Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Princess of HUH?

My sweet little brother
and me, the Princess of HUH
My parents thought I was ignoring them.  They swore I had selective hearing, even when I was a little girl.  It seemed that I could hear Mom say it was time for supper, or time to get ready to go to the pool.  My hearing seemed negligible when it came time to do chores, turn off the TV, or get ready for bed.  They told me I was "hard of hearing."  All I know is two words dominated my childhood vocabulary:  "Huh?" and "Ma'am?"

Mom threatened that she would take me to the doctor if I didn't stop saying "Huh?"  I had many fears as a child:  the dark, monsters under the bed, drowning, mice...and DOCTORS.  "Don't take me to the doctor!" I would wail. I would strain extra hard to hear what was being said.  I tried to eliminate "Huh?" from my vocabulary. I tried, "What'd you say?"  I still missed the punchlines of jokes, teacher's instructions, and lines of songs.

I usually just cup my ear or lean toward
the speaker.  This vintage military
listening device would have just been
plain awkward.
Finally, when I was fifteen, my mom followed through, and took me to an E.N.T. (ears, nose, throat specialist).  It wasn't that I wasn't LISTENING; I plain couldn't HEAR.  After extensive testing, he determined I definitely had a hearing disability, and through exploratory surgery, he discovered my birth defect:  I had a conductive hearing problem.  I was missing one of those tiny bones that conducts hearing to the ear drum.  Remember the hammer, anvil, and stirrup?  Yeah, I only had two of the three.

Long story short, he fashioned a little bone of sorts, and improved my hearing.  Improvement is a relative thing.  It was nothing for me to get excited about.  If you plug both of your ears, that is how I hear if I only plug my good ear. Everything is still muffled, I always tip my head so my right ear is facing the speaker, and I still miss out on critical spoken information.

It fell to my friends and family to explain things to me that were confusing because of my disability.  Friends would supply punch lines and critical information for classes.  My college roommate found my versions of popular music lyrics to be hilarious, but generously offered me the correct words, after she'd had her fun.

Summer 2013: Daddy & Denise
As I was learning to drive in the "gret stet of Virginia," my dad was my main instructor.  I can remember one conversation we had that had him stumped.

"Dad, how do policemen know if you're changing gears in an intersection?"

He just looked at me.  "What?  I don't know what you mean."

"I heard it's illegal to change gears in an intersection, and I'm wondering how the police can tell if you're doing that.  Do they listen for a sound, or does the car move differently when you're changing gears?  Is it dangerous to do that? I just don't see what the big deal is."

I could tell he was doing some quick thinking.  Trying to think the way I do is a challenge for me, and especially challenging for my poor dad.  "Um, Princess. It's not illegal to change gears at any time.  They don't have a special way to detect that, it's not dangerous, and it's not against the law."

"But I swear they told us in drivers' ed to be sure not to ever change gears in an intersection."

And then it occurred to him what had been said is not exactly what I'd heard.  "Could they have told you that it is illegal to change LANES in an intersection?  Because that IS dangerous and that IS against the law."

The lights came on for me.  I could totally support that law.  The gear-changing law was ridiculous; I would've had to challenge that one.

To this day, I always try to walk on the left side of walking companions so that my right ear has a better chance of hearing anything they say.  I turn up the volume a little too loudly in my car. Closed-captioned TV is the best thing ever. I even love foreign films with subtitles; I don't miss a word. Whenever anyone whispers to me, I nearly knock them out trying to position my right ear in front of their mouth.

The upside of not hearing well is that I also can't hear insults, bad jokes, or most swear words in lyrics.  When I'm in earshot of fireworks or firearms, I only need to plug my good ear.  When we rode our Harley, I only carried one ear plug.  When Mark watches TV late at night, I just put my good ear to the pillow, and fall asleep.

So forgive me if you have to repeat something you've said, or if I don't seem to appreciate your jokes.  I rely on lip-reading, but I don't think I'm very good at it.  I've tried to expand my repertoire of questions to more refined choices than "Huh?"  Now I try, "Come again?"  "What was that?"  "Would you say that again?"  "Would you repeat that, please?"  I find that a puzzled expression, raised eyebrows, and hunched shoulders seem to make my point, too.

Just today I was listening to the radio in my husband's pickup.  I recognized the song from high school days:  Time Passages by Al Stewart.  Toward the end of the song, the lyrics are:  A gal comes towards you / You once used to know.  Hmmm...THAT'S what they were saying?  I always thought it was:  A gal comes towards you / WHO WANTS YOUSE TO KNOW.  I just figured it was a song with Brooklyn roots.

Sometimes phrases are funnier the way I hear them.  I've entertained myself in many a class asking a friend, "Did he just say (SOMETHING VERY SHOCKING)?"  Ha ha ha.  Nope.  He didn't, but you could have fooled me!

The doctor assured my parents that my right ear is just fine, and probably compensates for the lack of the left.  I am able to hear well enough in the one for the both, he said.  But please, if you must whisper, whisper into my right ear.  The left one just won't "get it."

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