birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


“What about a car bomb?” I asked. I was sitting in the backseat of our car and hadn’t understood the first part of the conversation between my husband and brother who were sitting up front. Their laughter was immediate and uproarious. Nobody had said anything about a car bomb.
This wasn’t the first time I had misunderstood something. It wasn’t that I didn’t hear. I did hear. But sometimes I didn’t understand. My mind would create meaning from imperfectly perceived sounds with often hilarious results. The underlying cause, however, was not funny. Not at all funny. I was losing my hearing.
For several years I’d been saying “what” and “huh” often enough to try my husband’s patience. Then he would raise his voice to an unmodulated shout. His annoyance hurt my feelings. I didn’t yell at him when he needed my sharp eyes to read them something. It didn’t seem fair that my auditory disability and his visual one weren’t just trade-offs.
Still I had to admit there were certain people I just couldn’t understand. I’d smile and nod and move away from them as quickly as I could. The sensation was like having my ears plugged at 40,000 feet. Or like trying to do the breaststroke through a pool of petroleum jelly. It didn’t matter how hard I struggled, I made no headway. Sometimes I could not understand what people were saying to me.
There were lots of reasons why my hearing could be impaired. I had taught in a public high school for many years. The fire alarm claxon was loud enough to damage anyone’s ears. And then, of course, I chaperoned dances where the music volume was cranked up to benefit the man in the moon. Heredity probably also played a role in my hearing deficit. My father was not deaf but he was very hard of hearing. He had hearing aids and he refused to use them. He could manage one-on-one face-to-face conversations but at gatherings for more than three people, he would just tune out. He refused to go to the movies. And the TV in his house was always playing MUCH TOO LOUD.
For a long time, I blamed my day-to-day misunderstandings on my husband’s mumbling and the TV shows I couldn’t understand because of the British accents or because the actors spoke really fast. Think West Wing and Downton Abbey plus I’m sure that no one understands Benedict Cumberbatch on Sherlock. I blamed the flat-screen TV for sound distortion and bought a sound bar. That didn’t help much.
Finally, I agreed to get my hearing tested. I sat in the soundproof booth and repeated words piped into my ears, first the right, and then the left. Cat. Room. Tree. Knees. I had no trouble hearing any of the words. My confidence soared. The problem was not my hearing. It was my husband’s lazy enunciation.
When the test was completed the technician gave me the results. The good news: my brain could still make meaning from sounds. The bad news: I wasn’t hearing sounds accurately anymore. Maybe I heard “bat” instead of “cat.” Or “niece” instead of “knees.” Or “car bomb” instead of “fair lawn.” I did hear this statement clearly: “If you want to hear you will wear hearing aids all the time.”
I ordered a pair of digital hearing aids. They were expensive but worth every dollar. There was a brief period of adjustment when normal every-day sounds like turning the page of a newspaper or setting glass down on the counter seemed shockingly loud. My husband was transformed from a “mumbler” into a “banger.” He seemed to be banging everything he touched. The insides of my ears itched and tickled and tingled. Eventually, though, I adjusted to real, not muffled, sound.
I knew all the aggravation was worth it when I heard my soft-spoken daughter say how happy she was that her mom could hear her again.

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