The world seemed muffled, but I brushed it off as allergies. That day marked the first day of my junior year of high school. As I walked down the hallway to my Global Studies class my best friend, Bea came running towards me and yanked my earbuds away from my head.
“Laura!!!” She was too excited considering how early in the morning it was. “Bea, you will give me my music back if you want to remain unharmed,” I grumbled putting my hand out for my earbuds. This made her roll her eyes. “Can’t you hear it? I could hear it from down the hall.” That was strange to me because I had had to turn the volume almost all the way up to hear it. Ignoring her comment I stepped into my classroom and found my seat on the chart that was drawn on the board. All through class, I had trouble focusing. At the time I had thought that it was because I was tired and I had never liked history class. I wouldn’t know the true reason for weeks to come.
A month into the school year, all juniors had to do mandatory hearing screenings.I had taken allergy medicine that morning in anticipation of the screening so that I could pass the test. Stepping into the small room, I sat in the chair facing the wall, I had complete confidence that I would pass and get to go on my way quickly. Five minutes later, I was very confused as to why the nurse was handing me slip of paper marked fail. The test couldn’t be over yet, could it? She hadn’t tested my right ear yet. That was when I knew that something was wrong. Very kindly, the nurse explained that she was going to wait three weeks and then redo the testing. Those three weeks were some of the slowest of my life. I was afraid because I had failed. I was afraid because my allergies were not clearing up, I still thought things sounded muffled. At the end of the third week, Mrs.Miller called me back to the nurse’s office, sat me down in the same chair, in the same room, facing the same wall, and ran the same test. I got the same result. Another yellow slip of paper with the “fail” box checked off at the bottom. I became even more afraid because this meant that something was extremely wrong. I did not tell anyone about the second failed hearing test. Mrs.Miller gave me another two weeks before she did more extensive testing. I did not want to go back. All my friends asked me why I kept getting called out of class. I just kept saying that I had to take allergy medicine, which wasn’t a complete lie. The third test was the most nerve-wracking event that had happened in my sixteen-year-old life. The third test would validate the thing that I feared most: I had another problem.
It was the final day before the third test and I was sitting at a large circular table in the cafeteria. I must not have been paying attention because when a small green sphere bounced off of the center of my forehead, I let out a small shriek and jumped out of my chair. Bea was staring at me with a baffled look on her face. “Laura, I’ve been saying your name for five minutes now, didn’t you hear me?” I hadn’t heard her a single time. “I wanted to know why you were staring at your chicken so angrily,” I had been thinking about the third test. “I got my test back in global. Didn’t do so well,” I lied through a casual shrug. Bea nodded sympathetically, no one had done well on that test. The rest of the day went as normal; I participated in discussions, only if it was mandatory, and I avoided conversations with people I didn’t know. That day, I walked into my small, two bedroom condo and went straight to my room locking the door behind me. I turned my music all the way up and climbed the ladder into my zebra-print sheeted loft bed.
Thoughts were racing through my mind. Why did junior year have to be so hard? What is going to happen if I fail again? Why does this have to happen now? I knotted my fingers into my shoulder length chestnut hair. I had not prepared myself for this. My mother knew that I was upset so she gave me space but I could feel her presence outside of my bedroom door. She was worried about me but I had not given her the chance to voice her concerns. I did not want to hear anything that anyone had to say. My grades had started slipping and I was spiraling uncontrollably internally into a darkness that I did not know existed inside of myself.
The next day crept up on me and the call from the nurse’s office came way too quickly for my liking. I shuffled my way downstairs as slow as I possibly could. I wanted to prolong the arrival of news that I already knew. Fifteen minutes later, with a yellow slip marked fail in my hand and no hope in my heart, I was told that I needed to go to a specialist. By the following week, the appointment was made. I would go and get more testing done and receive word on how to fix my problem.
The weeks passed quickly and come October 13th, my mother and I walked into the small waiting room of Dr.Herman’s clinic. The walls were painted a mustard yellow and the whole room smelled of antiseptic and crushed dreams. We were promptly ushered into a clean looking room with pastel blue walls and a massive, white chair that looked as if it had been stolen from a dentist’s office. I perched on the edge of the chair, eager to leave. The testing was fast and had not taken much effort on my end. Waiting was not particularly easy for me to do at that moment. I was about to find out the course on which the rest of my life would take place.
Dr.Herman was a short round man who spoke loud enough that he could have been heard over a riot (or at least that’s what my mother told me after we left the office). He asked a few questions about my childhood and what I thought about school. He asked about my grades and what my favorite subject was, English at the time. He asked me a question that had me baffled. “Have you ever had meningitis?” I was curious how he had known. “Yes,” I stated, “I had it for a week in middle school.” Dr.Herman nodded like this was a significant detail that could show him the meaning of life. “I think that may explain your results.” He said this so casually that I gained a bit of hope. Maybe I had worried about nothing! Maybe the school tests had been wrong. Why would he be so casual if he was about to deliver bad news? My hope was in vain, however, because the next words out of his mouth sent my world crashing down around me. “Your hearing is not coming back.” I felt my heart shrivel inside my chest. “When you got sick, it left you with mild brain damage. As time went on, that damage got worse and caused hearing loss.” God, why? “You should consider a hearing aid.” I was sent on my way with a broken heart that was held together by fear. My mother tried to explain to me that this was not a big deal but I could tell she was not speaking from her heart. We both wanted to believe that this was a sick joke. As we stepped back into the waiting room, we made an appointment to meet for a hearing aid fitting. We were to go back in two weeks to meet with another doctor.
School became extremely hard for me. I had lost interest and my grades slipped even more. My teachers asked me what was going on but I didn’t have the energy to explain. When the day approached for me to go back to the clinic, I was afraid of what was going to happen when I put the hearing aid in my ear. The doctor I was set to meet was a nice blonde woman that introduced herself as Dr.Jamie, she wore grey dress pants and a white t-shirt. She explained that the device that was about to be put in my ear was set so to my personal level of hearing loss so that I could hear normally from my deaf ear. With some minor difficulties, I was able to get the minuscule earpiece to slip into place. The change was astounding. I could hear a strange hum-buzz noise that I was later told is the sound that lights make when they are turned on. I could hear paper going through the printer down the hall. The most shocking sound was the sound of my seven-year-old sister's smooth soprano voice from the chair beside me. I did not recognize her speech and was confused as to who was talking to me. A few moments later I heard a man’s unfamiliar baritone voice say my name. “I’m here for Laura,” the man said. I could feel hot tears streaming down my face as I whispered to my mother “I can hear dad.” My mother started crying as she put a hand on my knee and laughed a small laugh. “You're not yelling anymore,” we both laughed at that. My father walked into the small room, still wearing his work clothes. My mother smiled at him as he took her hand. He looked at me with concern clearly written across his face. “How is it going?” His unfamiliar voice asked me, making his concern even more evident. I started shaking as the tears became a torrent of emotion. How could the people had grown up with sound so unlike themselves? That was the first time I had what my family truly sounded like. It was a moment that would change my life forever. I did not want to take the hearing aid out of my ear.
As I handed the sample device back to Dr.Jamie, she smiled at me and assured me that soon I would have one of my own. When I got in the car after leaving the office, I felt a jumble of emotions spill out of me through my eyes. All I could think about was the next time I would get to hear my family’s voices.