Category Archives: Memory Lane
The year is 1974. My family is making the annual pilgrimage from Illinois to Florida in our trusty Oldsmobile, Mom and Dad chain-smoking in the front while my brother and I fight for prime real estate in the back seat. We finally arrive in Georgia, and I put my family through a familiar scenario:
We pull up to the drive-through window of McDonald’s. My dad calls out the orders, three variations of hamburgers-with-everything plus French fries and drinks. Then he adds, “And one plain hamburger.”
My brother groans and slumps back. My mom taps her nails on the window trim. The inevitable request comes. “Uh, sir, can you pull over and wait?”
This was no ‘have it your way’ situation. My plain hamburger meant that we waited an extra 10 or 15 minutes for it to be cooked and slapped between a bun sans all the junk that turned my stomach.
I’m sure many people can tell tales of their childhood food aversions. If you’re a parent, you probably deal with this sort of thing from your own children. What we often don’t talk about, though, is when this pickiness extends into adulthood.
I’m 51 years old, and I still don’t eat salad (or raw vegetables of any kind). If you try to sneak Parmesan cheese into my food, I will smell it and push it aside. I’ve come a long way, though. Mushrooms, fennel, balsamic vinegar and Havarti cheese all now have a place in my life. It was a long, nose-wrinkling process, however, and some foods still didn’t make the cut (sorry Gruyère – you just smell too nasty).
I was lucky enough to visit France in my late 20s. After days spent wandering Versailles, visiting the Eiffel Tower, and watching artists at work in Montmartre, I was often famished. I am ashamed to admit that the restaurant that most frequently got my business was none other than McDonald’s. I was thrilled to tuck into an order of chicken nuggets with a side order of barbecue sauce. Some days it was all I ate, after a breakfast of coffee and toast.
I don’t know what it’s like now, but Paris in 1988 was a challenge for someone who didn’t speak French. Add a hearing loss and inherent shyness to that, and ordering from a restaurant was fraught with peril. After ordering a pizza that inexplicably arrived at the table with a topping of runny eggs, I avoided cafes and looked for the golden arches.
Things started changing for me around the time I had my cochlear implant surgery in 2008. It’s fairly common for the nerves that control taste to be damaged during surgery, and I was not spared. For about a year and a half, things like bread, cookies and cake had a strange, spongy texture and no flavor. Water was oily; most flavors were flat. The front center area of my tongue was most affected, so I tried to skip that area and quickly get the food to the back of my tongue. I drank beverages through a straw.
I found that adding heat and spice livened up some of the dead flavors, so for the first time in my life I gravitated toward hot, spicy foods. (I kept that preference once my taste buds were back to normal.) While I was busy looking for ways to burn some life into my taste buds, we also started watching more cooking shows on TV. I learned how to prepare and cook things I’d never even heard of before, like jicama. I discovered Ruth Reichl’s books, and found myself curious about some of the more exotic dishes she described.
As I slowly started trying things that were new to me (and enjoying most of them), I decided to really push myself out of my comfort zone. I signed up to become a recipe tester for Cook’s Illustrated, with the caveat that I had to try recipes with at least one new ingredient. Testing a recipe means I have to follow everything to the letter – the ingredients, cooking method, pan size, and so on. Instead of, say, substituting Greek yogurt for sour cream, I have to use exactly what the recipe calls for.
I admit that just last year I sat in a restaurant, ordered a dish that had pasta salad on the side (something I’ve never eaten because I hate mayonnaise), and told myself that if my kids could follow the ‘just take one bite and try it’ rule, then so could I. It was made with aioli, which I’d never had but assumed tasted like mayonnaise. For whatever reason, I loved it. Maybe I like aioli better than mayonnaise, or maybe aioli tastes nothing like mayo, or maybe I actually don’t mind mayo anymore. Who knows. But I tried it!
