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Fluent Hands This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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I can still picture his hands shaping themselves into a butterfly for me, the way his fingers adroitly formed the alphabet, one letter right after another. Those fluent hands, smooth like a surf-polished stone, worn from talking. Those hard-worked hands, calloused from carpentry, steady with precise recipe measurements. Those beautiful hands that so patiently taught me how to speak.

His hands crafted so much. Bookshelves, tables, cakes, magic tricks. I imagine at one point they were strong, printed with ridges and curves. By the time I came to know them, the fingerprints had long since worn down to leave only smooth, papery skin. His hands were his mouth, his pen and paper, his story. His signs were so effortless and elegant I felt jealous. I could hardly spell my own name then.

His hands spoke American Sign Language. My hands copied his, hoping to say something as his did. Carefully, exactly, his hands would shape mine into the letters K, A, T, I, E. Then, when I was good enough, I would surprise him with more signs: my name, my age, my favorite animals. I could keep score in the card games we played, and tell him that I was winning. “Hey, I'm ahead of you!” “Yes,” he would sign, “you're winning.” I bet he let me.

Each summer I came back with more sign language under my belt. I hoped to impress him. I learned to talk to him. I learned from him. He taught me that deafness came with its own culture, its own world. I wanted in.

He taught me theater, communication, travel, clubs, board games, talking. Always talking and learning. He taught me that sign language was something to share with others, that it wasn't the secret language between the two of us that I used to want it to be. I was reluctant at first, but soon sharing my secret language was more fun than keeping it between us.

And then he left, just like that. No final board game, no last magic trick. No more spelling my name for him or telling him how old I was. Just a funeral service with a bad interpreter. I was angry. We weren't done yet. I was still learning. I am still learning.

He did not teach me how to talk; he taught me to express myself. He taught me how to live in two worlds. That even though his world was soundless, I could have both. I could have music, and I could have voice. I could also have silence and live in his world. It was okay to have both.

My grandpa taught me that.

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

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the December 2009 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.




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This article has 11 comments. Post your own now!

karstarr13 said...
Mar. 7, 2011 at 11:17 am
I love this! I like how its not THAT long, i mean... its short enough but still gets to the point. Its a wonderful piece. So many people write their peices SOOOO long and you end up getting bored with it! But, I REALLY enjoyed reading this. Nice job :)
 
kmunsell This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 9, 2011 at 4:23 am
Thank you so much! You should have seen the original ;)
 
kmunsell This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 11, 2009 at 12:36 pm
This is not my original work--this is the essay that appears in the December issue of Teen Ink, edited by them. I think, for college purposes, I will be submitting my original essay, but I apprecatie Teen Ink publishing this! Thanks!
 
mikey123 said...
Dec. 6, 2009 at 2:45 am
very nice essay!
i suggest u to go on writing many good essays...thank u
 
kmunsell This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 11, 2009 at 12:34 pm
Haha, thanks! Maybe I'll post more essays on here soon!
 
adamina said...
Dec. 4, 2009 at 10:35 pm
That was great. Very meaningful.
 
kmunsell This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 11, 2009 at 12:33 pm
Thanks! I appreciate it!
 
Fool4Tool said...
Dec. 4, 2009 at 8:15 pm
This is beautiful. Very nice. ^_^
 
kmunsell This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 11, 2009 at 12:33 pm
Thank you!
 
alexataylor234 said...
Oct. 7, 2009 at 3:16 pm
I think this is a beautifully written essay. You write very well. I especially love how you didn't reveal who it was until the end. Good job and good luck getting into your college of choice!
 
kmunsell This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 14, 2009 at 2:42 pm
Thank you so much!
 
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