Friday, September 28, 2012

First Time Going to Deaf Chat Blind

Too Large an Experience to Name

I have no idea what to call this true story.  Amazing me would be close, but I Hate it when I'm just going about the business of life as best I can and people without disabilities call me Amazing.  What they don't know and can't admit, because it scares the crap out of them is that if forced to, they too would do what I am and maybe a Lot More.

The only reason I'm amazed is that I did something which terrified me.  If you were in my shoes it might Not terrify you.  There is no way for either of us to know what you would eventually do.

So, what's the big deal?  First (laughing to Myself as I write) I have to fix the setting. 

Because I and my TASL instructor have both gone to a weekly ASL. Class they are hiring a new instructor, or trying to.  So class is canceled for Oct., a drag.  But they have the "Deaf Chat" at a small pizza place in Springfield.  My instructor promised to come and I (much to my horror) promised to go also.  I Really Did Not Want to go!  A cab ride, sighted deaf people who might or might Not be willing to let me touch their hands, heads, outsides of their shoulders.  And my teacher has some usable vision, in a tiny field, straight ahead of her.  She told me to wear black so she could watch my hands move against a solid background.  I guess if I were a dark skinned African American I would have been asked to wear solid white.

I simply didn't have any idea what to expect.  Just to begin with, I used to see colors for part of my childhood and Love brilliant colors.  At night, since I can't see at all I want to make Damn sure others Can see me.  So I compromised.  I wore a black shirt and crinkle skirt with what Ann and I used to call her "sunset shirt".  It has pinks, reds, oranges, and purples which all work together.  I wore that shirt like a jacket as it's cotton gauze and could be pushed back on my shoulders when talking with my hands.  And I wore bright earrings which reflected some of those colors. 

Just before it was time to call the cab I had a Big panic attack.  I seriously considered taking a mild anti-anxiety drug I am prescribed.  But I was scared it would interfere with my ability to focus and pay attention, which is necessary when immersed in another language than your own.  So I didn't take it.

I knew I wanted a woman cab driver but was so rattled I forgot to ask when I put in an advance order for the cab.

Great, riding with some guy I didn't know and might not be able to hear well or understand.  And when he came he had been given the wrong address by the dispatcher so he just sat in the street and honked.  Was this my cab or one of my neighbors?  If it was a cab driver, didn't he see my white cane?  Why didn't he call out "Did you call a cvab?" or something?  Guess it just didn't occur to him. 

So I gradually started walking toward that car, listening for a cab company radio, couldn't hear it, of course.

I don't know what the dude was looking at but it Wasn't me.  About the time I got parallel with his back door he suddenly jumped out of the cab, noticing I am blind, and asking if I needed help.  I felt like saying "Daah, not NOW!",but was too busy being afraid and hypervigilant, to the best of my ability, all antenna up!

When I cautiously began opening the car door I Could hear the cab radio and got in.

He had some trouble finding the place and thought it was a bar.  Oh shit, was it?  I was told it was a pizza joint.  It wasn't a bar but they did serve beer with the pizza.  Was I going to have to put up with grabby drunks?

I went in.  There was a line.  I walked up until my cane gently bumped a foot and apologized.  It was SO Noisy I couldn't tell What was happening.  Just had to keep slowly oozing forward until I reached the counter.  This wasn't a name brand pizza store with a hostess to take people to seats, was it a cafeteria?  There was no way to tell from the racket.

When I got to the counter I explained that I'm totally blind and losing my hearing.  So please explain to me how things work here, do I order here or move somewhere else?  Luckily, ordering and paying were done at the same counter.  Then the kind woman behind the counter allowed me to hold her elbow lightly and led me to a table where I sat alone with my heart pounding.  When I said I had come for the "Deaf Chat" she said, "Well, the room's full of um."  Oh Great!  Now what?

Aboutt 7 or 8 minutes later, as I thought about my heart pounding and nursed my diet coke, (it's not safe for a totally blind person to drink with strangers) I felt a Familiar pair of Hands!  My instructor began a formal greeting when I grabbed her and hugged her, signing that I was scared.  She hugged me back and skipped the greeting.

Then she led me to her table.  While waiting for food we talked about the key chains she had made at my request for a friend and me.  She told me the colors of each and I paid her for them.

There was no online menu for this place, so I called before going to ask what they served besides pizza.  The man said they served hot  wings and breadsticks, the usual  things, only he didn't mention the beer.

I ordered the wings.  Spicy unfried chicken I could dip into a sauce if I chose, right?  Nope, they were Drenched in sweet catsup-like barbecue sauce, only it was both thicker and more sticky than catsup.  And I was going to talk with and read other people's Hands?  Now what?  Yah, I'll take them home, not eat here.

Somehow I had espected this quieter room where a group of deaf people met each Friday night to socialize.  The TV was blasting, the beer drinkers were roaring with good spirits before the night was over, only the deaf  people engaged in serious conversations  were quiet.  I had expected my teacher would talk a lot with me.  She did at first, then insisted that I EAT, she had already and needed her hands free to talk with our table mates.  She handed me a Big pile of napkins as thin as toilet paper and that pile Wasn't bit enough to deal with the Sauce!  But I ate.  Are you rolling on the floor yet?  I nearly am now that I'm home safe.

