Updated: Aug 12, 2019
Read part 1 here.
I was home, lying on the sofa in the living room beside Grandpa’s room. I could still hear nothing but myself. Mom had shown up at the school, thinking I had a breakdown from all the stress over Grandpa. I hadn’t been able to hear her either, something that freaked me out more than anything else I had experienced so far. I’d left the office with Julia’s screams at her mom still ringing in my ears. What was going on?
At home, everyone had crowded around me, my brothers, aunt and cousins, my mom and dad, my grandma, all staring into my face, articulating, most likely speaking on the top of their lungs… but everything was silent. Everything but my breathing, movements, and words. When I talked, they heard me, because they nodded when I asked.
My mom finally brought a piece of paper and wrote, I’m calling the dr. Let’s not bother Grandpa with this.
So I curled up on the couch, stared into the unlit fireplace, and waited. I wondered how Grandpa was doing. Had he heard all the commotion? Did it upset him? Was he wondering why I hadn’t gone in to talk to him today?
It seemed like forever before my mom came to get me. She tried talking again, but when I shook my head, she beckoned me to follow, and we went to the car. She drove me to the doctor’s office, where they examined me for every possible disease, finding nothing.
I sat there, numb the entire time, in a blur of my own thoughts. It was a strange world of silence, a weird feeling when I opened my eyes and saw the bustling life around me. I had never experienced a silence like this before. Even in a quiet room, I could always hear something, a clock ticking far away, birds chirping, a car passing by, even a light buzzing or my phone charger. This was so different. All I could hear was any sound my body made, and those sounds gradually grew louder. Every breath I took. My heartbeat. My stomach rumbling. The creak of a joint when I moved my knee. My breathing morphed, becoming a roaring machine, pulsing ceaselessly. I focused on it, making it slower and slower, then speeding it up. As everyone around me rushed around, looked at test results, and talked on the phone, I zoned in on my breathing. In and out, in and out.
Pacing up and down in my room, I would sometimes stomp a little harder than I needed to, relieved every time I heard the noise.
I was going crazy. I’d missed our play rehearsal, and nobody had a solution to whatever was wrong with me.
What are they going to do without me and Heather in the play? was the biggest question on my mind.
I kept walking back and forth, back and forth, trying to think of something, anything that made sense about my condition.
Her name kept popping into my head, and I shooed it away. I had no desire to talk to or come into any sort of contact with her. She was the last person I’d wanted to see me break down in front of the principal.
But she was going through the same thing. At least, she seemed just as panicked as I did. And what was with us hearing each other? Nobody else, just us. It was crazy, a nightmare that lasted hours, maybe days.
I plopped onto my bed, staring at the ceiling. The sound of my breathing drove me crazy. I didn’t understand how I’d never noticed it before.
I picked up my phone. I was going to call her. Maybe I was just being stupid and I couldn’t hear her after all. That thought scared me more than the thought of hearing her.
I couldn’t hear the dialing or ringing. I just stared at the phone in my hand until, all of a sudden, a voice crackled. “Hello?”
“Oh my gosh, I can hear you,” was the first thing out of my mouth.
“What do you want?”
That took me aback. “What do you mean? You’re the only person I can hear right now. I think that would merit some amount of joy.” Suddenly, I had a horrible feeling. “Wait. Can you hear anything else? How did you know I was calling?”
“I was on my phone when you called. But forgive me if I’m not as thrilled to talk to you as you want me to be. We aren’t exactly on talking terms.”
“Yeah, but we hear each other. That has to mean something. Maybe we can figure—“
“Figure this out?” I hated how excited I got about hearing the sarcasm in her voice. Any voice was better than my own. “What can we do? Nobody has a clue what’s going on. Even the doctors don’t know what to do. How would we be able to do anything?”
“I don’t know! I just can’t keep sitting around here like this. What about school? What about the play? I have to hear. Everything.”
She didn’t answer right away. “We’re going to see a specialist. I’m sure they’ll have some explanation. Maybe you should try that too.”
“Are you going to tell them that you can hear me? That might be important.”
“Of course I will. But who will believe me? I have a feeling that we’re going to look a lot crazier than we do now.”
“I just need to get… better ASAP. This is a horrible time for this to happen.”
“No kidding.” I could barely hear her.
