Thoughts from Soundproof Room B
I know the drill. I step into the dark, cold room. A single seat—my seat—faces a soundproof glass window, on the other side of which sits the audiologist. First, she puts the single headphone over one of my ears, my left. She then hands me a “clicker” and shuts the heavy airlock door behind her. The door hisses.
“Ready?” she asks. Beep, click. Beep, click. Beep, click. Beep… Beep, click.
“Good.” She smiles. “Now, repeat after me.”
She covers her mouth with a piece of paper. Lip reading is cheating.
Airplane. Sunshine. Hotdog. Football. Cabbage. Cabbage? I know that one is wrong. It is too odd a word, and not nearly patriotic enough. Every year I make a game of guessing which American image will be conjured by the hearing test. This time, I am watching a football game under an autumn sun, hotdog in hand, as the Blue Angels roar overhead. She raises the volume and repeats the word. Oh, there you have it. Apparently, it’s a Cowboys game.
My appointments with the audiologist invariably follow this pattern. Following the testing of my left ear, she sees the results and asks, “Have you been wearing your hearing aids?”
This question almost amuses me. Hearing loss isn’t a gradual “fix it” problem like crooked teeth; it’s a permanent problem, like old speakers that have seen their prime. You know you could upgrade and get better, improved technology, but you’re attached to the quirks and flaws of what you have.
“Yes,” I say. But I lie. Lips have been too kind to force me to stuff my ears with hearing aids. Lips are my friends. You may tell me to eat you in the cafeteria, but your lips tell me that I should just meet you there instead. `
She comes back into the cage-of-a-room—the door hisses open and she fixes the headset. Now we’re testing my right ear. The door hisses behind her. It is cold again.
Context is my other friend in deciphering muffled murmurs. I can’t see her lips, so I search her eyes for some evidence of the words she says. She has gray bags under her eyes, and a few loose bangs fall against her eyebrow. Rough night, I guess. Her eyes quickly scan her desk for the picture of a boy, her son, as though to make sure it’s still there. Maybe he’s sick, I think.
But none of this helps. She is too good at what she does, masking when she creates the beeps and covering up what she says. She’s the cop, I’m the criminal. The only difference between this room and an interrogation room is that the glass isn’t one-way.
Beep click. Beep, click. Beep… Beep, click. Seashore, School bus, Ice cream, Baseball. Come on, I think. Be creative. I thought that I heard “Rockwell” once, and surely he would fit the hearing test’s disyllabic and American criteria, but it was only my imagination.
After the test is over and we learn that my hearing has worsened, my audiologist weakly smiles at me, but her tired, knowing eyes plead with me.
“You really should wear your hearing aids all the time. They’re not just for school.”
Meeting her gaze, I give in. I pop the things into my ears as I’ve done hundreds of times before and turn them on and wait for the beep signaling to the world that my own world of whispers, of introspection and of quiet Saturday nights with a few close friends has fallen once more.
But from among the invasive noises that flood me, among the hum of the A/C, the muffled croons of children in the waiting room next door and the clops of high heels walking down the hallway outside, I hear something else. Reacting to the sound, I turn towards the window, where I see a crimson cardinal and his drab mate perched on a magnolia.