Swivel Chair

My old tax returns made me sad.

I looked at my business income, held that year’s wad of 1099’s from clients, and then fed each year’s tax return into the shredder. One can’t make a scrap book out of financial records, after all, so they all needed to go. Boxes of my professional history now lay in layers of paper ribbons in big black garbage bags. One of them is still here behind my office chair. My business in a bag.

Those years were fabulous. A ton of clients, a really healthy income. A good reputation. A lot of respect. The last two still exist, I hope, but the first two are gone. “My hearing loss really killed me,” I said to my husband who was sitting in the old wooden swivel chair we’d bought at a sheriff’s sale 30 years ago. He nodded.

That’s why they call it a disability, I thought to myself. If a loss or an impairment or an illness didn’t damage your life, they wouldn’t call it a disability. I became disabled and I couldn’t be the person I was. I had to become a new person. But that doesn’t happen overnight. It can take years.

I kept thinking about it above the roar of the shredder. Did I do everything I could to stay able? Did I fight back? Did I fold too fast? Did I back my chair up against the far wall when I could have stayed at the table? I don’t know.

There’s the disability and then there’s a person’s reaction to the disability. In my case, that meant waves of depression and self-doubt that made me yearn for retreat. It would be hard to parse. What part of the shrinking of my business was a true function of hearing loss and what part a function of my sorrow at the loss of my prized self-image as a hard-charger. It is very difficult, you know, to pretend one is the smartest person in the room when one can’t reliably track the topic.

“Do you want a retirement party?” my husband asked. He is a nonprofit executive, the founder of a very successful organization, and when he retires, there will be a retirement party in a magnificent place and there will be speeches and plaques from all the best suits in town.

“No.” No, no retirement party. That makes sense when someone leaves, like one day they are on the job and the next they’re on a cruise. It doesn’t make sense when someone withdraws, paints the circle smaller every morning. Which is what I did. But if I didn’t look at my old tax returns this afternoon, I wouldn’t have thought this. My embarkation is on a new beautiful ship and I’ve been glad about it for months. I am finally becoming the new person I needed to be when I lost my hearing.

But that woman, that person whose name is on all those tax papers, the hard-charger, I miss her.


We watched the middle weight horse pull today at the Wisconsin State Fair. Two-horse teams pull a truck loaded with heavy weights. When we left, the weight was 3,250 pounds aiming for 4,000  before the event was over. The horses strain and pull, sometimes it looks like they might buckle.  But it’s what they do. They’ve been practicing all year.

Behind us and to the right was an older guy with one leg of his jeans rolled up to his knee. He wore a sleeveless white t-shirt and had tattoos down the length of the arm I could see. He had blond hair, arranged almost in a page boy, and he was thin and tanned through and through. He looked like a guy I might have seen thirty years ago at a Willie Nelson concert. He held a pack of Newports in his hands like a Bible.

I wondered about him and what brought him to watch the horse pull. He was with a woman holding a single cigarette in her hand like she was waiting for someone to blow the break whistle. She was blond, too, but her other details are lost to me. I figured he was there because of her. But no, maybe he was a horse person. Who could know?

Then I saw the rest of his leg, the steel and hinges of it.

Don’t look at his leg, I said to myself. And then I thought, well, people are looking at my cochlear implant, the receiver over my ear and the magnet on my head. Oh no, I thought, they’re not equivalent. What I lost was tiny and not heroic. He probably was in the war or he was hit by a car or shot by someone in the leg. What he has or doesn’t have, it’s worse. So don’t look. Stop looking.

So then I watched the horses and the teams of men who would bring them around to hitch to the truck that had to be pulled. Sometimes, the horses would bolt before they were hooked to the truck and the men would scramble to stay on their feet as the horses pulled across the arena. Spooked.

Other times the hitch would latch and the horses would pull – 15 feet, 20 feet, 26 feet and 7 inches. When they came around in front of where we were sitting, the horses would have sweat running down their front legs and tiny bubbles of spit in the corners of their mouths. It wasn’t easy pulling such a heavy load. That was the message. It wasn’t easy.




