Being deaf isolates you from people. From hearing people, anyway. That’s true, obviously, but sometimes deaf people forget they aren’t actually alone. A deaf couple was chatting amiably, well, maybe amorously is the better term, as Doug was eating lunch in a Luby’s Restaurant.
If you’ve ever eaten in a Luby’s, you’d be surprised to learn of anyone feeling amorous or frisky there, because it just isn’t that kind of place. Something about standing in line and holding a tray with a bunch of retirees quells any rising sap, if you know what I mean.
Still this couple was chatting away and working up a bit of lather. Sometimes even a Luby’s can’t dampen the heat of young love, or lust or whatever. So these two were talking about each other’s bodies and what they planned to do with various body parts when then got home or maybe even to the car.
To be perfectly honest, many sexual signs in American Sign Language (ASL) are graphic enough that even most hearing folks can make them out with a little effort, but Doug didn’t need to make any effort. He was deaf and quite fluent in both sexuality and ASL. He was alone and bored in a Luby’s, so watching an erotic conversation a couple of tables away didn’t seem like too bad a way to spend a few minutes.
Now, hearing people tend to stare at deaf people in public. Some are being rude. Some are being judgmental. Some are trying to see if they can understand any signs. Some are just confused. And some probably don’t even realize they are staring. Anyway, this deaf couple wasn’t surprised to see someone watching them talk.
They decided to check it out and signed a couple of questions to Doug to see if he understood anything. For his part, he thought the prudent thing to do would be to pretend to be hearing. When they signed to him, he just looked confused and shrugged his shoulders. Feeling relieved, they sort of waved him off and went back to their conversation. He gave them the hearing sign for “OK,” and all seemed well.
And it would have been fine, too, except a hearing acquaintance of Doug’s happened in at about that time. It wasn’t an amazing coincidence or anything—this acquaintance just worked across the street. Anyway, he knew that he and Doug would be at an event later in the week and signed, “Hey, how are you? I’ll see you Thursday, right?”
Doug blushed. The couple blushed. And for reasons he didn’t understand, the acquaintance blushed.
The FedEx delivery driver was a little aggressive. I mean she acted like delivering our packages was keeping her from the really important tasks on her list, but we all sort of thought delivering our packages should be the important task on her list, but most of us were too timid to actually say so. In fact, we were pretty deferent.
Imogen said, “She might talk to you that way, but she’s not going to try it with me, because I know where she stays. I know where her Daddy goes to church, and I know where she went to school. No sir, she’s not going to come in here talking to me about being stressed.
“Stressed? Black people may have worries that put them in the ground, but they don’t talk about being stressed. ‘Stressed’ is how white people talk, and Black people only talk about stress when they’re talking to white people.
“Make nothing of it. She’ll do what she has to do, and I’ll do what I have to do, and we’ll get our documents on time every day, and everybody will get along just fine.”
And Imogen was right, more or less, as we didn’t have any more big problems in our office. We developed a mutual if grudging respect with our delivery driver, until she was suddenly replaced by a young man that the ladies in office obviously found preferable for reasons I won’t go into.
We heard something about our former driver leaving some pretty important boxes on a loading dock over at the law school without getting any signatures. Someone seemed to think it wasn’t a good idea to leave legal documents unaccounted for, so we got this nice new young man who looked like he knew how to handle all kinds of boxes, or at least that’s what the ladies said.
People overstate the importance of first impressions. It’s possible to change your impressions of someone, for better or worse, on second or third impressions. It is even possible to change your mind about someone after 25 years. I’m sure of all that, but some people sure do make memorable first impressions.
Sharon pretty much introduced herself to me by saying, “Well, I’m a Black bisexual woman who just wants to make trouble and maybe help make a better world.” Some people would say that for shock effect, but I don’t think she really cared about that. She just liked to vet new friends. It’s sort of like those signs that say, “You must be this tall to get on this ride.” If you were bothered by her introduction, then she didn’t need to waste any more time on you.
As far as I could tell, she loved life. She loved men and women. She loved humanity. Somehow, the world can’t accommodate people like that, though. Some of us just never find a safe place. One day she would talk about all the drama women cause. The next day she would lament all the baggage Black men bring on dates with them. What’s the difference between anger, fear, grief, or love?
