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I had not been officially diagnosed as hearing impaired and at age eight it was easy for adults to brush off any indication of a problem as inattention.
“You act like you‘re off in a dream world.”
What is wrong with that girl? Why is she so hard headed? Lack of common sense. My mother just believed whatever the teachers said. She was young and did not know what else to do.
“Can everybody be wrong?” she’d ask.
To this day I will never understand how any Black person who grew up under Jim crow could ask such a question.
“You better stop trying to be so big and bad.”
“Mama I‘m not trying to be big and bad. ”
”Rhonda, you must think everybody else in the world is crazy but you. Look at your report card.”
I looked. E’s and VG’s in subjects, U’s and I’s in citizenship. I did not understand. But then, bad people never understand. So am I bad? I wondered. Everyone seems to know that I am. When did this happen? Why did it happen without my wanting it?
But deep in my heart I knew that I did not want to be bad. It wasn‘t hard to understand that other kids liked having someone they could beat up without getting in trouble. Argued with your sister last night? Didn‘t like what your mother gave you for breakfast? Take it out on Rhonda. How could I survive in a world like this? Could the woman who knew everything about everything tell me? She told me to tell the teacher when kids tried to fight me. So one day when a boy and some other kids were harassing me on the way home I went back and told a teacher. "Don't tell me about it. These kids take up for each other around here." I did not understand why she was saying this. All I knew was she was not going to protect me. All I knew was what my mother had told me was wrong.
“I can‘t let you in my class.” he told me.
“What do you mean you can‘t let me in your class? Michael, I want to be in your class. I need to be in your class. I need to be in a class and yours is the one I‘ve chosen.”
We called our professors by their first names. At least I did. Maybe I was the only one who did and just didn’t hear what the other students called them but my professors did not seem offended. Besides, they called me by my first name. accept this one I was talking to. Michael called me Ms. Johnson. No one had ever called me Ms. Johnson before. But then he called the little tape recorder folks walked around with a Walkperson. I was in the literature emphasis of the English department’s grad program and Michael taught Medieval lit, a class I had put high on my list of electives that were available that quarter.
“You see, Ms. Johnson, part of the requirements for my class is you have to read the text aloud. With your hearing impairment I‘m afraid you won‘t be able to catch the right pronunciation.”
“That‘s your fear not mine. I‘m not afraid. So let me take the class.” “Medieval English is not like modern English. And you have to be able to do it right to pass my class.”
“Let me take the class. If I don‘t do well throw me out but don‘t assume what I can and cannot do.”
A man who called himself a prophet came to our Church for a series of workshops. He would hit a note on the piano and then sing that note. His voice sounded terrible but he sang the right note. At one Sunday service he officiated in his role as a prophet. Everybody went down to let him lay hands on them for healing. I wasn’t about to go up there for physical healing since I had been there and done that, but I was feeling so much anger and pain and I thought maybe if he prayed for me I could have some kind of release because the man’s deep voice comforted me. So I went up. When he came to me he started to lay his hands on my ears but I told him that’s not what I was there for.
“I know.” the prophet said.
Then he leaned over and whispered into my ear.
“What are you here for?” “I need healing in my heart and mind.” I told him.
“Yes, that is your problem. You see faith comes by hearing and since you can‘t hear faith can‘t come to you.”
I swear to God he actually said that. The next day while he was speaking he reminded us that the Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God. I was in tears for days. I thought—no, I felt because in truth I was not thinking—I felt as if God had played a terrible trick on me. I need to hear in order to have faith but I need faith in order to be healed so I can hear. Then I remembered myself. Forgot the spell of the man and remembered myself. I remembered how I had walked around Los Angeles for six years unable to see or hear and every time I stepped off a curb into the street it was a step of faith. When at bay even the most fearful army will fight viciously. My mind was like an army at bay.