My Hearing Aid

by Shawn Bills

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    First-Place FictionRebecca was deaf, but she taught me to listen—and answer.

    Beep! Beep! Beep!

    I slipped my hand from underneath the warm cover and gently tapped the alarm clock. Since I had received that old clock as a Christmas present years ago, that same, resounding “beep” became the clue to start each day of my life. Today, though, my new life was beginning, and the sound of the clock became the introduction to the course my life would follow.

    As I sat up on the edge of my bed, I stared at my old clock. A friend had given it to me, and I smiled as I thought of Rebecca. Only a short 18 years ago, Rebecca and I had been born three days apart in the same local hospital. She lived two houses down, and I remember vividly the many times we would play together in the neighborhood park.

    Some days, we became world-famous explorers. Other days, Rebecca was transformed into the fairest of all princesses, and I, of course, became her knight in shining armor. Most days, though, I would teach Rebecca about the chirping noises the robins made in spring, the sound of the lawn mower trimming the summer grass, or the rustling sound of blowing leaves in fall. She was always full of questions.

    “Rebecca, the red bird,” I would say, as I flapped my arms and pointed to the treetops, “sounds like this.” Then, I’d chirp as loud as I could. Rebecca would laugh with delight as she witnessed my performance; then she’d brush two of her fingers across her nose a few times to tell me I was funny.

    I laughed, too, then began my next impression of the water flowing beneath the bridge.

    “Water sounds like this,” I’d explain. Then, moving my hands in a wave formation, I’d curl my lips and create a loud gurgling noise. “Do you understand, Rebecca?” I was proud of my ability to conjure up various noises and became a sort of maestro of noisemaking.

    Rebecca would smile and bring her forefinger close to her head, then move it up and down to show she understood. In my mind, I set Rebecca apart from the other girls because she didn’t communicate like everyone else did. But she was my favorite because she made me feel comfortable and needed. She taught me to enjoy the simple things of life, and out of those small things, to find the great things within. Rebecca was deaf, but that alone didn’t set her apart. She was also a Mormon, and at school, I saw the Mormon kids as such a life-loving people. Something about them and about Rebecca intrigued me.

    I smiled as I thought about our friendship and all those days we’d spent together in the park. Sometimes I felt like her protector, especially when the other kids teased her about her hearing aids or how she used her hands to talk. My role of “knight in shining armor” became real when I’d rescue Rebecca from her tormentors.

    The past didn’t seem so distant now. Just after entering high school, I went to the annual Christmas concert in the town square. Rebecca had asked me to go with her family.

    As we sat listening to the familiar carols and arrangements, I studied Rebecca’s mother with envy. Because she was Rebecca’s interpreter, she would sit in front of the audience and use sign language to illustrate the music. Her facial expressions melted from one emotion to the other helping Rebecca to actually “hear” the meaning of the songs. And although at the time I didn’t realize it, I, too, “heard” a distinct voice as the choir sang about the Christ child that night.

    The clock flashed to 8:43. I grabbed my towel and stumbled to the shower, still thinking about the days after that Christmas concert. Until a few months ago, there was a time when I refused to allow Rebecca to be a part of my life. As high school activities began, I was so involved with the basketball team, student council, and trying to be “cool” that Rebecca no longer was a priority. I occasionally joined with the other kids, ridiculing and tormenting my old playmate behind her back. Sometimes, Rebecca would wave across the lunchroom, but I’d pretend I didn’t see her, turn, and walk the other way.

    Throughout the next three years, Rebecca sometimes invited me to church dances, firesides, or to summer youth conferences, but I never accepted her invitations. I always felt like I had an image to uphold, and being seen with Rebecca would destroy that. The differences that had attracted me to her when we were young were the same differences that kept me away from her now.

    My friends would tease me, “So, Rebecca asked you to another church thing, huh, Drew? When she uses her hands to talk, she looks like a bird ready to take off the runway. She’s so weird.”

