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Deaf and Hearing

I met my husband 8 years ago (wow time flies!). I had been working in New York all week and commuting home on the weekends. I worked for the FDIC and we had closed a bank that had been one of the first Black-owned banks in the country - Freedom National Bank. After a year. I was only too happy to be back home.

Okay, I'm back "home" in New Jersey but I'm transplanted and I know no one. I told a coworker whom I had gotten friendly with while on the road to call me anytime...I didn't care where, but I would go anywhere to get out of the house.

Anyway I notice that the local high school is offering sign classes. I had always wanted to learn, now's my opportunity. I get into class and to my shock and surprise the teacher is Deaf! (duh) Well I knew nothing about sign or Deaf people...the culture, grammar...nothing. But I fell in love with it.

Well, ten weeks into classes, my friend calls me. Let's go out. We get to the local club and I notice a tall good looking guy, dressed in cowboy clothes, the whole getup, "talking" (or seeming to) to this guy and watching the dancers. I decide to ask him to dance. When I get close, I think, "uh-oh he looks kinda mean. I'm black, he's white; suppose I "offend" him by asking him?" I was going to walk past him and pretend I had been heading toward the bathroom, but at the last minute I think, "Well, what the heck."

I go up to him and I ask him, "Want to dance with me?" No reaction. He looks at least nine feet tall in those boots. I tug on his arm like a kid. He looks down at me, "Wanna dance with me?" He leans forward, "No." Well I am shocked (never been turned down before...guys are usually surprised and flattered), and I am embarrassed (hey, guys now I know how you feel!) I stand there with my drink and try to pretend I had just walked over to watch the dancers, sure that everyone had watched this transaction and are now rolling on the floor with laughter.

Finally, I see my friend's friend. I walk over to her and say, "Do you see that guy over there? He just turned me down!" Well, I look over and he's looking at me with great interest. He's got this look on his face like, "What are you? Crazy? Turning down that gorgeous woman?!" (Really, I'm positive this is exactly what he was thinking! Really.) Anyway, I think, "Har-rump! See what you're missing!" Knowing he will follow me, with my friend's friend I go to the next room where there is a live band. We get near the band and I feel a tap on my shoulder. When I look around, the guy moves, and the way he moves I recognize he is Deaf. I now know that I had picked up subtle differences of the way my Deaf teacher moved - her body language, facial expression, etc. Slowly and painfully I begin to sign...totally blowing my friend's mind! Anyway, I tell the guy I am beginning to learn sign language. And, like I like to say, I knew enough to know how to ask him if he was married or had a girlfriend. We proceeded to lipread each other, sign, and write notes. The next day we go to the movies. Later I learned that when he laughed at the funny parts in the movie, he hadn't heard anything, he was only reacting the way he saw the audience react.

He would come every day to my job, bringing me love notes and small gifts. We met the week before Thanksgiving. By New Year's he was asking me to marry him. By February, what was supposed to be a "friendship" ring ended up being an engagement ring. We got married in Jamaica on Christmas Eve, a year and a month after meeting. I signed the ceremony. Not yet knowing the signs for "Honor" and "Obey", I sorta flapped my hands around. My husband can be seen laughing on the video. He knows I'm faking it.

Anyway, he lied and told me it was easy to learn sign language...would take about 3 months. Well, I couldn't understand him when he signed with other Deaf people. I finished Level I, took it again as well as Levels II and III. Still not enough. I went to the local community college and took the interpreter courses - a three year program that took five years at night. I now have a degree as an Interpreter. Deaf people sometimes are surprised I'm hearing, but many of them know me by now. Our primary means of communication is in sign. We have what is called a "deaf-centric" marriage.

The most surprising thing was Deaf people didn't seem to care what color I was...they were more interested in the fact that I was hearing. I noticed my then boyfriend would sign, "This is my girlfriend. Her name is...... She's hearing." And somehow that part...."She's hearing" was the kicker. I didn't get it back then. I didn't know that it's a fairly rare occurrence for deaf-hearing relationships to work. Now whenever I introduce myself to a Deaf person, I give my name, tell them my husband is Deaf, then tell them I am hearing. They will then start to ask how I know sign, why I learned, etc. But the way I introduce myself is part of the culture.

What annoys me most is that people don't naturally assume we are a couple when we are together, but really it happens mostly with whites though. Other races assume we are together if we are standing together. Sometimes people think I am his nurse who has escorted him from the home somewhere, making sure he's not drooling on himself in public. That ticks me off too. He's Deaf, folks, not mentally impaired. Sheesh! Mostly black people were worried about my being hurt ("Suppose you get into an argument and he calls you a 'n......'?!" was their refrain). Whites (shuddering with the horror of it all) wanted to know if I had met his parents (wanting to all know the dirty details of how I had been rejected no doubt)

Last week, upon meeting this hearing guy with a deaf girlfriend, we are comparing notes (as the hearing side in a deaf-hearing relationship is wont to do). Suddenly, he blurts out, "Yeah, and not to mention dealing with the interracial thing!" Not missing a beat, I respond, "Well we haven't gotten to that yet. We're still working on the Deaf stuff!"