I rolled over on my bed. “Let me know if they tell you anything, okay? I’ll do the same.”
After we hung up, I got up and peered into the living room. Dad was out there, watching TV. “Dad?” He looked at me with bloodshot eyes. “Are you okay?”
He mouthed something and turned back to the TV. I sighed. “It was worth a try. Goodnight.”
I almost called Heather again, just to hear another voice. I was going to go crazy if this kept up for much longer.
Three days had past. Three days of hearing nothing but my own movements. Other than the one short time I talked to Julia. Three days of trips to doctors, googling, researching every possible sickness or disease out there that had to do with hearing impairment. I’d told the doctors that I could hear myself and Julia, which confused them and was probably the reason why they sent me to a psychiatrist. He, of course, couldn’t help me any more than anyone else could. Especially since I couldn’t hear him and he had to write out every question.
It was getting close to day four, and I was desperate. I’d gone in to see Grandpa once today, and he’d seemed so happy to see me. I was afraid to talk to him, knowing I wouldn’t be able to hear his answer. He looked so much weaker than even a few days before. My mom patted me on the shoulder as I left his room, but nothing could make me feel better. Grandpa might pass at any time, and I couldn’t even hear what he had to say.
It was late, probably close to ten, when I pulled out my phone and called Julia, ignoring the dozens of texts my friends had sent me, wondering where I was and if I was okay. Jason especially annoyed me, texting me about three times a day.
She didn’t pick up.
I tried again, figuring that she probably didn’t hear her phone. No answer.
I sighed, tempted to throw the phone across the room. But if she called back, I’d need it close by.
I waited an hour, browsing on my phone, until my phone finally rang. “Julia?”
“It’s a good thing I checked my phone. I didn’t hear you call.”
“You don’t have to be a jerk about it. Why are you calling? Did you figure out something?”
“No.” I leaned back, closing my eyes. “Nothing. They can’t help me. What about you?”
“Same. I think people think I’ve gone crazy. I mean, what other logical explanation is there?”
“They’re right. I’m literally going crazy.”
“Me too! You don’t understand how good it is to hear another voice other than my own.”
“No kidding.” Anyone who heard Julia would agree with that. But, somehow, I was actually grateful to hear her.
“We need to get together. Maybe we can figure something out.”
I didn’t have to think long before agreeing. The last thing I wanted was her to come over here. “Should I meet you at your house?”
“Yeah. Can you come now?”
Half an hour later, I stood in front of Julia’s house. I was surprised at how small the house was, not in a good area of town either. It was so scary being out on the street and not being able to hear anything. It felt like anyone could sneak up on me without my noticing.
I knocked, praying that Julia would open the door. She didn’t. A skinny woman in yoga pants opened the door and gave me a worried smile. I said hello and that I was looking for Julia, hoping she wouldn’t ask me anything else. She said something, and I nodded, hoping it wasn’t a question.
Just then, Julia walked into the room. “Mom, I told her she should come over. She’s the girl I can hear.”
Her mom looked from one of us to the other, chewing her lip. She nodded and said something.
“I wish I could read lips,” Julia said to me. “I don’t know what you’re saying, Mom. She can’t hear you either, so we’re just going to be in my room.”
Julia led me through the tiny living room. I glanced around, surprised at the order of the house. It was small and run-down on the outside, but whoever did the decorating had great taste. A small blanket covered the couch, almost hiding the cigarette burns on the worn fabric.
Julia’s room was small as well, but there wasn’t one thing out of place. I don’t remember seeing a room that clean before, where even her shoes under the bed were in perfect line.
I sat on her bed while she paced the room. It got on my nerves after 2 minutes, since it took her four steps to get across the floor and back.
“Could you tell Jason to stop harassing me? I know you just sent him on me to get to me.”
She looked at me, confusion on her face. “What do you mean?”
“He keeps texting me. And in school. He’s always trying to talk and won’t get the hint.”
“I didn’t tell him to do that,” Julia said. “Why would I want my—friend talking to you?”
As we stared at each other, I slowly realized that maybe I’d been wrong about Jason. Maybe he was genuinely interested. “Well, maybe you could talk him into leaving me alone then.”
Julia looked at me a second longer before starting to pace again. “So the only thing I could think of is a concussion. We both could hear fine until we walked into each other in front of the classroom.”
