Thursday, July 20, 2000

In/Exhale - February 1, 2001 - Part II

February 1, 2001 - Part II

David was nervous, so he’d arrived extra early. Even before his interpreter, so he waited in the lobby and tried to go over all the things he and Megan had practiced. This interview was important. His first real chance at a good job. It didn’t pay a lot, but it was regular work, using the training he’d spent all that time in school for, and it had benefits and potential for promotion. David was good with numbers, and if he’d understood the position correctly, it meant he could do most of his job from a computer, where his deafness wouldn’t be an excuse to bar him from the job. He just had to sell himself. He had plenty of job experience, but not a lot of it was white collar, so he had to convince the company to take a chance on him, to hire him when they could pick any other hearing person.
David took a deep breath. Closed his eyes for a moment, shutting out the distractions of the busy building lobby. He could do this. Finally prove that he wasn’t just some deadbeat Deaf man, that he was someone Megan’s parents could be proud of her marrying. Someone she could marry, because with this job, they’d have the money and security to finally plan their wedding.
David exhaled as he opened his eyes, spotting a young woman--damn, she looked so, so young--entering the building, dressed in a cheap black pantsuit with a dark blouse. Unlike everyone else, who strode in with purpose, she stopped only a few feet from the door and scanned the room, visibly uncertain. Wonderful. Not only did he get an interpreter he’d never used before, but she was younger than him and looked like she had no experience. Why did he have to get a newbie for such an important assignment? Probably because the call for the interview had come on such short notice, so all the good interpreters were taken.
Stifling his displeasure, David stood up from the stiff leather couch he’d been sitting on and took a few steps toward her, waving to get her attention. When she met his gaze, he signed, “Are you my interpreter?
Her eyes widened for a moment before she stiffened visibly, trying to convey more self assurance than she clearly felt, and nodded. At least she was early, too, so they’d have some time to talk before they had to go upstairs.
When she didn’t immediately approach him, he waved her over, motioning for her to sit. She seemed scared. Of him? Or just frightened in general? He knew he could be intimidating when he wanted to be, but this was definitely not the time for that persona. Maybe if he was interviewing to be security, but even with the little experience he had, he was pretty sure most employers expected their desk jockeys to be a little more placid.
David took a few deep breaths--he had a lot of practice with calming breathing after the last few months with Kai--and tried again. “I’m David O’Donnell. Sign name Red. You’re here to interpret for my job interview, right?
The girl swallowed, forced a tentative smile. “Yes. My name is Emily Burke.” She demonstrated her sign name, which looked like someone playing with their hair, like maybe it was a nervous habit. What signing method do you prefer?
ASL,” David said, pleased that despite her meekness she seemed professional. Would her voice sound timid? Kai had explained to him when they were kids about tone, how even when he couldn’t understand a person’s English, he could understand the emotions based on the sound of their voice, sort of how you could read someone’s emotions in their facial expressions and body language. He hoped the person interviewing him wouldn’t discount him if her voice was weak-sounding. “But I understand English word order, and some English idioms. But keep your signing simple, and I prefer visual, if possible.
She nodded diligently. He half expected her to take notes.
Where did you learn to sign?
In school.
Great. “So you don’t have any Deaf family?
She shook her head. No wonder he didn’t know her.
How long have you been interpreting?
She hesitated. “About a year. Officially. But I promise you everything will go smoothly.
David frowned. Dammit. He was so fucked. At least she understood him. He supposed things could be worse. “This interview is very important. Understand? I need this job.
She nodded enthusiastically.
David really wanted to tell her not to fuck this up for him, but he controlled himself. Instead, he pulled a copy of his resume from the folio he’d brought with him and handed it to her. “My resume. So you’ll be familiar with me, at least on paper, before we go in there. Now’s your chance to ask me any questions before we start.
She stared at the paper without actually reading it, then looked back up at him. “I forgot to ask: do you want me to voice for you?” Were her hands actually trembling?
Fuck, David thought. I’m screwed.


