One Beautiful Day

I took out the thin folded $20 that I keep in the little slide drawer on the back of my phone and handed it to the bartender who’d just done an especially generous pour of Chardonnay for me. He held the twenty in his fingers, lightly. Murmured something. I told him I couldn’t hear him. He murmured again. I’m sorry, pointing to my hearing aids, I can’t hear you. He yelled at me, startling the folks next in line, IS THIS FOR ME?

It dawned on me. The drinks were free at BlogHer. The bartender was asking if I was giving him a $20 tip for my glass of wine. Oh sorry, I said, and plucked it out of his hand, I thought it was a cash bar. Sorry, sir, no tip for you. All I have is a twenty.

I needed that glass of wine.

It had been a long afternoon of hearing and not hearing.

Along with wondering why I am so lucky.

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Seeing my essay on a giant poster, the same essay that made me cry when I was writing it, the essay I wrote late at night last December when I had just had it with my increasing deafness, when I was at my nadir, was like seeing my own epitaph. I could be remembered for this, I thought.

Today, I celebrated my nadir, toasted it like a friend who had left town months ago. Standing there was like standing next to history. I felt that way then, not now. Except for the last line. If I was one to get a tattoo, that’s what it would say.

I have felt so well here, so well in myself, so able to speak and listen anyway, despite the shreds of words, so able to appreciate the kindness of others, enough kindness of others to actually lean back and relax, to get a plate of food and sit in a quiet hallway to rest from the din of all the voices, to go to events where I won’t know the details, only the gist. The gist counts for something. Today, a lot.

I’m so grateful for this. To have a complete stranger nominate an essay for Voice of the Year that broke my heart to write and rebuilt me at the same time. How did that person know what this would mean? A rebirth for me. A gift, an anonymous wild gift.

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So I thank that anonymous person and I thank BlogHer for choosing this piece and thank all of the other fine writers who are this year’s Voices of the Year. I couldn’t be in more wonderful company.

Yesterday’s News

The news is that I am one of several writers recognized as a Voice of the Year by BlogHer. In the blogging world, the VOTY designation is a coveted, wonderful thing. But it always seemed to me to be something that much younger writers attained, people who were funnier, edgier, on the inside of the blogging world while I was standing outside on the window sill with my Windex and ancient squeegee.

I consider being designated as a VOTY to be a combination of extraordinary luck, persistence and writing skill honed by writing 650 blog posts over the past five years, those things and a willingness to be almost totally exposed in the search for understanding of my own situation.

When I got the news yesterday – and it was an astounding, outrageous, joyous piece of news to get, believe me – I couldn’t even read the piece that was selected. I just remembered it as being very painful to write but ultimately becoming a call for my own action to overcome a hearing disability that had been beating me to shit for years. The essay is Blindsided.

It is probably the truest essay I have ever written and perhaps the one of which I am most proud. That BlogHer picked this one is gratifying on the deepest level. I just read it again and it made me cry. Thank God I don’t have to read it at the BlogHer event in New York City in July. I just have to go, get my award and pose for pictures along with a lot of younger, funnier, and edgier people.

I will be the one with the biggest smile.

Blindsided

I wasn’t prepared for this. No one told me how to take my personality, my intelligence, my accomplishments, my ambition, my ego and put them all behind a gauzy thick wall that mutes most voices and distorts the sounds of everyday life. The siren could be a whistle or a baby screaming or someone’s worn out rear brakes, I won’t know until the ambulance crosses the street in front of me.

I wasn’t prepared for this. No one told me how to stop the waves of self-pity, the dejectedness I feel when I realize that once again I have missed the point of an important conversation or become the target of loved ones’ exasperation with my having heard them wrong one time too many today. Until death do us part skipped the part about the burden of a disability suffered by the partner who doesn’t have it.

I wasn’t prepared for this. No one told me how to breathe through my hearing loss like the nurse told me to breathe through contractions, how to accept what can’t be changed but not give an inch away too early, how to look at people when they are talking, how to fully concentrate on them, take each word one at a time, see it formed, watch hands showing, illustrating. I have been spoiled by the expectation of casual conversation, the challenge of finding the best argument, winning.

I wasn’t prepared for this. No one told me how to find other ways to be smart, different ways to be competent and capable, strong and steady, and how to resist the magnet of dependency, how to be honest about what I can no longer do well but courageous about what I can still do if I am not afraid, but I am always afraid, in my heart, of failing, of not being the person I was ten years ago or five.

But then I think who am I to think I should have been specially prepared for hearing loss? There are so many people who truly were blindsided by terrible conditions, limbs lost in war, speech lost in strokes, catastrophic blindness, extreme depression, all things coming out of the blue. That’s not what happened to me. My hearing loss crept up on me, a bit at a time, until the lines on the graph headed ever and ever more downward. In my head, a constant sound plays, like water running through a pipe, sometimes there is a humming accompaniment, a secret din. I look at people talking to me and want to say, you have no idea how loud it is in here.

Every day I remember that there are many worse things. I tell myself that it is up to me whether I see myself as broken. It is up to me to handle this in a way that keeps hearing loss from being the cancer that ends my career and hobbles my relationships.

It is my job to be stronger than the thing that is crippling me.