemused. “I mean, like the duckiest duck I’ve ever heard. Hold on.”
Turning up my CI volume only helped the squeakiness a fraction, and made my own voice sound painfully loud, but at least I could follow what she was saying. We had a short, scripted conversation, then hung up. Then she called me again. Then we hung up again. After several rounds of this, I tried her cell phone, which sounded clearer than the landline – or maybe I was getting more used to phones in general? Another milestone, in any case!
I don’t know if I’ll ever properly talk on the phone, but it’s an exciting thought, and my recent progress makes it more conceivable than ever before. Although, still, the idea of picking up a receiver and instantly understanding the caller is nuts! It’s like believing that, one day, I will learn to fly. But I try not to set limitations on what I can and can’t do; after all, this is a new reality, isn’t it? I had my first-ever Skype conversation without sign a little while ago, letting the sound of my friend’s voice supplement my lipreading when the screen wasn’t too blurry. This would not have been possible with hearing aids, and logging off I felt exhilarated. Now if my listening comprehension progresses to the point where I’m not so reliant on lipreading (and hence not so vulnerable to the clarity of the video connection), I could be able to skype any friend I want, not only those who sign! My daily listening practice has progressed to more and more semi-open exercises, in which I know the general category of what someone will say, but not the exact words. The other day, I was able to have a passable conversation with my mother without any set defined at all. Although I had to ask her to repeat some phrases, I was able to understand others right away. My auditory memory is slowly beefing up. I’ve even listened to a song or two and followed the lyrics.
Still, my recent foray with the telephone makes me think of the role that other technologies have played in my life. No, I’ve never been able to use some everyday devices like the phone, but other innovations more than make up for that. Really, there’s never been a better time in history to be deaf. Email, texting, instant messaging, and the Internet all offer text-based ways to communicate instantly with people, making a hearing loss all but irrelevant. Perfect for me since I’ve always preferred to express myself through written words! Perhaps it speaks to the true novelty of text messaging that, young as I am, I can remember the days when none of my friends texted at all (even though I did), as well as the frustration of trying to find a nice cell phone with a QWERTY keyboard. (Today, with Blackberries and iPhones, that problem is obsolete.) In those bygone days, I would rely on the relay system to contact people – one or two of my longtime friends still remember how horrible that was! Then there’s also closed captioning, which allows me to access television and movies unlike deaf people of generations past – even though it still has a ways to go. The gradual introduction of captions to YouTube videos is encouraging, but now if only live streaming video, newscasts, and movie theaters would get their act together! (Not to mention live events and performances.) More on that another time, maybe…
The crux is this: as long as the accessibility is there, people will engage and communicate. Now I’m hoping I can learn to engage in an entirely different way!