by Jourdan Cameron
As a little girl, helping my mother to prepare dinner was part of my routine. I admit, I was a handful; at seven years old, who isn’t?
I remember, quite vividly, rubbing the rough green surface of a bundle of kale beneath the chilly water running from the kitchen tap. I was hardly tall enough to see above the edge of the sink, but it didn’t matter- Mom saw to it that I was doing something helpful.
After she had me toss the kale into the pot, she asked me to help her clean the rice. I wasn’t very helpful in this regard- I just let the stuff run through my fingers. She didn’t really care at this point, I think she was just looking to keep me occupied. I didn’t really care much about helping, and she didn’t really need me, so I just enjoyed the sensation of thousands of tiny grains running through my fingers.
I began thinking things that were rather unusual for seven year olds- I wondered if each grain was an individual, with its own little life as a bit of rice, wondering where it was going as it fell through my hands. Sometimes I would try and keep an eye on one as it shifted with my tiny fingers- was that one the special individual? Sometimes I’d spot a grain that was a little browner than the others, shorter or longer or with a funny indentation- and yet in the crowd, it felt the same as the others. I wound up tossing a bunch to the floor as I asked my mother where rice came from.
Stiffly and awkwardly, she signed back that she wasn’t totally sure. Though she began to learn sign language from the day she knew I wasn’t hearing, she never really seemed comfortable doing it- my dad, on the other hand, signed as though he had been raised in a deaf family, that is to say, quite well.
I never forgot that evening- mostly because Mom burned the kale, and the whole house stank for a week- but also because, as I stood there with the rice in my hands, I began thinking about the lives of others. The rice, running through my fingers told me that people would come- they’d be with me, for some time- and they’d go. Where they went didn’t matter much to me- they’d be gone.
In that moment, I had grown up a little.
A thousand moments, just like those grains of rice running through my hands, came and went. They were all individuals, they all touched me in different ways at different times in different places- and in these moments that I became a woman. I had the good fortune to grow up around other people who understood me; my parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses. After they learned I was deaf, they moved away to the city, to a congregation where there were other deaf people- men, women, children- it was there that I made friends, learned about people, and had many of those moments in which I grew up a little at a time.
It was here that I met my husband, Robert; it was during my moments of growing up that we became friends- out of the hundred or so people in my congregation, all of whom I loved as family, he always felt different to me. Unlike a funnily colored bit of rice, which feels and tastes the same as all the others, whenever I spoke to Robert, I noticed something about him that made him stand out from all the others. Once I had grown up, I realized that we shared many special feelings for one another; it was only a matter of time before we married.
My years with Robert were filled with many beautiful moments. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we had both grown up reading the Bible- it contains warning for those who marry. It says that those who choose to tie the knot will have ‘tribulation in the flesh’, as it were. This proved true for Robert and I- we’ve had our disagreements through the years, bitter as the kale my mother burned so many years ago. Unlike the kale, however, the stench of an argument has never stuck with us for very long.
Then, too, have been the countless joys in our marriage- among them our son, Peter. He was born hearing- like any other little boy, he loved us both, and we loved him back- he taught us to love in new ways- we are forever in his debt, because we can’t pay him back for the education he’s given us.
What surprised Robert and I the most was how accepting Peter was of our deafness. Besides a few funny incidents as a toddler, it never really upset him. Had I not known better, I’d have said that Peter didn’t care that we were both deaf. One day, however, he showed me and Robert pictures of some sort of device in a magazine. He explained, with hasty and excited signs, that there was a device that would allow the deaf to become hearing- cochlear implants, they were called.
Robert was less than enthused by the idea- he didn’t want an implant.
“I’ll just let God fix my ears.”
“But Dad, don’t people wear glasses and ride wheelchairs?”
I watched as Robert’s chest swelled and, a moment later, was deflated by Peter’s razor-sharp wit. If Athena was born wearing full armor, our son was surely born with a head full of wisdom, or at least the ability to pick up on it quickly. We promised him that we’d look into the technology- and look we did. While Robert still had no interest in an implant of his own, he promised me that he’d stand behind me if I wanted one. In part to please Peter, and driven a little by a growing curiosity to know what sound was, I decided to get one.
