IMAGE & VOICE
by Liz Whitt
It was the first time he ever saw her. He was ten years old and he could feel the warmth seeping from his skin as it rested on the smooth, frigid glass of the window. He saw the moving truck a few days prior but hadn’t yet seen the family until just then. He gazed at the two kids playing in their front yard, the near blizzard not hindering them in any way. A snowball suddenly caught his eye as it arched through the air towards the small girl–wrapped in so many layers she looked like a giant pink snowball herself. The throw was perfectly aimed, a direct hit that pelted her in the face. A smile tugged at the corner of his lips as she fell back into a huge mound of puffy white snow. The boy who threw the snowball was grinning in triumph and he guessed this to be her sibling. However, the little girl’s attention was not at her brother. As she stood up her piercing green eyes were peering back at him. His face flushed, and he immediately shut his curtains. Even though he was embarrassed at being caught spying, he felt an odd rush of pleasure after their exchange.
He was used to the silence, it had never bothered him before. Although he wasn’t born deaf, Mason couldn’t remember a time when silence didn’t accompany him like an old friend. Since he was home-schooled he didn’t have much exposure to the outside world besides the internet. His only friends being the ones he met online through a deaf community website. His childhood was littered with memories of his mom and dad taking him to the white building, with its white walls and the people dressed in white coats. Always being poked and prodded with funny shaped utensils. He couldn’t hear exactly what the man in white coat told his parents each time, but he had a pretty good guess by lipreading. He might have thought nothing of it, except for the fact his parents would look sad on the drive home when they thought he wasn’t paying attention. Mason never wanted to speak since he had sign language as a means to communicate. But for the first time he wanted to, his thoughts still lingering on the girl he saw through the window.
The very next morning Mason was eating breakfast with his parents, when he saw his parents suddenly both look towards the front door. He kept eating his waffles while his parents got up, wondering who could be at the door during Christmas break. The cold breeze slithered its way down the collar of his shirt, getting his attention away from his mouthwatering waffles he was still chewing. New York winters were brutal. He looked over and, in the entryway, stood the girl with his wary parents behind her. The half-chewed waffle got stuck in his throat as he tried to swallow rather desperately. His eyes drunk her in. Her long, blonde hair gleaming like a halo as it rested just above her waist. When he saw her through the window he thought she was fair skinned, but upon close inspection there was a subtle golden tan with a hint of freckles. She smiled, and he thought he was in heaven until her lips started moving quite rapidly. Mason’s spirits sank as he failed horribly to read her lips and watched as his parents had to explain his situation. For the first time, he was embarrassed by his lack of hearing and was filled with molten anger.
“Hi!”, he shouted rather clumsily.
He knew his voice came out funny even though he couldn’t hear it and felt the heat rush to his cheeks. He looked to his parents for affirmation, but they were frozen with shock because they had never heard their son’s voice before. He dragged his eyes away from his parents back to the girl. Unlike his parents, her eyes were giddy with excitement. Mason thought this would be the perfect moment to run upstairs and lock himself in his room.
He was still sitting with his back against the door when he felt the vibrations of a knock. He was expecting this. He opened the door to find his mom with a plate of cookies. A tradition she did whenever someone was sad.
“How are you honey? What happened back there?” she signed.
“I don’t know. I’ve never had a friend before who wasn’t like me. I just wanted to be normal.” Mason signed back.
“You shouldn’t think that being deaf makes you not normal. Hearing people aren’t even considered normal half the time anyway. You should want to be yourself and nobody else.” she replied. Mason was silent as he contemplated her advice. She stood up to leave. “She is a sweet girl. Her name is Kate. I know you have friends online, but I think you’re ready now. By the way, you have a beautiful voice.”, she signed with tears in her eyes before closing the door.
The next day Kate came over and things went a little more smoothly. His mom acted as the interpreter for introductions and then eventually left them to their own devices with an iPad to communicate. Mason tried paying attention to the subtitles on the TV, but his eyes kept wandering toward her. I wonder if she’s as nervous as I am, he thought. She met his gaze and quickly typed on the iPad.
“You have really cool parents”, she wrote and passed him the tablet.
“Thanks. Why did you decide to come over?”
“Because I’ve seen you staring out you window and wondered why you never come outside to play”
“Oh. My parents don’t let me play outside unless they can watch. They usually are busy working.”
“Why do they have to watch?”
“Um it’s not safe because I can’t hear my surroundings and people can’t get my attention. I also don’t talk so if something happened… it’s complicated.”, Mason typed.
