It was a little after eight when the audiologist came out into the waiting room to get me. I followed her back to the room where we had sat the day before and I listened to her tell me about what could be done to compensate for my hearing loss. We looked at different kinds of hearing aids, ranging from moderately expensive to sell-your-kidney expensive, and talked about what some of the changes in technology could offer me. We settled on a mid-range pair, as far as pricing was concerned, and she said she only needed the evening to program them. I came home, slept restlessly, and returned.
She was deliberate as she put the pieces of the hearing aids together and explained how the microphone would cradle itself in the bend of my ear and then a small clear tube with a small cone-shaped cover would run down the front of my ear and into the hearing canal. She helped me put them on and then she said she had to run a quick test before she turned them on. What followed was a series of sounds that felt like a mash-up of an old dial-up modem and the sequence the aliens played in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Then, without much fanfare, the room exploded with sound. Layers of noise, or rustles and twinkles, of breaths and buzzes, snaps and clicks. I felt like I could hear my eyelids blinking.
“They’re on now,” she said.
“((((((((I know)))))))),” I replied. Even my voice was clearer. Unleashed. “It’s so loud,” I said. I had forgotten.
“It’s going to feel really loud because your brain has forgotten how to process all of these sounds. It’s going to have to relearn how to hear. And it will. You’re going to do great with these.” She was grinning. I think I could hear her smile. I could hear mine, too. We continued to talk and she explained how to raise and lower the volume to suit my needs. She also told me the aids were set to give me about eighty percent of my hearing back because one hundred percent might be too much to take. She turned it up to ninety just to show me. I’m going to have to work up to it. There’s too much to hear right now.
After a few minutes, I excused myself to go to the restroom — my first venture out into the world, if you will. I actually heard the conversation of the people walking in front of me, along with the clicking of their shoes. The flush of the toilet was Niagara Falls. And do you have any idea how much noise a zipper makes? As I returned, all I could think about was Buffy the Vampire Slayer in one of my favorite episodes, “The Aspect of the Demon,” where she can hear everyone’s thoughts and feelings to the point of being overwhelmed by them. It seemed that everywhere I turned I was hearing the sounds of silence: noise where I had only heard nothing.
I got in the car to come home and turned down the radio for the first time I can remember. I could hear the turn of the key, the slide of my sandal against the floor mat, the rush of the air conditioner, the passing of the ticket to the parking attendant. From the clicking of the blinker to the crunch of the gravel in the driveway to the sound of my feet on the front porch — I heard them all, I heard them all, I heard them all. I felt like the people in Pleasantville when they started to see in color. I have 3-D glasses for my ears.
I baked this afternoon (there’s a new recipe) to take cookies with me to the Apple Store and relished in the sound of the scoop in the flour canister, the crack of the egg shells, the whir of the mixer. I think I could even hear the cookies baking. The most shocking moment was walking into the store, which is an assault on the senses anyway. As they snacked, someone asked me how I was doing and I told them I had just gotten hearing aids. It was the first time since I put them in this morning that I had had the chance to tell someone who wasn’t family. Those who asked also took time to listen well.
At the end of the night, I was going into the break room to clock out when I passed one of the guys who seemed in a hurry to get out the door. I wished him well as he flew past me, and he returned the greeting. I sat down at the computer and I heard him call my name. “Milton — congratulations on your hearing aids. I had no idea you needed them. But that must be an amazing feeling. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” I said. And he went on his way.
I came home tonight to find the yard filled with screaming crickets and other creatures, a symphony of creation I have not heard since I can remember. I look forward to my brain digging back through the stacks of old forgotten vinyl in my mind, pulling out sounds I haven’t thought of in years and letting them find me again, thanks to the little computers that have hitched a ride on the backs of my ears. I am grateful to be disquieted by the cacophony of creation, thankful to find my voice does not have to be so loud.