We climb the steps to the doorway and I press the doorbell.
“What are we waiting for?” Henry asks, holding his cane close to his chest, nervously fiddling with the black safety tire around his wrist.
“Someone to open?”
“The lights flicker inside the house, ” I hold his hand and show him where the small button is. “No sound.”
“Oh. Makes sense.” His hand long for a moment in the wall, exploring. I take the one that’s wedged between my elbow and ribcage and entwine our fingers instead. I’m ready to do this and he senses it, grinning a little.
Mom opens the door a few moments later, she smiles brightly and pulls me into a tight hug. Before she can do it with my clueless fiancé as well, I try to warn him.
“She’s going to-”
Too late. He’s crushed by my mother’s bear hug. She’s a small woman and nobody would guess how much strength she puts into her arms. Enough to break a few ribs, I’d say. She pulls Henry away, still holding his arms, and looks questioningly at me.
“That’s H-E-N-R-Y,” I tell her, signing with a single hand. He doesn’t have a sign name yet, but I have the feeling I know exactly what it’s going to look like.
How she managed to know that in less than five seconds, I shall never know.
“Yes.” I gesture my closed fist like a head nodding.
“Does he sign?”
Mom looks over him again and her eyes drop to the white cane she probably missed the first time and he’s gripping tightly against his chest. She stares at him and by the second, the crease between her brows deepens.
No, I haven’t told them that Henry is blind. Actually, I haven’t even told them that I’m engaged. I know, I must be a terrible daughter but I don’t share my love life beyond the casual ‘I’m seeing someone’ with my parents. There’s no reason why—or so I tell myself.
“Babs, I’m a bit lost here,” Henry chuckles nervously, giving my hand a squeeze.
Suddenly, the delicate, small and discreet engagement ring that I have chosen myself seems to turn into a flashlight, shining as bright as a lighthouse in a storm.
“I’m explaining to mom that I’m going to be interpreting,” I say, speaking and signing. Sparing him the dirty details.
Hey, don’t blame me. I’m not an interpreter. Growing up, I was always pulled aside to interpret for my parents, like an asset; from PTA meetings in the few hearing schools I attended, doctor appointments to everyone and even taxes stuff with six years old, I had to interpret everything. It was something born out of necessity, I get it, but if I can avoid it these days, I do. If I see strangers struggling I do help, but I can’t say I haven’t pretended to either not know ASL or being able to hear in certain scenarios, because I have. Like living a double life. That’s just how much I hate interpreting; people often forget it’s an actual profession, with its own moral codes and specific training, and I’m just not one. I’m a lawyer with a bunch of Deaf clients—mostly because my parents advertise me to any Deaf person they meet, thus making me widely known around the community and a great asset to my firm, so I can’t complain about that—but still not an interpreter.
Mom yanks my hand from Henry’s, bringing it closer until the ring is a few inches away from her eyes.
“Are you engaged?!” Her hands fly, confused, furious. “To him?!”
I give her a look. “Yes, mother.”
“She’s looking at my ring,” I fill him in.
“Now is probably a good time to introduce myself?” he runs his fingers through his hair.
I wave my hand in front of mom’s eyes to get her attention and she looks up. I can't read her, which is absurd; she's always been the kind of mom who could control her kids from across the room with a single look, so right now I'm feeling the slight urge to scream.
“He wants to introduce himself,” I sign, poking Henry. “Go ahead.”
“Okay,” he clasps his hands together. My mom’s eyes are on him. Drumroll please, and…“My name is H-E-N-R-Y.”
His E looked like an S, but it could’ve been worse. Honestly, if I weren’t so worried about dying right now, it would’ve been the cutest thing in the entire world. My boyfriend—no, my fiancé— aside from extremely sexy, is adorable. There’s no way anyone would ever not like him, so I try to relax.
But mom doesn’t sign back, which feels much like a punch directly in my gut, but he looks pleased with himself and his cheeks are slightly flushed—although I can’t say if it’s from embarrassment and uncomfortableness or simply the cold.
“Come in,” mom steps out of the threshold. “It’s freezing outside, you’re going to be sick.”
I nod obediently and step inside, trying to ignore the complete lack of... Whatever it is I was expecting.
“She’s worried about our health,” I explain. “Otherwise, she’d let us sleep in the porch.”
Henry’s hand goes back to my arm, finding its place right above my elbow. I don’t hold his hand again because he becomes very hesitant in closed spaces when he’s unfamiliar with the layout, increasing the chances he’ll bump into something, so the closeness and safeness my elbow offers him is much preferable. That way he’s never too far from me, following my every step closely. At this point, after so much practice, guiding him is so natural it’s almost like we move as one—I don’t have to think a lot about the dimensions and don’t stress about leading him straight into a wall or over a chair.
