I lived next door to a white building, which had no name and till this day remains untitled. I knew two things: it had water reserves—and a loud, obnoxious siren.
Every time there was an emergency, the siren went off. Cat stuck in the tree? You heard it. It was an annoying constant in my life growing up.
Let me tell you about the first time it went off. I had a fit, the kind that causes you to crumble and turns you into a ball. My reaction surprised everyone seeing as I couldn’t hear.
Anything loud made it seem like the wax in my ears was curdling. I often wore ear muffs to theaters to buffer the volume of the noise. Vibrations were bullets to the brain.
It’s easier to say I was deaf because saying “ear problems” was an understatement. People treat you like a survivor. That’s not accurate though. I wasn’t near the brink of death. I didn’t fight anything off. I just managed chronic pain while resenting the fact that I couldn’t hear like everyone else.
The severity of my situation didn’t hit me until blood came out of my ears one night. This event traumatized my parents more than it did me.
When I woke up with puss stains on my pillow, I destroyed my Mighty Morphin Power Rangers pillow sheets in the process. The yellow ranger’s suit looked like it was being invaded by a malignant tumor. Tears wetted my face. I threw out my sheets and later sobbed about it, the sheets, not my ears.
Subduing the ear pains became ceremonial. My head laid horizontal for fifteen to twenty minutes a day to receive cold, syrupy drops of medicine. I kneeled next to a pot of boiling water and hung my head over the steam as if to purge the toxicity from my body. Before stepping into any body of water, I inserted ear plugs—just in case the water was polluted. I even wore them when taking showers. I lived in this bubble for three years.
The hospital was an extended relative’s house I would visit every other weekend. I’m sure I had some good visits, but I don’t remember. Doctors seem to only mention anything to you if it’s bad news. After a Pap, my gynecologist will only call, “if [they] find something abnormal.” No news is good news, but when you’re five years old, everything is news.
Then I had to have surgery. They were going to cut me open. I remember thinking I was going to wake up with a knife sticking out of my head. I asked my brother if this could happen. He told me it would. I could always count on my brother being stolid. This image of a knife lobbed in my head inspired a series of horrific, slasher type stories that are locked away, but trust me, you’ll never find them.
The nurse injected me with transparent liquids. I don’t have a clear image of her today, except for her teddy bear scrubs. This is also when I learned about the existence of drugs.
So I started to sing as they rolled me away in my bed. I guess there was a waiting line because we parked next to a wall of glass and were on standby until the room was available. There was no urgency.
I continued to sing about being a princess [I remembered the nurse nodding her head . . . along with all the teddy bears heads too.] I can’t remember any of the lyrics, but I know it was my rendition of “I’m a Little Teapot.” I’m sure it sounded more beautiful in my head than what it ended up sounding like: drunken karaoke.
When the room was made available, my dad said goodbye to me, and they hauled me into the room that looked like an observatory. I upgraded from ordinary princess to a moon princess. That’s what the nurses started to call me. Moon Princess.
They said I had to catch a flight. The doctor didn’t say much as he reviewed whatever was on the tray. I caught sight of the scalpel and disappointingly turned my head the other way. I thought it would be bigger.
After another shot of drugs, I was in the clouds. I swung my arms up to catch the baby ones to carry with me to the moon. I had to bring a souvenir for moon people naturally.
A nurse held a mask close to my mouth. She added that there was a masquerade ball.
I pleasantly grinned at her and proceeded to sing to her (I’m told I serenaded her, but I don’t trust the source.)
We started to count down from a hundred, and when my eyes fluttered and eventually closed, orange light eclipsed two small white orbs. I was kept in the dark for several hours, but it only felt like seconds of black and hours of something else. I try not to think about what it might have been.
When I inevitably woke up, my face was covered in a film of oil, my breath stale and chalky. I thought I was experiencing vertigo.
The noise hit me like a bomb.
I could hear the nurses outside of my door whispering, bouncing wheels and metal, the elevator button, phones ringing, and the sounds of the sirens from the ambulances. It didn’t hurt, but I suddenly felt like a nugget that was lost.
P.S. – When I told you about my ear problems, you said how it was all coming together now. It was disparate from everyone’s responses. The only problem was I didn’t understand what was coming together. I accused you of being religious. You laughed at me and said something like you have to go through the bad to get to the good. You said it better. I’d tell you that you were right.
[Thanks everyone for reading/humoring this. Book Reviews return March 2.]