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Live, Love, Sign
The mountains are my sanctuary. The warm Tennessee breeze rushed through my hair as I climbed through the skyscrapers of nature. The paths are of rough, rocky gravel, no pavement in sight. The fresh pine aroma crawls throughout my body, filling me with relaxation. When the trail comes to a dead end, my heart stopped as I looked up to take in the view of the crystal clear waterfall flowing so gracefully below. The birds chirped and the fish flopped as we planted ourselves down on the red and white checkered picnic blanket.
I remember always wanting to hear the birds chirp, and the fish flop. I think back on the first time I came here, a mere boy of 13, with my “normal” parents and my “normal” sister. I loved, and still do love nature, but I hated even the thought of being around or near anyone or anything. Now, in my own way, I am normal. I thought that being deaf was awful at the time. Whenever a person would find out I was deaf they would sympathize with me and say, “Aw, I’m so sorry,” and “it must be awful, I hope you get better.” It seemed like they thought I needed to be cured. And that’s what I thought at the time as well. But then I came to my senses, with the support of my friends and family. And now, I have a beautiful family of my own. My seven-year-old son Benjamin is hearing, and my wife, Melissa, and eldest daughter of thirteen, Samantha, are deaf like me.
“Dad, haven’t you been here before?” Samantha, quickly, yet swiftly signed. Her signing was ten times better than mine was when I was her age.
“Yah! Tell us the story! Isn’t this the place you liked to be when you were paranoid about being deaf? You never told us this story, and I have been dying to hear it. Or see it in your case” Ben giggled.
“Of course munchkins,” I said chuckling. “Melissa? I know you have heard it before, at least five times.”
“Of course darling. They should hear it. Especially Samantha, her being deaf.”
I took a deep breath, and began:
‘“Sam, eat your sandwich honey.” Mom said.
“I would, but you put too much peanut butter on it again.” I sulked.
“Eat it anyways.”
I gave her a look, and began to eat it slowly. Even after days of me telling her to put on less peanut butter, she just keeps adding more. I guess she doesn’t understand what I am trying to say. Yes, my whole family signs, but I still don’t think they understand me as a person. Spoken language would be so much easier. Curse my ears. I swear, if they worked, and I could talk, my life would be a heck of a lot better.
I was in my dark days at the time. My hair was always sleeked back, but not anymore. What hasn’t changed is that I have eyes of chocolate brown that blended right in with my coarse hair. I wasn’t very tall, but I never let that stop me from achieving what I set out to do. My clothes were the average style for guys, nothing different that would make me stand out. I stayed hidden away in my little bubble, never wanting it to be popped.
The sandwich incident was probably the most exciting part of my trip that day. We went back to the car afterwards, and headed back home to Nashville. I dragged myself up the old, wooden steps to my small second-level bedroom. I was surprised to find my grandfather sitting on the lower bunk of my bed. He wanted to talk to me; but I was so tired from the trip that I was drifting off to sleep as he welcomed me back home. He let me go to bed, but woke me up bright and early. Grandpa was deaf as well as me, the only other person in my family in four generations. The talk wasn’t very pleasurable for me. He, along with my parents, weren’t very enthralled with my attitude lately. I tried pulling the excuse ‘I’m a teenager’ with him, but that didn’t work at all. He just ignored me and continued on. He stated that I had no idea about what it meant to be deaf, or to love and appreciate myself for who I was. He was here to help me, along with the friends I was going to make at my new school. I was told to get ready, because we were going on a tour of The Tennessee School for the Deaf.
“No! I’m not going to a deaf school! I like my friends, and all my teachers!” I violently gestured.
“It’s already decided. Done for, paid for. Plus, your grades are beginning to drop because you can’t understand your teachers! And as for your friends go, you can still see them, plus you will make new friends at your new school. It’s not worth arguing, so don’t even.” He replied, in the calmest fashion.
I threw on some clothes and stomped away to the car. When we were at the school in the French café, I stormed out of a meeting we were having with the principal, to the ghetto-like back parking lot. That’s where I met my soon-to-be roommate, Adam. Though I saw that he looked a lot like me and my mother, not at one moment then did it strike me that he was my long lost twin.
“What’s your name?” Adam signed.
“Sam,” I finger-spelled, also showing him my sign name. To acknowledge people in the deaf world, you use their sign name. My name was making the letter S, which is making a fist with your thumb, covering your forefingers, and flicking it outwards. I never knew why it was my given sign name, but it just stuck. I didn’t know that I was able to change my sign name at the time, but boy I wish I did.
Anyways, Adam and I were roommates, and we grew closer each and every day. We found it peculiar that we looked awfully alike, and had the same birthdays, May 24th, 1999. This took me back to the first time I ever saw him, when I thought to myself how much he looked like my mom.’
“Dad, you hated being deaf, now you love it. Why did that eventually change?” Ben questioned.
“Well, I’ll tell you.”
‘It was a really stormy day. The sky was dark as night in mid-day, and you could feel the thunder booming up above. Most of our classes had been canceled due to the specific conditions and locations of some of our main classes. Adam and I spent the morning studying and fooling around in our dorm.
