There Should Be a Greeting Card for That

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am too young for a hearing aid.  I am also too blonde and too tall for a hearing aid.  Maybe I am too pretty for one too but not likely.  Mostly, I am too stubborn.

Being hearing impaired is not something I share with a lot of people.  In fact, many of my friends and co-workers probably do not know this about me.  It’s hard to say.  I am not totally deaf; I just struggle to hear out of one of my perfectly normal-looking ears.  The right one.  And my hearing is not totally gone—it’s like I have a thumb jammed in there or maybe a big toe.  I can hear sound, mumbles, tones.  If you stood on my right side and spoke to me, and we were in a quiet place, I would have no trouble at all.  But if we were in a restaurant and you sat to my right and asked me how my day was, I could hear your voice, but I would struggle to make sense of the words.

Sometimes, I can fake this moment.  Guess at what I should say.  Take context clues and answer appropriately.  This is how I navigate many of my non-hearing moments.  But if I cannot do this, I might smile at you and hope the moment passes—that maybe our waiter will ask if we’re ready to order.  Mostly though I just listen to the noise—and see what sense I can make of it all.  The clatter of plates, the murmur of fuzzy conversations nearby, a song overhead that I can almost hear the pitch of a note here and there.

Believe it or not, it is a hard thing to tell people, especially people who I have known for quite some time.  First, there is the occasion.  I feel like the right time never comes up.  Hey, Vicki.  How are the kids?  Hey you, I might reply, maybe even give a hug depending on the nature of our relationship.  By the way, I can’t hear you.  Oh, I’m. . uh. . . well, I’m hearing impaired.  How long?  Um, jeez, since birth, I guess. . . I didn’t tell you because uh. . . uh. . .

Second, there are the questions.  Why can’t I hear?  I don’t know.  Have I been tested?  Yes, a couple dozen times.  Is there anything the doctors can do?  Yes, if I want a hearing aid.  Why don’t I get one?  Oh, because it’s $5,000, and then there’s the thing about being too young and pretty or prideful or whatever.

Sometimes I wish there were greeting cards for this kind of announcement.

Dear Friend,

Ever wonder why I look at off into space when you are talking?  No, really—it’s me.  Surprise!  I’m hearing impaired!

Love,

Me

Sometimes I wish there was a T-shirt that announced such things to the general, unsuspecting public.  A disclaimer so that I didn’t have to explain what I thought I heard.  Something so that I didn’t have to feel like I needed to justify my actions and/or lack thereof.

Take, for example, the grocery store last week when a hollowed out, dusty man approached me while I was pitching my goods into my car.  I could sense him approaching.  (Sadly, there are far too many older, dried-up desert men floating around the Stater Bros’ parking lot.  Most of them want money.  Some of them want rides or food for their animals or food for their families.)  And then, he started to talk.  At first, I continued with the task of chucking the heavy bags into the trunk.  Because I can’t hear well, I often approach the world in this manner—ignore.  But then he spoke again, this time, closer.  I could hear his voice, but the words were gravelly.  I could hear the tone—a question, so  I turned and said, Sorry.  I don’t have any cash.

Of course, this was not what he had asked, as evidenced by his souring grin.  I had guessed wrong and this angered him.  Then I noticed the squeegee.

“I didn’t ask you for a handout,” he shouted; the squeegee pumped up and down with the spit in his words.  “I asked you if you wanted your windows cleaned!  I ain’t no charity case!”

What was I to say?  Sorry, I didn’t hear you and I just assumed. . . It didn’t matter.  I was a jerk either way.  The man stormed off, shouting to the resting of the parking lot how he wasn’t asking for no charity—he was asking for work, goddamnit.

My mother-in-law recently got a hearing aid.  She hears everything now—right down to the cat drinking water from the toilet two rooms away.  But in exchange, whenever she talks, she hears her own voice blast across the room.  As a corrective measure, she has taken to mumbling.  But sadly, where she now hears, I can’t hear her.  I sat across her at dinner a few weeks ago and never once realized she was talking to me until my husband drove an elbow into my ribs.  I had been staring into space, taking in the architecture, the patrons, the closeness of one red-haired waitress and the bar tender with too much gel in his hair.

