As some of you know by now, I wear two hearing aids. Being deaf is no picnic, and having lost most of my hearing at a tender age of 5, I have learned to try to compensate for the loss, while living a normal as possible life.
I lost my hearing when I came down with a severe case of mumps. In those days, doctors were not sophisticated enough to realize the ramification of a child with mumps, and what it could really mean. I can vividly remember the pain and anguish I had, recalling the suffering not only in my face and cheeks, but in my ears, how powerful the pain was to lead me into almost a hallucinated state of mind. I was so painful that I could not touch my face, or even lay my head down on its side.
My parents thought for years that I was just plain stupid, that I couldn’t learn or understand anything, and that I would end up with nothing in my life and probably in some institution for learning disabled. I was sent to a Catholic school along with my older sister, who was considered the smart one, and I was headed for who knew where.
The teachers at the school never caught on that I was deaf, and I was often punished severely for not knowing something, not understanding someone, and not responding immediately. It took me some time to learn how to lip read and realize I had to pay more attention to what was being said in class, and really feared missing something, which was quite often. One of the reasons I hated school so much as a young child can readily be explained.
My Dad was perhaps the most disappointed in me, not only being unhappy, but also the blow to his ego was too much for him to comprehend or handle. Although it wasn’t my fault that I was deaf, I couldn’t blame him for the way he felt. In those days, no one individual knew or was educated enough to understand the crisis I was in. I think my Mom had inkling that something was wrong, but she too was a severe critic and greatly disappointed. My older sister was the only one who gave me any comfort, never made fun of me, never criticized me, and never made me feel stupid.
Then one day something magical happened. We moved! We moved away from Brooklyn, and out of the school, onto Long Island and a whole new world. A world filled with trees, and water and sunshine and a school nurse named Miss Wager. Miss Wager had worked with the deaf, and I was given a hearing test, the first of many. I was 10 years old, and this was my first hearing test. She marveled that I had survived as long as I did, had gotten anywhere with language and when my parents finally understood, life became a little easier for me around the house.
Having some friends, but not many since I was afraid to make any being deaf, I could hear, but only up close and not well. I was becoming a loner by choice because I had to. I would spend time watching TV or reading, or playing ball. TV was watched only when I could watch alone, not when the family watched, because I needed it “Too loud”. When I was a sophomore in high school, I was sent to lip reading classes in Mineola Hospital where they discovered I could minimally read lips, and with circumstances, I could figure out what people were saying to a degree.
I took a huge step and decided that I really wanted to go to college and get away from the closeness that my parents lived in, and try to open up a new world for myself. I really wanted to teach history, but knew that if I did it would require not only teaching, but also listening, and I didn’t think that students would want to accommodate a deaf teacher. So I took the next thing I could think of, my love of art and drawing. I took a test at the Art Student’s League where I was immediately accepted, my Dad helping me to put together a portfolio of drawings and paintings. Yes Dad had finally crossed over to the other side. But I wasn’t happy with the idea of just becoming an artist in the commercial field. Not only that, I wanted to learn something besides how to draw. I looked up schools in the area and found New York Tech, took an entrance exam and passed. I was in a four-year college, with the promise of a Bachelor of Arts degree.