I wrote SILENT JOURNEY because that story wrote itself in my head. Those characters wanted to have their own book. Alex was the perfect hero, intelligent, good-looking, outgoing, independent, confident, wealthy, protective of the females in his life, and an all-around good guy.
Savannah was the opposite. She was studious and quiet. Her parents were hard workers. Her mom did childcare in her home and her dad worked in a factory. Like many young women, Savannah had a best friend in college who was there for her. Money was something she never had.
So great characters, except Alex was deaf. (And before I go further so you don’t think I’m crazy, there is Deaf as a culture and deaf as in not physically hearing.) He was Deaf of Deaf, meaning his ancestry is deaf – he’s naturally carrying a dominant deaf gene. He’s considered to have have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth when it comes being deaf. It was a chance I took to allow a character to be deaf. People don’t like characters that aren’t perfect, especially a hero. Too bad. Alex is perfect!
Now to defend my stance, I went to a silent dinner in my area with a single friend the other night. She’s taking American Sign Language (ASL) in college and she’s doing really well with it. (Me? I can count to 100 in ASL!) This guy comes over, introduces himself, and joins us while we’re eating. He was so much like my character Alex, not in looks, although this guy was extremely good-looking, but in personality and the way he fingerspelled to us. He was very sweet and ever so kind.
Sitting with the community makes me even more aware of the differences between people. The number of couples who are mixed as in hearing and deaf is amazing. One young woman was there with a boyfriend who is Deaf. The funny thing was, I thought he had his hearing and they were both there as students from the local college. My mistake. He’s Deaf. You really can’t look at someone and decide if they are deaf. They don’t have neon signs on them.
But what happens when we discover that someone is deaf? The normal reaction is to steer clear. I’m not certain why but people frequently are rude to a deaf person. Does someone think that the Deaf will grow fangs and bite, that deafness is contagious, or do they assume that because someone is deaf, they are stupid? I’m not certain, but I’m prone to think that people consider the Deaf to be less intelligent.
The truth is they are no different than anyone else, except they don’t hear, and they have their own language. (That language is actually older than English and has a fascinating history.) The Deaf can be neurosurgeons or rocket scientists, or they can repair your tire when it picks up a nail. They might have built your house, or put braces on your children. Or maybe they saved your best friend’s life when he fell in that pool when he was eight. The newspaper that comes to your door…chances are someone deaf worked in the printing room or was the editor. Maybe a deaf butcher cut that meat for you, or ground your hamburger, drove the truck to the market, or worked in the warehouse. I can now go to a favorite Starbucks and be served by a Deaf barista. The Deaf are people just like you and me. Completely normal people. They fall in love, they have children, they catch colds, and they can break an arm or chip a tooth just like everyone else. No one needs to pin a sign on them. If you encounter someone deaf, just smile. I promise they won’t bite, and you can’t catch deafness.
They are very used to dealing with the hearing world that often doesn’t treat them very well. Give them a break. Some do speak, and it often sounds flat to our ears or maybe as though they have a lisp. They cannot hear what they are saying. I think it’s amazing that they can even learn to speak. They will make themselves understood. But we need to be better at “hearing” them. Many resort to paper and pen. I’m one of those because my ASL is almost non-existent. I know enough to often understand them…sometimes. That doesn’t make them stupid, that makes me the fool for not knowing more ASL. With cell phones, they can type their message.
A friend of mine is butcher and he has a few Deaf patrons who will ask for something. They usually hand him a note. He smiles and gets it. He’s used to dealing with a variety of people including those from other lands. He’s also the kind of guy who smiles to everyone and everyone loves him.
The Deaf will tell you they are deaf by touching their ear and then their mouth. We can sign that we speak by holding our finger across our lips and circling our finger in front. But really, they know we speak. And if we know ASL, we can sign that! Most Deaf will forgive our lack of knowledge of ASL, as long as we treat them with respect.