So I’ve come a long way, food-wise. In all honesty, I still wouldn’t order a burger with everything on it. But ordering it plain wouldn’t even cross my mind these days.
I like to do this thing where I think ‘At this time last year, I was …’. It’s kind of amazing to look back and see how much things change in a year or five years or whatever. Dave and I were talking about this today because seven years ago at this very moment, I was in the recovery room at the hospital. This day marks seven years since my bilateral cochlear implant surgery.
Seven years ago, Eric was just about to enter college and Paige was just about to enter high school. How weird is that?
Dave reminded me that August 21, the day after I was activated, was the day we moved Eric into his dorm. I remember that like it was yesterday; I could hear sounds, but everything was weirdly robotic and voices were still very strange-sounding, especially the voices of Eric’s roommate and his family. I remember listening to the rhythmic sound of the car tires on the expressway until the sound made sense to me; same with the sound of the turn signal clicking.
So much has changed in seven years. I didn’t know back then whether the surgery would even work, and I wouldn’t hear sound again for another month. (Activation was a month after surgery, after I was mostly healed.)
The processors I wear (Advanced Bionics Harmony) are old news now, even though they were the latest and greatest when I got them. Since then they’ve introduced the Neptune (an off-the-ear, waterproof processor) and the Naida. I still follow the boards on Hearing Journey and offer support/mentoring to people who are curious about getting a CI, but I really can’t offer hands-on experience with the newest technology … and that’s a strange feeling. I might look into upgrading once we move and I know what our financial situation is going to be, but right now every spare penny gets saved for our future home. My Harmony processors are working fine for now (the rechargeable batteries are getting a little worse for wear though; I might need to buy some new ones).
I haven’t really been writing here that much lately. It’s not like anything bad is happening; summer is here and things are going along just fine. A couple of times I started to write a blog post and then got a sense of déjà vu, like I’ve written about the subject before. A quick search then shows me that yep, I wrote about that exact subject two years ago or whatever. I’ve gone through these periods before and I’m sure it’s just temporary. For now I’ll try to pop in and say hey even when there’s not much to say … and eventually I’ll be writing like crazy again.
So here’s to the next seven years – hopefully by then I’ll look back on this post and think ‘Wow, I was still using Harmony processors back then!’
Last month I wrote this (long) Facebook status:
There’s a 9 year age difference between me and Dave, although I rarely notice. It really shows up, though, when it comes to music. He recalls the Creedence Clearwater Revival version of Proud Mary; I remember the Ike & Tina version. For Dave, Spirit in the Sky is by Norman Greenbaum … but he patiently watches as I show him the (CLASSIC OMG) video for the version I know and love, by Doctor and the Medics. And I present the following conversation (which took place earlier this week as we watched The Voice, and a contestant sang ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’):
Me: Who sang that song? Was it Bad Company?
Dave: Um…I don’t know, I think it was some kind of soul/R&B group.
Me: No, it was southern rock kind of stuff. (pauses TV) Can you check? It’s driving me crazy.
Dave: (gets tablet and searches) Oh yeah, it was the Drifters. Now I remember.
Me: What? That can’t be right, let me see. (Dave hands me the tablet and I scroll down)
Me: There it is – Grand Funk Railroad!
Dave: (takes tablet back) That was in 1974, you were only 10 years old. How do you remember that?
Me: Oh, honey. All I did in 1974 was listen to the radio. I kept a cassette in the tape deck and my mission in life was to run fast enough across the room to hit ‘record’ when my favorite songs came on the radio. I probably had 5 or 6 cassettes with multiple partial recordings of this song.
Ah, those were the days.
* * *
It wasn’t just songs on the radio. I would also carefully read the TV Guide to see if any of my favorite singers were going to be on TV. This was about as close to seeing them in concert as I could get, and it was a huge deal. I’d put a fresh cassette tape in my portable tape recorder, then set it next to the TV speaker and record their performance. I think I may have taped at least half of all the Sonny & Cher shows that way; if someone had told my 10 year old self that in the future, I could push a button and record not only the sound but also the video … well, I think my little mind would have been blown.