#


Martin didn’t fall asleep right away, as Kai had expected, but instead had seemed to grow more alert as the film progressed, quoting some of his favorite lines along with the actors, trying to imitate Morpheus’s voice and failing miserably, then laughing, smiling at Kai and occasionally saying, “Shh,” even though Kai was silent, pointing out when a particularly good scene was coming up.
When the scene at the Oracle began, Martin let some of his blankets fall away as he leaned forward, watching intently as Neo observed the boy bending the spoon. Shortly after the famous lines, “Only try to realize the truth. . . . There is no spoon,” Martin paused it.
“What do you think that means? ‘Then you will realize it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself?’”
Kai stretched his back, pushing against the cushions to help him arch it, since it was aching and tight. “I guess that’s kind of the message of the film, isn’t it? That reality is an illusion, and you have to break through it to unlock the power of your mind?”
Martin seemed to consider this for a long moment. “It’d be kinda cool if reality really was an illusion, wouldn’t it? If I really wasn’t sick, if my mind was just imagining I was?”
Kai tilted his head.
“Like, what if I wasn’t really sick, and you weren’t really--”
“Crippled?” And insane, Kai added to himself.
Martin frowned, gathered the blankets up around him so only his head peeked out. He shivered. “I wasn’t going to say that.”
“But I was,” Kai said with a grin. “Hmm, like there’s some healthy, able-bodied version of me somewhere or something?”
Martin shrugged, the movement noticeable only in a shift of the blankets. “Maybe.”
Kai leaned back in the sofa, stretching his hands above his head. He rolled his neck so he could look at Martin. “Sometimes I think none of this is real, and I’m really in a long-term care facility somewhere, in a coma, supposedly a vegetable, because Jon won’t pull the plug on me.”
Martin seemed to consider this. “I don’t see Dr. Taylor ever letting you die,” Martin said in an indeterminant tone of voice. “I’d like to think if I was in a coma, I’d have an awesome dream in which I’m like, tall and strong like you and rich and have an awesome girlfriend who has sex with me like twelve times a day, every day, and I never get out of breath.” Martin beamed at the thought, but his face quickly clouded. “I don’t want to die a virgin.”
Kai sighed heavily, pushing himself into a more upright sitting position. What did he say to that?
“You weren’t . . . I mean, you’d . . . had sex, right?”
Kai’s mouth quirked, but he forced his face into neutrality. “I was older, Martin. A legal adult.”
“But . . . if you died on your 18th birthday. If your brother hadn’t come for you. Would you . . . I mean . . . had you?”
Kai let out a harsh sigh. “Yeah, I had. Once. When I was sixteen.” Kai didn’t like thinking about his first time, which had turned out to be little more than a scheme to humiliate him.
Martin lowered his head. “I’ll be sixteen soon, if I live that long, and . . . I’ve never . . .” He blushed. “I’ve never even kissed a girl. Not really.” He sighed. “And who’s going to want to now? I’m either the freak with the oxygen tank following me around like a pathetic dog, or the poor, sick kid who’s not going to live to graduate.”
Kai nodded in understanding. “I was the kid who couldn’t walk and couldn’t talk and couldn’t breathe and who everyone thought was retarded, if it makes you feel any better.”
“But you still kissed a girl when you were my age, and you had sex.”
Kai cradled the back of his neck. Dammit, he was going to have to say something to Martin. He’d promised Martin at the start of this mentorship or whatever the hell one could call it that he’d be honest with him. Kai had agreed that Martin deserved the truth from the one person who had lived it, but what Martin was asking now went beyond Kai’s experience with dying and asked him more about the living. Which, in some ways, was much harder for Kai to talk about. Dr. Miller would have a field day with that.
“I kissed a girl in 8th grade, yeah,” Kai admitted. “It turned out it was a dare.”
“But who was she?”
Kai sighed. “Laurie Lorentson--yeah, that was really her name. Fourth-generation Deaf. She normally didn’t even have the time of day for me or my friend David. Me, because I wasn’t deaf, and him because his parents were hearing. The fact that I was disabled and David and I were orphans and didn’t live in the dorms didn’t help, either.”
“So she was the kind of girl who you never would have kissed in a million, trillion years.”
Kai’s eyebrows dipped. “Uh, yeah.”
“Was she hot?”
Kai pinched his nose. “I guess. I was, what, 13? I thought pretty much every girl at school was hot, and none of them saw me that way, either.” Kai shrugged. This was getting increasingly uncomfortable.
“So you got to kiss a hot popular girl. Who cares if it was a dare?”
Kai shifted so he was facing the TV, his Deaf habits instinctual, even if they didn’t always matter in the hearing world: turning away from someone was a very clear signal that the conversation was over. “We should finish the movie.”
“I’m just saying, if Emily Rundquist--the hottest, most popular girl in our school--walked up to me in the hall tomorrow and planted a big fat kiss on my lips--even better if she threw in some tongue--I wouldn’t care if the entire school was laughing at me as her friends congratulated her for going through with the bet.”