When we first begin dating, I’d find the purple bruises scattered around his body, especially on his shins, and when I worriedly asked what those were, he’d answer. “Ah, it’s just the blind life.” I found that statement incredibly terrifying—how could he just accept that as a simple fact of his life?! The bruises never seemed to disappear, always replaced with new ones, occurring to me that people were always making him bump into stuff and he was fine with that. After that, I started to pay more attention to how I guided him—not pulling him around, carelessly like one might treat a lifeless, cheap travel bag, but like someone who was entrusting his safety to me. Now most times he doesn’t even use his cane in addition to my arm, and knowing he trusts me that much gives me tingles of excitement.
“She should be worried,” he says in a quiet voice as we enter the house. “You’ve been sniffling and sneezing the entire trip.”
“I’m fine,” I groan. I have better things to worry about than the sore throat I'm getting for sure tomorrow morning.
Mom is walking ahead of us and I slowly follow her further inside. I realize Henry is taking his time to memorize small things along the way with the tip of his cane, like the width of the doorway, just in case he has to run away in the middle of the night.
As I said, it has happened before.
When we get to the kitchen, one of my infamous brothers is attacking the fridge. Thanks to the open concept, I can see the living room too, where Dad and Dan are watching TV. The lack of cars cluttering the driveway tells me already that not everyone has arrived yet. Which is great—separate and conquer, right?
Ren is the first one to spot me and smiles broadly, but then he spots Henry and suddenly his smile looks not so broad. “What?” His expression says it by itself as he approaches. He stops in front of us, frowning so deep that I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to go back to his normal expression. Then, much to my own embarrassment, he waves a hand in front of Henry’s face, which I promptly slap away. Henry smiles a little, probably noticing what had just happened.
“I’ll be interpreting,” I sign when my face has told him everything else. “Be nice.”
He shrugs, grinning like a hungry wolf. Hungry for fresh meat.
“Tell him I said hi.” He asks.
“You can say it to him directly. I’ll interpret.”
“What’s the point?”
I take a deep breath in. Ren is the only one in my family who actually can speak. I mean, it doesn’t sound very clear and it’s very much deaf, but he can. I think it was thanks to growing up so close to me, because none of my brothers seem to have been even remotely interested. He’s also the only one who’s closely involved with hearies, as an ASL teacher. So one would think he’s, y’know, sensitive in any regard. I guess this has a lot more to do with the fact that Henry is the guy his favorite (and only) sister is bringing home than with his ability to hear (or see).
“Henry, this is my brother, Ren. My twin.” I’m signing as I speak. “Ren, this is Henry.”
I gently guide Henry’s hand to Ren’s outstretched one. The entire time they shake hands, Ren’s eyes are on me. Almost accusingly.
“Nice to meet you.” Because my brother doesn’t speak, he can only guess where his head is, so he just stares straight ahead. It usually works, but this time he’s missing by a long shot; Ren is so freakishly tall, he easily towers over anyone with his 6’5. Like an anomaly.
Ren nods, although that doesn’t make much of a difference to my blind fiancé. Much to his credit, he seems to realize that so he quickly gives Henry’s shoulder a squeeze.
“Another hearie,” he tells me with his hands and a mischievous grin. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you have a fetish.”
I flip him the bird.“Asshole.”
He looks oddly pleased with himself.
I feel a hand squeezing my arm gently. Oh, God. I’ve left him out again. This is going to be hard.
“He’s saying I must have a fetish,” I tell him as we move further inside the spacious living room.
Henry beams at me.
“For what, blind men?” He chuckles, then probably miscalculates the distance between his head and my ear, because he ends up much, much closer than socially acceptable, his nose brushing behind my ear. “Do you?”
Feeling my entire body answering to the words he whispered against my bare neck, I swallow hard, stepping away just a little.
“Of hearing guys,” I correct him, promptly. Then explain, trying to get rid of my red face: “I have only brought hearing guys home. That’s why.”
But Henry only chuckles, sliding his hand down my arm until our fingers are entwined again. I really need to survive this weekend.
I feel like I’m missing something. I mean, I’m pretty much always missing something, but this is one of those rare moments when I really feel like it—like when I’m out with a couple of people and they start to snicker for apparently no reason other than a visual cue that I (obviously) can’t catch, and I’m left quite literally in the dark, as most won’t take the time to explain what’s so funny (it often takes the fun away, I’ve learned). It’s the very same feeling, except it doesn’t go away after a couple of minutes.