Most of the moments between my decision to get the implant and the moment I began to use are, in my memory, blurred and indefinite. I certainly can recall Peter’s excitement- it was as loud as my husband’s indifference was quiet. For the most part, though, those moments ran past me like the grains of rice through my fingers. After my surgery, the doctor asked me to feel the space just above my ear- the implant felt a bit larger than I imagined it. It was a device made of a few parts that resided outside my ear- it took up the space above my ear, and a large, round part of it sat further back on my head.
With a few carefully measured signs, my doctor said “Alright, we’re going to turn it on now.” She reached around my head and turned on the device. I gasped, and laughed, and gasped again, because I had never heard myself laugh before. The sensation of hearing was so foreign; it’s a bit akin to running from the sun baked concrete around a pool into the chilly waters- even when you step out, the hot, rough concrete will feel different to your now-wrinkled soles.
So many things were changed, not in themselves, but in my mind.
“What’s it like hearing, Mom?”
For the first time, I heard Peter speaking to me- I’d not known his voice until that day. When he spoke, I stopped noticing all the strange new sounds, and simply stared at him. Robert stood in the corner, grinning.
“Mom?” Since I could read lips, I knew what my son was saying, and signed back to him.
“It’s… Different. I didn’t think that the word ‘mom’ sounded like that!”
When we left the doctor’s office, the noise of noon traffic struck me harshly as the sun’s glare- people were shouting, cars were honking and it was all new to me. I wasn’t quite so overwhelmed as awestruck to imagine that this is what the world went through- daily. I had hardly been able to imagine hearing, and yet, here I was, doing it. It was new, strange, delightful, wonderful, terrible- it was different.
As time went on, however, I grew disappointed with my implant- not everything was as good as I imagined it could be, in particular, music. I especially disliked violins.
Most disappointed by this, though was Peter, who had been hoping to share so many songs with me. After I reluctantly heard a few, he quit trying. After a while, I not to keep the device on all the time. To my surprise, Peter wasn’t really upset by this- that, or he did a good job not showing it. Robert managed to remain indifferent, but supportive.
I decided to let my curiosities about the world’s noises, for the most part, remain curiosities. Occasionally I’d give in and flip on my implant, but for the most part, I couldn’t really enjoy music, or birds- the sound of the ocean was a disappointment.
Life went on.
Peter grew up and found his special rice grain, a nice girl named Martha with a penchant for cooking- of all things- kale.
As the world turned, it became clearer and clearer that the Bible’s prophecies were coming true. The days that followed were not without difficulty; the trials we saw could fill their own volumes. Today, of course, things are better. After the end- The End– the world grew beautiful again.
A few times, I turned on my cochlear implant. The things I experienced were better, though not quite perfect.
One day, however, I woke up and the device was lying on my pillow between me and Robert. Having it gone from my head felt oddly freeing- I didn’t think much of the thing. In the dim early morning light- which was a bit dimmer than usual- I got out of bed and went to our living room. It’s a lovely and well-lit space; the massive window at the far end of the room lets in the sunrise every day. This morning, however, there were thick, dark clouds overhead. Rain was coming.
I stood and watched as they imposed themselves portentously above- and I heard the tiniest noise. It was different, without my implant. It was, in a way, full, in spite of its smallness. It was whole, complete- and I wasn’t overwhelmed.
It was soon followed by another, and another and another and yet another and soon tens, hundred, thousands- they were like the grains of rice that ran through my hand, each one a world to itself. I wondered about them, as I wondered about the rice. Were they individuals? They were, of course, individuals, but to what extent? To me, they were a mass, formless and beautiful.
I was unfrightened by them. There was no disappointment here- though I was startled by the sound of something bigger- a flash of lightning, followed by a noise that seemed great, infinite and terrible- I knew it to be the thunder that occasionally the air during storms. I’d always felt it, but never quite like this.
As I struggled to catch my breath, a pair of arms enveloped me from behind.
I looked up to see Robert grinning down at me. We stood by and watched the storm that morning.
In the ominous silence following a particularly boisterous boom of thunder, he spoke a single word to me.
I wrote this story in response to a prompt– I’m pleasantly surprised by how well it came out, considering I’m not deaf. I had to guess a little at non-hearing people experience the world. I did draw a bit on my own personal beliefs, however- I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses- if you’d like to learn about that, please be sure to take a look at JW.org, as there’s plenty of wonderful information there.