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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Haunted Memories

This week I returned to my old high school for my son's
Spring music program. Although he's only in second grade,
his music program was held in the high school auditorium.
It was a cute performance of First and Second graders and
the Fifth grade chorus. Unfortunately, my little singing
angel was not having a good night. JD was upset because he
didn't get a special role, couldn't find the decorations he
made, and didn't like the bright lights in his face. Poor
kid.
I sat in the audience in that all too familiar auditorium.
I couldn't see the children. My mother told me the main
details of what was happening on stage and about the songs
they were singing. I could hear the sound of their voices
and some notes from the piano. I couldn't follow the music
or any of the songs. I tried to concentrate to make sense
of what I was hearing, but it was no good. And my mind
began to drift....
Soon I found myself in another time altogether. It was my
time at that school, during the days when I struggled so
hard to come to terms with my new hearing and vision loss.
The many moments I spent in the auditorium... for
assemblies, award ceremonies, drama productions and band
concerts... Memories from so long ago... Pain that's never
forgotten.
Let's look at each example and what they meant to me. Think
of your own time in high school. Is this what it was like
for you? Is this what you experienced? Is this how it made
you feel? I imagine the answer to these questions depends
on if you were a deaf-blind teenager.
Like all schools, we had many special assemblies. These
were for education and awareness. "Just Say No" to drugs.
Students Against Drunk Driving. Cool music and flashing
lights added to a lecture on what we needed to do in order
to succeed in life. Blah blah blah. The only good part
was getting out of class.
What did these assemblies mean to me? NOTHING! I couldn't
hear a single word. They were meaningless. Besides, the
topics weren't important to me. Drugs, alcohol and teenage
pregnancy? I had bigger problems to deal with. I was deaf
and losing my vision. Why didn't they ever have any
assemblies about that?
We had those yearly award ceremonies each June. I wasn't
invited to the first two. My grades were failing fast. I
made it to the last two, however. My parents were so proud
to see me accept my scholar award. I was embarrassed. I
was a Junior sitting with Freshman and a Senior among
Sophomore. How could I be proud of a measly second year
award when my friends were getting fourth year awards,
President awards and top scholarships?
The Senior's Honor assembly was especially painful. This
was always hold during the last day of classes for Seniors.
The whole school attended to see the top students receive
recognition for their accomplishments. My best friends
were in the top ten, Honors Society and National Merit
Finalists. They received plaques for being outstanding
musician, artists, actors, athletes and debaters. College
and ROTC representatives were there to present the best
scholarships (again.) They received more awards than they
could actually carry.
And there I sat... in the audience. I was a nobody. I
didn't rate any special recognition. What did I do? I woke
up in the morning and face each day as a person with
deaf-blindness. What's so special about that?
Drama performances were a harsh reminder of what I couldn't
do. I really wanted to be involved in the drama club but
there seemed to be no place for me. Being deaf, I certainly
couldn't act. Being blind, I couldn't work behind stage or
do lights and sound like my brothers.
Again, I was left sitting in the audience. Most of the time
I was alone or with my parents because my friends seldom
asked me to do things after school hours. I watched what
happened on stage but couldn't understand any of it. I was
physically there but never a part of anything.
Band was a challenge. I played saxophone all four years of
high school. I loved music and playing in the band. For
awhile, I even wanted to be a professional musician.
Deafness squashed that dream.
Concerts should have been fun but the anxiety was too much
for me. I had too much to worry about. First, I had to
get on the stage and to my chair. Not easy when you suffer
from night blindness and the stage is dark between
performances. I worried so much that I would fall off the
stage that I could barely move forward. With each step,
I'd actually feel myself falling, although it was all in my
mind. Fear can do that to you.
Once we began playing, I worried about making mistakes. I
was fine during band practice but concerts scared me so
much. I couldn't stay on tempo and play the right notes.
More than once, I totally blew it while on stage. All that
hard work and practice seemed to be for nothing if I
couldn't manage the performance.
The final struggle involved getting off the stage. My eyes
adjusted slowly to change in lighting. The bright lights
would suddenly shut off and I'd find myself totally blind
and expected to move quickly. Kids around me often pushed
me. Sometimes we'd walk along the stage to the hall but
many times we went down the steps right in front of the
audience. These were steps I could not see and there was
no rail to hold on to. I don't even know how I got through
it.
Why didn't I ask for help? At the time, I didn't know
better. It was all so new to me. I was struggling to
adjust and didn't know what to do. Yes, I was depressed and
in denial. Under the circumstances, is that so surprising?
School life outside the auditorium wasn't any better. I
struggled in the classroom, got hit in the face with balls
during PE and didn't have a clue what to do out on the
marching band field. I never found my place to shine and be
somebody. I had few friends and no boy friends. I was
seldom happy.
Looking back, what saddens me the most involves Homecoming
and Proms. Needless to say, I never went to a single one.
I missed four Homecoming dances and two Proms. That doesn't
upset me. I'm not the kind of person to pine away over a
lost dance.
What hurts is that I never even wanted to go to them. I
had no desire to attend my prom or dance with a boy at
Homecoming. It shouldn't be like that. A teenage girl
should dream of those magical nights. But I let them pass
me by without a second thought.
Remembering days gone by... Thoughts of desperation and
despair fill my mind. Why did it have to be so hard for
me? The music swirls around me and I hear clapping. I
return to the present as my beloved son follows his class
off the stage. It's time to move on. The past is done.
Haunted memories give way to dreams of a new future.

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