Signing MAG

June 28, 2012

As the sun slowly peers from behind the maple trees, the butterflies in my stomach begin to dance. At first it is a slow, formal waltz; by the time I enter the school bus, the pace turns to a lively swing. Those butterflies sure know how to jump, jive and wail. It is 7 a.m. You would think butterflies need their beauty sleep, but you'd be wrong.

It's not as if I am not prepared for the day. I am a second-year Sign Language student and do well in the course. I even sign interpreted the Beatles' song "In My Life" at graduation last year. Yet visiting a school for the Deaf is still a frightening thought. I haven't had much exposure signing with people who are actually Deaf. What if I can't remember how to sign something? Will I understand their signing? Will they laugh at me? Thoughts run rampant as the butterflies continue to boogie in my stomach.

Sitting in the cafeteria, I wait for my "buddy" to find me. We had been assigned students to escort us throughout the day. The room has suddenly become chaotic with students scrambling to find their partners. A girl wearing a green sweater, similar to the one I often borrow from my best friend, approaches me. She is holding a nametag which reads "Ilana."

"You?" She points at me, asking if this is my name.

I feel my fist naturally rise and shake. "Yes," I sign back. "My name is Ilana."

"My name is Jessica. Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you," I reply. I cannot believe this. Suddenly, everything we have learned comes together. I am actually communicating with a Deaf girl in Sign Language.

"How old are you?"

"What grade are you in?"

After we get past our greetings, we share a nervous laugh. We sit there, facing each other, wide smiles on our faces. Yet, we struggle to think about a topic - a substantial topic - to discuss. To keep the conversation going, we continue to ask simple questions.

"How many brothers and sisters do you have?"

Question after question, I find my hands naturally gliding as I carry on the conversation. Although I only have a year and a half of signing experience, compared with 16 years of speaking English, signing feels completely natural ... I don't even have the urge to communicate by speaking.

By lunchtime, Jessica and I have become more than strangers. The nervous laugh we shared at the beginning of the day transforms into a burst of laughter about how boring her history teacher is. Between bites of peanut butter sandwiches and sips of skim milk, we discuss our boyfriends.

"Wow, two years," she signs as I nod and smile. "I thought four months was a long time!"

"Did you see 'Dawson's Creek' last night?" Jessica asks me. I nod my head.

"I can't believe he finally kissed her!" We both sign at the same time and giggle.

For some reason, I expected things to be different. I didn't expect to have so much in common with a girl who was randomly matched with me, especially since she was Deaf and I was hearing. I thought that we lived in such different worlds. But we don't. We have the same taste in clothes; we watch the same TV shows and shared similar stories about our boyfriends. We giggled together as all girls do and hugged each other good-bye when it was time for me to leave.

By the end of the day the butterflies were fast asleep. I guess they had a chance for that beauty sleep after all.

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