The differences in our relationship, I've had to work on more. Usually, its the hearing woman who does. I think my husband's got it so good, he doesn't think about it. Gotta shake him up every now and then. But my advice is 'tis better to have a deaf-centric one than a hearing-centric relationship. I learned sign to be able to talk about everything and anything with my husband freely (his family doesn't sign...they stare at us when we do...waiting for me to tell them what we just said to each other...sigh). We socialize mostly with Deaf people - both our preferences. Hearing people bore me. We go to picnics, workshops, deaf clubs, meetings, lectures, festivals, bowling, dinners, anniversary celebrations, plays, performances, etc. All of them either for, by, and of the Deaf or at the very least interpreted. My life hasn't shrunk, its grown.

I had to learn to share more - who that was on the phone, what I just said to him, what she just said to me, stuff I hear on the radio, news or whatever I am pretty sure he won't "overhear". But, boy! can he "blow me off". He only has to flick his eyes away and I'm cut off. My biggest bone of contention. A hearing man can pretend he's listening to his wife. There is no way my husband can fake it unless he is looking right in my eyes. We've had a few blowouts about that. He claims he's not ignoring me. I say he is. I don't think its a Deaf thing but a man thing. It's just that the deafness compounds this age-old argument between women and men. Oh well, I'll just keep stamping my feet, flapping my hands, waving my arms, and flicking the lights to get his attention! As a last resort, I walk over and take his chin to get his attention. I tell him one of these days I am going to be trying to warn him that a Mac truck is bearing down on him and then that'll be it.

My mom loved him and liked to hear ".....stories". She'd ask me, "So what did my son-in-law do today? "Oh ma! You won't believe what he did!" And I'd launch into a story. Twice I've locked myself out of the house. I didn't have the "door knock" set up (lights flash when you knock on the front door). Once he noticed the cats' ears flicker and figured it out and the second time I had to go to the neighbor's and call the relay service to call him on the TTY (TDD) that I was standing outside banging on the doors and windows. Another time, he locked the screen door while in the backyard. I had been throwing (like a girl) plastic soda bottles from the recycle bin at him for five minutes, when he noticed the dog (who thought I was playing with her) was racing around the yard with a bottle in her mouth. He looked at me with a sheepish grin. I was like, "What's the matter with you, you Deaf or something?!"

Basically, we tease each other. In the mornings I can't see without my glasses or contacts. I say, "I'm blind, you Deaf" and I laugh. When he uses his voice and my back is turned, I have to keep pointing at my ear to let him know even though we don't have eye contact I can hear him. (He can speak, but his speech or intent is not always clear. Took me years to be able to understand him without having to lipread him.) I taught him "What's your point?" Culturally Deaf people converse differently. It takes longer, there's more discussion, more of a desire for "group consensus". Sometimes I say, "Not Deaf way today, 99% Deaf way, today hearing way. Much faster."

Well, like I said before, we're still working on the Deaf stuff. Every week, I swear I learn a new sign or marvel at the way a Deaf person expresses a thought so beautifully. People ask, "Well, how long have you been learning sign?" I tell them, "For the rest of my life." As far as the black/white thing goes. Really folks, its not like we are from two different hemispheres. I grew up in this country. I laughed at "Seinfeld" (and watch the reruns over and over), I think "Frasier" is one of the cleverest sitcoms on TV, and yes I watch "Friends" too. I grew up on "Leave It To Beaver" and no I am not an "Oreo cookie". I love the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, and how I look (could stand to lose a few pounds now, though). I eat Italian (cook it good too), Chinese, Japanese, West Indian, Cuban, Portugese, Puerto Rican, Hungarian, German, and Southern cuisine. I like some rap (not all) and I like some rock and roll (not all). I like Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, R. Kelly, Soul to Soul, Aretha, James Brown, and Yanni (yes Yanni).

So far I haven't cooked my husband anything strange, exotic, and unrecognizable. We're both Catholics. We haven't had any fights cause I want to hang up African masks and he wants me to cook only German food, because I don't have any African art and we only ate out German once. We like good times, eating out (usually Spanish food), going to the movies (he likes them no sound and all), taking weekend trips, laughing out loud, and being around good friends and family. I like the stuff he likes (except sports and wrestling - I like heavyweight boxing though) and he likes stuff I like (except old movies in black and white - he calls them "old fashioned").

Like I said, we're too busy working on the Deaf stuff....really it's not an issue between us...and I don't care what anyone else thinks. I usually don't discuss it, but I liked telling my story, cause I like talking about my husband. What I prefer is to share stories with others who are hearing who are in or considering a relationship with a Deaf person. And that's been it. It's like a ride I went on once when they first opened up Disney World in Florida...Mr. Toad's Wild Ride...I think it was called...well, it's been a heck of wild ride.





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