“Yeah, but then why can we hear each other? It makes no sense.”
“Do you think if we bump heads again, we could make it change back?”
I studied Julia. As ludicrous as that sounded, I couldn’t say I wasn’t willing to try. “Okay. How are we going to do this?”
“Let’s reenact the event. You walk out of the room, I’ll walk in, and we’ll bump heads.”
This felt ridiculous.
I waited until Julia was out and had closed the door. Then I stood up and walked toward it. She swung the door open and hit me in the head before I even reached it.
It took us a few tries to time it right, and I was getting more and more frustrated. We finally succeeded, and the biggest change was that I had an even worse headache than before, and Julia whined about me hitting her too hard.
“Whatever. This isn’t going to work.”
“Okay, we’ll just have to think of something else.” She pulled out a notebook. “I’ve been thinking about options.”
I rolled my eyes and waited to hear her other horrible ideas.
Hours later, I left, not feeling any better and feeling increasingly annoyed with Julia. Why did it have to be her? I’d have happily taken anyone else’s voice in my head. Even my little brothers’. Even boring Mr. Young’s. Mom’s. Anyone’s.
Maybe I needed to think of ways to change this back. It just seemed so crazy, I hadn’t even considered trying to find a solution.
“What am I going to do?” I asked aloud.
The next day, Julia showed up at my house. I didn’t even know she knew where I lived. When the door to my room opened, and Mom escorted her in, I sat up quickly. “What do you think you’re doing here?”
“I’m not giving up until we get to the bottom of this.” She gave my mom a fake smile and walked to my desk chair, where she sat.
Mom gave me a look, trying to figure out what we were up to. She’d taken off work for the week to take care of Grandpa and consult with people about my condition. I felt bad for her. She had enough going on without me adding to it. She pulled out her phone, and my phone vibrated a minute later.
This is Julia? What are you doing?
“I wish I knew,” I said, scowling at Julia. “How did you know where I live?”
“I have my ways.” Julia didn’t even look up, flipping through the pages of her notebook.
My phone buzzed again. I glanced up at Mom’s worried face and then down at my phone. She probably thought Julia and I were making the whole deaf thing up. Let me know if you need anything.
When she’d left, Julia looked at me. “So this idea may work better than the last one.”
“Why are you in my house? Haven’t you ever heard of privacy before?”
“We have to figure this out, Heather. I don’t know why you always focus on the wrong thing. I’ve been checking with Mrs. Gutenheim, and they’re about to cancel the play. Not to mention all the classes we’re missing—“
“Who cares?” I almost yelled. “Nobody gives a crap about the stupid play.”
I stared into Julia’s wide eyes, and she pulled her hair, as if she were about to tear it out. “You don’t care about hearing other people again? Why are you so against this?”
“I’m not against hearing! I’m against you, your ideas, and your coming to my house without even asking or giving a warning. We’re not friends, and I don’t want to live my life in misery and have to see you all the time.”
Julia, for once in her life, was speechless. After a long silence, she took a deep breath. “I can’t believe how selfish you are. You might not care about anything, but I have a life I want to live. I thought that even if you didn’t care about me, the least you could do was help yourself. I mean, you have a lot going for you too. You have money, a good family, you’re grades are almost as good as mine—“
“Grandpa’s dying,” I whispered. Julia looked up at me. “He’s almost gone, and there’s nothing I can do for him whether I can hear or not.” My voice rose again. “Who cares how much we have or if I’m in the play or not? That won’t bring him back. There’s no point.”
We sat in silence for another minute.
“Is that why you’ve been missing everything?”
I didn’t answer.
She stood up, and I could barely hear her words. “I thought you had everything going for you.”
“What do you mean?”
Julia sighed, looking as exhausted as I felt. “I thought you had it all. The looks, money, talent. I’ve always envied how good you were at school. Like, I could tell you didn’t even try in class, and you’d still have good or better grades than I would, even after I studied for hours. It’s not fair. And Jason—” She caught herself and shook her head.
I stared at her, shocked that anyone would think that of me. So maybe I did good at school, but who really cared? That didn’t mean I had my life together.
She walked out, and I sat curled up on my bed, staring at the wall, embracing the silence.
Read part 3 here.