Deaf Fiction Story

I belong to a writer's group that meets twice a month. Most of the writers are normal hearing people who are learning about deafness through me. We write short stories - 1,000 words or less - and often write surprise endings to spice things up a bit. Here's the story I wrote for today's meeting:


The loud, overpowering blast shakes everything in my field of vision, with the added bonus of excruciating ear pain. I catch the culprit, my sister, with the air horn in her hand.

“STOP IT! THAT HURTS!” I scream. Tracy clunks the can down on the dining room table and the sweet silence returns. Blinking back tears, I say, “I can’t begin to tell you how painful that sound is – please don’t do it again.”

“I thought you couldn’t hear well. You hear what you wanna hear!”

“Right – I’ve got selective hearing. That’s why I wear these $6,000 hearing aids – just for fun.”

“It wasn’t that loud. If that hurt you, you must have good hearing.”

Should I keep my mouth shut or should I attempt, once again, to explain to a normal hearing person the experience of recruitment? She’s my sister; she’s not just a normal hearing person. She needs to know. I kidnap the air horn and shove it in the top of my closet.

“Tracy, I have a condition that makes certain frequencies grow abnormally loud – it’s called recruitment. My hearing aids suppress some frequencies when they get to a certain volume, but they don’t always stop sounds from becoming painful. 

That air horn can destroy what little hearing I have left.”

Through half-closed eyes, Tracy peers at me. She rolls her eyes and pushes her chair back. As she walks toward the kitchen, she hollers, “I’m startin’ the potato salad now!” to no one in particular.

A month later, Tracy returns to celebrate Mother’s Day with us. She and my mother are at the table while I send an email from my room. Once again, the blast of the air horn strikes, but the distance prevents it from being a painful, vision-shaking experience.

“Why is it every time you’re here that stupid air horn goes off?” I yell accusingly at my sister. She doesn’t say a word, but I see my mother and sister exchange glances. “I’m taking this thing again. Everybody needs to leave it alone.” This time I hide it in my bottom drawer, out of sight.

A few months later, while rummaging around in my bottom drawer at 3:00 am looking for peppermint essential oil for my clogged nose, the air horn blasts again as the movement of my possessions squeezes the trigger. This time I have no one to yell at but myself.

When daylight hits the next morning, I gingerly dig the air horn out from the bottom of the large drawer. Taking great care to not make contact with the trigger, I wrap the can in three plastic grocery bags, knotting them together securely. Holding the package away from my body to sever all possibility of touching it, I step outside and slip on the wet, mossy stone path. I fall in slow motion, with a heightened awareness of the package. I let go of it, hoping to avoid contact. My face lands on the trigger. The air horn blasts, exponentially louder than the previous three times, the sound so painful that I’m unable to move or think. I lose consciousness and when I wake up, the can is still under my face, but it’s no longer making a sound. In fact, everything is completely silent. Since that day, I’ve never heard another sound.

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My Hearing Aids Saved Me From a Near-Death Experience

I have a condition called “recruitment.” Recruitment is defined as experiencing sounds as growing painfully loud in an abnormal way. I do my best to avoid loud sounds but sometimes it can't be helped. Believe it or not, digital hearing aids have the ability to not only amplify specific sounds, but suppress sounds, as well. My year old Phonak Naida IX SP hearing aids saved my life a couple of weeks ago at one of the quietest places on earth - the public library: 

It was pouring rain. I didn’t bother to wear my hearing aids since the amplified sound of torrential rain hitting my car cancels my ability to enjoy music or talk radio. I pulled into the Library’s parking lot, turned off the car, and put in my hearing aids.

Grabbing my laptop and purse with my left arm and tucking my water bottle under my right, I cautiously opened my car door and stuck my umbrella outside with my free hand. Stepping out gingerly, I turned and walked toward the Library when an extremely loud, multi-toned, sustained sound slammed into my body, forcing me to abandon my trek. I stood in the middle of the parking lot, unable to move as the horrible sound locked me in place. I knew ripping my hearing aids off was not an option – they were suppressing the sound so I didn’t hear it full force. 

But what could be making this horrible noise? Was it an acoustical weapon vaporizing my city? I looked around to find the source of my torment and saw a train rumbling by just 20 feet from the parking lot. The whistle paused for a second or two, bringing relief, but then slammed me again, causing my eyeballs to roll back. Okay, that was a slight exaggeration, but I thought I was breathing my last breath. 

I managed to keep my belongings covered while my right index finger found the volume control on my right hearing aid. Both hearing aids are linked so adjusting one adjusts the other. With the volume lowered, I dodged the sound bullets and continued walking toward the library, where the welcome, familiar silence enveloped me. In the silence I was safe and protected. 

People with normal hearing who don’t understand recruitment can’t understand why I “overreact” to loud sounds. “But I thought you couldn’t hear well!” is the response most give. If you don’t have recruitment, please read Dr. Neil’s article on recruitment to understand. If you have recruitment, does it seem like certain sounds are a near-death experience?


What I Miss About Mosquitoes

Decades ago, I heard the soft buzzing sounds of these blood-suckers flying close to my head.  I remember the "bzzz zzz" sounds growing louder, then softer as they mercilessly dive-bombed my flesh, expertly avoiding my swatting hands.  It seemed only fair that a warning sound accompanied the presence of these tiny predators.  Until I lived in South Korea for a year and made a startling discovery:

It was the middle of winter and way past my bedtime. I pulled my warm comforter up over my body, leaving my face exposed, and turned off my lamp.  Fifteen seconds later, I felt countless tiny needles embedded all over my face.  Terrified that a giant, strange Korean insect was stinging me, I slapped my face and snapped the lamp back on, but didn't see anything.  I grabbed my glasses and inspected the comforter and sheets for scorpions, spiders, and other insect life, but found nothing. Maybe I imagined the whole thing.  

I got back in my bed and turned off the lamp again, only to feel the same sensation fifteen seconds later.  Lamp and glasses back on, I looked up and saw a flying cloud of dozens of mosquitoes making its way up to the ceiling, then dissipating.  I turned the lamp off, then on five seconds later.  The cloud had formed again and moved a third of the way down the wall, but immediately started going toward the ceiling when the light came back on.

These were not wussy Florida mosquitoes.  These tough mosquitoes thrive in winter and work together as a unit.  One of my Korean friends, David, calls them "Soldier Mosquitoes" because of their abilities.  They can even pierce through a soldier's thick uniform.

To top it off, these "Soldier Mosquitoes" fly without making a sound!  At least, that's what I thought until I returned to Florida and discovered Florida mosquitoes had become silent.

At least they're not invisible.


A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

Do you notice anything unusual about this photo?  Look closely. The little girl in the party hat is me.  This photo was taken when I turned five years old, and at this time, no one knew that I was legally blind and hard of hearing.  Looking at the photo now, I can see that I was lipreading my mother - close up.  

In the 1960s, hearing screenings for newborns were not done. My parents were unaware of my blindness and thought I was clumsy because I tripped and fell down often.  I supposedly "ignored" them a lot and got spanked for doing so.  They were frustrated and angry, not knowing I couldn't always hear them.  I tried to pay attention to avoid spankings, but it never worked.

Growing up with just enough vision and hearing to fool everyone, I had no idea the way I saw and heard the world was different from other people.  In Kindergarten, my blindness was discovered when the vision screener asked me to tell her the letters on the chart and I said, "Where's the chart?  I only see a wall." When I was eleven years old, my parents and I were shocked to find out about my deafness.  

If you grew up with a hearing loss, how old were you when it was discovered? At birth or later?