And just for the record, most of them do not consider their deafness as a disability. If you take our hearing away from us, we are disabled. If you awaken tomorrow morning and discovered you couldn’t hear a thing, what would you do? I’d panic! Really, I would. I’d miss music. I’d miss hearing Neil Diamond’s songs and a dozens of others musicians. What if I couldn’t hear the smoke alarm? The microwave beeping, the dryer, the alarm clock, the trains that roll down the tracks, even the church bells in town that plays at noon, these are the sounds I’d miss. My silent world would be lacking. My friends whose voices I’d never hear again, the purr of my cat, or the bark of my dog warning me of the dangerous mailman who deposits mail in my box. Or the police siren because he wants me to know my brake light is out. (Yes, he very kindly told me it was out and I thanked him because who sees brake lights on your own car? Yes, I fixed it immediately! The auto parts store is down the street.) Omigosh! I’d be in trouble if I lost hearing!
Really we live by sound and the deaf don’t. We rely on our hearing and we rely on our sight. I have friend who is blind and he visited me several years ago. He couldn’t understand why I couldn’t walk into my dark house without turning on a light. His comment back was that he’d been there for 24 hours and knew his way around my house and I didn’t? Um, no. I need to turn on the light.
SILENT JOURNEY is about two young people who meet in college. Just like other couples that fall in love, they usually have problems to overcome. She’s got a language barrier. Her mother thinks her daughter going to throw her life away by marrying some handicapped guy, except love doesn’t seem to pay attention to little things like hearing. Cupid’s arrows hit solid when it came to Alex and Savannah, but life will never be easy. It’s a story of growth, compassion, and love.
Here’s a little snippet where Alex and Savannah go to visit Alex’s sister and her a newborn child who is also deaf.
Alex took Savannah to Gwen’s house. Dustin was there waiting on Gwen as though she were an invalid, and she was making it known that she could stand and walk around without any help.
Alex laughed at them, but he couldn’t wait for the baby to wake up so that he could hold the tiny bundle. And when the baby began to stir, he looked at his sister, who nodded. Scooping the newborn into one arm, he gently caressed the baby with a delicate touch. Beautiful little boy. He signed to the newborn, “Wake up, sleepyhead.”
Gwen came to Alex and peered at her son. Then she began to sign to the newborn. “Meet your Uncle Alex.”
“I think he’s still too sleepy to pay attention.” Alex watched the baby put his little fists to his mouth. Alex held the baby’s fist and put it to the tiny lips. Like this.
The baby squinted his eyes and opened his mouth.
Gwen removed the baby from her brother’s arm. She sat in a large overly stuffed chair and pulled the blanket over her shoulder.
Alex turned to Savannah. “Sorry, I was going to give him to you, but I think he was protesting.”
Savannah grinned and signed, “We say he has good lungs. That was one loud protest.” Her smile dissolved into a perplexed look. “But why are you signing to the baby? The baby certainly can’t understand sign language.”
Alex shook his head. “Think about that. If this baby had hearing, would you use your words?”
“Do you think newborns understand those words or do they learn them?”
Savannah wrinkled her brow. “I guess they learn them. The words in the beginning are nothing more than comforting sounds.”
“And deaf babies will find comfort in our words.”
Savannah nodded. “And if Little Dustin had hearing, you would still sign to him.”
Alex nodded. “He would need to learn both languages. But little Dustin needs to learn both anyway. He will learn to read your lips.”
Alex went to where Savannah was and sat beside her. “He is Deaf. He will grow up bilingual. Do hearing children grow up bilingual?”
Savannah wrinkled her brow. “Some do. When the parents speak more than one language. Or they grow up with whatever language their parents use in the home, and they learn English once they are old enough to play with other children.”
“Our children are the same. They learn our touch and our words. They see our expression.”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking along those lines.”
“He will complain, smile, and do everything a hearing child does except hear. He doesn’t need to hear. He only needs to be loved.”
Gwen brought the baby to Savannah and she willingly took him. Watching Savannah with the newborn told of her love for children. Total serenity crossed her face. She rocked the baby in her arms as she caressed him with her fingers.
Alex wasn’t certain what Savannah was saying to the baby, but she snuggled the newborn and spoke as if the baby could hear. Teach him, Savannah, as my mother taught me to read lips. Alex’s heart swelled with joy. One day you will hold our baby in your arms. Until then, we get to play with and spoil this one.