More napkins were stored in my purse and used.  Then I pulled some ice out of my coke, (diet soda isn't sticky) and washed my hands and face with it.  The last of that cube melted into the sauce pit in my deep tray of wing bones, a huge pile of napkins, and the Sauce!  I figured the waitress would just dump the whole wretched thing and not have to touch anything inside the tray the wings were served in.

I was clean enough then to sign to my instructor, "need to take a bath!"  She got a sighted lady to take me to the bathroom.  Quiet in there, too.  But I got a proper wash and as soon as I came out signed, "face is clean?"  She kindly looked then signed "Yes."  I felt much better.

After a bit my instructor got up and took me over to a lady I thought she knew.  Nope, this was socializing, Cold Turkey!  But the lady was Great.  She, like me, was quite hard of hearing but could speak and hear a bit.  She was a great lip reader, so I spoke as I signed, which I usually don't do with people who have grown up deaf.  She is 25 and was learning ASL to better communicate with her deaf boyfriend.  She taught me new words and asked me about myself.  I was surprised.  But I talked a bit about working with Rehab. For the Blind to sell items made by people with disabilities from all around the world.  This made her happy.  When she needed to go I spoke (same term is use for ASL as verbal speech) with a man who asked me if I had attended the state's school for the deaf.  I explained I had gone to a state school for the blind and read Braille.  He didn't know the sign for Braille, why would he?

I talked with a young man who went to a local high school.  He was learning both to read lips and closed captioning from having a number of TV sets all on the same program at the same time.  He was young and shy.  I can't remember how I got him to laugh but he said I was funny, then changed it to silly.  I said he was silly and we signed "yes you are" and "No, you are silly" for a couple of minutes. I signed that my mother was silly.   From there it Did get sily, anything I said became something to argue about, for the hell of it.  When I told him he liked to argue, there was another round of "yes you do" and "No, it's you".  I was laughing by the time that was done.  The young man was looking forward to driving and asked if I had a lot of money.  Hu?  He said he was broke and I said I was close to broke, electric bills were too high.  He agreed (no argument?) and complained about hiss bill too.

Then he told me it was night, dark, and he wanted to go to sleep.  We each agreed that it had been nice to meet the other and I wished him a good night.

I had never noticed so much difference in Hands before.  Some adult hands were so small I had a hard time reading them.  Every person made letters of the alphabet differently.  Some hands were so big I had to stretch mine to tell what the tips of the fingers were doing.  I forgot to cut my fingernails before going and had to be careful not to accidentally scratch anyone during conversation.  Some people had such short thumbs they couldn't make the letters in the way I have been taught and had to adapt them.  Other people had such short fingers that it was hard to tell the letter C from the letter E.  The very large hands had to be checked out carefully to see if the fingers Were curving or not.  I'm learning a lot.

  Someone led me back to my instructor's table.  We talked a bit more and I called a cab, with difficulty because of the noise.

A lady who had been talking with my instructor but who signed too fast for me to follow said she would watch for my cab.  I stood by the front door and she came for me when it pulled up.  Until I started to get into the car I didn't realize I was holding the elbow of a deaf guardian angel.  I mean that literally as he came outside to make sure the tiny lady guiding me and I were save and he took over, leading me to the cab.  Then I heard the driver talking from the car's front seat.  So I signed and spoke "Thank you" and he said "Ok" very softly.  I made sure to look at him and smile my thanks.

Got home at about 10:45.  Oh boy, into the house alone.  Dog was at the front door, a Comfort!  But after petting him I still went through swinging my cane viciously saying things loudly like, "Nope, no scumb hiding in the bathtub, this closet's too Packed for a fool to hide in . . . "  Totally silly, but a comforting ritual nonetheless. 

Then I fed the dog, took him out, and just Couldn't Believe what I had just done, with the moral support of my instructor but largely by myself.  I said a prayer of thanks as I realized I actually had Fun!  I decided Ann must be watching over me and thanked her, but a voice inside my own head said, "No."  So I thought of how much safer I'd have felt with Ann there, but then I also probably wouldn't have gone if I weren't so lonely and needing a Positive challenge.  Ann was incurably curious, though.  I might have gone because She wanted to.  But I don't know that I would have worked so hard at ASL if Ann were stil here, who can say?

A thing about being deaf-blind is that you carry in your very existence the worst fears of both groups.  Blind people tend to hear much more and more deeply than sighted people because we Have to listen better to survive.  In the same way deaf people see more and understand people they see more deeply because they Must use all of the sight they have to survive.  Only once tonight did I sign at someone who was too scared to answer.  Everyone else was extremely kind and gracious.  I am Deeply thankful!  In Cherokee, Ga-li-e-li-ga.  (I rejoice, I am Grateful!)

Didn't want to wake anyone up for such a long story, so am afflicting you.  That's why I began this blog, to have someone to talk to. 

If I go back it's got to be Pizza, which I didn't order this time for fear of making a mess with the cheese strings.  But it's strings over wings from Now On!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had a great time! That's a big step to take for any shy or reserved person - going out and meeting new people.