Like most people, I remember watching my favorite TV shows growing up. I remember those vividly colorful characters, and the charming songs that they sang. At 3 years old, I sat in front of the TV singing happily along to the songs. I was blissfully unaware that I was singing the wrong or completely made up words.
Soon afterwards, my mother took me to get a hearing test done. Sure enough, I had been born partially deaf in both ears. I remember that day quite well, being sat in a chair with a large pair of headphones on top of my curly head.
“Let us know when you can hear the beeping in your ear, O.K?”
A high pitched beep would play every so often in each ear, at increasingly higher or lower volumes. I had been so excited for the game, once I got it down. All I had to do was raise my hand when I heard the beep, and the nice woman and my mother would smile at me.
After that trip, my mother discussed hearing-aids with the doctors. My mother did not look particularly upset, but I could sense in the air that I had not won the previously played game.
In order to make hearing-aids, one must subject themselves to a process of having a semi-liquid molding substance squirted into their ears. This acts as the part of the hearing-aid that sits partly in the ear canal.
As a child, and even still, this was the most unpleasant part of the whole ordeal. But as a child, and even still, the most exciting part was being able to pick out the colors of the molds. Once, at nine years old, I had decided purple and brown was the best color combination, and wore them proudly. I shudder to think of trying to wear the muddy mess now.
After the hearing-aids were ready, I wore them for the first time. I had gone my whole 3 years-a very long at that age-without having heard certain sounds. I was nearly paralyzed but what my head was suddenly being forced to process. After the initial shock, my body and soul welcomed the sounds happily.
“What’s that?” I would gasp, my head jerking in whatever direction I had heard something new. It was all delicious, the crackling of the chair upholstery when I slid off, the soft squeak of a filing drawer closing. I was moved in a way I could not explain at that age, and I have trouble putting in words how it moves me today.
How do you explain what it feels like when you get something that’s been just out of your each for years on end?
But nothing compared to music. Those children’s songs I had heard had a revolutionary new clarity. The lullabies made sense in a way I could comprehend now. I could touch each word now, how amazing! I had unlocked and could now appreciate what everyone had been heard at first glance. These songs were like treasures to me.
As I grew, however, I learned quickly that my hearing was not completely corrected now that I had my hearing aids. Children’s songs were easy, easy rhythms and words to follow. Perhaps the three-year delay has a part to play, but I had grown a slight processing problem.
Sometimes words were heard but dissipated along the way to my head. As my music tastes grew more complicated, I had a more difficult problem understanding the words. I eventually gave up and learned to enjoy the music my mother showed me in my own way.
I learned to be moved by the way a violin rose and fell, by the way the singer’s voice cracked in the third verse. The mystery of what they could have been saying held a spell over me. I was entranced by beautiful music, but even then I knew it was in a different way than most others were.
The day I learned about subtitles, my world changed. I could now hear and follow whatever I was watching on TV. Lyric videos for songs I loved? Sign me up! Maybe I was behind the game, but at 8 years old I was painfully unaware of others like me. It felt like such an inconvenience to try and experience the world like others, that it never occurred to me that there were others out there willing to help people like me.
I know now, of course, that there were partially deaf people years before I was even conceived, and there will be many more to come. But growing up unable to hear what everyone else can, has a tendency to make you feel a little behind.
I listen to music every day. With practice, it is easier now to listen to a new song and recognize what is being sung to me. The second a lyric drops in a song is the second I receive it. I am stunned by musical brilliancy the moment everyone else is.
For the most part.
Some days still, when I am exhausted and my head is cloudy, I lose what I have practiced. I revert to little me, confused but still in awe of the music I hear. The words are soothing but don’t make sense, so I go back to what I know in those days. I bathe in the melody and know that the song is a treasure chest I can unlock later when I am ready.