“Well, you’re not me, OK?” Kai snapped. Then he groaned. “Look, Martin, I’m sorry. I don’t . . . I don’t do the ‘heartfelt sharing’ thing well, all right? I’m a shitty mentor. I’m sorry you don’t have someone better who went through all the same shit as you to guide you through it,” Kai said, waving his hands in the air in front of him as if he were drawing this metaphorical road. “And it’d probably help if I swore less, too.”
“I shouldn’t have pushed--”
Kai sighed. “No, I promised you honesty. Yeah, at the time, it was great on a certain level. I mean, yeah, I got kissed! By a girl! And a girl who had never even talked to me. But . . . you have no idea what it feels like to feel . . . disgusting. Like dog shit that someone stepped in by mistake is less revolting than you. That’s how Laurie made me feel after that kiss. She literally threw up afterward. On top of me, too, while everyone around laughed.”
“I do know what that feels like. Well, maybe not the vomit part.” It was the type of thing Martin would have normally said with a grin, but his face was serious. “I’m Mexican, surrounded by all these perfect blond white people all the time. Do you know how many jokes I’ve gotten about being a wetback or asking if I’ll mow their yards for them, or even more pointed jokes that they punctuate by saying, ‘Oh, he no speaky the English so good, so it’s all good,’ said in a cheesy Speedy Gonzalez accent? Now that I’m visibly sick, they’re less direct. Instead, I have to hear the whispers in the halls about how I’m just here to milk the system and steal their healthcare. These kids don’t even know what the fuck they’re talking about. They’re just repeating the ignorance from their parents. It doesn’t matter that I was born here, that my mother’s a citizen, that we both speak perfect English. I look the way I do, and that’s all that matters. I’m sure you understand that.” Martin had spoken passionately, barely pausing for breath, and now he was gasping, breathing hard, struggling. He closed his eyes and focused on breathing through his nose for a long time, finally sinking back against the cushions, looking wiped.
Kai pushed against the front of the seat, shifting his body so he could recline more, his head resting on the top of the back of the couch. “My friend Jake’s Dakota, and the kids were awful to him. It’s how we became friends. We met my first day at Jonesville High, and he chewed out some snotty girls who were harassing me because I didn’t talk and needed crutches to walk. He told me, ‘Us freaks need to stay together, right?’ He was my only friend in high school.”
Martin stared at Kai for a long time, like he could hardly believe that.
“Dammit, I’m not healthy enough for this,” Kai muttered to himself.
“What?” Martin asked, confused.
“You want honesty, here’s honesty. My first kiss was a dare. Then, there was a girl at the home where I lived. . . . We didn’t really like each other like that. Well, honestly, I don’t think she liked me at all, really, except she said I had a ‘nice face.’” Kai felt extremely nauseous. He closed his eyes but forced himself to keep talking. “We’d practice kissing together. Because we both wanted to know what we were doing when--if--we ever got a real boyfriend or girlfriend.”
“Cool! That must have been awesome.”
Kai just sighed. He remembered her. Her name was Michelle. She had spina bifida and used a wheelchair full time. She was a couple years older than Kai, and pretty, he supposed, though his view of her was colored by how she’d looked at him pretty disdainfully. Guess she was just another woman who had used him at some point in his life. Yet another thing Dr. Miller would probably have something to say about.
At County House, boys and girls were segregated for living and bathing quarters, but the rest of the time, the population was mixed, because even with the teenagers, they didn’t think if you were crippled you could be horny, or if you were, you couldn’t do anything about it. The common areas were also constantly supervised, but it didn’t mean you couldn’t sneak away for a snog if you were motivated and knew how to pick locks or bribe orderlies, both of which Kai and David had become masters of long before high school.
Kai absently wondered whatever happened to her.
“Kai?”
Kai blinked, realizing he’d gotten lost in his thoughts for awhile there. “Sorry. I don’t like to remember high school if I can help it,” he replied with a quirk of his lips.
“But you still had sex.”
Kai sighed heavily. “Yeah, but . . . if I had been a little less of a freak, I probably would have been a virgin until I was older. I was shy and really awkward . . .” Kai shoved his hair out of his face. “It basically only happened because I was so much of a freak that it made me interesting. But it was a joke, a trick. I had sex, but it would have been better if I hadn’t,” Kai said in a tone that made it clear he wasn’t going to elaborate further.
Martin frowned. “What, was it, like, you thought it was a girl and it turned out to be a dude, or something?”
Kai’s stomach turned at the thought. Now, of course, no one could trick him like that, but could they have when he was sixteen? He shivered. “No. Nothing like that.” He shook his head. “Can we just drop it?”
“You’re so tall and blond and awesome, though. I mean, I can see why you had sex. But what about me? I’m tiny and dark and sick and pathetic.”
Kai laughed. “OK, first of all, until I was about eighteen I was always tiny. The smallest, or close to smallest, in my class. I don’t mean smallest guy, either. I mean smallest, period. And I didn’t put on weight or real muscle until after my transplant. I probably wasn’t much bigger than you when I was your age,” Kai said, nudging his chin toward Martin, who was maybe five foot three and just over a hundred pounds. “And yeah, I’m blond, but that doesn’t really matter when everyone thinks you’re Forrest Gump.”
