Vital Signs This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

May 14, 2009
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Her hands flew with precision, each movement carefully thought out. Her face was painted with frustration; this was her only means of communication, and I couldn't understand. I ducked my head in embarrassment and fetched a pen and notepad to explain to my best friend's mom the reason for my visit.

For five years this was the norm. Each time I entered the room, my mind flooded with guilt and anxiety. I always needed someone to interpret for me. Her daughter-in-law, even her grandchildren, wouldn't take the time to learn sign language, but I was not okay with being another person in her life who made her feel like an unimportant outcast.

That night I kept seeing that look of alienation on her face, and I thought of nothing else for days. The next time I saw Cheryl, I refused to get the notepad or let my friend Sean interpret. I had decided to learn, no matter what it took.

The only signs I knew were the alphabet, but I could see the pleased glow on her face as I spelled out each word, letter by letter. I wondered how she felt knowing that someone cared enough to learn to communicate with her. Sean worked with me, spelling words to help me practice. He also showed me basic signs like “you,” “Mom,” “Dad,” “please,” and “thank you.”

Sometimes I went to Sean's house to watch his family converse. I'd pick up new signs, but someone still had to help me. Other days I would sit with Cheryl for hours spelling words and she would teach me the corresponding signs. When I started this process I was excited to learn something new; I never fathomed how many opportunities would open up as a result, not to mention the close relationship I would develop with Cheryl.

Within three weeks I had learned basic American Sign Language (ASL). I wasn't very good, but my effort and love for the language showed in each sign I mastered. I was so eager to put my new knowledge to use, I convinced my drama teacher to do a play in sign language.

I would sign in my sleep. Random stuff, lines from the play, things I wanted to tell Cheryl, lyrics to songs, even things my English teacher said in class. I felt great about my progress – until I was with Cheryl. Then my hands would jumble up; it was embarrassing. In a group conversation everybody had to slow down and wait for me so I could understand.

One night at dinner it clicked. Everyone was signing, and suddenly I could follow the conversation. As Sean lifted his hands to interpret for me, I could see disappointment in Cheryl's eyes, but I didn't stop him. Cheryl slapped his hand, looked me in the eyes, and signed directly to me. She said that no one was allowed to interpret for me anymore. She knew my heart and how much I loved her culture. I left their house that night feeling very happy. I knew that ASL would be part of my life forever.

About a month ago, Cheryl, Sean, my dad, and I took a trip to California State University, Northridge. As we sat in the office of the Deaf Studies student advisor, no one interpreted and I understood. He explained the education I would receive to become a sign language interpreter and how he'd like me to start in an advanced ASL class.

I left the university so excited. So many people miss out on getting to know people who are deaf because of their inability to communicate with them. Now I would be able to help.

That night Cheryl and I sat in our hotel room; she reached out and signed with smiling eyes. Unlike the days in her living room with a notepad, I understood and signed back, “I love you, too!”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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BreeZephyr This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 11, 2016 at 9:41 am
Bravo! Kudos for putting in the work to learn ASL. This was quite inspiring. :)
4everluvjc said...
Jun. 3, 2009 at 2:42 pm
This is so cute! Lovely
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