It’s driving me insane.
They’re talking, I can tell by how Barbara’s arms are everywhere. You see, I’m great at talking, it’s like a superpower. Or maybe more like a blind survival skill—as a blind guy, you’re either outgoing and communicative or doomed into a socially deprived life, it’s something I learned a long time ago—it’s how I charm 50 year old ladies at the office into bringing me homemade cookies, or coworkers into helping me out with slide presentations. It’s also how I convince moms that I’m a great catch to their daughters, but that isn’t an option now. Not when I can’t talk and I’m perfectly sure they’re talking about me.
“This is Dan,” Babs tells me as she leads my hand to his. “The oldest.”
There’s no way I’d ever be able to tell Dan apart from Ren apart from Vin, apart from Len, but I smile politely anyway.
“He’s asking why he hasn’t met you sooner.”
Now that’s a good question, Dan. I guess it has something to do with-
“The weather, I think?”
“He says the cold has only started.” Babs says but then adds. “It’s a joke.”
I know it’s a joke. “What?”
“Oh, no. Not to you.” She says to me. “It’s just that sign language is very literal.”
“No, it’s fine.” She signs something to Dan. “He’s asking if you… My God, Daniel.”
Barbara stops and signs back to her brother, falling silent. I feel her hands going wider and wider. She huffs angrily. This is definitely worse than being left out of a joke.
“Nothing. He’s being an ass.” But Dan stomps his foot against the hardwood floor, I suppose protesting her decision to not interpret whatever he said. They go on and on for a short while.
I'm getting tired of this. “What is it, Babs?”
She releases a sigh, loudly clasping her hands together.
“This ass,” she makes a small pause, I’m sure making sure to sign it as she speaks. “Is asking how do you aim at the bathroom.”
Oh yeah. Barbara gets pissed when I say there are things in life inherent to being a blind guy, but this is the perfect example of it. Questions like this are fairly common, but they always get me by surprise.
I think Babs signs that back, because suddenly the room is filled with a booming laugh coming from not only the guy in front of me, but also someone at my right—I think Ren? I don’t know why I’m so surprised at how loud their laughs are, I think I supposed they’d laugh… in American Sign Language? Or maybe just... Silently? They also pat my back, their hands so big and heavy that it feels like they’re trying to unchoke me or something.
“Oh my God, grow up.” Barbara is annoyed but even I play along and laugh a little, even though I have no idea why we're laughing. Is this Deaf humor? Did I say something funny? Just keep swimming, I guess. “Men.”
We go to the car to get our things, and even though I only packed one small bag—I mean, it’s only two days—, it’s like Babs brought her closet in this suitcase.
“You’ll be carrying that.” I told her yesterday as she packed. I only figured out how much stuff she was bringing when I sat down in bed and found out there wasn't an inch of the mattress that wasn't covered in a mountain of clothes.
“When have I ever needed a man to carry my stuff?”
And yet here we are, and guess who is carrying her ginormous closet-on-wheels?
“When have you ever needed a man to carry your things, right?” I mock her as I swing the suitcase out of the trunk. She shoves me to the side with her hip. “An independent, self-sufficient woman such as yourself.”
“Why would I when I have a fiance to do that for me?” She giggles and kisses my cheek without warning. I hope she isn't wearing any lipstick.
As we walk back to the house, I put my free arm over her shoulder—it’s amazing how she just fits there, like a perfect mold. And she could stay there forever because she smells so damn good. Babs does this thing where right after she leaves the shower, she puts her hair in a bun and it stays there until she decides to put it down, (she says it’s about the waves, whatever that means). Sometimes I know exactly when it’s not up anymore because of the chamomile, or lavander, or Chanel nº5, that emanates from it. It’s so sexy.
You see, when I went from legally-blind-but-still-highly-visual in childhood and early teens to, y’know, not-quite pitch-black-darkness-yet-but-bordering-so in my late teens and early adulthood, I genuinely thought I’d be getting Daredevil’s superhearing powers. I mean, that would have been great. I met a totally blind guy once at the Blind Center who could walk around using echolocation by clicking his tongue, which to a geeky twelve year old boy, who carried around a huge magnifier so he could read comic books, was mindblowingly amazing. But those superpowers never came to me. I do rather tap my cane than slide it because the sound that bounces back from big objects vary in distance, so it helps in stuff like knowing I’m reaching a wall before my cane finds it, but I’m afraid to say anyone with a little experience could do that. Instead, my SuperBlind power ended up being supersmell. You may ask what the fuck is that useful for and I may answer not much—because you don’t parkour your way through New York City by smelling stuff—but it does end up being pretty helpful in day-to-day life. It’s how I cook and know Babs is around before she says anything, how I know I just walked past a pastry shop or a pet shop, or that the apartment next door is baking cookies. It’s also why I can’t go anywhere near cleaning supplies aisles without feeling like I’m being choked to death. It’s also oddly accurate. Like, can you tell what this shake is made of by smelling it? You bet I can.
