Audible Frequencies

By Oz Spies





But I'm not deaf. I hear things, but they are the wrong things. And if I become deaf, what then? Several years ago, we feared my mother, who has had hearing loss since age six, as I have, was going deaf. Her graphs of audible frequencies plummeted to Severe. The next level is Profound, which means Deaf to me. I planned to enroll in sign language class. But the loss leveled off, and she got more powerful hearing aids and spoke too loudly inches from my face.

I grew tired of being the idiot, so I went to my mother's ear doctor. "Your hearing loss is symmetrical," the audiologist told me, "That's good." Why, I wondered? So that neither ear feels left out? I would like one perfect ear canal, with overly-sensitive nerve endings, to put the other ear to shame.

When my father bothers my mother, she simply takes out her hearing aids. She reads just feet away from a blasting action movie, in blissful silence. When road noise is too loud, or Sean rants about the evils of Walmart once again, I wish my hearing loss was that bad, that I could pull out my hearing aids and envelop myself in soundlessness. Eventually, I will be able to; my nerves will continue to freeze up, deteriorate, refuse to detect sounds.

I watch mouths move as people talk; lips, tongues and teeth show me whether a sound is a soft W (lips pursed together, open around an invisible straw) or a P (lips gently pressed together), and I know if the word spoken is win or pin. I become distracted by the intricate, graceful motions of mouths, by a glint of silver filling or an especially active tongue flicking between teeth and playing along gums, watching mouths rather than reading language.

Sean comes home from a late call and crawls into bed. I reach over and his body is stiff. He speaks slowly about the head-on collision between a farmer's truck and an underage stripper's red sports car. It is the first fatality he has seen as a firefighter, and his voice is soft and flat like a talk show rumbling in the next room. Though I strain to hear, I do not ask him to speak up. I don't want to know details about the farmer's almost-severed neck. It does not matter if I hear specific; all that matters is that I know he has been shaken, and comfort him.

I am used to the fluctuation between silence and sound from my parents' home, and I know our lives will continue to dance ever closer to these extremes. Instead of soft expressions of love, Sean must speak loudly to me. We will have no whispered conversations in the dark. Later, when I can only hear yelling without hearing aids, we will communicate by winks, grimaces, back scratches. Deafness will whittle away those not dear to me. I will sit in a silent room and won't mind.

Oz Spies lives in Denver with her husband, Sean, a couch-loving mutt named Angus, and a severely overweight cat, Muldoon. She received a MFA from Colorado State University, and currently works in the nonprofit sector.


Brevity copyright   2003
authors retain copyright over individual works