And that’s the other thing not hearing has done for me.  Oh sure, it gets me out of conversations I don’t want to hear, but it has allowed for a lifetime of retreat.  Growing up, when friends were hard to come by, I could always sit behind a tree and watch lips move, mouths burst open with laughter.  I filled the vacuum of their words and noises with my own.  I made up their lies and their jokes, their playground alliances and betrayals.

So when I think about hearing—really hearing the world—for all its nuance and crackle, I can’t help but to stick to my understanding of it.  So I can’t sing a song off the radio without mis-hearing most of the lyrics, but who cares if “sunset” isn’t actually “bun lift”?  (You’d be surprised how many songs containing “sunset” that “bun lift” is a surprising contextual equivalent.)  So what if I can’t hear my kids shouting across the house that so-and-so ruined their Lego House of Awesomeness?  So what if I can’t hear my husband calling me from the next room to hurry up they’re felling another tree on Ax Men?  There are some things not worth hearing.  The rest—well, the rest I’ll just have to make-do.  Or make-up.

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73 thoughts on “There Should Be a Greeting Card for That

  1. I have bad hearing as well. I try to flow with sayings I haven’t heard properly by smiling and nodding my head. An idiotic response, I know. But, I’ve realized that most of the time, whatever that person said wasn’t worth the person repeating anyway. So, I just let it fall off my shoulder. I understand your situation is more extensive than that, but ultimately, I can relate.

    Funny and honest post. Loved it. Keep it up!

  2. supertramp says:

    “You’d be surprised how many songs containing “sunset” that “bun lift” is a surprising contextual equivalent” – Hahaha. I truly was. Such a sensitive topic dealt with such panache’. Loved the post. I admire you.

    Love, supertramp.

  3. JM Randolph says:

    Great post. It’s always surprising to me how we tend to leave out these really significant details of ourselves to people we’ve known practically forever- for the very reasons you mention. I do it too with certain things and wonder why, but there never seems a good way to bring it up.

    A good friend of mine had a daughter who was born Profoundly Deaf and they got her cochlear implants, which were miraculously covered by their insurance. So when she hit just over two, she began the practice of removing her “ears” every time she was being reprimanded. She’s fine-tuned the art of retreat.

  4. Taz says:

    I know exactly what you mean – only from the left ear. I thought I was too young, although at 5′ 1″ never too tall, for a hearing aid as well, but I finally got one. It now sits in a drawer. The world is way too loud when I wear it. My kids tell me that when they were still living at home they would check to see which ear I was sleeping on – if it was the left they were free to do as they wanted cause I would never hear them:).

  5. I get a kick out of the sort of reverse prejudice some people have about the differently-abled, maybe you’ve noticed it. Like Penny on the Big Bang Theory, there are a lot of them out there who actually believe The Handicapped are incapable of being anything but sweet, kind, and humble. Hell, no: they’re people. They come in all flavors of awesome and evil.

    First example is in my own family. You described most of my father’s mannerisms–the vacant smile, the inappropriate nodding, the “ignoring.” I had the benefit of being aware of and watching him lose much of his hearing over time, so I was able to anticipate these behaviors but what most people don’t know is that the man never listened or paid any attention to any of us even when he COULD hear so we didn’t lose much. All he really acquired over the years was a label and an excuse.

    Another ignoble example of the Hearing Impaired Behaving Badly was an extremely handsome man (we’re talking runway model handsome, here, porno handsome) with two hearing aids and no reservations about using them to his advantage. He didn’t whip out the sympathy card, he used his hearing impairment as an excuse to talk constantly, continually, and self-centeredly about himself. He knew very well you were trying to get a word in edgewise; he had mastered the art of reading body language long ago as a compensating tool. He just wanted to be on stage…all the time. If you called him on it, he had a practiced hurt look that he plastered on while mumbling tragic apologies about how “he has trouble hearing, you know.” Yet, if you watched him seduce someone, he hung on their every word.

