Music to My Ears

The wind has risen.  My new ten-foot canopy sways with the tumult of the air.  Soon I will need to stand on the small stepladder that I got at Lowe’s last weekend to crank the umbrella closed.  It’s done its job for the last few days, keeping the worst of the sun’s wrath from my little oasis.

I strain to separate the chirp of the settling songbirds from constant whine of tinnitus.  Years ago one of my in-laws admitted that the sudden onset of ringing in her ears drove her to seek medication for anxiety.  Yet I have lived with mine since high school.

My grandfather first tested my ears at his kitchen table.  He and my grandmother owned Sonotone House of Hearing.  Armed with a big, mysterious box and a training certificate, Grandpa drove around rural Illinois selling devices to old farmers and their patient wives.  My mother convinced herself that I just didn’t pay attention, but on the offchance, she asked her father to run a few tests.

I stayed at the table while he called her.  She’s got a significant loss, he calmly informed his daughter about her own baby girl.  They chatted, devised a plan, and a week later, I sat in a booth at a real doctor’s office.  Raise your finger when you hear the tone, came the instruction through my head phone. I nodded.  I closed my eyes and strained to catch the chimes.  Every time something drifted through my brain, I lifted a hand.  

For some reason, I suddenly opened my eyes.   Four or five white-clad technicians, the doctor, and my Mom stood at the window studying me.  A nervous smile crossed my face, fleeing as quickly as it rose.  One of them opened the door and gestured me to take off the head phones, and come into the adjacent examining room.  The gaggle of somber medical folks and my worried mother followed.

My mom put her arm around my shoulders.  I felt my eyebrows furrow downward.  What’s wrong, I whispered.  Did I miss some of the sounds?  I signaled whenever I heard one, really, I assured her.  She shook her head.

We all sat except someone whom I took to be a student.  The doctor folded his hands and watched me for a few minutes.  He finally spoke, in the gentlest of voices.  Here’s the thing, he said.  We never even turned on the machine.  Those noises are all in your head.

Over the decades, various doctors charted my gradual hearing loss.  When last I had an examination, the year my third husband left me, a doctor in Kansas City prescribed hearing aids that would cost $10,000.00 each for my profound impairment of neurogenic origin.  Essentially, as I vaguely understand it, there really isn’t anything wrong with my ears.  It’s just that my brain and my auditory senses can’t communicate.

I did not get those hearing aids.  My husband begged me to let him buy them for me, but I saw that as guilt money and I had already taken as much of that as my conscience could bear.  Eight or nine years later, I haven’t been checked again but I’m fairly certain that nothing has improved.  Luckily I can still hear high notes, like the finch trilling a lullaby to its mate in the branches of the California oak, and the scrub jay screeching because I haven’t filled the feeder.  I smile at him.  It’s good to hear you, Mr. Noisy, I say, as I reach for the bag of songbird seed.

It’s the eighteenth day of the one-hundred and fifteenth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Click here to read about the organization designated to receive 20% of my book sale revenues for July, and/or to purchase my book.  You will also find a link to the website at which you can buy prints of Genevieve Casey’s photographs which appear in my book.  Thank you.

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