Sunday, February 5, 2012

TILL DEAF DO US PART: Life In A Mixed Marriage

Webster defines “marriage” as “the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law.” For the word “contract,” they define it as a “binding agreement.” Also listed as a definition for “contract” is “an order or arrangement for a hired assassin to kill another person or people.” Coincidence? I think not.

When my husband, Kenny, and I were married back in 1994, I still had a little hearing in my left ear. Just as my whole life I spent walking on the right side of people and using my left ear as a satellite to hone in on the sounds I was trying to hear, I did the same with Kenny and my hearing loss was never a real problem. However, fast-forward to 1999, and my sudden total lack of hearing was bound to cause some riffs in our happily ever after.

I must give my hubby a lot of credit though. When my deafness struck, he didn’t run for the hills. He stayed with me, even learning sign language to help communicate fully with me. I was lucky. I knew it then and I know it now. But, hey, he’s lucky, too. I ain’t no consolation prize.

After my complete hearing loss, it was suddenly clear just how scary deaf people are to hearing people. I started noticing a change. Sure, they had avoided me before, when I had some hearing, but being stone deaf brought new meaning to the phrase: Run For Your Life!!!! I’m talking the kind of change that makes me think I may need to change my clothes. I must stink. There can’t be any other reason why hearing people (hearies) are avoiding me. I’m talking dodge ball. I enter the room and people practically dive behind the furniture to keep from having to encounter my presence. I’ve always noticed it and Kenny started to notice it, too.

Now that I’ve been stone deaf for 13 years, it’s evident that I intimidate people. How Kenny and I have chosen to deal with this sometimes varies, but almost always incorporates humor into the scene.

At our church here in Grand Rapids, we enter the building and are immediately separated till the service starts. As long as he’s standing with me, signing, no one wants to approach. So, he sneaks off into the other section of the congregation to schmooze with his “people” and I make a b-line for the Deaf Ministry section to save our seats. His instruction is to wait 10 minutes into the service and then crawl on his hands and knees into my section and pop up into the chair without being noticed. If anyone asks, he dropped his tithe. That usually shuts them up.

We walk into a furniture store, wanting to find what’s on clearance because our smelly dog has thoroughly infested our couch with her odor. The salesmen, whom I endearingly call “the buzzards,” are standing there, ready for the kill. How do I keep them away? Simple. I start signing to Kenny. That shakes them up and they suddenly see spots on the ceiling that need to be stared at. We get all the way to the back where the clearance items are without anyone trying to show us their fresh and stylish new recliners. If Kenny wants help, there’s usually three or four, slowly guiding themselves along the floor. When he approaches them and begins to talk, all of sudden you can see two other salesman snapping their fingers and counting their loss. Man, I should have talked with the death people, they think. Should have. Us death people have money, too. (Though I whole-heartedly admit that I’m thankful when they don’t approach until I give them the clue that I’m interested.)

Sitting in a crowded Applebee’s, Kenny and I are entranced with their menu—trying to figure out what we’d like for dinner. The waitress appears and sees me signing to Kenny. “Oh, is she hearing impaired? I just love those people. They’re so fun to watch! What do you think she wants to eat for dinner tonight?” Hmmm. Kenny’s intestines on a plate if he answers her. Just kidding. He would never do that. I’m far scarier when I’m angry than when I’m simply confused out in public.

Kenny and I are pretty outgoing with the people we encounter while out and about. Because of this, I think we get asked a lot of questions about my deafness than those who give the impression that they’ll bite you if you speak to them. In fact, some of the things we’re asked amaze me. Sure, there are many questions that all hearies have and many of them make sense. But sometimes I gotta wonder what these people lack in their lives—I mean, do they just sit around and think up these questions? Most of the time, I’m not surprised...most of the time.

Sitting in the mall, taking a break from Barnes & Noble, Kenny and I sign away. “You two are such a cute couple!” A woman, clad in hot pink leggings and little on top was standing over us, gushing away.

“Thanks,” we nodded to her and smiled.

“Can I ask you a question?” She was going to ask anyway, so we just continued to smile. “Being deaf, are you guys even able to, you know, be intimate?” I’d heard it all, or though I thought. But someone asking me if I can have a sex life with my husband was the ultimate befuddlement. What I wanted to say was that, if she gave me her email address, we would gladly post a how-to vlog once we got home. I didn’t want to embarrass Kenny though. So, I said the next best thing.

“Oh, we’re able to be intimate. The only hassle is that we have to plan it 24 hours in advance. You know, in order to get an interpreter in there with us.”

Looking quite confused, her friend comes along and pulls her away. I’m left feeling rejuvenated. How nice it is to educate the general public. That woman will have an image burned into her mind for years to come.

My point is this: Although Kenny and I have had our share of very stressful times, there’s going to have to be far more than deafness to break us apart. We love each other “till death do us part,” and nothing’s going to change that. Now please excuse me while I go make a phone call. Hey, an interpreter isn’t going to show up on their own. They need 24 hours advance notice, remember? (wink)


  1. My relationship has stood the test of time too, 22 years. However I do know others who went deaf and partners divorced them and friends stopped coming and they lost jobs, to be be then hounded by welfare support areas. We need to spare a thought for those people too, who can isolated for life.

  2. Thanks, MM. You're absolutely right. I know of many people who have encountered that. It's a sad, sad day when "for better or worse" becomes conditional.

  3. A funny perspective on all-too-common occurrences!

  4. Thanks for the enlightening article. I'm blessed to be married to the most wonderful hearing woman. You may be pleased (or dismayed) to know that every time we dine out, my wife is usually given the check by the waitstaff. :)

    1. Kevin, I am dismayed! Once they find out I'm Deaf, they usually avoid even eye contact at all counts. Kinda as if they were afraid I'm contagious. LOL I am happy to know that you are so blessed with a happy marriage. That doesn't happen often nowadays. :v)

  5. Contagious... LOL! So true! One time at work, we had some sort of pot-luck fiesta at work. I brought my favorite dish: chicken risotto (cooked by moi). At the end of the day, all the servings by co-workers were empty - EXCEPT mine! In fact, it was still 90% full. If I didn't affix my name to the dish, it would be empty (and enjoyed by all). It's too bad that deafness has some yuckiness factor to it.

  6. I swear this just cracked me up. I'm an interpreter (please don't call me) and I have to say I love reading your blog. Having worked with the deaf many years it still blows my mind some of the things hearies do.

  7. Hey, Sara, you actually made me laugh out loud with your "please don't call me" remark. I'm so glad you like my blog. Keep the comments coming. Love to hear from you. Thanks! :v)

  8. Lovely blog. I grew up with a blind mother and waitresses would ask me what she wanted to order, not all the time but often enough that you just wanted to hug the waitresses that got it right and addressed my mother directly.

  9. Hi, Lisa! Looks like we may have some commonality. Thanks for sharing!