Through a Son’s Eyes

ThroughASonsEyes

{fiction… from a son’s perspective}

I loved my mother.  She loved me, too.  I always knew that, and it was a very comforting thought.

Mom was my only parent, and it built in us a special relationship.  We were very close, just mother and son.  I remember she always woke me up by rubbing my back, even when I was in high school.  It was nice, those five or ten minutes every morning together, while she introduced me to the new day.

Every night she sat on my bed and read the Bible to me, or a story.  Then we would talk quietly for a while, recapping the day.  Many deep, secret things were exchanged in those times between wake and sleep.

Mom was a teacher for the hearing impaired.  She used sign language with her students, and taught it to me, too.  She told me I used my first sign, “pillow,” when I was about six months old.

But our special sign was one I made up when I was about three.  Mom was so proud of that.  It was first an “I love you” sign: hand outstretched, palm facing out, with the thumb, forefinger, and little finger extended; ring and middle fingers bent down to the palm.  I elaborated on it.  I did the “I love you” sign, then put up my other two fingers as well:  “I love you – a lot.”

We used our special sign many times: every school morning through the babysitter’s window; through my bedroom doorway, the last thing I saw at night; parting to go to our separate Sunday school classes; leaving in my old van when I was off to college; striking out on my own at the beginning of my career, two states away.

Because Mom was a teacher of the hearing impaired, it struck her as the ultimate irony when, in the course of kindergarten screening, I was found to have a hearing loss myself.  It wasn’t a very bad loss, but it turned out to be degenerative.  Slowly, gradually, I lost all of my hearing.

It was okay at first because I could still hear.  I could still play with my friends.  Soon, however, many friends tired of always having to repeat things to me, or of always having to make sure they were facing me as they talked.  They weren’t interested in that kind of thing.  I always had a small group of friends I could go around with, though, who were understanding and patient, and we had many a good time; but, I wasn’t the same as the others.

School was difficult for me, but I had sign interpreters for most of my classes.  I was able to stay out of special education because I had been hearing before, and I already knew the English language and vocabulary.  Besides, I had Mom at home.  She knew about all that stuff, and made sure I did, too.

Through the years Mom helped me bridge the gap between hearing and deaf.  She had known me when I was hearing.  As I became deaf we could still communicate easily because of her signing.  We could still exchange bedtime secrets.  In the dark, Mom and I would sign into each other’s hands.  She could still yell at me for being late, or forgetting to take out the garbage.  She taught me about the meadowlarks that nested in the field near our house, about the constellations in the night sky, and about girls and respect.

After I’d moved away and started my job I joined a church that had a sign language interpreter.  I made both hearing and deaf friends there.  At the time, though my hearing was gone, I still felt like a hearing person.  I don’t remember entering the “deaf world,” but I do recall the morning I suddenly realized I was there.

As time went on I spent more time with my deaf friends.  I found it easier to communicate with them, and we seemed to have more in common.  There was one particular deaf young lady who interested me.

Linda and I were married on a beautiful spring day.  Mom came, and cried.  We signed our “I love you – a lot” through the car window as Linda and I drove away.

Mom and I still kept in touch through e-mails, letters and texting.  “The meadowlarks are here,” she’d type.  “They’ve become fat and lazy without you here to chase them around.”

“I’ll bring Linda and the kids,” I’d type back, taking the hint.  “That should stir ’em up.”

We’d go to Mom’s for relaxing visits.  We’d have endless conversations on the back porch, on the living room sofa, around the kitchen table with our coffee.  Linda would join in, fitting easily into our “windmilling” as we signed.

Of course, daily pressures of job demands and family responsibilities often kept us out of touch with Mom.  Time stretched longer and longer between visits, texts, and e-mails as we attended to our own priorities.

Those priorities suddenly rearranged one day with a text from a neighbor of Mom’s.  A short message, really: “Your mother had a stroke.  Come home quickly.  She needs you.”

I made arrangements and flew, alone, to be with her.

Worry and concern and tears came first, in the uncertainty of whether she would even live.  As she began her recovery, those fears were replaced with warm hugs and lingering touches.  I would stroke her hair as we sat quietly together.

Because of her condition, we had decided to put Mom in a nursing home near us, praying the rehab wing would be only short-term, and that she would be able to recover most of her faculties.  Before we placed her there, Linda and I took a tour of the home.  I was pleased with the clean, friendly atmosphere, the spacious bedrooms, the well-groomed grounds.  The downstairs floor was equipped with rooms for therapy, including a craft workshop for those whose upper body mobility was limited (like Mom’s), but who were helped by making small articles of clay, cloth, etc.  There was also a separate kitchen used for therapy, to re-teach many of the basic routines the patients no longer took for granted.

Mom had lost most of the use of her hands.  Her right hand was limp, and her left hand stumbled awkwardly.  She couldn’t sign, she couldn’t write or type, and her speech was affected.  Mom did eventually start learning to talk again, but her speech was so slurred that it was impossible for me to lip-read.  Anguish shone deep in her eyes when I came to visit.  With her stroke, our means of communication had been wiped out.  Sometimes a nurse would come in to help us communicate.  She would repeat what Mom had said for me to lip-read, or write notes.

But it wasn’t the free, easy communication that had flowed between us all my life.  I resented it.  Visits became awkward, conversation stilted.  I went to see her less and less often.

I stopped after work to see Mom one day, and Nurse Julie greeted me.  She handed me a note.  “Your mother has been working very hard on a surprise for you.  I won’t tell you what it is.  It might seem like a little thing, but I want you to know it has cost her many hours of frustration and tears.  It means a lot to her.”

Julie looked at me intently.  I smiled, thanked her, and started toward Mom’s room.  “That’s nice,” I thought, remembering the craft room downstairs.  “She probably made a pot holder or something.  It’s good she’s using her hands a little.”

I opened the door to her room with a grin and walked in.  She was in her wheelchair.  As I stood facing her, Mom’s fingers began to move.  I knew immediately what the surprise was going to be.  I stood transfixed, watching though tear-blurred eyes the outstretched hand.  Thumb, forefinger, and little finger slowly, painfully extended.  Finally the last two middle fingers slowly stretched out.  “I love you – a lot.”

I sank to my knees and put my head in her lap, my arms around her waist.  Mom put her hand on my head and, with the irregular rhythm of a stroke victim, moved her hand down and began rubbing my back.

Author’s Note: I originally wrote this piece about 30 years ago. It is a true account all the way up to, “in the course of kindergarten screening, I was found to have a hearing loss myself.” I was a teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing, I was a single mother, my son signed his first word, “pillow,” at six months, I read to him at night and rubbed his back to wake him in the mornings, and he came up with the “I love you – a lot” sign. He was found to have a hearing impairment during his kindergarten screening. At the time, 30 years ago, I did the writer’s thing of “what if…” and this fictional piece was the outcome. (My son’s hearing was not permanently affected, and he is now 36, with normal hearing. We still use our special sign with each other.)                                 – KW

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