For me, Hell is synonymous with swim parties. Sure, swim parties are great way to cool off during the 115 degree Central Valley summers, but when you have to take out your hearing aid and have no idea what direction sound comes from, you lose your enthusiasm fairly quickly. And nothing obliterates enthusiasm like a good old fashioned game of Marco Polo. For those of you who are lucky enough to be uninitiated to this classic game: one poor soul (usually me) would be in center of the pool with her eyes shut and yell, “MARCO!” and all of the other girls respond, “POLO!”. “Marco’s” job was to tag one of the “Polo” girls to be the next “Marco”. Good times, let me tell ya. It was a montage of sounds, girls screaming “POLO!”, laughter, water splashing, I was like Jimmy Stewart at the top of the bell tower in Vertigo, lurching around as noises merged together. This is why we played Pictionary at my parties.
But it was the annual Fourth of July swim party that plummeted me into the Fifth Circle of Hell. Here, I was not among friends, but children of my parents’ colleagues: girls who oozed confidence, bantered, and perfectly depicted how young girls should act. They were the opposite of my serious, quiet, observant self, and they scared the be-jeezus out of me. Here, I was also in the presence of my father, who sensing my shyness and reluctance, gave me the directive to “Go Make Friends.” Now I had his watchful eyes as I tried to enter discussions I couldn’t hear after playing Marco Polo with girls that intimidated me, afraid that I would disappoint my father. I was grateful for when the darkness came and the fireworks began. There were no conversations then, just “Oooooh!” and “Ahhhhh!”.
I never told my parents how miserable this made me, lest it seem that I was using my hearing to get out of things (I probably would have had a lot more fun with the girls if we had played board games or dolls indoors). Plus, they had their hearing and could not know what I was going through; I also didn’t have the language to articulate to them, “Hey, this sucks and this is why it sucks.” It stayed this way for years until my dad begin losing his hearing and now he has way less than I do. Recently we talked about going out, and he explained that he didn’t really care for going out anymore because conversations are a lot of work to follow. He ends up tuning out and being out of the loop. Plus, it’s uncomfortable and exhausting. Finally I said, “Do you remember those Fourth of July swim parties and you told me to go make friends?” He paused and looked at me: “I am so sorry. I had no idea.”
Today I often tell my students the mishaps I’ve had growing up with a hearing-aid (and they love these stories), but the one that gets them to most understand the challenges that one who is hard of hearing faces is told in four words: “Swim parties. Marco Polo.”