I look up as my uncle talks to me. I nod. I smile. And I pretend I know just exactly what is going on. The truth is I have no clue what he’s saying or why he’s laughing, but I laugh too and mimic his facial expressions. I would never want to draw any more attention to myself than necessary. You see, I might only be 5 years old, but I know just how important it is to pretend.
I watch my uncle’s lips for a bit and I try to catch a little of what my uncle is saying. Something about my mom I think, but it doesn’t make sense because I’m not sure where my mom is. In fact, I haven’t seen her in weeks. There’s phone calls from her. At least I think there is, but I can’t hear her voice. I couldn’t tell you how much I’ve missed, but for me it was easier to pretend everything was fine. My family has already suffered so much. My father had just died. My mother was sick and ‘away’ somewhere. It’s just Ashley and me, living with relatives I am supposed to know, but it seems as if they are strangers to me. Everything has changed. Earlier in the year, before she was hospitalized, my mother moved us back to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation where she grew up. I have a hard time feeling like I belong here. In head start I am told I am a “little white girl”, but I don’t really know what that means. In fact, I don’t know much of what is going on. I try so hard to listen, but I rarely understand.
“The problem was that I was a Deaf child living in hearing world.”
Throughout my childhood I was told that I don’t listen, that I’m disobedient, that it’s hard to keep my attention, that I’m too loud. This bothered me so much, because, you see, I was not the problem. The problem was that I was a Deaf child living in a hearing world. Specifically, a reservation world with a single mother and low income family that had very little ability to provide me with the accommodations that I desperately needed. I was forced to adapt, or be left behind.
I’ve had a hearing loss since birth, but it wasn’t until half way through kindergarten that my teacher caught it. No one in my family ever noticed. I’ve spent my entire life at arm’s length from the world my friends and family have called home. It’s like a house where everyone is warm and laughing with each other, and I am watching from the outside through the window. Of course they can see me and engage, but I’ll never hear that laughter and I’ll never feel that warmth as long as it’s spoken. I live in a home I can never fully enter. My name is Hannah Rose Higdon and this is my story.