When you’ve needed hearing aids all your life, and finally get them at the age of 32, mostly the world sounds like water. At first, you crane your neck looking for fountains, but really it’s only traffic. You keep an eye out for waterfalls, but apparently that’s just what air sounds like.
To celebrate, the first day you get your hearing aids, you go to the 540 club for a mimosa and you’re in awe because when you pay, you can hear the dollars rubbing against each other. You can hear your fingers brushing against your jeans. You tell the bartender this and he probably thinks you’re crazy, but he congratulates you like he means it. You sit outside, marveling that the voices of small children from half a block away are making their way into your ear canals. It’s a little overwhelming. You gulp your drink, buzzed on champagne and little flits of Mandarin that carry from the produce store patrons next door.
You go on a date and you put in your hearing aids, and that guy never calls you, so the next time you go on a date, you don’t put them in. You can still hear most things. You’re not all that deaf — just partly deaf. Everything without hearing aids is more flat, more hollow than it’s supposed to be, and your ears left to their own devices can’t catch that “din” that your audiologist explained was the world, was what you’d been missing all these years. Plus, things like this kept happening, which was why you finally booked the appointment:
Cute guy from massage business down the hall: [mumblemumble]
You: I’m sorry?
Massage guy: [mumblemumble]
You: I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.
Massage guy: Oh, I was just saying, WHAT’S UP?
You: Right. Ha.
You don’t always wear the hearing aids, because it’s strange, still. Everyone seems closer. Everyone seems high def. The bus is unbearably loud. Your audiologist is very encouraging, even when he can clearly see when he hooks them into his computer that you’ve only logged about 20 hours of wearing time in two weeks. “You’re a natural!” he crows. You feel unnatural.
But some things are beautiful, birds and the rhythmic beeps and booms and scrapes of the city, and some of your favorite music has lyrics and beats you never knew about, so it’s like you’re listening to it for the first time.
Also, when the world is too much, you can shut it off with a click. Most people can’t.
Your friends make fun of you all the time, but affectionately, and your hearing deficit is just a part of you, but actually hearing is a challenge in a way you never expected. You’re like an old person and like a baby at the same time, which for right now, you guess, isn’t a bad way to spend the days.
Melissa Chandler is in San Francisco, writing and enjoying the clackety sounds.