He then turned to me out if the blue and asked, “Why do you hate being deaf Sam? It’s not so bad.”
I knew I was in for it. Here comes lecture number two for the semester, first from my grandpa, now from Adam. “I just don’t like not hearing. I can’t feel connected to the world. Both my parents and sister are hearing,” I paused, trying to hold back my anger. But it just trampled out of me like a wild steed of horses in an open pasture, “being deaf is crap. I want to be hearing. I want to know what people are saying around me, because for all I know, they could be talking about me!” I could feel my face growing blood red, my anger burning up inside.
“Well, you need to begin to appreciate it! This is who you are, you can’t change it. I am going to teach you to love yourself for who you are if it’s the last thing I do! Look at us, we are already fighting, and we just found out we are brothers!” he said, beginning to get upset with me.
I was just thinking about how that was one of the things my grandpa had said to me, and I had been pushing it away all semester long at school. I was just about to pick up my phone to call him, when my phone began to vibrate and light up. It was my dad face-timing me. Adam and I both looked at each other, astonished. He never called. It was always mom, and then I would talk to him from there. I picked up, and he seemed upset as well, almost like he was crying.
“What’s wrong dad?”
“I’m so sorry Sam, your grandfather just passed away this morning so suddenly. I wanted to come tell you in person, but the traffic was so backed up. And…” he continued on, yet I saw none of it. I was heart-broken.
“I have to go…um, I’ll call you later, “and I hung up without another word being said from either end of the conversation.
I sank down into my bed and began to cry. Adam tried so hard to comfort me, but I pushed him away. I wanted to be alone. Grandpa had given me everything; he helped me in times of need, he was the only person who ever actually “listened” to me, and he was truly the only person besides Adam who understood me. And now he was gone. I cried in my room for what seemed like an eternity. I finally decided to go to Adam. I knew he could help me. And I felt like if I pushed him away too, I would lose him, and he would be gone forever, just like my grandpa was now.
I finally gathered up my emotions, and wiped up my tears. I went over to Adam’s room and said, “Adam, can you help me?”
He sympathized, “Of course, what is it?”
“All my grandpa ever wanted was for me to appreciate who I am. And that’s what I need you to help me with. I feel terrible now about never fulfilling his goal for me, or at least him not living long enough to see it happen. And you’re right, we shouldn’t be arguing just days after we found out about us being twins. I’m sorry for snapping at you earlier.”
He looked at me, astonished. It seemed like he was actually thinking about it in a serious way. I could tell when he began to sign that it wasn’t out of sympathy for my loss. I don’t think he truly believed that I could have such a major change in heart over the time-frame of ten minutes, but I am sure he was willing to believe anything to get me to have a change in mind, a change in heart.
“Sure, anything I can do to help you in these rough times. If you are going to really work at it though. Being deaf and appreciating it isn’t for the faint-hearted. It actually takes time, energy, and lots of commitments considering you are a newcomer to the deaf world. Promise you will not chicken out or ever give up without putting up a fight?” Adam said, and it really seemed like he meant it. He really wanted me to see what I had missed out on during the last thirteen years of my life.
“I promise Adam, I am actually serious about this.” I signed back with confidence, trying so hard to fight back my tears. And that was where our conversation ended, for I left to go to my room, not showing my face again that day.
Over the course of the next year, Adam taught, helped, and was very patient with me; he helped me realize that my life was worth living the exact way it had been meant to be lived, the way I was born. I also met a girl, who helped to influence me, too. She was the most beautiful young lady I had ever seen. Her strawberry blonde ringlets bounced with every step she took, and her bright blue eyes twinkled in the light. She always wore a light purple star necklace around her neck, and carried around a small flower purse of a lavender shade. She wasn’t particularly tall, but that didn’t stop me from kissing her come day’s end, when we went our separate ways for the night. We always laughed together, signed together, and were inseparable by the years end. She was perfect, and I knew then I never wanted to live a day of my life without her. That girl, her name was Melissa. And, well, she’s your mother.’
“Beautiful story, I especially loved the ending.” Melissa smiled, kissing me on the cheek as my story came to a close.
“I have one question Dad.” Samantha said.
“And what’s that doll?” I questioned.
“Why did you go to Uncle Adam? Why not your parents? Or another family member?”
“Because I knew that I could trust Adam. And after all, he was family, he was my brother. I knew that he would truly help me fulfill my new found goal better than anyone else. And he did, just like I knew he would. He was my best friend, who I trusted more than anyone, and he ended up turning out to be my brother. It’s getting late. Let’s pack up and head on home.” I finished up.
The sun was beginning to set. The sky was filled with pink and orange beams of light shining down from the heavens above. I took in one last whiff of the fresh pine fragrance that relaxed me every time the smell entered my body. Right before I took the weight off my feet and sat myself down for the roads that lied ahead, I looked up into the pure white, cotton clouds above and signed “I love you Grandpa, thanks for everything.”