So anyway, last night we had a replay of almost the exact same conversation that I had described on Facebook. We were watching The Voice and a contestant sang ‘Without You.’ After it was done, I asked Dave how he liked it and he said he thought it was a terrible version of that song.
“Well,” I said, “I think someone like Celine Dion covered it and turned it into a ‘diva’ song. She was probably singing that version.” (We can’t stand that, by the way.) “It was originally kind of a rock ballad from the 1970s. Who did that song anyway?”
Dave said, “LeAnn Rimes? Trisha Yearwood?”
I stared at him.
“I think maybe we’re thinking of different versions,” I said carefully. I mean, I don’t think LeAnn Rimes was even alive in the 70s, was she? I grabbed my phone and did a search.
“Okay, yeah. It was done by Badfinger in 1970.” I scrolled down on the Wikipedia page. “It was covered by something like 180 people, though. OH – it was Mariah Carey who did the diva version, not Celine Dion.”
I kept looking and didn’t see any reference to LeAnn Rimes, so I did a separate search and we found out she did a completely different song with a similar sounding name. (Makes sense that Dave thought it was a terrible rendition of her song … since it wasn’t her song.)
Then Dave was acting like he didn’t even know the original song, so I made him suffer through a tiny Youtube video played on my cell phone, lucky guy. But he did admit to recognizing it though once he heard the original.
The other day I read somewhere that Angus Young from AC/DC is 59 now. I did the math and thought, “Oh, he’s only nine years older than me.” Back when I was really into AC/DC, he seemed so much older, you know? Then I realized he was Dave’s age.
“Did you know that Angus Young is the same age as you?” I asked.
“Who is Angus Young?” Dave said, confused.
“You know, Angus Young from AC/DC.”
“OH,” he said. “Isn’t he the one who tried to have someone killed?”
“Oh my god, no. That was the drummer. Angus Young is the guitarist, the one who usually dresses in a British schoolboy’s uniform.”
And, well, then I started giggling. Yes, Dave is his age. But I can’t picture Dave dressed as a British schoolboy.
At least I don’t think there would be any confusion over who did “You Shook Me All Night Long.” It hasn’t been covered by Merle Haggard or Charlie Pride, has it?!
I know what I was doing 16 years ago on this day. I was originally planning to go out with a friend of mine. I can’t remember if we were going to see a band or just go to a club, but she ended up canceling on me at the last minute. So I was sitting around with nothing to do when Dave called me in the early evening.
We’d been online friends for a while at that point. We were both on a hearing loss support group mailing list called the Say What Club. I joined in Sept. 1997 and Dave was already a member, so he welcomed me to the list. We were good friends, and then in early 1998 we started to kinda like each other. 😉 We chatted via IRC and talked on the phone (not our favorite thing to do, obviously, but it wasn’t bad because we both understood what it was like to use the phone when you have a hearing loss). But we hadn’t met in person yet.
My kids were young, and they spent every other weekend at their dad’s. This was their ‘Dad Weekend’ so I was alone with no plans. When Dave asked what I was up to, I told him about my canceled plans. “How about if I come over?” he asked, sort of jokingly. I laughed and then he said, more seriously, “It’s only about a two hour drive. I really could come over if you want.”
So we made plans, and then I waited to hear my doorbell ring. Neither of us had cell phones or GPS, of course, so Dave wrote out his directions from MapQuest. Then he proceeded to get very lost. He couldn’t call me, so he just kept driving around, hoping he’d find my street. (There are two streets with this name in my town; he was on the wrong one because he didn’t realize he had to specify ‘west’ in the directions.)
About one and a half hours past when I was expecting him, when I was starting to think he’d blown me off, the doorbell rang. And there he was on my front porch, wearing a black leather jacket and looking just like his pictures.
