This project is concerned with exploring something new, pushing boundaries beyond what I’m comfortable with in painting, revisiting my experiences as hard of hearing. One of the unexpected results of this enterprise is that it has brought up unpleasant memories of exclusion, isolation, and hurt.
I had, and still have, great family support, both immediate and extended. I can always count on them when I need them. I remember, though, a conversation over coffee, wherein I was informed that I had exceeded all expectations they had. After much prodding, it was made clear that their expectations were lower for me, than for my brother or my cousins. I remember feeling conflicted about this. On one hand, I made it. On the other hand, did they really think less of me, particularly when it comes to potential quality and quantity of experiences? I’m not sure what to think. I do know that no one thinks any less of me now, that I have a full life behind me since graduation. In fact, I’m pretty much the first of my immediate family to have travelled far and alone. I’ve gone to United Arab Emirates, the Netherlands, Paris (twice), New York. Alone. I live independently.
School, though. I can tell you that I was relieved when I finally hit senior high. At that point, we had moved from Prince George to Kitimat, so I pretty much had a clean slate.
I did not go to any specialized school growing up. I did start preschool earlier, but only because I had speech therapy that they wanted me to start as soon as possible. I could wear a hearing aid, so why not learn how to wear a hearing aid? It’s not a matter of suddenly hear music, hearing birds sing, pulling a proverbial rabbit out of a hat. There was some brain training that was necessary – if I were to hear, I needed to recognize the sound, and so on. The sound of a vacuum cleaner is not the same as a sound of a car, for example. I needed to recognize speech. When you say sheep, I need to recognize that as a word, and not… baaaa. There’s a lot of cognitive processing going on. Once I found myself in grade 1, I was equipped with skills on par with other kids my age. I was allowed to attended regular class in Grade 2 after proving to the school that the “special” grade 1 far exceeded my needs.
There were good kids, and then there were silly kids who really didn’t know any better, looking back. I probably cried on average three times a week. There were kids who deliberately covered their mouths when talking to their friends. There were kids who rolled their eyes and exaggeratedly moved their mouths to repeat something if I were to ask them to repeat themselves. There were kids who made fun of the .. hearing aid box I had to wear. It was a body hearing aid, with straps that went around your neck and around your back, and rested on your chest, while cords went from the aid connected to an earmold, which is inserted in your ear. Deafness was visible then. Hearing aids got smaller over the time, but you still had to have a harness or pocket to put something the size of a card deck. You could conceal it, but the cord was still coming out from under your shirt to your ear.
I liked team sports but was always the last to be picked. No one would put me in goal, because I don’t always hear, “over here, pass the ball” – so while soccer was my favourite sport, it’s a team sport, and, well, I can’t play like a teammate, passing to the right person when balls needed passing.
Now, when I think, I don’t think on the ball. I can’t. I need to process the information. I am a slow thinker. You can’t tell me jokes (In fact, after thirty years, I finally got a joke recently). If the multiplication question doesn’t involve 2, 5, 9, 10, or 11, I need time to compute. I had a certain teacher who singled me out in Grade 5 or 6. He bullied me, rushed me, made me feel inadequate.
I passed though. Those kids, even the silly ones, knew something that the teacher never thought of. I could read lips WITHOUT VOICES.
“3 times 7, Laurie.”
Looking at him, past him, actually looking at a student behind him. TWENTY-ONE, she mouthed.
And so on.
Yes, it was cheating as the teacher had no idea at the time. Did I feel guilty about it? a little bit. Most of all, I felt good. These kids had my back.
I had started to write this entry to remember the awful things, things that made me mad, and sad. Somehow, it’s turned into … bittersweet memories?
I know I probably had it pretty good, as far as education and family goes. We’ve had difficult patches, but we were there for each other.
I think everyone experiences exclusion at one time or another, for various reasons. For example, I could never really fit in with the hearing crowd in a broad sense. It was reality. I think I experienced more hurtful exclusion from the Deaf group back then. Because I could talk, I could “hear”. We did hang out a lot, but I was often reminded that because I went to normal school, and can talk, I wasn’t one of them. I could go on, but it doesn’t matter now.
I have to remember that most of these Deaf kids I went to school with went on to Jericho School for the Deaf.
You know about the residential schools. That particular Deaf school wasn’t any different for a lot of those kids that went. I’ve heard stories that gave me nightmares.
So I can’t stay angry at them.
Today’s phonecam snippets:
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $153 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country.
Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien. L’an dernier, le Conseil a investi 153 millions de dollars pour mettre de l’art dans la vie des Canadiennes et des Canadiens de tout le pays.
Published February 29, 2016