The monster of hearing loss.

Red's Wrap

Winding around the cochlea, stretching to the auditory nerve, coiling in the middle ear, nesting slyly behind the ear drum, Beast’s eyes close while he waits patiently to devour all the beautiful words.

Written in response to a Trifecta Writing Challenge: 33 words on a beast in an unusual place.

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Green Light

The blind lead the blind for a reason, I guess. They go where they need to go even if they can’t see where that is.

In the time it took for the light to change from red to green, the slim woman with the white cane strode across the street in front of me, crossed the side street, and parked herself at the bus stop. Then she checked her phone.

She walked with purpose, not like a marathon walker, she wasn’t chewing up the pavement, but she had no hesitation in any step I could see. She walked as if on a treadmill, certain that every step would have a predictable outcome.

Sitting in the car at the light, I hear nothing. I broke my cochlear implant processor over the weekend and it has been two days without much sound. People tap me when they want to talk to me and then talk slow like I am soon to be demented which I know I will be if this silence continues for long. I lip read. It is a skill. But it only works with some people. The people with good lips. Sometimes, they’re not the people I want to hear.

At the cochlear implant clinic, I sit quietly and a little smaller than I normally am while I wait for the diagnosis of my mechanical ear’s illness. I tell the audiologist that it’s a huge jolt to suddenly go silent and she nods. She asks me questions in big exaggerated words and I still have to ask her to ‘say again, please.’ I don’t tell her that my anxiety is in the stratosphere. That when I realized my implant wasn’t working a few days before, I started to cry.

I wonder about the woman with the white cane. She was walking from the local organization for the blind. I’ve been there so I know it’s in the direction from whence she came. Maybe she works there, I thought. Maybe she works there as a role model. I wish I was a role model, I think, then I wouldn’t be crying in the car because I have to wait one more day for a replacement processor. I can see where I’m driving after all. That’s something.

A man I know mostly from Facebook has posted about having an eye disease that is gradually taking his sight. His tone was such that one would glean he is preparing to go blind. The past few days he has been posting pictures from Paris. And I wondered, did he decide to go to Paris to see it before he became blind? Did he make a list? These are the things I want to see before I can’t see? Maybe he did.

It made me think. What is the last thing I would want to hear? But I don’t think about it for long. It seems narrow and dark and crushingly silent thinking about such a thing.

I decide I want to be like the blind woman crossing the street, confident, all in one piece, unafraid.

Maybe I want the blind to lead the deaf.


Photo: Tim Gouw

The Daily Post: Blindly


Disability depresses.

It struck me today how deeply I sank into a chronic state of melancholia over the past few years. My ever-worsening hearing disability ate away at my optimism and tested my ability to right myself. I became an Emily Dickenson figure in blue jeans, not quite confined to my bed but confined to my tightening world.

It was a cell.

I think I alternated between putting my head in my hands and trying to decorate my cell.

So now, after my cochlear implant, I am gathering up the things I’d left by the side of the road. Like having coffee with old friends. Like inviting people to lunch. Like discussing an issue with a group of people. Like going to a public hearing on police-community relations. Like being part of the talking world.

I feel like I am reclaiming myself from an old cardboard box in the attic, layers of old birthday cards and photos on top, clothes I wore ten years ago, books I read and loved. Reclaiming a time of confidence and certainty. A robust time.

I want to stand up. I am standing up. This is who I was. This is who I still am.

Jan Portrait 3 (2)



Pull the Wings Off Butterflies

If I was Donald Trump’s mother and I witnessed him jerking his arms in the air in mockery of New York Times reporter Serge Koveleski, I would have slapped him across the face. In front of God and everybody.

Never mind that he is running for President which, as his mother, I would know he has no business doing. How his horrible behavior reflected on me would trump, as it were, any other prevailing interests, including his misbegotten notion that he should be the leader of the free world.

I will not countenance a child of mine being a complete and utter asshole. Trust me, this isn’t hypothetical tough talk here.  I’m no travel writer talking  about places I’ve never visited.