    The whole crowd would laugh, and on the outside I would laugh, too, but, in my heart, I knew Rebecca wasn’t weird. Yet my integrity weakened, and my “shining armor” lost its sparkle.

    My clock flashed to 9:32. I concentrated on what had taken place during the past few months. During the spring of our senior year, Rebecca invited me to her church worship services, but this time, I couldn’t come up with a ready excuse, so I consented to go. I recollect that day in the hall.

    “Drew,” Rebecca yelled as best she could at me.

    I was about to continue down the hall, but something told me to turn back and talk to her. I had “heard” this voice before at that Christmas concert. The strangest feeling pulled me back to talk to Rebecca.

    She greeted me with her warm, enthusiastic smile, and using her hands in various gestures, she asked me to a sacrament meeting. “Drew, I teach little children, and I taught them a song that I think you’ll like. Will you come with me Sunday?”

    “Um, well, I …” I stammered.

    “It’ll only last an hour, and I promise, I’ll never ask you again,” she tried speaking while her hands created each word.

    “Well, I guess I can go, but I don’t …” I tried to conjure up another excuse, but a powerful feeling of “Drew you need to go” overwhelmed me.

    “Great!” she grinned. “I’ll pick you up at 10:45.”

    When we were younger, I had gone to church with Rebecca, but it had been ten years since I’d been inside a chapel. I remember that following Sunday well. Rebecca promptly rang the bell at 10:45, and within 15 minutes, I was sitting in the middle section of the chapel waiting for sacrament meeting to begin. This week would be the Primary program, and Rebecca’s CTR class had a special part.

    Through the prayers, announcements, and sacrament, I kept feeling that same strange sensation I had encountered in the school hallway and at the Christmas concert, and I puzzled over the joy and warmth that the congregation seemed to create. These people really enjoy being here, I thought.

    After a few talks and scriptures, it was finally Rebecca’s turn. She marched to the front with five eight-year-olds trailing her heels. She looked like a mother duck with her ducklings. They took their positions, and the melody of “Teach Me to Walk in the Light” seeped from the piano. My heart began to pound as the children formulated the words with their tiny hands. They grinned from ear to ear as they followed Rebecca’s slow and cautious signals. Then the song ended, leaving the chapel in complete silence. A flood of memories filled my mind, and I felt at peace as when I used to play with Rebecca. The feeling of being needed was back.

    After the meeting, I approached Rebecca to ask her about the meeting, the song, and the strange feeling I was experiencing.

    “You did a good job. Those kids are amazing,” I said while trying to sign the words I knew. It had been quite a long time since I’d talked with Rebecca in her language. She beamed.

    “Could you come to dinner?” she asked. “Then I will explain more about the Church.”

    I agreed. I truly wanted to know why I was feeling this way. After all, I hadn’t felt like this since that Christmas concert years ago, and now, suddenly, Rebecca asked me to church, and the feeling was back and I wanted to know why.

    I went to dinner and met Elder Dial and Elder Burningham for the first time. They immediately became two of my best friends, and my friendship with Rebecca began to strengthen again. Through months of study, discussions, going to church, and praying, I decided to join the Church, and last night, my decision became reality as I dressed in white, went into the water, and was baptized. Now, I “hear” that familiar voice, and my friend and confidant Jesus Christ is always with me as I do my part.

    At school, my integrity began to blossom, my rusting armor gleamed again, and my friendship with Rebecca was as strong as when we were younger. My friends eventually softened their hearts and began including Rebecca in our circle. She started teaching them various signs, and throughout classes and in the halls, this became our secret code.

    For years, I felt sorry for Rebecca because she couldn’t hear the sounds I heard, but when it came to what was truly important, she had full hearing, and I was the deaf one trying to find the true voice to follow. When I began meeting with Elder Burningham and Elder Dial, along with Rebecca’s testimony, I received my “hearing aids” through scripture study and prayer. Ultimately, my “hearing” began to improve. Last night, I received the most precious of gifts when my spiritual ears were restored.

    Illustrated by Paul Mann