Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Man Who Didn't Hear Too Much

I have an odd sensitivity to low sounds. But I can’t hear anything else.

It’s not a problem. It’s been this way for years. I’ve managed. I’ll continue to manage.

Sometimes I ask people to repeat what they say. And I regularly run the TV loud and play my music at full volume. But that’s out of a desire to hear sound detail. I love a good sound mix.

I hate the slightest bit of noise when I’m trying to sleep. I hear everything -- each breath my wife takes as she sleeps, the house settling even when it’s still, flying insects buzzing around . . . outside . . . at the other end of town. And because I hear so well, I haven’t had anyone check out my hearing.

“You don’t hear so well,” my wife finally said to me the other day.

But wives are always accusing their husbands of not hearing so well. They just want us to listen.

Then my boss said I don’t listen. That’s when I wondered if maybe I don’t hear so well.

No, that wasn’t it. I figured the world was simply plotting against me. So I wasn’t going to call in some fancy hearing specialist. He’d be in on the plot against me. I needed truth not lies.

I went online. I love the Internet. I found my answer instantly. I read about a guy in Tacoma, WA, who could hear low tones really well, but for the life of him couldn’t hear loud sounds. He said his wife complained about his poor hearing. Just like my wife did. He said his boss criticized him for not listening. Just like my boss had done. He said his boss finally fired him.

I hate the Internet. Lies. All lies. My boss wasn’t going to fire me for a little hearing issue. 
Ridiculous. I vented my frustrations with a stranger in line at the grocery store. The stranger was -- get this -- a hearing specialist. He said he’d have to run a hearing test on me to be able to define my condition.

My condition? What condition? The plot was thickening. And I was beginning to believe I had an actual problem. Before this “specialist” could assault me with his business card and more lies, I got his number and told him I’d call. Fat chance.

At home my wife asked if I’d looked into my “problem” yet.

“Yeah,” I said. “I talked to a specialist. He said there wasn’t a problem.”

After that, life went back to normal -- people complained about my hearing. And while none of this was new, there was something different about it all. In the back of my mind was the possibility that something was, in fact, wrong. I began overanalyzing everything I was hearing or not hearing.

“Cby yjd tkkj ote trd tgksw?” my wife asked me.

No, those aren’t typos up there. That’s what I actually heard my wife say. Normally I’d think she wasn’t speaking clearly. But with my hearing in question, I worried the problem was mine.

That night in bed, I could still hear every sound under the moon. The king of sounds that evening was the refrigerator making a buzzing noise. My wife said she couldn’t hear it. As I tried to sleep, the sound got louder and more annoying. Earplugs couldn’t hide it. Then my wife’s breathing started up.

I grabbed the hearing protection I use at drag races, but still, I could hear every breath my wife took. And I could swear I heard the refrigerator making that buzzing noise.

“There’s something not right with my hearing!” I shouted.

I scared my snoozing wife into her end table. While cleaning up the broken lamp, I told my wife how I talked to a hearing specialist in line at the store for a couple of seconds, not in his office for a couple hours as I said I’d done.

She wasn’t even mad at me for lying to her. All she cared about was finding something wrong with my hearing.

The next day she brought me in for a test. The guy said I had no problems with my hearing.

“Maybe it’s a focus issue,” my wife suggested. “Maybe you’re not focusing when you’re accused of not listening, and maybe you’re focusing too much when you’re overhearing.”

Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. Now they were trying to say I had Attention Deficit Disorder or something like that. I needed truth not lies.

I went online. I found a test I could take on my computer that would determine if I had these so-called focus issues.

Later, my wife asked if I’d looked into my new problem.

“Yeah,” I said. “I took a test online. It said there was nothing wrong with me.”

I really took the test. But I didn’t check the results. You see, this is all just another plot against me.

-July 2013


Bad things happen. And outsiders say, “It could be worse.”

Those are terrible words of encouragement. Nobody ever gets up off the floor after being told what he or she just went through isn’t the worst it could be.

I always think the worst. When I board a plane, I scrutinize the passengers, hoping we’re worthy of surviving the flight. Babies and do-gooders won’t be on a plane destined to crash. Angry, destructive people, however, worry me.

I’m at my best when I fly. I’ll give up my choice aisle seat and perform other acts of kindness if it means I can live. The lack thereof could mean we crash.

And while crashing is bad, it could be worse, right? We could crash and I could survive. I could pass for dead and be buried alive.

I hear burning is miserable. This came to mind when a fire recently broke out in the state of Colorado (my aunt and uncle live there), and I thought the worst: What if they can’t escape?

Luckily, they had time to evacuate. Except my uncle wanted to fight the blaze with a pressure washer. His home isn’t just a structure with things inside. It’s his and my aunt’s life—33 years of memories, mementos from trips representing life-changing experiences, generations of heirlooms.

And while firefighters couldn’t control the flames with trucks and planes, he felt the pressure washer could do the job.

Eventually, my uncle dropped the wand in mid-spray, and he and my aunt fled.

“Possessions don’t define you,” people told them. “It could be worse—you could be stuck there.”

My aunt called me for comfort, as she wasn’t getting it elsewhere. I took pleasure in knowing I could help. I wouldn’t tell her it could be worse. I’d be her rock, her guiding light, her Grand Comforter.

She asked for my wife.

Not only did my wife help my aunt feel better, she helped me feel better as I listened in on the other line. I spent a lot of time in my aunt and uncle’s house, the woods on their property my childhood playground in the summer and a snowy wonderland in the winter.

They were going to be OK. I was going to be OK. By the time we hung up, we all knew the house and the surrounding woods were going to be OK.

“Pray for us,” my aunt cried into the phone. “Our neighbor’s house just burned to the ground.”

The very next morning, my aunt called us again. She was hysterical. The only barrier between my aunt and uncle’s home and their neighbor’s place was about 30 trees and a dirt road. But we still had hope. The dividing foliage might go up, but maybe the fire would tiptoe around the house. After all, my uncle had sprayed the structure down with the pressure washer a day earlier.

With the right amount of hope, we could save . . .

The sheriff’s report concluded that my aunt and uncle’s residence was a total loss. A day later the fire passed, and my aunt and uncle were able to go onto their property to assess the damage and retrieve any items, if any. My aunt sounded good. I spoke a few powerful lines that, undoubtedly, put her at total ease.

“If you need anything,” I reminded her, “please call.”

She said she’d call my wife.


At least I think that’s what she cried when she called back. Everything, she said, was gone, remnants of nothing but the truck they left in the driveway, now just a twisted piece of metal. The house and everything in it was gone. The surrounding forest was gone. Just soot and black sticks.

My time had come to really say something meaningful, helpful. But I had nothing to say. Nothing. And for what felt like 10 minutes, I listened to my aunt cry.

All I could think was, It could’ve been worse—they could’ve gone down with their house.

Members of the family asked what they could do to help. But there was nothing to be done.

In the days to follow, my aunt and uncle did all they could do—they tried to move on. They’d rebuild in the future, they said, but far away from the forest they’d called home for 33 years.

“It can only get better,” I told my aunt.

Terrible words of encouragement. For once I can say it could not get any worse than that. So I did what was best for my aunt—I put my wife on the phone.

-June 2013