Wednesday, January 25, 2006

my greatest gift

There it is. It’s not the dress, it’s not the bracelet, it’s not the book, it’s not the shawl, it’s not the fellowship, it’s not my teachers, it’s not your love, although I love all of those things. The greatest gift I was ever given was my good ear.

This is a gift because I was given a bad ear too.

I was born with a rare condition that could have been worse. I could have had two bad ears, or no jaw, or no speech, or no voice, no understanding of voice, or no kidneys, or no chance. Instead, I was born breached, upside down from my mother, right on time in the middle of a blizzard. Instead, I have this: I cannot hear you if you sit on my left side. I cannot find you if you call for me across a campus, or in a big house, or in an auditorium, or if I cannot see you. I sometimes get dizzy or fall down or run into things on my left side. When I was young, I was afraid to tell people, and some of my friends thought I was ditzy or really mad at them all the time or a giant bitch.

That’s all. That’s enough. I get bruised and confused. I miss things, but not too many things, not everything. I am able to experience almost all of the world, and most of my life, I have tried to go around remembering. I wear ear plugs at every concert, and even at the movies (yes the movies, you should do this too) now, though when I was younger, I was embarrassed. I try to think about hearing, really hearing, what I can, and loving it, because I know I could have not heard anything. I know many people don’t. I try to think about walking, really think about it and love it, because I have a friend who can’t. And I have a friend who can’t sleep. I have a friend who can’t breathe. I have a friend who can’t be happy without pills. And I can do those things. And you can probably do those things.

I have a good ear, and I can hear, and listen to music, and play music (a secret…shh…my choir teacher would kill me if he knew I told…I have perfect pitch), and write music, and my poetry, especially my early poems when I was a teenager, my poetry is the poetry of the half-heard, the misheard. I wrote these poems not only thinking that no one could hear me, but often, I wrote them from mistaken song lyrics and phrases. My funny language, my distinctive language, my voice as a writer, is the voice of someone who has had to fill in the blanks, who has had to supply her own narration because she can’t hear the narrator.

I know this. I know it was a gift to be denied half a world.

But I also have another chance.

There is an operation that can be done, three, actually, and they are long and they are violent (going into the head is tricky), and they leave scars, and they are expensive, and I have no insurance, and I don’t even know if I qualify for the operation. I don’t know if I can be helped. But all my life, I have lived on the half-hope that maybe I could get my hearing back. I want to change. I want to hear stereo. I want to hear whispers. I want to play the game of telephone without tearing up.

You understand, I am also afraid I am losing it, my good ear. I’m afraid it’s getting worse. I’m afraid of it going.

A few years ago, I decided, if I won an NEA grant, then I would do the operation. Maybe that—and only that—would be enough money, that would cover it. That would be my sign.

But I am sick of waiting for fucking signs. I am my sign. I want it. I’m terrified, but I want it. I have a good ear, and I want another, and if there is anything in the world that can give me the possibility of another, I have to do it. I have to do it, if not for me, then for the ones that can’t.

I want you to think about that. I want you to think about what you have, and I want you to think about what you could have. Why are you smoking? You have two, beautiful pink lungs. Why are you driving a car everywhere? You can walk. Why are you watching television? You can write. Why are you eating McDonald’s? You can taste. Why are you alone? The world is full of people who would love you, if you would just give them a chance.

It’s the eve of my birthday. It’s the last hour I’m twenty-seven ever in my life. In twenty-seven years, I have never been given what I wanted. Here’s what I want: I want a chance.

I want you to give yourself one too.