Heard the one about the deaf girl showing up at the Blind woman’s doorstep?
In our case, this was not a joke. I’m trying to slowly get back into the swing of things, so I stuck with a plan to have 20-plus students from a disability studies class at DePaul University come visit last Thursday. My memoir Long Time, No See is required reading for this “Explore Chicago” class, and students hop on the Red Line from Lincoln Park every semester to come see where/how I live and ask questions about the book. A story in DePaul Magazine about the teacher, Karen Meyer, explains:
She requires her students to draw from an extensive list of books, articles and films-including familiar titles such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” ”Sea Biscuit” and “Frieda” — which tell stories about people with disabilities.
“They tell me they pick movies they’ve seen before, but after they see it with a different understanding, they have a completely different perspective. They’re looking for themes that they’ve never looked for before,” she says. ”We meet the author of ‘Long Time, No See’-we go to her house,” says Meyer, who is friends with writer Beth Finke.
Mike has been reluctant to leave me at home alone since my surgery. I’d be safe with Karen Meyer and her class here, though, so he was going to take advantage of that time and head to the gym. Our doorman called while Mike was getting his gym bag together. One student was here early, and he was sending her up to our apartment. The student never knocked on our door, and when Mike took off to leave he saw her sitting on the floor in the hallway, looking at her phone. She pantomimed to him, and Mike understood right away. “Are you deaf?” he asked. She read his lips and nodded yes.
Most of the students in this Explore Chicago class are average kids who want to learn about disabilities. This is the first time one of them had a hearing impairment, and mixing a person who is blind with a person who is deaf can be, well…awkward. We disabled types are a resourceful bunch, though. I was confident we’d manage. I let Mike usher our guest to a seat at the breakfast bar, and I shooed him out the door.
The student was probably perfectly happy looking at her phone while she waited, but I couldn’t see to know that, and if I asked, she wouldn’t hear me. What to do? I gave her a copy of my children’s book Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound and headed to my room to change clothes.
I heard her thumbing through the pages for a while, but by the time I returned to the kitchen, the page-thumbing had stopped. I still had some things to do to get ready, but I didn’t want our guest to feel like I’d abandoned her. Eureka! My clipboard!
I’d also hoped to get some quick email messages out when I’d finished in the bathroom, but with a guest sitting in the kitchen alone, I didn’t feel right hiding away in my office. Wait! My talking computer is a laptop. I could bring it into the kitchen! I started typing there , and it dawned on me. I used my pointer finger to call my guest over to the computer keyboard, then pointed at the screen. . “This is how I type,” I wrote. “My computer talks. What is your name? She came to the keyboard and started typing. C-a-r-l-a.
We were in business! It was like TTD, except Carla and I were in the same room. I’d type, she’d read the question and answer. I’d manipulate the keys on my talking laptop to hear what she’d typed, and type out a response. By the time the other students finally arrived (they’d been waiting for Carla downstairs, of course!) I’d learned she lives in Rogers Park, she has one sister who is only two years old, and sometimes it gets tiring chasing her around the house. “Will you sign my book for me?” she wrote, placing a copy of Long Time, No See in my hand. I signed it in print and in Braille. “To my new friend Carla.”
A sign language interpreter had arrived along with the group of students and stood next to me as I gave my presentation. The only thing that might have tipped them off that I had open-heart surgery weeks ago was seeing the beginning of a scar at my neck. That, and my request to sit on the piano bench rather than stand as I spoke to them. Based on last week’s success, I’m keeping a commitment to speak at a retirement community tomorrow on the benefits of memoir-writing. This Friday Mike and I are attending a birthday party for one of my favorite 80-year-olds, and next Monday I have appointments with the cardiologists who saved my life last month. After all that? I think we’ll rest.