Martin frowned, staring intently at Kai as if trying to see the supposed freak he claimed to be and failing. “I just thought you could help me.”
“Get laid?” Kai’s eyebrows drew up. When Mrs. Gomez trusted Kai to spend this time alone with her son, he was pretty sure the solidly Catholic woman never would have envisioned this conversation. “You’re fifteen. Jailbait. And I barely knew girls in high school when I was your age. I definitely don’t know any now.”
Martin rolled his eyes. “You have a girlfriend now, though, right?”
“Yeah. But if you think it’s because I’m magical with women or something, you’ve got your facts wrong.”
Martin shook his head. “There’s this dance coming up. Mom doesn’t want me to go, but I thought maybe I could ask someone to go with me? I can’t dance too much, but maybe . . .”
Kai pinched his nose. “Yeah, I’m sure you could find some girl to have sex with you in the bathroom, but is that really want you want?” Kai hesitated a moment, debated about how honest he should be. “She won’t be doing it because she likes you, you know that, right?” Kai remembered being fifteen, and yeah, if he’d had an opportunity to get his dick sucked, however crudely, in the bathroom at a dance, he wouldn’t have thought twice about it (which is how he got himself into the situation where he lost his virginity, thinking with his dick instead of his brain), but Kai suspected Martin was looking for more. He didn’t want the pity fuck or the curiosity seeker. He wanted to find a connection with someone--with a girl--before he died, and Kai totally got that. Hadn’t that been what Becca was all about? Kai laid a hand on his chest. Was it still healing nerves? How could it still hurt, physically hurt, to think about her?
Martin sighed. “I know. I just . . . I want to know what it feels like. . . . You know, for a girl to touch me instead of . . . you know, just me.”
“Nurses touch you all the time,” Kai said facetiously, trying to lighten the mood again.
Martin reached out and kicked Kai playfully with one foot. “There is that one nurse. Djala? Do you know her? Has the British accent and the most beautiful almond eyes . . .” Martin sighed. “I have dreams about her.”
Kai chuckled. He knew the nurse Martin was talking about; she’d been finishing her training when Kai was in high school. And even though she wasn’t his usual type, she was hot. He couldn’t deny that. Really nice breasts. Not that he’d . . . ahem . . . ever noticed, or anything.
Martin sighed. Glanced over at the screen, where Keanu Reeves was paused in mid-conversation with the Oracle. Almost as if reading Kai’s mind, Martin said, “I’ve never even felt a girl’s boob before.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’ll stop. It’s just . . . I didn’t have an older brother, or even a dad who I could talk about stuff like this with, you know?”
Kai nodded. Even at County House, Kai had had David, who, if you believed him, had had sex with several girls at school plus his pick of the ones at CH, too. “Well, you have to decide what you want: do you want a girl to date, maybe kiss? Or do you want a girl who will get you off? Because, at your age, they’re probably not going to be the same thing.”
Martin sighed again, which turned into a yawn, and he leaned into the couch a little more. The blanket slipped, he shivered, and yanked it back in place. “I tell myself I’m OK with this, but it’s hard,” he said, looking up at Kai with soulful eyes. “There’s so much I haven’t done.”
“You pretend for yourself, and for your mom, that you’re not scared shitless, but it’s not true,” Kai said, picking at his jeans, at the knee that was looking close to becoming a hole, right where his brace hinge was. “Being scared is normal,” Kai said. “I wish I could give you better advice than that, kid.”
“You’re not scared of anything.”
Kai choked. “That there is proof of how little you know me,” Kai said once he’d recovered.
“Dr. Taylor said I reminded him of you because you weren’t scared of dying.”
Kai shoved his hand through his hair. “Of course I was afraid of dying. I’m still afraid of it,” Kai said, though he inwardly admitted that wasn’t entirely, 100% true. “Especially if I were your age?” When I was fifteen, half of me wanted to die, and the other half was afraid I would. Kai took in a deep breath, shifted on the couch so he was facing Martin more. “If I tell you something, you have to promise me you won’t tell Jon--Dr. Taylor.” Looks like, even after everything, I’m still keeping secrets, Kai thought.
Martin nodded enthusiastically, cheered a little to see Kai was confiding in him.
Kai shook his head, as if he couldn’t believe he was being this honest about this. He hadn’t even been fully forthright with Dr. Miller. “Before Jon and I reconnected? When I was in high school, like you? I was pretty sure I was going to die, alone, and no one would even care that I was gone. They’d just throw out my body with the garbage, like I didn’t even matter. And that scared me. It still does.”
“I guess I never really thought about what it must have been like for you. I’ve always had my mom. I can’t imagine going through all of this alone.”
Kai nodded, shoved some hair out of his face. “Why don’t I make some hot chocolate and we finish the movie?”
Martin seemed a little disappointed by Kai’s shift in the conversation, but he quickly joked, “You don’t even drink hot chocolate. And how are you going to carry it?”
Kai winked. “I’ve used these things most of my life,” Kai said, slipping his arms into his crutches so he could push himself to his feet. “I’m pretty creative.”