    Sometimes, though, you can get them back. A gym buddy of mine had a deaf little brother and he used to tell me how they teased one another mercilessly as only brothers can do. They had an ancient canister vacuum with a long hose and this guy would wait until his deaf brother was using it, then unplug it without telling him. The kid would do half a room before he figured out what was up. Then, of course, the repercussions would escalate until there was a pounding. Ah, boys.

  6. namenlos says:

    Haha. I loved this post. :)

  7. ktayd13 says:

    Hearing problems…ah I know them well. My mom has had 13 surgeries on each ear, and her hearing still gets worse every day. Her medical insurance through work won’t provide resources for a hearing aide either. She develops websites and hearing is considered “unnecessary” for her job. My hearing is not top notch either, though my problems only arise when there is a lot of background noise. People don’t understand hearing problems unless they have them. You just have to keep trekking on.

  8. Danny Girl says:

    When my now husband & I first started dating, he’d constantly zone out or say something completely irrelevant to the conversation. It took many months before he confided that he is hard of hearing in one ear. To this day, he will still answer a question incorrectly (confusing WHERE are you with HOW are you, etc, etc) or says “what?” multiple times.

    I agree. These things aren’t readily visible like some quirks. Often times I forget he possibly can’t hear me & it’s not always being the stubborn man with selective hearing, not listening to the nagging wife about taking the trash out ;)

    This was actually really eye-opening. Thank-you for sharing.

  9. fireandair says:

    Bad hearing is great for punning as well. One woman I used to know in the rubella bulge would pun mercilessly after she took her hearing aids out, just crank out these truly gut-wrenching puns one after another, and she knew you couldn’t retaliate! AGH.

    After she got sick of all the social bluffing she had to do, she decided to learn to sign, and the first thing she did was learn as many crappy puns as she could. Now she’s dangerous in two languages.

    I’d ask you if you’ve tried the new digital frequency-sensitive aids, but those things cost a fortune, and no insurance will cover them.

    • vbtulacro says:

      I love a great pun (intentional or not). I tried to write a story (You’ve been warned: I’m a fiction writer) where my main character kept hearing the wrong words; thus misinterrupting her entire world. But it just doesn’t quite translate to literature–at least in the first few drafts. Maybe I’ll return to it! Thanks!

  10. whysamiam says:

    Great post! I must say that I have good hearing, but at time it can be selective when I hear my kids whining for something.. Haha! Regards, Sam

  11. segmation says:

    Victoria, It is nice to see a blog on real personal experiences. Have you tried to see if their are other options out there that will help you out with your hearing that you have not discovered?

  12. ch1ck4do0dl3 says:

    I am rather ashamed to admit I had the typical fully-hearing reaction to this at first: Why wouldn’t you want to hear all those things you’re missing? I did underestimate your age by quite a bit at first, though, and that did make a big difference to me in the end: from what I’ve been told, suddenly being able to hear what you weren’t able to hear before–what you haven’t been able to hear since birth/a young age–can be anywhere from annoying to nigh on traumatic, and it just gets worse the older you get. It’s basically sensory overload when your senses already compensate as best they can, and that’s not something you can just turn off. Perhaps, as technology improves, there will be something that makes the transition not-so-shocking, or will assist you in another way, but how you cope in the mean time is your business. (It’s not like fully-hearing people are always the best listeners, either! :P)

  13. Haha, your post made me chuckle. My sister has been a bartender for almost 25 years, and she’s hearing impaired. She taught herself to read lips, and when she’s feeling feisty, she turns her “good” ear away from you in spite. The disadvantage is that my brother and I can pick on her and talk shit on her bad side, which makes her crazy lol.
    Thanks for sharing your experience. Great stuff.

  14. sometimes I would rather not hear all the hate , jealousy and anger in the world and just look at the beauty.

