I am a 90-year-old woman trapped in a 19-year-old’s body. I don’t have any proof of this fact. I don’t have any visible wrinkles (though I’ve already determined where they will be in 40 years and my god, will I be a cute old lady). I don’t shamelessly squeeze the cheeks of every cute boy I see (not because I don’t want to, but because I’d get so many restraining orders, I’d be restricted to a 30-foot radius around my house). I don’t wear perfume that smells like an antique rug that has been stuffed in a storage closet for 50 years. I do, however, have impaired hearing and it haunts me almost every day of my life. This leads me to my next story.
It all began during one of my family’s holiday celebrations (to protect the identity of speaker and my own dignity, I won’t identify which one). In the corner of the room, relatives and family-friends alike had gathered around the appetizer table, inspecting each morsel of food with the kind of scrutiny usually reserved for newly discovered fossils or questionable leaked photos of celebrities. After shuffling my way through the crowd, I found myself face-to-face with a plate of unidentified cheese. Now, I fear a lot of things in life (one might say there are more things I am afraid of than things I am not afraid of, like ski slopes that are too vertical or Furbies that never blink) but food without labels scares me more than anything, almost as much as members of the opposite sex.
So, naturally, that’s when I heard it. Before I had the chance to tinker with the questionable yellow cubes, a voice erupted from the space beside me. I turned to my left to find a boy, a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, beautifully scruffy boy staring back at me, waiting for a response to the question that had inevitably escaped my attention. This is where the trouble started.
“I’m sorry?” I asked, inspecting the chiseled face of the stranger standing before me and hoping that the words that had tumbled out of my mouth had actually formed a comprehensible question. I could feel my heartbeat pulsating through my body, the obnoxious boom boom boom reverberating through my head and drowning out all of the thoughts I was trying to throw together. He was a charming stranger, an all-American boy and he was…talking?
“…cheese.” I had caught the end of his response. What had he said? I searched the corners of my brain that hadn’t been preoccupied by the stranger’s Herculean figure, like the parts that retain memories of math class and traumatic childhood events (which I might argue are the same thing), to see if any of them had caught the boy’s words. I imagined the officials inside my head scrambling around their offices, throwing papers in the air and repeatedly yelling, “Did anyone catch what he said? Keyword, cheese? Anyone?” I wanted to take part in a conversation with this mystery boy. I wanted to have a response. I wanted to be normal. So, I had only one choice.
“….what was that?” Surely, asking one more time wouldn’t hurt. The room was loud, after all, and with all the chatter going on about new TV shows and global warming, I could barely hear my own thoughts, never mind the voice of another person. It was like the house had been turned into a mini-night club except instead of loud club music, there were loud children and instead of creepy men watching me from the corner of the room, there were small dogs weaving between my feet and instead of- “…cheese.”
Oh no. Oh no no no no. Had he said something again? He had. His focused gaze informed me that he had yet again responded to my inquiry and I had, yet again, not heard him. I could not ask him again. One miscommunication was normal. Two verged on annoying but could be overlooked if I had a witty response. But three? Three seemed almost intentionally dense. I couldn’t let it get to that point so, rather than ask one more question and seem unfathomably dumb, I resorted to the usually dependable alternative.
And he stared.
And it was at that point that I realized what he had asked had not been a yes or no question.
There was no escape. The room started spinning. The silence between us grew into a black hole that began to suck my dignity out of me like a child inhaling a milkshake through a straw. My defenses had been drained. Looking at the cheese and back at him and back at the cheese and back at him, I mumbled something along the lines of “Um…err…I think so…hey mom, did you order extra cheese on the pizza…” before veering into the other room to cry.
At first glance, you might say I am a normal 19-year-old girl, to which I would respond that Hitler, at first glance, looked like a short garbage man with a bad haircut, so judging a person by their appearance is a faulty approach to life. If I were to offer advice to those who, like me, are plagued by hearing impediments, I would say this: when talking to a beautiful person, stare at their forehead until you can compose your thoughts long enough to form valuable responses, never nod unless you are at least 60% sure the question expects a yes or no answer and, if possible, never start a conversation over a table of cheese. Investing in a hearing aid might also be helpful.
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