Blame the structure of the world. Blame biology. Blame the devil. Do what you want, but it is hard for some of us to feel connected to anything. It’s like that Jimmy Cliff line about how loneliness would never leave him alone. You know, we’re all in this together—it’s just that we seem unable to share the burden of that, so we’re all seekers.
So, anyway, at her funeral, her aunt gets up and tells all the family and other busy bodies that no one knows where Sharon is now but Sharon and God, and no one else even needs to worry about it, so just shut your mouth and show a little respect. I guess some people think Heaven is a hotel that rejects people who couldn’t find safe shelter on Earth. Some people believe in a God that locks the door for his most sensitive children.
I guess that’s just our nature. We all want to feel we’re blessed. We want to feel protected in the end. We’re not like the others, somehow. Flannery O’Connor’s Mrs. Turpin had this vision of good Christian folks like herself having their virtue “being burned away” as they descended into Hell while her inferiors sang and praised their way into Heaven. Some of us find out we are like the others before it is too late. Some of us don’t.
Cancer complicates things. By things I guess I mean relationships, though I’m sure it complicates many other things as well. Still, it does a number on relationships. People are just going along planning their lives with certain expectations, and—bam!—cancer throws everything out of whack.
It’s like how people thought Johnny Ramone should visit Joey on his deathbed, but Johnny thought he was the last person on earth Joey would want to see as he drew his last breaths. Would Joey be more of a monster for not visiting or for showing up? I don’t have to figure it out, so I’ll leave it to you decide.
I just know there are some people I would never want to come to me as I lay dying, but others would be forgiven and welcomed on sight without a second thought, because I miss them so much. I don’t think Joey was missing Johnny, though, so maybe Johnny made the right decision. I know I wasn’t going to choose sides, but I never know what I’m doing from minute to minute, so it’s something we have to get used to.
Anyway, Kat knew her husband was wanting a divorce when she got the diagnosis. Just his damned luck she got sick and people would think he was a real heel to leave her in the lurch. Kat was not one of the people who thought that. In all honesty, she wanted him to get out of the way so she could at least have enjoyable sex once or twice before she got too sick, so she wasn’t wanting him to hang around.
Family and friends are sure to have an opinion about whatever choice he made, though, and it wasn’t easy to negotiate everything. How do you explain to your grown daughters that you are happier for their father to leave so you can enjoy getting laid once or twice before you are laid to rest? It can be done, sure, but let’s face it—it’s not a fun conversation.
She managed the whole thing somehow, though. She had an amicable divorce, was happy with how the property was divided, and managed to sleep with her divorce attorney. Not a bad trick, really.
I’m not one to say whether there’s such a thing as a happy death, but some seem much worse than others. I guess death is always traumatic for the living. Even if you don’t know a soul in the world and die anonymously in the street, someone has to find your body. Someone has to report it. Someone has to pick it up. Some find it more traumatic than others, but you are sure to leave some pain in your wake, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.
So that’s something we have to live with. As we die.
Linda Goulden’s new pamphlet, Speaking parts, is a collection of 28 poems written in 28 voices. In full disclosure, I must a say I know Linda Goulden and only admire her work, so you won’t be wondering whether I will recommend you get a copy as you already know you should get a copy. You should also go see her perform if the opportunity arises.
As I said, the poems reflect different voices, sometimes from history (Mary Stuart), sometimes from non-humans (a bee queen or a catch from the sea), sometimes from characters in a painting, and sometimes from her own fertile mind. Goulden takes obvious delight in language, as is the poet’s wont, and the result is strikingly original phrasing.
Some of her poems utilise the occasional rhyme, and some do not, but none of the poems ignores meter or form, and none falls into a repetitive meter with predictable rhymes. Each poem brings its own surprises in language that is both soft and compelling. Some of the poems require a bit of attention to get the meaning, as they are not superficial, but your efforts reap their rewards in short order. (That last bit is for people like me who have short attention spans and tend to lose interest before unraveling lengthy metaphors or allegories.)