“Well I thought it was really awesome when you spoke out loud to me. We should play every day and be best friends.”
He smiled at her response and she unabashedly reached for his hand and held it with her own as they watched the rest of the movie.
Six years had passed and while a lot of thing had changed, the friendship between Kate and Mason had not. Mason now attended the public school since they had expanded their education to help teach deaf students. His hazel eyes hadn’t changed but his face had become less round, his features sharper somehow. Thanks to puberty he had grown quite tall, a whopping six feet and two inches. Kate had stayed exactly the same in his eyes, as beautiful as the day she sprung into his life. Thanks to her, he had a mix of non-hearing and hearing friends even though they preferred to hang out alone. She became quite versed in sign language and helped him with the transition into high school. They spent most of their time goofing off and since Mason’s parents trusted Kate so completely, he was allowed to go wherever with her.
Mason had to overcome more obstacles than most due to his impaired hearing, but he lived a relatively normal life. He was laying on his bed, fighting the urge to fall asleep. It was a rare night when him and Kate weren’t hanging out but some nights she worked a part time job in order to save money for college. He wanted to stay up to make sure she got home safe because Kate had been complaining about her creepy, older coworker making crude comments to her. Lately as the days went by he began thinking about his feelings for her more and more. He wasn’t sure how to tell her or even if he wanted to tell her. He didn’t want to risk their friendship, but more importantly he didn’t want her to be burdened by him. He mulled it over in his mind a bit and decided to text her. His parents weren’t home tonight because of The Dave Matthews concert in Albany. It might be the perfect opportunity.
“Hey Katie, can you come over as soon as you get home? Text me so I can come open the door.”, he texted her.
“Sure Mase. I’ll be there soon, we close at 11pm. I’m about to leave as soon as my creepy ass coworker stops hitting on me long enough for me to escape lol. I think I’m going to tell my boss soon, it’s getting out of hand. See you in a bit.”, she replied.
Kate was tired after her shift at work. She had been up all-night thinking about what to do in order to deal with the situation about her coworker, which required a lot more time and energy than she had expected. She didn’t want to get the guy fired but he was definitely overstepping his boundaries. She was almost home and looking forward to seeing Mase and asking his advice on the matter. He was such a good listener and always knew how to make her feel better in the non-verbal way of his. Her phone rang. Damn it, she thought while looking at her phone. It was her coworker, Evan again. How did he ever get her number in the first place? When was it going to stop? Kate had approached a red light and came to a halt, tossing her phone on the passenger seat. Her foot eased on the gas as she raced to get to Mason’s house.
She pulled into the driveway, noticing a broken window. She puts the car in park and sat for a moment, considering what to do. She saw that Mason’s bedroom light was on. Her parents were at the concert with his parents and probably wouldn’t be able to hear their cellphones. Her brother was at the football game which would result in the same problem. She pulled into her own driveway and opted for calling the police. They were on their way. After hanging up, she could feel her heart pounding and a million different, horrible scenarios running through her head. Please dear God let him be okay, she prayed. She felt the sweat bead on her forehead as her anxiety skyrocketed. Her hands trembled, and she realized she couldn’t just sit there and wait for the police as she’d been instructed to do. This was her best friend.
Somehow her legs took her to the front door. Her eyes watered as she faced the fear that something terrible could be waiting inside. Her love for her best friend pushed her forward. As she opened the door she cried out in horror as the scene displayed. The house was trashed as if a hurricane blew through it. Her eyes darted around, looking for any sign of movement. She noticed the TV missing and immediately suspected robbers. This thought brought on other morbid scenarios and she lost all sense of self-preservation as she bolted up the stair towards Mason’s room. Her pepper spray was clutched in her vise-like grip. She took a breath to steady herself and pushed the door open.
There he was, sleeping safe and sound in bed. She started crying in relief as she went over to wake him up. Staring at his face, suddenly overcome with exhaustion from the trauma of the night she had an epiphany. She was completely and wholeheartedly in love with this boy. She risked her life in order to protect his. She had to tell him. She shook him awake and he woke up with a start.
“Katie why are you crying?” he signed vehemently, annoyed with himself that he had fallen asleep.
She just shook her head and wrapped her arms around him in response as he held her close. As he breathed in the scent of her, he was overwhelmed by how much he realized he loved her. As he pulled back to look her in the eyes, he noticed she was staring at him exactly like he was at her. Without thinking, he leaned in and lightly pressed his lips to hers as the flashing red and blue lights illuminated their faces through the window.