In a week dominated by lauding silence, a deafened view. A personal story of losing hearing for 12 years — and then regaining it.
Sound had come back into me with the force of revelation and I had no idea what to do with myself. I could hear! I could hear!!!! I’d been hearing for 28 years and deaf for 12, and since I’d gone back to being hearing again, everything was bigger than I had the capacity to express. I wanted everything.
I wanted to try everything, listen to everything. I wanted to go up to strangers in the street and ask them if they had any idea of the miracles taking place inside their heads. I wanted to tell them that this hearing thing — this basic feature, fitted totally as standard in every working model — turned out, upon examination, to be a piece of kit which made the works of Shakespeare seem slack by comparison. I wanted to scroll dotingly through photos on mobiles, pull up proud scrapbooks of cochleas and temporal lobes, exchange reminiscences about auditory cortexes. I wanted to declare myself sound.
I hoped these people knew how many miracles they had inside their heads, and just how much of the time they squandered those miracles on automated lift announcements and three-for-two offers on fabric conditioner. I sat in cafés, blissed by the opportunity to eavesdrop on people bitching about their colleagues. I struck up conversations with strangers on trains or found excuses to offer directions to tourists.
I rang up friends in Orkney or Greenock just because I wanted to hear the way they said “modern” or “cosmetic” and savoured the tastes of each professional dialect — the wipe-clean tones of nursing staff or get-in-quick diction of cold-callers. Several times I lost the thread of discussions because I was too busy listening to the sensation of listening rather than the sense. I talked to people on the tube. I took my new hearing to films, parties and bicycle races,
I experimented with power tools and hung out around chainsaws. I stood below telegraph lines to hear the scribble of swallows or climbed hills to find the lilt of a curlew. I greeted the three-note preamble to a train announcement like an old friend and tripped out on the sheer poetry in “Cashier number THREE, please!”
I watched TV not because I was interested in what was on, but because I loved the indulgence of sitting there just moving the volume button up and down. I wasn’t groping for a single word any longer or making approximate swipes at possible topics. I could hear a whole sentence! Every letter of every word! I could make out all of what people were saying from beginning to end! I was astounded by the thrill of exactitude. I could hear accent, dialect, nuance, mood. I could understand, and once I understood, I could connect. I had come home.