“Colie?” “Colie?” “Colie, can you hear me?”
The words, ‘Colie, can you hear me,’ were heard a lot when I was a young child. But not by me. Around age 2 or 3 my parents started noticing that I wasn’t responding when they would speak to me. I’m sure they suspected that I was hitting terrible twos and was just being stubborn and nonresponsive. But after this happened consistently they knew it was more than that. As it turns out, I was 30% deaf. I could hear noise but I couldn’t tell if someone was talking to me from across a room. In fact, it was discovered by my parents that I could really only hold a conversation with someone if I was looking directly at them. Lip reading was a skill that got me through daily life at a very young age.
In my experience, many reactions to finding out I was partially deaf as a child include pity and mild sadness for a little girl who was missing out on a crucial sense and surely endured frustrations. But I write to tell you that my own reaction to my inability to fully hear was just the opposite.
I am a severely introverted person. Now, for those of you who think you know what introverted means and assume that I must hate people, double check your definition. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I don’t like people or that I don’t enjoy socializing. As a matter of fact I love people and I love spending time with and getting to know people. Being introverted simply means that my alone time is critical for my mental health. Solitary moments are what keep me recharged and healthy so I can be radiant and sociable when people are around. So as a child, before I learned about and fully understood my need for peaceful alone time, it was easy for me to become overwhelmed by people. Especially little people, or in other words, my friends.
I look back through memories of my later childhood sometimes, after my hearing was fully restored, and I can see glimpses of extreme exhaustion and frustration that are all centered around feeling pressure to be with my friends at times that I just needed a break. I remember one specific instance when I was particularly rude and mouthy to my poor, innocent mother. Naturally, she grounded me. Years later when I asked her why that was one of the only times I’d ever been grounded, she said that grounding was a punishment that backfired terribly for me. It harshly lacked an effect on me. She told me that the second she grounded me that day, a visible wave of relief washed over me. I contently walked to my room and thoroughly enjoyed the moments that I had to myself. It wasn’t a punishment at all, it was a reward. I had been mentally and physically drained by too much social activity and not allowing me to play with friends was exactly what I needed to recharge.
When memories like this come to mind I’m starkly reminded of the frustration I often felt but didn’t understand. That’s when I reflect back to the time when I couldn’t hear well. That was a time of peace. As a partially deaf little girl I could have alone time almost whenever I wanted. Because I could read lips I wasn’t rendered helpless and could carry on a conversation whenever I wanted. But if I didn’t want to, if I just needed my peace and quiet, I didn’t have to. I could simply look away and virtually be in my own little world. And that was more than okay.
I look back at those moments of complete quiet and stillness with fondness and peace in my heart. I don’t see it as a disability at all. Instead I see it as exactly what I needed as a confused and sometimes contentious child. Even though I’m an adult now who is fully capable of recognizing when I need to take a break, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have moments when miss the stillness that deafness brought with it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to have my hearing. I love having the ability to enjoy the sound of a river, or my little sister giggle. I love the humming of my dad’s dremel tool as he works late to get orders done. I love the sound of my mom choreographing her next class, and the sound of shoes screeching on the floor in a basketball game. I love sound.
But that brief amount of time when those sounds didn’t exist in my world, when the phrase most frequently directed my way was “colie, can you hear me?”, that time when the world was quiet, was truly a blessing and gift that I needed very much. And it remains so as a time that I can reflect on and remember with gratitude, peace, and comfort.