  15. Loved your story and I absolutely get it. My best friend is almost deaf in one ear and I’ve lost some hearing in one ear too. The doctor says I have no hearing loss in my other ear but I have a hard time hearing when there is a lot of background noise-if the vacuum on I cannot hear the phone ring and walking on a busy street with traffic is brutal. Since both my friend and I struggle with the same problem-it’s my left and and it’s her right any time we’ve gone anywhere together for the past twenty years we have had to make sure she walks on my right so that we can hear each other. Things get a little complicated though when we’re with other people though–if they don’t walk in between us they get pretty tired of repeating everything. :)

  16. Otrazhenie says:

    Loved your story. I’ve met a few people who were hard of hearing and were very embarassed of that, which made things only worse.

  17. Michelle says:

    Vicki,

    You are brilliant. Thank you for sharing your personal, deeply relatable journey.

  18. I love my hearing aids. They’re tiny- like two silver kidney beans- and they tuck behind my ears. The wires are transparent, so you can barely see them. I love being able to hear birdsong again; I love being part of the conversation. I love being able to hear my own voice properly. The have brought me back to normal life.

  19. TomBoy says:

    This piece of writing is powerful and I appreciate your honesty in telling your story.

  20. Hey there Vicki/Victoria… You are not too young for a hearing aid if it helps you! I have a friend from high school who has bad hearing. Fortunately for our relationship she has no problem telling me when she hasn’t heard or asking me to explain… But, something I have learnt from explaining her problem to my relatives or our mutual friends where she lives is that they haven quite realised… and I have often heard the ‘katching’ moment… when they gave gone on to say things like “oh, that makes sense… she actually sounds like she is deaf….”… which then gives them the opportunity to be a little more understanding.

    Please, give your friends the same chance…

  21. brilliant piece…and a wonderful outlook…
    congratulations!

  22. R Crow says:

    My mother was 100% deaf in her right ear too. Your story is similar to hers.

  23. Roshni says:

    I’m not hearing impaired but I have a slight problem in hearing…as in, I almost always need something to be repeated in order to understand it, however near the person maybe. And I tend to hear so many words incorrectly. So, while I might joke about it, I kinda know that there’s something slightly wrong. I could relate to your situations, loved your writing style. Brilliant post. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  24. susielindau says:

    I suspect that my husband has been hearing impaired his whole life, but he just got hearing aids for the first time at 58 years-old. He said that it wasn’t until he was approaching 60 would he consider wearing them. Oh how life would have been easier had he worn them his whole life. You can’t even see the new ones. By all means don’t wait! It will be so much easier for those around you to communicate with you!

    I just asked my husband how hearing aids have changed his life and he said, “What? Say that again. I was reading something.” We laughed at the irony and he said, “I better put hem in.”

  25. amandaroederwrites says:

    I can very much relate to your reluctance to get a hearing aid. As a 30-something otosclerosis sufferer, I can’t bring myself to get one. (And as the daughter of a wonderful hearing-impaired father who has worn hearing aids for half his life, I’m embarrassed by my vanity – but there it is, nonetheless.)

  26. cluenessk says:

    Reblogged this on My Notebooks Revealed and commented:
    i gotta say when i seen one badass writing gang written under the we will begin again, I decided I needed to take the time to check into this blog a big, cuz it sounds like it could be right up my alley! for Real- so excited to read it later!

  27. Elle Knowles says:

    The same is true as you begin to lose your hearing as you age! We have to look on the bright side. Elle

  28. FacetsofLucy says:

    Is there someone you really want to tell? Send them the link to your blog post. An easy explanation, well-written and honest.

  29. maryangelis says:

    What a lucid observant self-aware post. And funny yet.

    That rings so true. Same here — a smile and nod at everyone, trying VERY hard to piece together social situations. Because for me, it’s prosopagnosia (trouble recognizing faces), which makes me look arrogant, uncaring, or just racist. It’s pretty awful. If someone dyes their hair or shaves off a beard, it’s a whole new relationship. And people do not understand that when you explain it. Don’t. (One woman was so scared by it that she started screaming “Take a memory pill!”)

    But your explanation was beautiful. I want to take that as a lesson to really center down and perceive what people are going through when they ignore me. Thank you for this.

