Looking for Something I Didn’t Know Was Missing

Two years after my first Cochlear implant, I was doing FABULOUSLY! I had just finished my sophomore year of high school in Kailua, Hawaii and I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.

My dad, a United States Marine, got stationed from Kaneohe Bay MCBH, Hawaii to the Pentagon in Washington, DC.  This was our Nth move (I can honestly say I have lost count throughout the years) and for me, well that’s life. For 14 years, my sister and I had never complained about moving but you can bet your butt this was one move we didn’t want to make…seriously who wants to leave Hawaii?! But we did what we had to do, packed up and moved into a beautiful house in Springfield, Virginia.

My new high school was only a mile away from my house but that didn’t stop the school from recommending that I attend Woodson High School (a mainstreamed school with a deaf program) over half an hour away. Of course, I had been accustomed to that kind of attitude and simply stated that I did not have any desire to attend a deaf school when this school was so close and the appropriate accommodations would need to be made for me. (An FM system, Closed Captioning on the televisions, and speech therapy) After deciding that I would in fact attend R. E. Lee High School, it was time for me to choose my classes. It was determined that some of the classes I took in Hawaii would not transfer over to Virginia, so I ended up taking two science classes and two history classes in my junior year of high school. All I had left to decide was which language I wanted to take.

Lee High School at that time offered over five different foreign languages including Japanese and German. There was one class I wanted to take, partly because I thought it’d be easy, American Sign Language. Readers might be surprised to know that I had never used American Sign Language growing up. I had only taken one course when I was fairly young with my mom and sister at a community college for fun and I had a dictionary that I learned specific words from once in a while but I never became a fluent user of ASL simply because I never felt I needed it.

When I went to my first ASL class, I made sure to arrive before the other students so I could tell my teacher that I had hearing loss and would need some special accommodations made for me. She promptly looked at me and said, “so?” It took me a while to realize, Oh! it’s a sign language class, I didn’t need to hear in this class. It was determined that I would not use the FM and I would be watching films in ASL for the most part so Captions would be added for the benefit of everyone in class. I learned vocabulary, etiquette and deaf culture and it ended up being one of my favorite classes.

I didn’t make a habit of telling students that I was hearing impaired and typically tried my best to hide it from people ESPECIALLY because I was already the NEW girl…I didn’t want to be the NEW girl with the THING on her ear…and that’s me being nice.  One day in ASL, my teacher was explaining that there were deaf people who used American Sign Language and there were deaf people everywhere. One boy rose his hand and asked the teacher if there were any deaf people in our school and the teacher stared at me and said “I don’t know, are there?” That was my cue…I answered with “huh?” (I didn’t HEAR the question!) Then I realized what I’d missed and said OH YEAH! I’M DEAF! and everyone’s jaw dropped clear through the floor.

I had done such a good job of hiding it that no one even suspected that I had any kind of hearing loss.  From then on, I got all kinds of curious questions and comments. One of my favorites was “You can’t be deaf, you can talk.” My teacher spent a little bit of time talking about cochlear implants and the anatomy of the ear. She also talked to us about Gallaudet University, the only university for deaf and hard of hearing people. My immediate response was “WHERE IS THAT?!” I had never heard of Gallaudet, nor did I know where it was located or what programs were offered but I knew then that I wanted to go.

Can you believe it? Gallaudet was only a 30 minute drive from my home!

During the Summer before my Senior Year, I attended a four week summer immersion program at Gallaudet University to learn American Sign Language.  That was the summer that changed my life. Yes receiving my cochlear implant was pretty life changing but coming into my deaf identity where there was none changed my future.