Otherness Project Exceptional Learners David Tri effI am deaf. I am at Starbucks. I want to order coffee. I have to do it on paper rather than out loud because I speak so poorly, I don’t like to try. I intend to write it down and show it to the barista, but I am nervous. I don’t know if I am more nervous because I am not really deaf and I feel guilty or because I am different from the other customers and I will be labeled as disabled.
I am not looking forward to placing my order. I order a medium decaf coffee by holding up a notebook with the phrase “Medium Decaf Coffee, Please.” The young man at the counter does a quick transformation from a confident good looking guy to a bumbling embarrassed guy. He says,” yes sir” three or four times. He spends a long time giving change from a five dollar bill for a coffee. Then, he hands me $4. 27.
(The bill was $1. 73) He seems hesitant and confused, and I’m thinking that he’s too worried about hurting my feelings to reconsider if he has the correct change. I shake my head: “no.” He goes thru an explanation (that makes absolutely no sense) of why it is the correct change. Then, he hands it back to me, and I again shake my head: “no.” He then thinks a second, and he gives me $2. 27 change, shorting me a dollar, and then as an afterthought he finally corrects it and gives me the right change. He is clearly addled.
And I feel bad for causing him anxiety, especially since it is all a drama for the paper. But, I am trying to maintain my position as a deaf man. I am trying not to respond to sound stimuli. There’s no crime in looking though-for a deaf man. In fact, I enjoyed a heightened sense of sight as I drove without radio accompaniment in my car. I am not talking to anybody.
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And if they are talking to me, I am avoiding their eyes because I am so busy looking at the words coming out of their mouths. Though I am a bit excited by my isolation, I am also of course, just plain lonely to be so apart from others and their community. I notice I have a message on my cell phone, and I am not supposed to answer it, because I am not able to answer it at this time. I answer it anyway thinking it may be someone I love or it may be someone I work with that will give me money. I am so fortunate to be able to communicate by cell phone with such ease when my alter ego that is deaf is unable to do so. In fact, my alter ego can use cell phones today.
There are cell phones capable of sending messages with the key pad, thus bypassing the need for speaking and hearing voice. But, it is definitely not as simple as my cell phone. I go to the bathroom, and while I am sitting in there, (a restroom designed for just one person, ) someone knocks on the door loudly a few times. Ordinarily, I would speed up or at least answer to let them know that I am in here and that I am aware of their need. Today though, I do nothing for I can not hear them knocking, and therefore I am not aware that they are even there. Normally, in such a situation, when I exit the individual restroom, I will pan the room with my eyes to see if the person is attending the restroom waiting for me to exit.
I want to help them get their rest in the toilet. But today, I have no concern that they will think me in courteous. For, I did not even know that they had need of the facility. A song that I love comes on the radio, and it soothes my soul right at this moment like an angel; I drink it — in one great big gulp. Then, I tell myself, “No, you can’t hear that; withdraw the sense of hearing and the consequent joy that comes from that sense.” I wrestle with the need to be true to the otherness in exercise. I cling selfishly to the ability to hear.
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And music gains a new profundity that usually is only felt in spurts of catharsis; instead catharsis takes over as my baseline of experience with every song that is played on the radio, and my heart is in my ears pining for the sounds that arise in the room to warm me. I turn away from my ears to my eyes and the vision seems empty and dull. Earlier the sight was invigorating but now it feels lifeless. As I drive away from the Starbucks, I have a strong desire to go back to tell the guy behind the counter that I’m not really deaf / mute . I want to assure him that I’m like him. I want to be part of his community.
I want him to acknowledge that we are the same. I don’t want to be separated from him. Later, I’m driving my car and I notice an attractive man in a wheelchair. He catches me staring and he motions me for permission to move in front of my car to cross the street. I wave him across.
He confidently and deftly maneuvers himself across the street reminding me with a hand signal that I am not to move my car while he is in front of me. He equally efficiently makes his way across to the other side of the street through the oncoming traffic and up the driveway of the parking lot on the other side of the street. As he makes his way across I think of going to him and asking him out, and how that would infuriate my boyfriend. I think of how confident he is and how skilled and strong. I think of how able he is.
And I remember how I was feeling at Starbuck’s knowing that the cashier was trying so hard not to hurt my feelings, because he was apparently certain how sensitive I would be to social discomfort regarding my condition of deafness. I felt offended and hurt and disappointed that the cashier did not recognize my talents. I’m deaf but I’m still an astrologer, , massage therapist, meditation instructor, teacher, and businessman. I am a well rounded person with an added dimension due to my lack of hearing.
I have perspectives that come to me entirely from my deafness that no one but a deaf person can access. Will he recognize my strengths? Will he recognize my completeness, my wholeness, the synthesis of all my individual parts? Right now he doesn’t. These are the things I thought of as I watched that attractive man make his way across the street, while I wished that I was trotting along beside him.
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