I had an experience today. A deaf experience, to be precise, as is par for the course for a deaf person. My piss-poor hearing frequently leads me to have awkward encounters when out and about in the world. For the most part, people are generally forgiving. Today, however, I found myself becoming an unintentional nuisance to those around me, and was met with a less than patient response.
Let me start by painting you a picture.
There I was, up to my elbows in the coupons my 14-month-old daughter had just ripped unceremoniously from my coupon bag and scattered across the aisle. We were halfway through our weekly grocery store visit, and the cart was piled high. We’d gotten there late that day due to a poop catastrophe (the dog’s, this time, not the baby’s), and it was bordering on nap time. That meant my daughter was starting to fuss. Outside, it was pouring down rain. The kind of icy, mid-February downpour that makes you regret waking up in the morning.
A little bit about my disability, just for context.
On a good day and in a soundproof booth, I have 84% hearing in my right ear, and that’s with the aid of a Cochlear Implant. In my left ear, there’s nothing. Add to that the canned grocery store music, the deli pickup announcements, the white noise, and the growing volume from my babbling daughter, and I’m suddenly useless at differentiating where noise is coming from.
But that’s life. I’ve learned to be ultra attentive. I know how to spot body language and can read it like a book. Out of the corner of my eye, I can tell when someone has asked me to please move six or seven times. I can smell impatience. I can taste contempt. I navigate around it in apologies and excuse-mes, and usually, I do a pretty damned good job of passing as able-bodied.
You have to, with an invisible disability like deafness.
Today, shoving coupons back into the bag while my daughter pointed at a brightly colored cereal box and began to wail, the batteries on my Cochlear Implant died.
Now usually, I’m prepared. I always carry spare batteries with me. Come on, I mean, I’m not an amateur. But today, as my fingers swept my empty pockets, I realized I’d left my battery pack on the seat of my car. For one horror stricken moment, I stood there in the ringing silence of the cereal aisle and watched crocodile tears roll down my daughter’s cheeks. An older lady on her cell phone walked past us with a positively contemptuous look on her face. I debated abandoning the cart and running out to the car for the spares, but I knew I was running on borrowed time. Also, there was the rain to consider.
Making a game time decision, I opted to soothe my daughter as best as I could and rush to finish the grocery shopping.
So I did just that. In complete and total silence.
If you thought my senses were heightened before, they were tripled now. I fumbled through the remaining aisles, staring intently into the faces of everyone I passed and singing (loudly and off-key–what did you expect from a deaf girl?) to my temporarily satiated infant. At this point, my anxiety was kicking into overdrive.
Is this woman behind me going to ask me to move?
Am I in this man’s way?
Is this store clerk speaking to me or the woman behind me?
We finished without another disaster and came to the registers. We got into line and my heart lodged itself neatly in my throat.
Now look, I’ve done this a million times. This isn’t my first rodeo, and I’ve been deaf long enough that I know how to navigate social situations in total silence without tipping anyone off. (I don’t want to brag, but my lip reading skills are pretty great. Friends in high school used to ask me to read their crushes’ lips across the cafeteria. I’m a very handy spy, and knew exactly who all the boys were asking–or not asking–to prom. Do you know how valuable that information is to a sixteen-year-old girl? It’s priceless.)
But motherhood is still new to me, and I’ve not had to bullsh*t my way through these same scenarios with a sleepy infant and her recent bout of crippling stranger danger.
So, as you can imagine, this is where the metaphorical sh*t hit the fan.
I know the social cues. The conversation is always the same. Or, generally, anyway.
Them: Hi, how are you doing today?
You: Good, and you?
Them: Great………Do you have a [grocery store name redacted] card?
You: No I don’t, sorry.
Them: No problem, I’ll put one in for you.
You: Awesome, thanks!
Them: Here’s your receipt, have a great day!
You: Thanks, you too!
It’s fairly straightforward. The trick, you see, isn’t in what to say, but how loudly to say it. Too loud, and you’re suddenly shouting at the cashier and they’re quietly wondering if that’s alcohol they smell on your breath (nope, just coffee. I’m not drunk, just deaf and over-caffeinated). Too quiet, and no one can hear a damned word you say.
On this particular day, things started poorly and got progressively worse.
First, my cashier had an accent. Great.
She was also really into babies. Double great.
My smile, at this point, was about to crack my face in half. It doesn’t help that I have resting-bitch-face, which makes me look rude and slightly annoyed right off the bat, so I was doing my very best Joker impersonation in a well-meaning attempt to convince her that I really was a nice person, promise!
So, grinning like a madwoman, I did my very best to make small talk about my sniffling infant as the subject in question attempted to claw her way out of the cart and into my arms.
He was bent in half and still wearing his lounge-slippers and probably old enough to have lived through all of the wars. I’m sure he was lovely. I’m sure he just wanted to tell me how his grand kids were all grown and to hold onto the moments as they come. That’s usually the gist of it.
But by this point, my daughter was DONE with the grocery store and DONE with strangers and, quite frankly, DONE with me. “Very-Nice-Elderly-Man-With-No-Personal-Space-Awareness” leaned in just a little bit too close, and that was it. My daughter erupted like Mount Vesuvius. I couldn’t hear her, but I could feel her little screams wracking her body through her green canvas jacket.. Her face turned pink, then red, then purple. The old man was continuing to apologize. The cashier was saying something to me with an all-too-familiar expression on her face. I call it the “what are you, deaf?!” face. It’s fitting, because yes, yes I am. I scanned the conveyor belt for context clues (having missed every chance I had to read her lips) and saw that my credit card was still in the chip reader.
You already know what’s happening at this point.
We all know it. We all hate it: That BLARING sound the chip reader makes when you forget your credit card for even an eighth of a second, like Satan is being summoned up from the depths of hell to smite you for your error. Well, I couldn’t hear it, but everyone else sure could. Between that and my daughter, I’d managed to attract a lot of eyes. As in all of them. All of the eyes. I shoved the card back into my wallet and ran, muttering apologies and nearly capsizing a precariously placed PLASTIC bag of groceries (I say plastic in all caps, because I’d neglected the bagging clerk completely in the disaster, and never got to tell him I’d much prefer paper. I’m sure he asked. Multiple times).
I got three feet away when I realized I’d forgotten my receipt.
I turned around just in time to see the cashier turn to the woman at the register behind her.
Remember those nifty lip reading skills?
“God,” she was saying. “What a bitch.”
And there it is.
What a bitch.
Me. She was talking about me.
How many times have you encountered someone like me? How many times have I encountered someone like me? Someone who is a hot mess, for one reason or another, stumbling through the day and leaving a trail of disaster in their wake? How many times do we lay on the horn behind someone lagging at a stop light or push past someone in our way or think “God, what a bitch”?
What’s that famous quote?
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
I was fighting a battle today, and let me tell you–I wasn’t winning. Not by a long shot.
This isn’t a rant, although maybe it sounds like one. I’m not angry, or hurt, or even annoyed. I’ve been that cashier before. I’ll be that cashier again. But today, I’m reminded that perspective is everything. Today, I’m reminded that it’s important to try and be a little more patient with people, even if they’ve inconvenienced me.
Hopefully, if you’ve stuck with my story until this point, you’ll remember to be a little patient with people, too.
All my love,