What I learned long ago, not quite soon enough but in time, was that my disapproval as a mother is power-packed and toxic like the poison on an arrow piercing through a South American jungle.

My children are all adults now. And, happily, the occasions when I feel compelled to show any disapproval are rare, nearly non-existent. But, quite frankly, one doesn’t have to use a weapon to appreciate having it. As all the Cold War arms racers would say, it’s better to have a nuclear bomb hidden somewhere in Nebraska than to stand on the shore with a slingshot.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump’s mother died in 2000 so she is not here to do what any mother in the universe would do if she caught her son making fun of a person with a disability. This means that Donald Trump is now a boy without any fear of the poisoned arrow. He thinks he is home free. He thinks he can pull the wings off butterflies and nobody can stop him.

So I say to all the mothers out there: if you caught your own boy behaving this way, mocking someone, being cocky and cruel, and bringing shame to your name, what would you do?

I think I know. Send the arrow.







Life This Morning

My people don’t talk in the waiting room.  They are already tired from asking directions at the front desk and figuring out the receptionist’s instructions. Once they are sitting down and waiting to be called, they want to be left alone. After all these years of becoming increasingly deaf, I know what other hearing impaired people are thinking.

Don’t talk to me.

Don’t talk to me. I’m saving my concentration and effort for the doctor. He’s the one I need to hear today. You look nice. But don’t talk to me.

I look from one door to the other, worried that if I look down at my phone to kill time, someone will call my name and I won’t hear. So I’m vigilant. Waiting and vigilant. I don’t want to be caught unaware, be the person whose name is called over and over, appear to be really far gone, need an escort to do this simple thing. Go see a surgeon about a cochlear implant. I can do this on my own.

A young couple with a baby in a stroller sits down a few seats over. The mom fills out paperwork while dad looks straight ahead. They both look at the baby, a boy maybe a year or so old, when he drops his little fire truck on the floor. His mother bends over to pick it up and he drops his other toy, obliging her obvious interest in retrieving his belongings. They keep looking at him, saying nothing but radiating their disapproval of his dropping things and the boy sits still. Silently chastised.

I wonder why they are there. I wonder if the baby is deaf.

My name is called and I see the doctor. He explains the surgery. He tells me how he’ll make an incision behind my ear and create a pocket to hold the internal receiver. Then he will bore a hole through the mastoid bone and thread a wire with electrodes on the end into the area of my cochlea. Then he will stitch everything up and I will wait two weeks for the implant to be turned on. When it’s turned on, it will take weeks or months to get used to.

He says to me, “your word recognition will improve a lot.” And when he says this, I get tears in my eyes. Here is the only place people know how bad it is. There are numbers on the paper, measurements “Your word recognition without looking at someone is almost non-existent. This will change that.”

I feel like someone is airlifting me from a sinking ship.

A doctor is holding the door open for the couple with the baby and keeps holding it open for me. We all go back to the waiting room and then down the hall to where the elevators are. I look sideways at mom and she is crying. Dad says nothing and the baby looks at me. I wave at him. I wonder if he knows to wave. His parents are silent and miserable but he isn’t. He is being a baby.

I head to the bathroom. When I come out of the stall, mom is changing baby’s diaper. It is silent in the bathroom. The baby placid and happy. But I know mom is still crying. I think about talking to her but I know she might say things that are important that I won’t hear. She is a new person. New people take so much time for me to learn to hear. A second in a bathroom wouldn’t be enough.

So I leave the bathroom and I see dad waiting. He is solemn, his hands on the baby’s stroller like he is a taxi driver waiting for a tardy fare. Sadness covers him like a sheet. Is he sad for his boy or his wife? I don’t know. I have no way of knowing.

At that moment, I want to be their mother. I want to wait with him until she comes out of the bathroom. I want to hold their hands and I want to tell them, “Pull together or you will pull apart,” a lesson I’ve learned from a long marriage that has had some hardships. “The silence will kill you,” I want to say to them.

“Don’t let the silence kill you.”