Once he came in and we hugged hello, he told me the saga of his drive from Michigan to my house in Illinois. He brought in his WebTV, which was his way of connecting to the internet in 1998, and we plugged it in so he could show me how it worked. I showed him my computer; he scoffed and said he couldn’t see why he’d ever need a computer – he could do everything he wanted with his WebTV. (I do still like to tease him about that every now and then.)
We just hit it off immediately, and all the worries I had (maybe there would be no chemistry in person, maybe he’d take one look at me and want to leave, maybe he’d have weird habits that I wouldn’t realize until he was in my house, maybe he’d be an axe murderer) flew out the window. We went to see the movie Titanic (and the ALDs in the theater didn’t work, grrrr) and went out for an 11:30 pm pizza at Giordano’s (Dave’s first taste of Chicago-style deep dish pizza).
And here we are now, 16 years later, with this date inked on our calendar every year. We always celebrate with a deep dish pizza (now it’s from Lou Malnati’s) and I’m always thankful that Dave took that chance and made that two hour drive to meet someone he previously only knew online.
Thanks, Say What Club, for introducing us!
For some reason, spring is not kind to my hearing. Every time St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, I remember the first time I went deaf. Well, the first actual hearing loss that I suffered happened when I was too young to remember; I wasn’t born with a hearing loss, it was discovered when I was four. A couple years earlier I’d had roseola and was hospitalized with a high fever, and the doctor speculated that was what caused my initial hearing loss.
But I wasn’t deaf, just hard of hearing. More so in my right ear than my left, but I could hear sounds in both ears. (I wore a hearing aid in my right ear.)
Spring, though, has brought deafness to me on two separate occasions. I’ve written quite a bit about the hearing loss I suffered in mid-April 2008, the one that left me completely deaf and prompted me to start this blog. As traumatic as it was to suddenly lose the rest of my hearing, I think the first time I lost my hearing as an adult was worse.
I don’t remember the exact day, just that it was very close to St. Patrick’s Day. I remember taking a rubber stamping class that focused either on making cards for spring, or maybe cards to celebrate St. Pat’s and Easter. In any case, the hearing in my worse (right) ear was fading and it made the class a real challenge. I didn’t socialize as much as usual because it was too hard to follow all the conversations around the long table where we worked. Instead I worked on my projects and went home, feeling worried and stressed.
Originally I thought it was my hearing aid, so I took it in to be checked out. I was really sure this would fix things, so when I was told that the hearing aid was fine, I got a bad feeling. I didn’t have an ENT, so I went to an urgent care clinic and told them what was happening with my hearing. They took a look and said I had an ear infection, which was weird because I felt perfectly fine. They prescribed antibiotics, which I dutifully took even though I didn’t believe the diagnosis.
When the antibiotics didn’t help, I found a local ENT. This was an older man with not much of a bedside manner. He just did a hearing test, looked inside my ear and then told me I was deaf in that ear. No, he couldn’t tell me why – there was no obvious reason. Sometimes it just happens. End of story. He sent me on my way, furious and confused and devastated. How had I lost all of the hearing in my ear?! My hearing loss wasn’t supposed to be progressive. I never, EVER expected to lose more hearing in my lifetime.
I found another clinic, doctors with a great reputation (ironically, they were the first to do a cochlear implant in Illinois) and made an appointment. I wanted a second opinion; I wanted answers. The doctor I saw was kind, patient, and answered all of my questions. Besides a hearing test, I also had blood work done and a CAT scan to check for an acoustic neuroma. (Side note: This was in the internet’s infancy, 1993, and I happened to see on the order that they were looking for an acoustic neuroma. I had no idea what it was, so I went to library and looked it up. And proceeded to freak. A tumor! I’m going to need brain surgery!)
