The New Yorker:
I always knew my mother couldn’t hear, but I can’t remember when it dawned on me that she’d always be deaf. If I was told, I didn’t believe it. It was no different when I learned about sex. Someone may have sat me down for the facts of life, and although I wasn’t really shocked and probably already knew, I couldn’t bring myself to trust any of it. In between knowing something and refusing to know it lies a murky chasm that even the most enlightened among us are perfectly happy to inhabit. If anyone gave me the official report on my mother, it would have been my grandmother, who did not like her daughter-in-law and who found my mother’s deaf friends as repellent as ungainly fowls squawking in her son’s living room. If it wasn’t my grandmother, it would have been the way people made fun of my mother on the street.
Some men whistled when she walked by, because she was beautiful and sexy and had a way of looking you boldly in the face until you lowered your eyes. But, when she shopped and spoke with the monotone, guttural voice of the deaf, people laughed. In Alexandria, Egypt, where we lived until we were summarily exiled, like all of the country’s Jews, that’s what you did when someone was different. It wasn’t full-throated laughter; it was derision, the stepchild of contempt, which is as mirthless as it is cruel. She couldn’t hear their laughter, but she read it in their faces. This must be how she finally understood why people always smirked when she thought she was speaking like everyone else. Who knows how long it took her to realize that she was unlike other children, why some turned away, or others, meaning to be kind, had a diffident way when they allowed her to play with them?
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