#


David took a deep breath as he entered the office of the man who would be conducting the interview. He had practiced with Megan last night, going over everything from basic questions about this company and David’s experience to typical Deafness-related inquiries. He was as prepared as he could be, if only his interpreter didn’t fuck things up.
They entered, and David immediately saw the interviewer, an overweight, middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair in an ill-fitting suit sitting at his desk. A name placard said his name was Melvin Larson, and David tried to make a point to remember, fingerspelling the name behind his back a few times to try to get it to sink in. He was terrible with English names, and he knew it might be important to have the man’s name at the tip of his fingers for later.
Emily, his interpreter, signaled to get David’s attention, and began signing; apparently, although Mr. Larson’s head was bowed, he was speaking, directing David to take a seat. He obeyed, his eye gaze signaling Megan to go sit beside Mr. Larson. It was something he shouldn’t have to tell her, but he didn’t want to assume anything with this girl who was more nervous about the interview than David was.
Larson didn’t look up until Emily started moving a chair into position beside him, obviously without asking him or even making her presence known, and he looked over at David, speaking rapidly and angrily, too fast and harsh for David to lipread. He turned to Emily, who had frozen for a minute, and then Larson stood up and started pointing to the door. David thought he saw him say something about “your girlfriend” but he couldn’t be sure.
David raised his hands to explain that she was his interpreter, but before he could, he saw Emily speaking directly to Larson without signing or giving David any indication of what she was saying, and David’s blood boiled. It should have been his prerogative to explain her presence--not hers--assuming that’s what she was doing. They seemed to be arguing about the seating arrangements, because Larson kept pointing, occasionally looking at David and speaking to him directly, but David couldn’t read enough of what he was saying--especially with little context--to have any clue what was going on. He looked over at Emily again, more pointedly, and finally, she seemed to snap into professional mode and started to sign what Mr. Larson was saying.
“I don’t understand. If he can’t speak English, why is he even here? And what are you doing with your hands?”
David swallowed down Larson’s ignorance--he’d experienced this situation before, and he’d practiced how to handle it smoothly with Megan, even if he hadn’t factored in the shitty interpreter. “I do know English. I’m Deaf, and she is my interpreter,” he explained, his face as charming and confident as he could make it without revealing his real emotions underneath. At least hanging out with Kai had helped with that. “It’ll work best if she can sit beside you so I can see you both.
David watched Emily’s lips to check how closely her English followed his signs, relieved she’d at least used the right pronouns. This interview wouldn’t be easy, but maybe, once Larson realized that he just had to talk to David directly, things would go smoother.
Larson did seem to have a better idea of what was going on now, and he indicated Emily could take the seat she’d arranged beside him. “So how deaf is he?” Larson asked, looking at Emily instead of David.
Talk to him, not to me,” she said, again stealing David’s opportunity to speak for himself, but at least she was signing while she spoke this time. “I’ll interpret exactly as you speak.
Larson seemed confused, but he finally turned his head and made eye contact with David. “So, how deaf are you?” David could tell by the way Larson’s mouth and neck moved he was probably shouting, and David had to resist rolling his eyes.
A question David had gotten before in interviews, and one that had pissed him off when he’d first started interacting with hearing people on a regular basis, but one he was used to now. Deafness was so foreign to most hearies, they constantly had to measure it, quantify it, as if that would better help them to understand it. It mystified most of them that someone as deaf as he was could work, drive a car, or have a bachelor’s degree when they relied so much on their hearing every moment of the day.
But David had practiced how to handle this question, too. He knew now that an employer couldn’t ask questions like that regarding his hearing, partially because that information was technically medical in nature, and therefore private. David didn’t drop his smile, hoping it looked halfway natural--yes, he’d practiced that, too, with Kai, who seemed to be so good at that--and pulled out a copy of his resume, handing it over in case Larson didn’t already have one.
Time to redirect Larson’s question to his own favor. “As you can see on my resume, I have a bachelor’s degree, an extensive skillset, and I’m a hard worker and a good problem solver. I have my own handyman business right now, but I’m also very good with technology and am capable of learning new software quickly.
Larson was studying the resume, apparently listening carefully to Emily’s interpretation, and his body language suggested he was getting out of defensive, “What the fuck is this hearing impaired person doing in my office” mode and beginning to be impressed. Or at least David hoped that was what was happening. But then Larson looked back up, winked at Emily before redirecting his attention to David. “I imagine you have to. You know, learn quickly. I mean, in your condition.”
David kept his smile and confident, calm demeanor in place even though in his head he imagined Larson was his heavy bag at home and he was working on his alternating hooks and jabs. He decided he’d give Larson a little on this question while still emphasizing his strengths. “Yes. Being Deaf, technology can be very useful to me in my everyday life, but it’s also something I enjoy working with and have a knack for, and one reason I think I would be well suited for this company.
Larson didn’t seem impressed, latching onto David’s supposed limitations instead of his capabilities. “I don’t suppose you’re able to use a phone?”
One reason he hadn’t been hired at other companies, even if that was against the ADA. But David dug down even deeper, going with what he had practiced. “I can use a phone, with some modifications. However, I work very well through email and instant messaging, and that would probably be the best way for me to communicate with my boss and coworkers on a daily basis. I am also capable of working through handwritten notes, if necessary.
Larson steepled his fingers and stared at David for a long moment, as if he wasn’t sure what to make of him. Maybe David was destroying every image Larson had in his head of what a deaf person was supposed to be. Maybe David was making a good impression after all. “And what about meetings? You’re not going to have her following you around all day, every day, are you? I only have in my budget to hire one person.”
David pictured his heavy bag, with Larson’s face on it, and he threw a few mental punches at him to keep his cool. He had a bit of a reputation among interpreters for flying off the handle easily, living up to his stereotype as a redhead, and it was something he was working on. Hearing people didn’t understand how signing and emotions were connected, so he was trying to be more like Kai and control what he let someone see. David took a deep breath. “On an everyday basis, I can manage by myself.” Super charming pleasant smile time.
“If you can manage so well on your own, then why is she here?”
Another question he’d practiced. “I brought her along to facilitate the communication between both of us for the sake of this interview.” He wanted to say she was there for Larson as much as she was for him, but decided that might come off wrong, so he kept it back.
“And what about meetings?” he asked again. “Do you expect us all to just pass notes to one another?”
David really hated this guy, but he smiled like what Larson had said was a joke. “If an interpreter is necessary for meetings, then yes, I will bring one.” David intentionally used the more Englishy construction to leave it ambiguous whether or not it was him or the hearies who would need the interpreter, and he watched Emily’s lips to see if she mimicked that in her spoken English. She didn’t, suggesting that only David would need an interpreter, and that made him furious.
Larson looked down at David’s resume, marking it up with a pen, and David took the opportunity to take a few breaths, to wish away his frustration and anger and rock this interview despite all the cards being stacked against him. Finally, Larson began to speak again. “I’m not seeing a lot of work experience in an office environment.”
And the interview finally slid away from the issues over David’s ability to do the job because he was Deaf and simply whether or not he was capable of doing the job. His practice with Megan on how to answer all the standard questions paid off hugely, David coming off as calm and confident and honest while still spinning himself in the right direction. The last couple months helping Kai with his recovery had also seriously boosted David’s patience and tolerance for frustration, and as things began to wind down, David was increasingly hopeful he might actually get this job after all.
And then it all went to shit.
Just when the interview was coming to a close and David was expecting the usual, “We’ll let you know” from Larson, he turned to Emily and started speaking to her directly. Emily’s hands dropped, and she shirked back, her entire face turning deep red. She glanced over at David, then back at Larson, clearly in shock, muttering something and pointing to David.
David focused all his attention on the difficult task of reading Larson’s lips from this bad angle. He couldn’t be one-hundred percent sure, but based on how Emily was reacting, David figured out the son of a bitch had offered her the job.
David stood up abruptly, leveled a scathing glare at Emily, and signed a quick thank you to Larson, assuming it probably wouldn’t be interpreted. Then, low and close to his body to signal he was speaking directly to Emily, he said, “I’m reporting you to the agency.
At that, the girl burst into tears, but David didn’t care. He tried not to let the door slam on his way out, but he secretly hoped it made a really loud noise.
#


