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Lunchtime in the Cafeteria

by Branden Huxtable

Originally published in the February 1996 issue of the CSCDHH GA Newsletter


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Long time ago, when I still had yet to learn who I was and what it means to be hard-of-hearing/deaf, I was still functioning as if I was a hearing person. Do what the hearing people do and act the same. Of course, I did ask people to repeat things from time to time. If I found I had to keep asking them to repeat, I felt better keeping quiet because nothing in the hearing world taught me better ways to understand people talk. With that attitude, novelties, such as knowing the best way to participate in group conversations, were unheard of.

I had gone to college for several years while functioning as a "normal" hearing person. I met several people during the time and made several friends. One woman in particular, I met outside college. While we talked, we found out we went to the same college. We talked for quite a bit after that. I told her I had recently moved out of my parent’s house and learning to live on my own. She told me about going to class and working at the same time. Later, when I ran into her at college, we talked some more.

Not too long later, I ran into her again after I finished my lunch. She asked me if I had time to chat with her. I still had lots of time before I went to work in the library, so I joined her. When we sat down, she started telling me about the problems she had with her boyfriend. In the cafeteria. During lunch hour. With all the noise. I could not hear a word she said.

I leaned forward. I concentrated hard. I tried to read her lips. The noise around us defeated any of my attempts to follow what she said. The most I could gather was that her boyfriend was an athletic at the college. Beyond that, who knows? Since I had no idea how to make the conversation easier for me, I just waited thinking perhaps she just wanted to vent frustration. I waited and waited for her to finished.

Suddenly, she asked me a question. I sat up, caught off guard. Not only I still could not understand what she was upset about, I completely missed the question. Rather than telling her I spent several minutes saying "Yeah," "Uh-huh," and "I see" and little else, I desperately tried to think of something to say. I tried asking her a question to keep her talking while I figure my way out of this.

"Ummm. Well, why do you like him?" I finally asked.

She kept on talking.

I thought to myself that this charade must stop or I would be in serious trouble. I looked at my watch. Still a long time before work. She rattled on and on and I pretended I understood every word. Meanwhile, I tried to think of either a good exit line or a way to keep her talking so I would avoid having to say something meaningful. Unfortunately, my mind drew blank. I started feeling uncomfortable. After talking for quite some time, she finally stopped and looked at me. I realized she asked me another question. I could feel sweat on my forehead.

"Ohh. Well, how do you feel?" I stammered.

She kept on talking.

I shifted in my seat a few times, hoping she would end the conversation, but she kept talking. After realizing she wanted some possible answers from me, I tried to think of a good excuse to avoid telling her anything. What was she talking about? How many times can I keep asking her questions? How long can I sit here pretending I can understand? When will the noise subside so I can at least have a fighting chance? Almost when I asked that, the last question answered itself. The noise level finally dropped.

"So what do you think?" she asked and I heard every word.

I sat up not expecting a question. "What - what do I think?"

"Yeah. I’d like to know what you think."

"Oh."

What do I think of what? Fifteen minutes and all I knew was that she and her athletic boyfriend were having problems. I could feel my heart beat.

"Well - umm."

My mind raced. I ran out of soul-searching questions to buy time. She looked at me expecting an answer. My throat became dry.

"Let’s see. Well. . ." Athletic boyfriend. I blurted out every cliché I could think of about athletics in love with themselves, their muscles, their build, and would rather be on a pedestal with other people bowing down to worship them like Greek gods, preferring to work out in gyms than to work out relationships.

My friend looked away after my improvisation. Maybe I had said the wrong thing. I tried to cover myself by saying that I could be wrong that maybe it is something else. The more I talked, however, the worse I felt, so I shut up. She looked back at me. I held my breath.

"Yeah, he does act like a Greek god."

I let out my breath.

I had done a terrible thing, but I learned my lessons well. Sometimes, I learn more from my failures giving me a much needed wake-up call. Never again did I put myself in that position. Since I am hard-of-hearing/deaf, I must find my own set of rules, not the hearing rules. Even though hearing people talk regularly in loud environments, I learned I must ask to talk another time or another place, or at least to inform the other person I would have a hard time comprehending. Simple changes make life much easier. Even the simplest knowledge is the hardest to learn.

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