We walk away from the car and just as we’re about to climb back the front deck—and no, I didn’t count the steps. No matter what Val Kilmer told you, that is not how you measure distance when you can’t see—I’m thrown off by her abrupt change of course as she turns around with her entire body. The heavy weight of her suitcase is almost enough to send us into a pirouette, but I manage to quickly catch myself.
“Hey, it’s Len.”
I tune my ears to the faint background noise of a car stopping by. “Which brother is that?”
“The youngest. Is that a girlfriend?” She pokes my ribs, though the question is completely rhetorical. The car doors are slammed shut and Babs leads me in a slow walk in its direction. I can just barely tell there’s a something there thanks to the contrast against the light, but really the only idea of how far it is I have comes from the sounds, because even though I have some (and I say that very loosely) visual perception, everything is two-dimensional. “Yeah, that is definitely a girlfriend.”
The next thing I know, Barbara has freed herself from my arm over her shoulders, releasing a squeal that gets muffled. I hear sounds coming from her brother too, but they’re raw and don’t actually form any words, like aahh’s and oohh’s . I put her suitcase down and consider grabbing my cane from my back pocket and snapping it open so I don’t just awkwardly stand there, but Babs doesn’t stay away long.
“Babe, this is Leonard.” She leads my hand to Len’s. It’s funny that she’s doing that—I have literally never seen (you see what I did there) Babs giving me a hand (and there again) with handshakes. I usually offer mine first, but when I don’t there’s always that awkward, embarrassed chuckle coming from someone who just remembered I can’t exactly follow visual cues. Because she has already guided my hand to several handshakes today, I can only assume her family is particularly fond of them. “Yeah, we just got here. Just getting our bags.”
“She means her bag.”
The couple chuckles because apparently, this time the joke is concrete enough. Or something. Len is about my height—he’s close and against the light, so it’s safe to say. I couldn’t guess neither Ren’s or Dan’s inside the house because it’s not that bright, but I’m guessing it’s the same thing. That’s about all I know about him. No voices to memorize, nothing. It’s like I’m talking to ghosts with hands.
“Nice to meet you.” Barbara says to the girlfriend.
“Nice to meet you, too.”
I’m left in stunned silence by the girl’s voice and apparently, so is Babs, because she oohs in delight. “So you’re…”
“That’s amazing!” Barbara sounds incredibly high-pitched, which is something she does whenever she’s lying or excited. Whatever coda means, she likes it. “This is Henry.”
“The boyfriend?” Sometimes I forget the first time I’m meeting her family and we’re already engaged. I think Babs showed her the ring, “Oh! Fiancé! Congratulations! Henry, right?”
“The one and only.” I extend my hand this time.
“I’m Robin.” She shakes it. “Len has been bitching the entire trip about you.” Len huffs. “You know you were.”
I can’t help but feeling a little more at ease with Robin here. I’m sure I’d go mad if I only heard Barbara’s voice the entire weekend.
“What’s a...code?” I ask her as we’re walking together back inside.
“A code. That thing Robin said she was.” She bursts out laughing, bending over herself when it gets hard to breathe. “What? What’s so funny?”
She huggs my shoulders and kisses my cheek. “You’re hilarious. She’s a CODA. C-O-D-A. Stands for Child of Deaf Adults, which means she’s hearing…”
“But her parents are deaf. Like you.”
I feel clarified now, thank you very much. It explains why Babs was so bouncy when she met Robin---I wonder if CODAs like to... stick together. Y’know. She’s told me once that being hearing around deaf people was a difference rather than an advantage, and the way she said it got me thinking she meant it in a bad way. I should know well how that feels.
“We have acronyms too, you know.”
“This isn’t a competition, Henry.”
“This isn’t a competition, Barbara.”
“Shut up, Heinrich.”
“That’s not even my name.”
“Technically, every Henry is a Heinrich. Or would you rather Enrique? Sounds sexy.”
“You’re a barbarian.”
“...Henri is a spoiled brat, which I think works great.” Oh my God, I fucking love this dork. To be honest, I absolutely would spend an entire week hearing only her voice and I’d talk to a hundred ghosts with hands