Visualize this: you are a young teenager growing up in a largely rural area where you are pretty much the only person with hearing loss, minus the senior citizens. Very few people actually sign, and none of them fluently. Not even your immediate family.
Add into the mix being a teenager and all of the emotions and identity crises that you may experience. Acne. First dates. Junior high or high school. Being deaf just makes your life even more complicated.
My parents divorced when I was in fifth grade. I took it out on myself and I blamed everything that happened on me. After the holiday break in December, I was not myself in school. I took out the stress of the divorce on my textbooks, destroying the pages — not a fun sight. But I still had both of my parents in my life after the divorce. My dad only moved several miles away.
My mom’s the one who’s the better signer in the family. Dad’s always been the one with home signs that we both understand. Dad is a mason by heart and has always taught me to “get that long twist tool from the truck,” or to get him a “bucket of sand for the cement.”
One of the first properties my dad and his girlfriend bought was a 20 acre farm on Zena Road on the outskirts of the town where I grew up. Although Dad did not have any farm animals, he enjoyed having the space for his masonry equipment and his huge 50×50 foot vegetable garden. Plus he bought this big ride-on mower and a 60cc motorbike for his kids.
It was often frustrating for me growing up being alone. I had my friends and my siblings, but I often sought to be alone, so I took up the responsibility of cutting nearly two acres of grass every weekend. If it rained on the weekend, either I’d face taller-than-usual grass or Dad would cut it for me. Riding on the mower gave me some quiet solitude time and a chance to be deep into my thoughts. The mower wasn’t the only way I could be alone.
That first year on the farm, we purchased a used Honda 60cc motorbike for us to ride. My brother and sister were still too young to ride the motorbike (they later got a go-kart), so the motorbike was to be shared by my stepbrother and me.
The first time I tried to ride the Honda, Dad had to explain to me how to use the bike.
“To increase speed, you need to hold the clutch and press down on the year. To go faster, you need to press down on another year and then another year.” I took this in with some confusion, mostly just wanting to nod through his instructions and learn as I go. But, to wait one year after another year to increase my speed, I was devastated.
The first ride I had, I held in the clutch and pressed down on one year and slowly let go of the clutch while giving the bike some gas. As it often happens with people learning the clutch the first time, the bike stalled. After I mastered the release, I was able to scoot forward. At 10 mph.
Here I was, going down the dirt road and onto the pasture at 10 mph. With the cars zooming down Zena Road at 40 mph, I rode on like a tortoise. Every weekend for nearly a month, after cutting the grass (often wondering why I was going almost as fast on the mower as on the bike), I finally figured out what was wrong.
I had misunderstood Dad.
My younger brother had to explain to me that the “stick on your left side” is the gear shift. I was supposed to shift down to increase speed. Thus the ‘year’ was actually the gear. After that dumb moment, I was able to enjoy the rest of my summer, but I never forgot the lesson I learned- speed doesn’t come with age.