The CAT scan and blood work came back fine, so I was started on a regimen of steroids to see if my hearing would come back. In the meantime, I was struggling to hear, to continue doing my job (I did word processing – on a Wang word processor) and communicate with people, mainly my then-husband (this was pre-Dave) and my son. (My daughter wasn’t born yet.) I was gripped with anxiety, sure that every day I would wake up and be completely deaf. I had no idea why this was happening, and no reassurance that it wouldn’t happen again. I didn’t have an ear mold for my left ear, so I couldn’t wear a hearing aid. Although I had still had some hearing in my left ear, I already had a profound loss and didn’t know if it was getting worse.
In the end, the steroids didn’t help. Hearing tests showed that I had lost all of my usable hearing in my right ear and just a small amount in my left, leaving it solidly in the profound range. I jammed the ear mold meant for my right ear into my left ear so I could hear. I cried myself to sleep every night. I felt alone, isolated, and absolutely terrified.
The doctor was kind as he explained that sometimes this just happens and they don’t know why; they call it Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL). Maybe it was a virus of some kind, maybe my hearing loss was actually a progressive one and not caused by the fever when I was a toddler – who knows. Although he couldn’t promise me it wouldn’t happen again, he said it would be very rare. He recommended hearing tests every six months or yearly for a while, to keep an eye on things.
I don’t remember how long it took for me to stop being nervous every morning when I put on my hearing aid. For the first couple of years, I would panic when my hearing aid battery died, thinking I was losing my hearing again. It was embarrassing to wipe away tears after replacing a battery and hearing sound again.
What really helped me calm down was getting new hearing aids. I got analog bi-CROS hearing aids, which helped me ‘hear’ sounds on both sides. I had to get used to wearing a hearing aid in each ear, but that wasn’t too bad. The one on my right ear was just a transmitter, since I couldn’t actually hear in that ear. But it picked up the sounds on my right side and sent them wirelessly to the hearing aid/receiver in my left ear. When I first put them on, it was like light flooding a dark room. I didn’t need an adjustment period; I loved those hearing aids from the first moment I wore them. Things sounded the way I remembered them, even with no hearing left in my right ear.
It took 15 years for the other shoe to drop, for me to lose my hearing again like I always feared I would after the first time. When it happened, though, I knew I had no more to lose. It was a different type of grieving and adjustment, losing all of my hearing, but it was a small relief to stop worrying that it would happen again.
It happened, I survived.
Since January, I’ve been noodling around with an online MIT OpenCourseware class called Reading and Writing Short Stories. It’s been a lot of fun; I love reading short stories, and I thought it might be fun to try writing some because I haven’t done that since high school.
This was a short exercise, one where I didn’t take a lot of time on the actual writing. The goal was to show how things that happened in your life could be changed and used as story ideas. Although there were so many incidents I could have drawn from, this one from when I was very young was the first thing that popped into my head.
My problem was trying to use it in a fictional scene. It took a while, but I decided to go with karaoke because that was sort of close to me and my brother using a microphone as kids. I threw in a person with hearing loss because I always like it when I read fiction and there’s a character with hearing loss … it doesn’t happen often, so it’s a nice surprise for me. Since the scene was supposed to convey strong emotion, I had the fictional character react in a completely different way than I would (which was kind of fun to write). I had her react with the same level of out-of-proportion anger and indignation that I felt as a six year old.
Here’s the exercise: Think about an event early in your life that is still powerful for you – that made you cry, or afraid, or angry, or triumphant with revenge. Sketch it out – focus on the emotional power. Now – make it fiction. Change something. Change character, change ages, change place, gender – see how this changes the center of the story.
My nonfiction and fiction scenes:
It’s 1970, and we’re in the living room — my dad, my brother Joey, and I. I’m six and Joey is four, and we’re taking turns speaking and singing into the microphone attached to the hi-fi. My dad was so proud of this system, and we kids loved watching the amplifier needle jump whenever we used the microphone.