Kai escaped to the kitchen, leaving his left crutch behind in the living room and using only his right so he’d have a hand free for Martin’s drink. He watched the mug of milk spin around in the microwave, his hands pressed on the counter to support his weight, feeling a little dizzy. He couldn’t believe how much about his life he’d told Martin, things he hadn’t even discussed with Dr. Miller yet. And Kai wondered if part of it wasn’t simply because he’d promised Martin he’d be honest with him--after all, that had had more to do with questions about what Martin could expect from the progression of his disease than anything else. Kai could have stood firm on that, insisting he’d answer Martin’s questions about living with a trache--as uncomfortable as that was--but not what his first sexual experience was like. And yet Kai had told Martin about Laurie and Michelle. Was it, even if it was unconscious, because Martin didn’t have long to live? The idea disturbed Kai greatly and he struggled to push the thought from his mind.
The room tilted, and Kai managed to shift his body just enough to lean over the sink, barely avoiding hurling on the counter. Kai heaved and heaved until he had nothing left and his eyes were blurry with reflexive tears. He coughed, ran the tap to wash the vomit down the drain, then cupped his hand to rinse his mouth a few times. He saw white sparkles on the edges of his vision, and he had to grip the counter firmly until the world stopped spinning. His blood pressure? Or vertigo from his inner ear damage? Both?
Vomiting sometimes fucked with his blood pressure, and even worse, he almost never felt better afterward. And this meant he’d thrown up his lunch, which meant he had to eat even more calories later to make up the difference. The mere thought of food made Kai’s stomach spasm again, and he leaned over the sink, trying to throw up again, but managing little more than dry heaves. He spit, his head swimming, hovering over the sink a long time.
Kai groaned, wiped his mouth with a paper towel, and washed his hands. He gave himself a moment to recover, then grabbed Martin’s drink, hurriedly adding the mix from the packet and stirring. Today was Kai’s first day driving himself, but if the dizziness wouldn’t subside he knew it wouldn’t be safe for him to be behind the wheel, even for the short trip from Martin’s house to his apartment. Right now Kai wasn’t even sure he could make it back to the living room without spilling hot cocoa all over himself and the floor, let alone drive himself home.
But Kai was determined. If he was going to be independent, he couldn’t depend on Jon or David or anyone else. He took a moment for mindfulness, some deep breaths, and then headed back out to the living room, mug in his free hand, using his one crutch to check his balance.
Kai handed Martin his drink as soon as he reached the couch, then moved around it and sank down into the cushions, grateful to be still again. He set his crutch aside with its mate and dug in his bag for the wrist blood pressure cuff he always carried with him, strapping it on, laying his arm across his chest and hitting the button.
Martin was sitting up, breathing better now, gripping his mug, obviously cherishing its warmth, but eying Kai carefully. “You OK?” Maybe he’d heard Kai throwing up. Or maybe he was just wondering why Kai was checking his blood pressure.
Kai thought about lying, his default setting, but he simply shook his head. “Not really,” he said with a faint smile. The cuff beeped and revealed what Kai had suspected: his pressure was dangerously low. He was probably dehydrated after that long swim, and throwing up had definitely not helped. Kai held up the cuff for Martin to see, then sighed, stripping it off. He let his eyes close for a minute, and when he opened them, for several seconds the world looked like he was seeing it through a kaleidoscope. Definitely not good. Kai felt precariously close to passing out, and vaguely, he knew he should do something to try to stop it, but he was too tired. He let his eyes slide shut, but that seemed to make things worse. With his lids closed, he felt like he was in a boat during a storm, rocking back and forth, and Kai knew if his stomach wasn’t empty, he would be spewing.
He forced himself to lean forward, putting his head between his knees, hoping that would help.
“Do I need to like, call someone or something?” Martin asked, worry and fear clear in his voice, especially when it cracked halfway through.
“I’ll be fine. Just give me a minute.”
The position was already helping, though he was still lightheaded and dizzy. “That blood pressure cuff was a Christmas present from Jon. My wheelchair and first pair of good crutches were also a gift from him, and my medical alert tags, too.” Kai kept talking, because if he was talking, he wasn’t passing out. “He’s always giving me practical stuff. That’s Jon. Though, I guess. . . .” Kai slowly, slowly pushed against his knees to bring himself back into a sitting position. He felt a flare of nausea surge up, but the dizziness had mostly subsided.
