"It wasn’t that difficult," I told him. "I don’t think it's fair for me to write this."
"Of course it was difficult," he said. "You're just being modest."
The money was tempting. All I had to do was write a few hundred words about how I always had to interpret for my parents and make phone calls for them. Throw in a couple of weepy one-liners about "lack of a childhood" and "having too much responsibility too soon" and the contest judges would choose me as the winner. The truth is, though, when I look back on my childhood, the things I remember are road trips to the Grand Canyon, the swing set in our backyard, and gathering every night for dinner at 6:00. I remember my father giving me books to read so that we could have long talks about them when I was finished. My mother used to bring home a piece of candy or some other treat from the grocery store and would have it waiting for me when I got home from school so that I could eat it while we talked about my day.
I hate using the word "disability" to talk about my parents. Sometimes they were at an advantage: in a noisy restaurant, we were all able to have a pleasant conversation. Often, I considered myself lucky. I was bilingual. I could play my music as loud as I wanted. More importantly, I had two parents who loved and supported me. The way that I want to write about hearing loss is as a small component of a larger story. It's unfair to say that their hearing had no bearing on my childhood, but it wasn't everything. My parents didn't take me to the movies. But they did take me to the park, to Girl Scout meetings, and to friends' houses after school. For everything they were unable to do, there were a thousand things they were able to do.
I never wrote that essay. I went to college and majored in English with the intention of becoming a writer. I wrote about everything except my parents-- guys I liked, adventures with friends, Joni Mitchell, college life, the influence of gender in 20th century fiction. That all changed in the summer of 2003. I was about to be a senior in college. I was living in Greensboro, NC, near campus, more than an hour away from my parents in Raleigh. I had a cool internship and looked forward to writing my senior thesis. One day when I was out with a friend shopping for paper lanterns for a garden party, I got a phone call from my sister. "Something happened," she said. "Dad's been in a car accident. You need to come home."
There he was, my dad, my invincible dad, in a hospital bed hooked up to wires and tubes. He was awake, signing, asking for water. Each day he improved, first getting his neck brace off, then having his breathing tubes taken out. The human body is an amazing thing. Reinflate a lung and then it fixes the puncture itself. Drain some blood from around the spleen, and it heals itself. I could feel myself coming together as I watched him get better.
A Catholic woman in the hospital lobby was counting the beads on her rosary. "Do you pray?" she asked me.
"I’ve been trying to pray all day," I said. "But I can't."
"People pray in many different ways," she told me. "For me, waking up in the morning is a prayer."
"People in school used to tell me they would pray for my parents to be able to hear."
"Is that what you pray for?"
"You shall not insult the deaf," I thought, recalling a line from the Book of Leviticus. It was a line read as part of the Rosh Hashanah service. Rosh Hashanah meant the New Year, meant growth and change and renewal. "No," I said. "I pray that they'll both wake up in the morning."
I never wrote that essay about how hard my childhood was. Instead, I wrote an essay about how my father didn't die. The words I hadn't been able to speak suddenly gushed onto paper. I was grateful and sad and alone all at the same time. My own lungs were reinflated. The cut on my own spleen began to heal. I prayed on paper and watched my father sleep.