    And oh my… I am sorry that happened to you in the parking lot.
    A real salesman would have heard “no cash” and moved right on to the next person and would not think anything personal about it. But you did not pull up at a filling station, were not asking to have your windows cleaned, were not asking for anything but enough space and time to load your own bags in peace.
    This calls to mind the profound sad wise beautifully written book “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker, who mentions that there IS no non-profit social service agency of men who look for women putting groceries in the car and then offer to help. His point is that women deserve to be left in peace, and he even advises that we women have the option to put up our hands in Stop position and say “I did not ask for help.”
    Not that I ever have said anything so moxy.
    But then, I don’t have a car.

    Such thoughtful writing. Appreciation and good wishes.

    • vbtulacro says:

      How appreciative I am for your comment. Thank you for your kindness about my post and your candor about your own struggles. I think, if anything, I am reminded that we should all be (more) patient and kind to each other, lest we wear obnoxious t-shirts that go around announcing our various ailments, phobias, diseases, and or impairments. (I might have to wear a cape and a really long train to accommodate this!)

      • maryangelis says:

        Dear Vickie!

        What a nice surprise to see your message!

        Ooh, cape — how about silver curly Persian lamb lined with red velvet and gold chain. It would be really useful when putting groceries in the car. Or wow, we could carry huge flash cards — like the kind people hold in football stadiums and then they all turn their card around at once and it makes a big portrait of somebody famous?

        And you know, I studied ASL for one magic and beautiful 6 week course. I would spell things to myself with my hands all the time. One night I walked out of class so happy signing big big words to the sky and trees HELLO HELLO I AM HERE and suddenly was startled by the sounds of speech on the subway — the humans were, like, pushing their mouth parts at each other like chatty insects to do their turbulent fricative talky thing. For one nano-second it seemed foreign and inefficient to communicate that way instead of in these fabulous swimming gestures. But then I got rheumatoid arthritis and now have these cute platypus flippers like brave gnarly little trees but they can’t make word shapes any more so that ended that.

        Anyway all day I thought about your blog and was happy to find it again and happier now to see you say HELLO HELLO HERE I AM.

        Thank you so much!
        Mary

  30. CarlyV says:

    Great post! I really enjoyed reading.

  31. [...] There Should Be A Greeting Card For That: Oh, let’s face it, there should be a greeting card for everything. [...]

  32. I know for me, I’ve had many ear tubes back when I was young, so if you mumble, I cannot physically hear you.

  33. My Mum was deaf in her left ear and she would often mishear what was said. She would usually point to her right and say “can you repeat that in my good ear”

    Great post and congrats on Freshly Pressed :D

  34. eunoic says:

    you had me laughing =). Great post!

  35. lucille1989 says:

    Such a good write up! I’m also hearing impaired in my right ear, the amount of conversations I’ve guessed my way through is unfathomable… but there is always that awkward moment when you guess wrong and the jig is up.
    I’m so sick of telling people I can’t hear them and of having shop assistants look at me strangely that I’m pretty tempted to get a t-shirt printed (and jumper for those chilly days) that reads something like, ‘Instead of me telling every single person I’m hearing impaired, could you all just talk a little louder? Thanks’.

  36. lsurrett2 says:

    I wish I couldn’t relate. While I wasn’t born hard of hearing, it developed after I got tubes, affecting only my ability to drown out background noises. It became very prominent in my teens, especially in the cafeteria at lunch. I honestly didn’t really notice myself until I had to say “what?” at least 3 times to hear my friend 2 feet away.

    Its a constant joke with my husband, who is very sweet about it. He knows I get zoned out hyperfocusing while reading or watching TV. He’ll start to talk about aliens in the backyard and it will take me 5 min to get the picture.

  37. If hearing aides will help you, and you’re too vain to use them, I feel sorry for you. Do yourself a favor and those you love, get the hearing aides, make that a priority in your life. As time goes on, you’ll wish you had them, precious moments, words you miss in life don’t always come around twice.

  38. Don’t let your lack of hearing define who you are or what you do. Just do the best you can with the hand you were dealt. Don’t let it stop you from living your life. Granted, it will sometimes kick you in the butt. But on the upside, the crickets in August won’t keep you from sleeping. And now all TVs are captioned – and most DVDs. Turn them on. Heck, watch the captions in French to learn another language. And if people can’t accept you as are – able to hear or not – then you don’t need them in your life.

