When the test was over I got up from my seat and made a beeline for the front door. Michael [the audiologist] stopped me. He took me back to his office, laid a piece of paper on the desk, and said, "This is your audiogram." Then, for the first time in my life, at thirty-two years old, somebody--anybody--explained to me about my hearing loss.
"This is where it would be hard for you to understand on the telephone."
"You mean I'm not retarded?"
"No. This is where it would be difficult for you to understand music."
"I am not slow?"
"No, you just don't hear normally. See this flat line? This is where it's difficult for you to understand a group of people."
"Michael, look at me. Are you sure there's nothing wrong with my brain?"
Reprinted from If You Could Hear What I See, by Kathy Buckley with Lynette Padwa, by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright c Kathy Buckley, 2001. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Intelligent! No one had ever said that to me. And this piece of paper explained exactly what I can and can't hear.
Yet when I returned a week later to pick up my hearing aids, I informed Michael I wouldn't be wearing them. "Hearing aids didn't help me in the past," I told him. They just made everything loud and painful."
"Technology has changed a lot in twenty years, Kathy." In the end, Michael told me that if I didn't wear them for one week, he wouldn't turn in the paperwork for Vocational Rehab. I had no choice. I put the hearing aids on in his office.
"SSSSo, Kathy, what'SSS it SSSSound like?"
I sat straight up and looked at him. I had never heard an S sound and Michael had to explain it to me. A little excited, I left the building wondering what would happen next. The first thing I heard when I walked out to the street was traffic. It was annoying. I got into my Toyota Corona. As I started the engine, I noticed an odd beeping noise. I stormed back into Michael's office, convinced these hearing aids had gone haywire like the last ones. "Maybe the Toyota is too small for the hearing aids, but they keep beeping every time I get into the car." Michael checked the aids again and decided to walk me to the car himself. I opened the door and sat down in the driver's seat. Beep, beep, beep.
"Kathy, that beeping noise is just your car telling you to fasten your seat belt."
"Oh...Like I'm supposed to understand Japanese now? Is there anything else you'd like to translate for the car before I leave?"
That night was the first time I had played the Hollywood Comedy Room, and I was determined not to be late. It wasn't easy. For once, I could barely tear myself away from my apartment. Thirty-two years old, I had never known that paper made noise. I grabbed every kind of paper I could find, laid them all out on the living room floor, then sat in the middle of the floor crumpling up the papers just to hear them crunch. Newspaper, wax paper, tin foil--Kleenex--one by one I'd pick them up and crinkle them next to my ear, saying, "Yes! Yes!" They all had their own sound until I got to the Kleenex. I crunched it, tore it, waved it by my ear--"Talk to me, baby, talk to me!" Nothing.
I made it to the club with a half hour to spare, keeping a personal vow I had made never to be late for a gig. As usual, I walked onstage with a big plastic hand attached behind my ear in the "Eh? What?" position. Deafness is sometimes known as the invisible disability, and I wanted to make it visible. The plastic hand on my ear made it easier for me to explain my hearing loss and speech impediment right away. My opening line:
"You would think with today's technology they could come out with a hearing aid that is just a little less obvious than this."
The sound hit my ears with the force of a cannon blast. What was that? I backed away from the microphone toward the rear of the stage and stared at the faces below me, but they looked normal. Somehow I was able to deliver my next line.