A Voice Unheard: My Mother and I: Part 2

Dear Michael and Caroline,

I suspect, for example, that having a deaf mother made me especially sensitive to sound. All my life it seems my ears have operated really well, tuned in to pick up even the lowest frequency on the airwaves. And I’ve long had a particular aversion to the sound of many voices at once, and the burden of trying to make out who is saying what. And I particularly hate noise.

As for why any of this is so, maybe it’s because, in seeing my mother live her life deaf, I’ve tried somehow to make up for it, to balance out the universe.

Maybe it’s because, as happened in my earliest boyhood, when I carried on conversations over the phone with my grandmother on behalf of my mother, I’ve come to function as her proxy, her set of ears for the world at large.

As theories go, it’s pretty good, and certainly comes in handy.

Another theory is along similar lines: that I am conducting an act of compensation. All my life my mother never heard me at all. Never heard my voice, nor heard anything I did nor a single word I said. In our conversations, she frequently misunderstood me, asking me to repeat myself, to speak more slowly and more clearly. All this back and forth must have frustrated me, yet I tried and tried, because I had the largest of all incentives, that of wanting to please my mother, to see her smile. And eventually, years later, she would generally understand me just fine. But all that struggle, the difficulty of getting through, the hardship of letting her know what I wanted for lunch or where I was going with my friends, must have marked me for life – left me, if you will, as Shakespeare said of Richard III’s deformity, “rudely stamped.”

And so it was that early on in my life, in my teens, I decided to be a writer. For as a writer I could try to make myself understood at least, maybe even minimize the probability of being misunderstood. And rather than my mother asking me to repeat myself, I could do my own revisions until I got the words right. My writing would make sure I would never again go unheard. Everyone who read me would, in effect, hear my cries.

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