Emily Howlett: Never mind going deaf, I’m scared of going hearing

Posted on November 11, 2014

Once upon a time, many moons ago, a relatively young and still relatively pleasant version of me stood in the queue for dinner at school.

Even as a small (and relatively pleasant) person, I had a well-developed sense of when people were looking at me.

Hearing aids gave me access to some sound but nothing particularly useful, so I soon learnt to notice things. Like people lurking behind me.

Perhaps it comes from being deaf, or perhaps it comes from spending your formative years with a truly terrible fringe. We may never know.

As I stood there, trying to decipher whether the picture on the menu was sausages or broccoli, I just knew someone was looking at me. I turned round very, very slowly, because even as a child I had a taste for the dramatic, and saw the one and only Katie.

There were several Katies in my year at school, but this one was Katie.

In a similar vein to Madonna, Ronaldo and, er, Hitler, Katie needed only one name. Everybody knew who you were talking about if you simply said, “Katie”. They knew, and they fled.

She put her head on one side, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, people actually do that?’ swiftly followed by, ‘I really hope it’s broccoli, because she’s going to kill me and I’d hate to miss sausages.’

But Katie didn’t kill me. She just said, “Can’t you read? Is it because you can’t hear?”

Now, I’d love to say I came back with a pithy retort (perhaps, “Do you read with your ears?”), but in reality I probably just stood there trying not to say anything, lest it result in my being killed.

Katie was not the kind of child who needed an answer anyway. She merely continued; “It must be terrifying to be deaf. I don’t know how I’d cope if I couldn’t hear at all. What will you do if your ears stop working completely and you can’t hear anything? I feel sorry for you. I really do. You’re just always going to be deaf. You’re going to miss so much!”

And that was when I realised two things.

Firstly; it’s a big deal to other people. They are literally scared of being like me. And it’s not the fringe after all; it’s the deafness. They don’t think they would cope with the loss of that all-important auditory input.

Second, wow. They don’t hate me. They don’t fear me. They just don’t know if they could cope being me. And it’s not the fringe!

But, damn! What if these things in my ears stop working and I can’t hear anything? Eek. Seriously; eek!

And that ‘eek’ stayed with me for a long time; the fear that I would lose this tiny amount of residual hearing that had, amongst other things, got me into this brilliant mainstream school with its arty menus and its Katie.

I genuinely spent a lot of time worrying about it.

And then when it actually happened, when I suddenly became fully, completely, terrifyingly deaf, none of the worrying made any difference to how it actually felt. Or how I coped with it. (Badly.)

And, you know, it’s so funny to think back to those times. It’s so funny, because Katie, aged eight years and three months, unwittingly tapped into a fear that I think, one way or another, I will carry with me forever.

Except now it’s polarised; imagine if your ears start working again?

Imagine never being able to just switch off from the noise of the world.

Imagine never having freedom from sound.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve experienced it for so long that it’s a safe haven for me to revisit, but I truly love it.

Letting go of trying to listen, and carrying on with one less thing to worry about; sound.

Knowing there is no way that I could hear anything right now, and not even trying to engage with noise, or speech, or a passing Katie.

Ah, Katie. I wonder where you are now? I hope you’re very successful and very happy.

But even if you are, I’m afraid I feel sorry for you. I really do. You’re just always going to be hearing. You’re going to miss so much.

And I don’t mean the sausages.

By Emily Howlett. Emily is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and teacher. Emily is co-director of PAD Productions and makes an awful lot of tea. And mess. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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