In a Perfect World
Birds peck thru the carcass of a snow bank...the world is thawing but it’s definitely not what anyone would consider warm enough for that dress. Yes, the backless, sleeveless, adhesive bandaid of a dress that sliver of a neighbor girl has tweezered herself into so she can go to the prom with my son...my own beautiful boy whose soft feet I’ve just rubbed with baby oil, wasn’t that only this morning as he squirmed around after his bath? My son whose knees are likely shaking inside the rented tux trousers hanging over his noodly legs...the boy who put down his Lego dinosaurs so he could dance with this shrink-wrapped girl. His first dance...the Prom...for which he has bravely sculpted himself a helmet of hair gel.
I hear but do not get to see his shy experimental dance moves to a CD titled “Now that’s Music!” It’s cranked up full volume. I imagine he chose that CD based on the title in the very literal way of many deaf people since he really doesn’t know from music...or dancing, for that matter. We parents stand around laughing nervously after the shiny couple pulls away in a borrowed car about a thousand photos after they implored, “please, this is the last one, ok?” The neighbor girl’s mom tells me her daughter doesn’t really care if they dance at all, that she wasn’t even sure she wanted to go, but agreed to because she always has fun with Dane. I am smiling now, completely melted, “Well, I think she’ll be the prettiest, most wonderful girl at the prom.”
Boys of Summer
Finally, we reach the part of the lake where the sandy shallows wrap around a small peninsula. We tie the canoes to branches hanging low over the water...the big boys launch noisily in the direction a Frisbee is thrown. My son is not yet a very big boy; he flips out of the boat like a fish off a line. He doesn’t hear his cousins calling him to join in because he can’t hear them. He’s deaf...a Seer—especially around water. Off he goes in the company of many things only he is noticing.
I, too, am in a place apart...the lake quicksilvering in squiggles of light... the minnows tasting my toes... I write words across the water with a fingertip and the breeze writes back. Looking up, I see my little boy bending as far as possible until his ear touches the surface of the water as though listening intently to it. His eyes closed in concentration...he reaches deeply for a clam shell...brings it like sunken treasure to the surface...checks it for a pearl.
Cheer for him...can’t you see how hard he’s trying? CHEER FOR HIM...come on, people, stand up in the stands and throw your hands in the air...everybody now, all together...don’t make me do this alone (I do it alone).
Look, please, even if he can’t hear us, he can see us...even if he can’t hear us, he can feel us...rah rah ree, kick’em in the knee...rah rah rass, would you please get off your frickin’ cell phones.
At the awards banquet after the last game, there is no interpreter and no team member saving a seat for my son. We grow numb in folding chairs as a dozen beefy players are lauded ad nauseum. It’s getting late and this is a school night. My husband finally goes to relieve the babysitter at home with the little ones while I keep finger-droning the names and merits of guys Dane wishes he was like. His eyes are weary from watching my tired signs. Then the coach says it’s the last award of the evening and we both breathe a sigh of relief that it’s almost over. This is the most important award of all for toughness and tenacity...for overcoming obstacles and putting your whole heart into the game. The coach says he’s proud to give this year’s Strength of Character Award to Dane Seaver. Everyone in the room starts clapping before I’ve interpreted the end of the sentence. My son blinks hard several times in disbelief. Do I have to say something, he asks? Only if you want to, I answer. So he gets up, walks to the front of the room, and looks out over the crowd now on its feet cheering loud and wildly. His acceptance speech shines from his eyes.
Nearing the End: Winter
“They just want you to comfort Mr. Conkey if you can, and find out if he has any messages he’d like passed along to anyone. But you don’t have to do this. I can see that it would be really difficult and sad,” I tell my son. “I’ll certainly support whatever decision you make.” Dane studied the floor for a few minutes then nodded with resignation. Yeah, he’d do it, tomorrow. So I called Viola, the lady at the hospice, and let her know.
Viola was relieved. You’ve no idea how much she appreciates this, she told me again. She marveled over their luck that a family with a deaf son had moved to this little town. I pointed out that Dane was only visiting during winter break from college, that he didn’t actually live with us anymore, especially since we moved to a place where there were no deaf people. “Well, I can understand that—how Mr. Conkey managed alone out on that farm all these years is beyond me,” Viola said. “It’s really good of your boy to come. Hopefully, the old fellow will be alert enough to communicate with him—he hasn’t connected to anyone since he was brought in six weeks ago. None of us here knows any sign language.”
Afterward, Dane told me the nurse had to wake Mr. Conkey, who just laid there looking stunned while Dane awkwardly started signing about the snowfall and deer hunting and the Super Bowl. Finally, when he couldn’t think of anything else to say, Dane asked Mr. Conkey how he could help him—did he need anything or have any questions? The old man raised just one heavy hand and moved it almost imperceptibly. “Could you tell what he was signing?” I asked my son. Yeah, said Dane, he just wanted to know if I was real.