I find myself thinking back to my early childhood, three and four, a time prior to the discovery by my nursery school, during a routine exam, that I was deaf. I am deaf, I am hard of hearing, I am hearing impaired, one at a time and all at once. I have worn hearing aids since I was five. My level of hearing is not what this article is particularly about.
Before I was five, no one in my life, including myself, knew that I had trouble hearing. I think this is partly because I can hear voices that I have grown accustomed to, and little children are often spoken to in louder, more pronounced tones, and not expected to understand everything, anyway. My grandfather in particular, often spoke into my ear as he held me. As far as what I experienced, it felt fine. It didn’t seem like anything was wrong.
Before I wore hearing aids everyday, and began my education on how to be as like hearing people as possible, existence was peaceful and unconsolidated. My identity had not yet been designed by anyone, and the monastic calm that quiet brought, although I did not yet know it was quiet, allowed for me to experience a reality largely free from manufacture. I was able to view the images on television, but I did not know that there was a story that someone had written to go along with them. What I gleaned from Star Wars and He-Man was that men and boys lived more exciting lives, so in my imagination, as real then as anything, I was one. In nursery school, I spent long hours by myself drawing. I drew the interiors of castles and buildings, carefully laboring over each room and the stairways to every floor. We had read a story about a Page in a castle, a young boy that I likened myself to, and I drew him/myself into every picture. Nursery school progress reports from that time described me as being lost in my imagination perhaps too much, forever drawing castles and buildings. The only thing that interrupted me was the nuns, silently sweeping into the classroom with juice and crackers, which I could not receive unless I asked aloud, “May I.” I hated having to say “may I” instead of “can I”, but to this day saying “may I” is deeply ingrained.
The Story of Jesus
Holy Family was a Catholic school, and one of my earliest memories from this time was the teacher using a shamrock to instruct us about the holy trinity. “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” she would say, pointing to each of the three leaves of the shamrock as she went. My parents are not religious, and my father is Jewish, but Holy Family was a good school, so they enrolled me. When Miss Porter taught us the story of Jesus, it was the first time I had heard it. “And they put him in a closet,” was a line from the story that stood out to me, because it seemed jarringly out of context. I still hold the image in my mind of Jesus, crucified, being put into a closet. I could not fully imagine it because I didn’t see how the cross would fit through the closet door. I remained confused about this for many years of childhood, but was always too embarrassed to ask.
In My Father’s house, there are many mansions. If it were not so; I would have told you.
Now that I am older, and I remember those early years of deafness, I discovered that I have been able to recapture that feeling when I take my hearing aids out. I was always instructed by audiologists never to take them out, except for sleeping, swimming, or bathing. I have not thought much about it until more recent years…must I really adhere to this set of rules? What when I do not? The easiest time to leave my aids out is late at night, when everyone else has gone to sleep. I do not need to hear anything, and my cats can alert me to intruders or strange noises if I simply watch their ears and pay attention to them, and my right foot vibrates when a car goes by.
Because life is impermanent, seemingly meaningless and without order, we look for signs. I look for signs among the board games, books and puzzles at the Psych Ward, where I have been committed. A symbol, an image, or words on a book that might indicate to me that there is a larger meaning or process at work in my life. A sign that might serve as an anchor to keep me from completely floating away. It is dangerous for me to look for signs, because I always find them. I can find signs and connections between the images I see and things that have occurred in my life or that I find important, and I think those signs are meant for me. Things inconsequential on their own begin to link together in my mind, and they all lead up to the sign I see before me. But a sign must mean something. So what does it mean? As there is no real meaning, I must assign one. My brain wants it to signal something either extremely dire or wonderfully bright. I have learned over and over again that the signs mean nothing.
And if the signs mean nothing, then my reality becomes completely untethered. And I must realize again that within meaninglessness there can only be assigned meaning. Ultimately there is no meaning to anything, and within happiness is great suffering. Nothing will every be purely good or purely bad, it is all a mixture of complexity and the two cannot exist without each other. And that is what drives me insane.
When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in place of an eye, and a hand in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter the kingdom.
-Jesus, from the Gospel of Thomas
There is a mansion, a castle, that exists and captures the feeling of unstructured deafness and gender. A Georgian revival, for me, that exists in some realm certainly not this physical world, although it is based on a mansion I have seen and worked in, when I had a job in antiques. I saw, physically, how the mansion, which has long sat neglected but full of beautiful things, came alive when our staff fixed it up after months of cleaning. We brought the old mirrors up from the basement, rearranged the furniture in all the rooms, brought in a Steinway piano and threw a party. Guests came to enjoy the house and preview the sale. After a three-day auction, the contents of this magnificent mansion were auctioned off, and everyone packed up and left. Now it sits empty, cold and alone. In my mind, however, the mansion has returned, this house that has put such a spell over me. As I deconstruct, return to my deaf world and try to feel as I did as a child, the mansion appears more vividly. At first it dimly flickered like and old film projection, but without any noise from the spinning reel, a spot of gold and yellow surrounded by blackness. Now the long parlour has come into being, with the rest of the house around it.
When I return to my silent world, I see this house. Not cold and grey, but warmed by fires burning in the black marble hearths, the reflection of the flames glittering on the gold leaf mirrors above the mantles. The parlour has windows reaching almost to the ceilings, with cold glass panes that showcase the dark, dark night sky and silver stars. The clear dark sky of winter in Upstate New York. For in this world, it is always night.
Dimly lit chandeliers provide a calm yellow light, and I must use a candle if I move from room to room. So far I am just in one room, the parlour. I am still wary of going too far out of it, as it does not seem that any other rooms have materialized yet. In this mansion I am me, I just am. I do not feel gender, sound does not exist, time does not exist, but there is an ethereal feeling of mystery, as if the place is a sparkling eventuality.
Beyond the mansion, there is nothing. It is one existence within a larger existence. It is a mansion among many.