“You guess what?”
Kai sighed, stretched without moving too suddenly to yank his bag up into his lap. He tossed the blood pressure cuff inside, then dug around in the main pocket until he found a bottle of Gatorade and a bag of potato chips. Kai chugged the sports drink in one long swallow, put it back in his backpack and dumped it on seat beside him. Then he turned to the chips, his lips curling as he opened them. Kai disliked French fries and loathed potato chips, but they were really salty, and that’s what he needed right now.
“You guess what?”
Kai looked at Martin, confused. “Huh?”
“You were talking about your brother and then you stopped. I guess it’s not important.”
Kai shook his head, as if trying to loosen the cobwebs. His brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders right now. “I don’t remember.” Kai placed a single chip in his mouth, sucking it until it dissolved into a starchy, salty mush he forced himself to swallow.
“You said your brother always gave you practical stuff?”
Kai didn’t remember. This wasn’t good. He should call someone. But he didn’t want to worry Martin, and he really wanted to wait this out, so he did his best to continue the thought he must have had before. “Uh, well, when I first got really sick, like, had to move into the hospital long-term-care ward sick, he gave me a portable CD player and a stack of CDs, along with some audio books, so I wouldn’t be too bored, and it was something I could do even if I was feeling very tired.” Kai shrugged and slipped another chip into his mouth.
“It must be nice having a brother,” Martin said wistfully.
Kai forced himself to swallow more of the chip-mush. “Jon’s pretty amazing. He’s like this perfect person. If we didn’t look so much alike, I’d be pretty convinced he was an alien and his diabetes was his alien body’s reaction to our atmosphere or something.”
Martin laughed loudly at that. “I only know your brother as my doctor, but with that hair, there’s no way he’s a perfect alien.”
Kai looked over at Martin and chuckled, too. “Maybe he always has his hands in it because he’s checking to make sure his disguise hasn’t failed.”
“Oh, maybe you’re right!” Martin said gleefully, sitting more upright, getting into the joke. “Superman was an orphan, too, right? Maybe you’re both aliens. Maybe if you could go back to your home planet you’d be healthy.”
“I’m pretty sure they would have figured out I was an alien when they cut me open, if not before,” Kai said, though he was smiling as he drew his finger down his chest. He was feeling better, and he wasn’t sure if it was the salt from the disgusting chips working its way into his blood already or if it was Martin’s company. Kai had to admit that he really liked the kid, and he sometimes forgot their age difference was almost as great as that between Kai and Jon.
“What was that like?” Martin asked, setting his mug aside and curling up again, shivering as he struggled to draw the blankets as tightly around him as he could. His breathing had worsened once more--nothing to alarm Kai, but it was a reminder--along with the boy’s question--of why Kai was there.
Kai forced himself to eat another chip. “The surgery?”
“Well . . . yeah. I mean, and after, you know. What was it like? I know that even if the committee reconsiders listing me, I might die before I find a match, but . . . I like to imagine, sometimes.”
“You don’t want to imagine the surgery, or the rehab after, kid. Trust me. Can’t you just jump to the part where you can breathe?”
Martin shifted on the couch, burying himself beneath the blanket so only his eyes peeked out. “If you don’t want to tell me, you don’t have to,” he said petulantly.
Kai sighed. “I was in really bad shape by the time the match came up, so my memory is foggy. But I’ll tell you what I can remember and what Jon told me, if you really want to know.”
Martin poked his head out. “Really?”
Kai sighed heavier. “Really.” He slipped on his blood pressure cuff again and took another reading. His systolic was still low, even for him, but his diastolic had gone up, which was probably why he was feeling better. “I should probably drink something, but I already drank what I had with me. Maybe we should finish this conversation next week?”
“No! No,” Martin said, coughing a little afterward. He gathered the blankets around him, minus the heated one, and stood up. “I’ll get you some juice and more chips.”
“All right. When you get back, I’ll answer any three questions you have relating to my transplant, before, during, or after, but when I’m done, that’s it for today. We finish the movie. OK?”
Martin grinned. “OK.”


