Going Deaf Has its Good Points

Note: Read in front of a live audience March 2012 in New York

“Going Deaf Has its Good Points”
by Maura Stone

It’s true: I hear what I want and not what’s being said. I suffer from selective hearing. According to my father, a genetic trait inherited from my mother.

My favorite word, oft repeated to everyone’s detriment, is “what?” Being bilingual, its counterpart in French is “comment?” Everyone rued the day when I learned the slang for “comment” which is “quoi.” I quacked like a duck, “quoi, quoi quoi?”

Ex-boyfriends said I fixate on several sentences that take precedence over entire conversations. They call it “selective memory.” Another genetic trait I inherited from my mother. It doesn’t matter what they say, that’s why they’re referred to as “exes.”

One boyfriend from long ago insisted I was deaf as a doornail. “You never hear a word I say!” he bellowed.

“Did you say something?” I responded.

Trust me, I heard everything that spewed from his lips. Yet, if I paid attention to what he said, I’d face twenty to life for manslaughter. The simplest alternative was to feign deafness to shut him up.

Disgusted, he declared while gnashing his teeth, “Tomorrow, you’re going to my ENT. I made the appointment and I’m paying!”

Before I opened my mouth, he injected, “Don’t even say that word!”

“What word?” I asked, slipping for a moment.

“What,” he spat out.

“Quoi?” I responded.

The following morning I met with Dr. Rose in midtown Manhattan. The good doctor subjected me to a myriad of ear exams. Afterwards, he held a consultation where he pulled out reams of computer sheets.

“You’ve the acute hearing of an airedale,” he stated, papers fluttering in his hands. “So, what’s the problem?”

“My boyfriend complains I don’t listen to him,” I replied. “Half the time he doesn’t make any sense and the other half, he’s nasty as hell.” I fell silent upon the realization that I didn’t even like him and wondered why I bothered. Changing the topic, I confessed, “Maybe it’s me, but most people mumble, or have speech impediments. And it’s not any better on the phone.”

“Well, I can’t help you out with the boyfriend aspect,” the good doctor said. “But, I can put your mind at ease about your hearing. And you’re right: most people tend not to enunciate. Insofar as the phone, well, too much interference on the lines.”

I panicked. “What’re you gonna tell him? If he finds out, I’ll really have to listen to what he has to say.”  

The doctor nodded. “Don’t worry. I’ll write on the test results you’ve significant hearing loss in one ear.”

That evening over dinner at a fancy restaurant, I showed my boyfriend the test results.

“I knew it!” he crowed.

I said, “What?” 

Ignoring me, he pored over the doctor’s notes written across the graphs on the computer printout.

My newfound deafness had an appeal I never anticipated. Soon thereafter my boyfriend vocalized his inner psyche with the belief I couldn’t hear a word. Instead, he gave me the impetus to end that charade of a relationship.

Since then, I jokingly defer to my deaf right ear and no one minds my repeated “what?” or “quoi?” By now, nobody pays attention to this habit.

However, that old adage about invoking the wrath of gods came into play. Fate has a funny way of striking back.

Today, I’m deaf in my right ear due to an extremely rare neurological syndrome where my brain no longer interprets sound. And it affects my 'hearing' ear to the point where the noise rebounding in my head deafens me to all sound. When this occurred, I begged my ENTs and audiologist to help.

“Give me morphine!” I wailed. “I’m going mad. I can’t sleep. My thoughts scatter from the constant loud noise which sounds like a train rumbling through my head. Although it did obliterate the voices urging me to kill an ex-boyfriend.”

The doctors crossed their arms. “There’s nothing we can do and no cure in sight. You must learn to focus and concentrate on activities so you won’t notice the noise,” they suggested with pity. “And take lip reading classes.”

“I can’t live like this. Did you know that even silence has a sound?”

One doctor piped up. “Trust me, you’ll acclimate. Pretty soon you’ll forget that once you had perfect hearing because this is now your reality.”

I shot her a look of skepticism. She was right. Despite the radical changes in my life, forgoing phone, music, tv, radio, movies and any venue that has great acoustics, I’m more of an effective listener although I don’t catch most of what people say. I rarely use “what?” or “quoi?” anymore. For I discovered it’s not the words one utters, it’s the behavior that counts.

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This is a work of fiction. Names, character, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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