A history whittled down to this single story …. Hafizah Geter
When I was young, my family used to take a picnic to Silver Lake, somewhere in the Adirondacks. We went often enough that I was able to remember the big standing rock many yards beyond the beach, and the dark, cold drop off several yards beyond that.
Other families sometimes joined us, but usually it was just the four of us. I liked it best when it was just the four of us. Back then my little brother Johnny and I didn’t fight as much, the three year age difference making me a true big sister. (Johnny never forgot our age difference. He used to say, with mock sadness, “You know, you’re going to die first because you’re older”.) It was also because without my hearing aid, I couldn’t hear a thing and I didn’t feel like wasting time trying to decipher the undulating lips of adults and children shouting uselessly at me.
Back then we bothered lugging bags of Kingsford Charcoal, and stoking the embers in those raised rectangular grills to just the right heat for memorable hamburgers and hotdogs. We toasted the buns, too. Mom made her potato salad without eggs because Johnny didn’t like hard boiled eggs. It was years before I tasted potato salad with hard boiled eggs and I felt a little cheated.
We never ate right away, and dashed into the cold water like bears escaping a horde of hornets. We didn’t want to waste any time with the mandatory wait-an-hour-after-eating-or-you-will-die-of-stomach-cramps rule.
I used to pretend I was Daniel Boone’s daughter Jemima, swimming away from outlaws, and shooting away underwater, just above the lakebed, at breakneck speed. I always shook them off. I would seek out the big standing rock and rise above the water and wave to my folks, eagle-eyed on the shore. To this day I’m not sure how well either of them could swim but there they were, scanning the lake like meerkats.
After a late lunch and the mandatory one hour wait to avoid certain watery death, we would plunge back in. I would feel a little more desperate this time, as I could see the sun lowering, and I was sure it moved faster than normal. I never wanted to leave the water, which by now was perfect, like cool bathwater. I had plenty more outlaws to avoid, mermaids to meet and forays towards the drop off to make, which always made my stomach plunge and my mind race with the possibilities of deep lake-dwelling creatures.
While the shadows lengthened, Mom and Dad cleaned up the picnic area and packed the car. This was my cue to turn around and put my back to them. I couldn’t see their waving arms or hear Dad’s signature whistle (which I still use to call my cats). Silly as it was, it bought me time, maybe 30 minutes. When I finally swam back to shore, feeling the chill of the descending dusk, they weren’t angry at me. I saw their secret smiles as they recognized that for me, at this time, my deafness gave me a small and rare advantage.
And there it was, my history whittled down to a single story, a single experience that set me up for future disappointments because there were no longer opportunities to use my deafness to my advantage as a grownup, other than a good night’s sleep. I couldn’t ignore silly bosses, small-minded people, or noisy situations by just turning my back. Real life held many outlaws and tyrants, and I had to plunge into the cold depths to meet them head on.
About the Author
Patricia Mirza is a 64-year-old woman with severe to profound hearing loss. She’s had hearing loss since birth and was mainstreamed through public schools. Patricia had a year or two of speech therapy in the early school elementary years; she managed to thrive and do well, thanks to wonderful parents and a few very special and forward-thinking educators. As she notes, she deserves some credit, too! Pat has a BA in English, worked for the federal government for 32 years, and is now retired. Pat is the primary caregiver for her husband, who has early dementia. Her writing often features her experiences with hearing loss.