And now for a corny joke: deafness is amazing.
Allow me to explain.
Words are cowards. When someone speaks to me, their words wiggle behind a maze. I must work my way through the maze before I get the words to show themselves to me. Mazes, like words, are deeply affected by their owners. Each person presents me with a different maze. For folks I’m long acquainted with, the maze is deftly navigated. For strangers, the maze slows me down some. For the thickly accented or the softly spoken, the maze slows me down much. But most frustrating of all is when I find Father Time is in cahoots with words from a well-known person.
Kith, kin, and acquaintances all have their own way with words. The words of some stand tall behind walls small. The mazes in front of such words present me with but little trouble. The words of my mom stand behind such a maze. Then there are the words of those who I know so well that the words could very well be mine. These words are behind walls of glass and under a light that’s bright. As a result, those walls that I can’t readily see through throw shadows that lead me to the right path. Pam’s words are behind such a wall. A third species of words are those that constantly shuck and jive. They run through the maze ahead of me in a crouch. They quickly dart ahead of the next turn, almost leading me on. While I do fall behind from time to time, the chase is a longstanding one and I can usually keep up with the gist if not the entire sentence. My oldest friend J’s words lead me on like this. While these words are a little tougher to catch, the challenge pales in comparison to strangers’ words.
I’ve seen many a maze since I started work in a public library. From mazes with sharp corners to those with round ones, from mazes with tall walls to those with small ones, from mazes with red carpet floors to those with rock-studded dirt trails, and many, many more. When a person first starts speaking to me, I hold my breath and wait for the maze to reveal itself to me. Their mouths move and I see their words take up shelter behind the maze as the details sharpen. Sometimes I have nary a problem navigating through. Other times, I need them to inject some HGH into the words by repeating them and thus making them loom larger behind the exit. Then there are those times that I get hopelessly lost in the dark corners of the maze. While this happens most often on the phone, there I times I need to call the co-worker Calvary to give me a ride through the maze. Accented and soft-spoken words have the most nefarious mazes.
The words of people with accents, foreign or domestic, sit hunched over behind the end of their mazes twirling their little handlebar mustaches like a good little villain. The walls of such mazes are dotted with strobe lights and capped with walls that curve up over me. Some passageways move, too. The unfamiliar pronunciation distracts me from finding my way. Even when I do stumble across the finish line, the script those words appear in is strange thus rendering familiar words indecipherable. But at least I have my senses to help me. With those followers of The Hushed Tone, I’m afforded no such opportunity.
The words of such acolytes throw a hyperbaric chamber maze in front of me. The maze is the color of the back side of my eyelids. There is no breeze with which I can cheat. Nor is there any scent I can follow like an ersatz bloodhound. These mazes I cannot hope to navigate without the help of the words at their end. I need some of that old HGH from the words’ owners or a flashlight from a friend. The frustration I feel stuck inside these mazes is like no other. Close, though, is when that trickster, Father Time, enters the fray.
I’ve been navigating these mazes since I failed my first hearing test at the tender age of five. Though they are far from easy to travel, I’ve at least become accustomed to looking for the clues the words reveal with the walls. So when these walls started to change, I was flummoxed. Mazes that were familiar suddenly weren’t. A coworker’s tricky labyrinth was suddenly harder than an accented lad’s one. Casting about for clues, my eyes lighted upon the laughing face of Father Time.
My deafness has been steady for years. But I know that Father Time will continue to carry off pieces of my hearing. It seems he may have started this thieving. I’m being forced to relearn mazes I could once run through speedily. I’m finding the words of more strangers hopping in line behind the followers of The Hushed Tone. Father Time may be taking my hearing but there’s one thing he’ll never be able to take; my hope.
I still hold out hope that I’ll be able to reacclimate to these new mazes of my those I know. I’ve done it for decades, so there’s no reason to think I can’t continue to do so. As for those people whose words are soft or accented, well, I have a secret weapon: bionic ears. While my current set will not be good forever, I can always replace them. Whether the trouble is my current set has just worn out or I need a more powerful set, when I get to that point, I will convince new followers of The Hushed Tone to renounce their new beliefs and force them into the ranks of plain old strangers. The mazes of whom I’ll be able to learn.