  39. Your post reminds me of a wonderful play I recently saw about hearing (both listening and physically hearing): Tribes by Nina Raine. One of the characters was losing her hearing and felt stuck between worlds. She had similar reservations about getting a hearing aid.

    worth checking out the review:

    http://theater.nytimes.com/2012/03/05/theater/reviews/tribes-by-nina-raines-at-the-barrow-street-theater.html?_r=0

  40. bee love says:

    I have a tee-shirt that a friend made up for me after I told the story of how embarrassed my husband was when shopping with me. Apparently, salespersons would be talking to me, and I didn’t hear them, but they assumed i was either a B****, or was ignoring them (yeah, that is why i go shopping). But, I decided i should just wear a shirt that said, “I am not a Bitch, I am deaf”. It is a black t-shirt with bright pink letters. It pretty much says it all.

    I lip read, interpret body language (the most telling of all “words”), and found it to be a total energy drain. I know sign language, the problem is most of my friends and none of my family do. But, i will say, it is nice to tune out all the noise we don’t want to hear, but to hear a bird again after 20 years of not hearing one was pretty awesome!

    The strides made in deaf technology in the past 6 years surpassed the prior 20. Pretty amazing!

  41. pfstare says:

    I was going to write a very similar post. I started noticing I was going deaf in my late 30s (I’m almost 41) like my Dad did before me. I got hearing aids three years ago but have barely worn them as balancing my youngest son on my knee and getting the two other children to school while trying to get the hearing aids in, just wasn’t happening. As I’m (unsurprisingly)
    ;-) still going deaf I’ve had to go back recently and get new ones. My family have had enough of me not being able to hear. The hardest thing is other people assuming you are being selective in what you hear and getting irritated with you. Do I really want to wear hearing aids? No. But there are worse things to have to deal with in the end.

  42. Laura says:

    This.is.my.life. Glad someone else out there goes through life like this. I, too, need a hearing aid (I was told this about 13 years ago) but cannot afford it. I always revert to the “smile and nod” whenever I’m not sure what someone says. :)

  43. Such a great insight into the hard of hearing world. I am becoming more and more fascinated with it and deaf culture because my hearing seems to slowly be slipping away. I really need to get it checked out to confirm that I am in fact not crazy. (At least when it comes to my hearing.)

    I’m really good at the nod and smile. I’m probably not answering your question but I make it uncomfortable enough so that you don’t ask again. Or I bombarded you over and over with “what?” and you just give up.

  44. Melvin says:

    We stumbled over here from a different page and thought I
    should check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you.
    Look forward to checking out your web page repeatedly.

  45. Denni says:

    Oh wow, I have the same issue, and totally agree! Was at a work dinner the other night and had a *higher up* person sitting next to me making conversation – I think I caught about 1/4 of what he said… I just smiled and said “yep” a lot, and laughed when others around me laughed… You and I are much too young for hearing aids… :)

  46. jennpower says:

    Hi. I’ve been hearing impaired since I was born too- both ears though- I have hearing aids. Have you ever thought- if you can’t get one about maybe asking if there is any way you could be covered under a health plan for one? If you’re in Canada, I think you could check with your work and see if you’re covered for expenses under your benefits- anywhere else I have no idea.

    And you’ve hit the head on the nail when talking about how to live with it. Impressive writing- I can barely explain mine to anybody, it’s a bit of an embarrassment; but it shouldn’t be. I think with explaining it’s because it isn’t very obvious… It’s not like we have a sign saying “I can’t hear you.” People may actually know you for days until they realize. It’s best to tell them up front when you meet them though, that helps.

  47. Jo says:

    Hearing aids are sexy!! Get one if you need one! Guys love em!!!

  48. […] underwear today nominated you for a Liebster Award, which post do you want to make sure they read? There Should Be a Greeting Card for That by contributor Vicky Tulacro or Somebody I Used to Know by contributor Michelle Dowd or More than […]

  49. Nick says:

    Get one! Girls with hearing aids are amazingly sexy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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