#


Megan followed David into the Cattle Baron, already beginning to remove her gloves, unwind her scarf, and unbutton her coat. She watched him hold up two fingers, and the hostess led them to a table. She paused at a two-top in a corner, which would make signing awkward, so David shook his head and pointed to an empty booth a few feet away.
“That table isn’t clean, sir, but if you want to wait a moment . . .”
The woman wasn’t facing David straight-on, and Megan could see the barely buried frustration that had emanated from him in waves was beginning to break through. He reached out and touched her arm. She jerked away reflexively, and David frowned, pointing to his ears, then gesturing to her lips and his eyes to tell her she needed to face him for him to read her lips.
As was typical, the woman became flustered, looking over at Megan before turning back to David and speaking loudly and slowly, “Wait. Here. I’ll. Clean. The. Table.”
David grunted, his eyes furrowed. “Clean the table?” he asked Megan, probably struggling to read the woman’s exaggerated lips.
Megan nodded. “The table you want is dirty, but she’s going to clean it.
David nodded sharply, folding his arms on his chest and tapping his foot, visibly annoyed.
Megan waved her hand to try to get him to look at her, but he ignored her until she tapped his shoulder. “If you want to just go home . . .
He sighed, forced a smile. “I’m all right. Just hungry.” She knew he was lying, or at least not telling the full truth, but she let it go for now.
A moment later, the hostess returned, using exaggerated motions and again speaking too slow and loudly, directing them to their table. They hung up their coats on the hooks between each booth and settled in.
The hostess was smiling so forcefully it was painful as she handed them braille menus. David dropped his head to the table, clearly not in the mood for this.
“He’s deaf, not blind,” Megan said, handing the menus back. “Please give us regular menus, and tell the waitress to treat him like anyone else, just to make sure she looks straight at him when she talks.” Megan normally didn’t speak for David unless he asked her to, but he was obviously in pissed off/don’t care mode, and it was probably better to give the waitress warning before David got any more annoyed.
“You talk!” the hostess blurted, then blushed. “I’ll be right back,” she said slowly and loudly.
“I can hear fine,” Megan said. “Just talk normally, even to him. Talking like that makes it harder to read your lips.”
The hostess blushed harder before disappearing.
Megan nudged David’s leg with her foot under the table.
He looked up, finally. “You’d think there’s enough Deafies in this town that hearing people would know a thing or two.
Megan studied David’s anger, reaching out to squeeze one of his hands briefly before signing, “I take it the interview didn’t go well.
David glanced away, and for a moment, Megan thought he wasn’t going to answer, but finally he replied, “No. Of course it didn’t. It never does. Deaf people are only good for sorting mail or working in factories. Didn’t you know that?
Megan’s eyebrows dipped. She raised her hands to reply, but their waitress appeared with some fresh menus, handing them over.
“Welcome to the Cattle Baron,” the girl said, surprisingly normally and looking directly at David as she spoke. “My name’s Kara and I’ll be taking care of you today.” She pulled a notepad out of one apron pocket, and a pen, and offered it to David, unprompted, with a smile. “What do you want to drink?”
David’s shoulders visibly relaxed; obviously, unlike the hostess, Kara had more experience dealing with deaf people. While David wrote out what he wanted, Megan ordered a decaf coffee for herself. She didn’t like to drink it much, but she wanted something warm.
Kara accepted David’s note. “OK, one decaf and one beer, and an appetizer sampler. I’ll get that right out.” Kara smiled at David, then disappeared.
What happened?
David shrugged. “What always happens? They won’t hire me because I don’t speak. Because I can’t use a regular phone. It’s bullshit, but what am I going to do?
They can’t do that. It’s against the ADA.
No shit. But they never say that’s why they’re not hiring me. They make up some other excuse, like I don’t have the right experience, or the position has already been filled, or whatever other BS excuse they can pull out of their ass. Or they try to hire the fucking interpreter instead of me.
That happened?” Megan asked, her eyebrows shooting up even higher than they normally would for a yes/no question.
David growled and nodded. “She was a disaster. Totally inexperienced, and she completely shut down when he offered her the job. I had to rely on lipreading and body language to know what was even happening.
She cut you out of the conversation? Speaking without signing? That’s totally unethical.
No shit. I wasted my money, and I still don’t have a job.” David’s anger faded into slumped shoulders. “Maybe we should never have left Omaha. That janitor job at the deaf school in Council Bluffs paid decent, and it had benefits. . . .
Stop. Would you have wanted to work for that guy today anyway? He had to be a jerk if he thought some young interpreter would be better for the job just because she could hear.
David sighed. It was obvious from his facial expression he knew she was right, but it didn’t make the situation any less frustrating.
Megan laid her hand on his, squeezed, before bringing it to her mouth and kissing his knuckles. She let it go so she could sign, “This is a Deaf town. Stop being so antisocial and stubborn and reach out through the community. There have to be Deaf businesses that are hiring that would love to have someone as smart as you, with your range of experience, and who has a college degree on top of everything.” Megan grinned. “And who’s so incredibly handsome, too.
David rolled his eyes, but he finally smiled.

######

5 comments:

  1. Great chapter. I love how you jumped between David's story and Kai & Martin's. It was wonderful to gain more insight into how they think and feel.

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  2. I laughed so hard at the part with the braille menus. Really, that has happened to someone you know? That's... hilarious. Okay, probably not when you are in the situation. And I had to smile at the decaf coffee because I was recently told it is signed deaf+coffee. But that is probably just a pun (like past-your-eyes milk), not an actual sign.

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    1. Yeah, the braille menu thing happens far more often than you'd think!! It's amazing how many people confuse deafness and blindness. :Z

      Oh, man, I'd almost forgotten "past your eyes" ("pasteurized" for anyone else reading this and wondering what the heck we're talking about)! Makes me think of the joke signs "below-knee" for "baloney" and oh there's another one like that that's silly, but I can't think of it atm... :)

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  3. I really enjoyed David's part of the story this time around. You have so many interesting characters!

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  4. I find myself praying for Kai. Once again good chapter.

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