We’re all sitting on the couch, which is nearly the same shade of brown as the paneled walls. I’ve got my feet propped up on the coffee table, slouching back against the cushions, waiting for my turn at the mic. Finally, I get to sing. I belt a rousing rendition of Susy Snowflake, making sure to hold that last note for as long as possible. I begrudgingly hand the microphone over to Joey, and my dad ‘interviews’ him.
“What do you want for Christmas, Joey?”
“I want a gowbidge truck!”
“A what?” My dad grins, knowing the real answer, playing dumb to give Joey a chance to mispronounce garbage again.
“A GOWBIDGE truck! A big one!”
The interview ends and Joey starts to sing a song he learned in preschool. I am apoplectic. “But it’s MY turn! He already got to talk!”
My dad, always calm in the face of my youthful rage, tells me that I’ll get my chance soon – just let Joey finish his song. But I am furious – it’s so unfair! I feel they always favor Joey because he’s the baby of the family.
I stand up in a huff, ready to stomp off to my bedroom, where I can slam my door and pull all the sheets off my bed and expend all the rage inside of me. As I walk between the couch and the coffee table, my dad’s foot slips out just enough to catch mine as I walk past. I trip and fall to my knees.
“You TRIPPED me!” I wail, and then the tears come. I sob and sob, feeling unloved and unwanted, as my dad tries to cover his smile, telling me it was an accident. He didn’t do it on purpose.
I argue with him for a minute, because I am absolutely 100% certain it was not an accident. It was intentional. But there is no swaying him, and finally I get to slam my bedroom door, fling myself onto my bed, and rail at the injustice. Every sound, every word, is captured for posterity on the cassette tape in the deck. Over the years, I could never listen to that tape without my face burning hot with embarrassment.
Becca leaned forward and shouted in my direction. I watched her lips move, but couldn’t understand a word over the background noise of the bar. “What?” I shouted, fighting off a wave of irritation. I turned my hearing aid up a little more, which just made the clamor louder.
This time she leaned sideways, aiming her mouth at my ear. I reared back, pulling my ear out of her reach. For someone who’s known me most of my life, she should really know better. Talking into my ear is completely useless; I need to see her face, so I can read her lips. I twisted around to face her and leaned forward. “Say it again, Becca. I didn’t catch it the first time.”
Exaggerating the movement of her mouth, she yelled slowly, “I. Signed. You. Up.”
“What does that mean? Did I hear you right – did you sign me up for something?”
“Yes! Well, I signed ME up too, but we’re both on the list now.”
I shook my head, sure that I was misunderstanding. “The list? What list?”
“Karaoke!” she grinned, raising her glass. I just stared at her, stubbornly anchoring my glass to the bar. There was no way I was toasting this insane idea.
Why would Becca, my friend who watched me suffer through years of music class in elementary school, silently mouthing the words to songs so my classmates couldn’t hear my tone-deaf voice, sign me up to sing in front of a bunch of drunk strangers?
“Are you pissed at me for something? Is there some reason you want to deliberately humiliate me?” I realized I was shouting. I couldn’t hear myself very well, but I could see heads swiveling in our direction. Ignoring them, I continued. “Of all the things in the world, singing in front of people is my worst nightmare. And you KNOW that. What the hell, Becca?”
Becca looked stunned. And a little drunk. Frowning, she said, “I’m SORRY, I never thought you’d be upset. I didn’t do it on purpose. I just thought it would be fun!”
“Bullshit!” I yelled, grabbing my purse off the bar. “I can see you trying not to laugh. Go ahead, see how funny it is when you’re trying to get home tonight!” I waved the car keys at her as I stood up to leave, fighting back tears.
If she protested, if she tried to apologize some more, I never heard her because I never looked back. Slinging my purse over my shoulder, I headed straight to the parking lot. All I wanted was the safety and the quiet of my car.
– – – – –
If you like to write, it’s a fun exercise to try. Give it a shot!