I know that in this telling the incident may all sound quite melodramatic. But in that moment, I learned, if nothing else and quite melodramatically, that I am the narrator of my experience. I learned that there was a price for passing, that the ticket cost more than just a pretty penny, that the fear of always, at any moment, being “found out” was far worse than just telling at the outset. (Like telling a lie and having to remember who you told it to, who you didn’t.)
And what was I so afraid of in the first place?
That moment in Wyoming, at the dawn of my academic career, shortly before I entered my thirties, was the first time I think I asked myself that question. And when I began asking it, I also began taking care and charge of narrating my own experience and identity. I began coming out. At the age of thirty, I took my first sign language class. And I cried mightily on the first night at the sheer thrill of not having to sit in the chair at the front and center of the classroom so I could “hear” the instructor—cried for the simple freedom of choosing my own seat. I also dreamed up a dissertation project, rhetorician that I was, that would take me into “deafness”—my own and others—and to Gallaudet University, to the “heart” of Deaf culture.
At Grandma’s family gatherings for the holidays, Brenda was always in the other room, away from the crowds, reading. Nine times out of ten, when Brenda’s high school friends went out for lunch and to quickly cruise main, Brenda went to the high school library and read (or wrote one of her crummy poems). The summer before she was to start college, Brenda spent her lifeguard breaks at the noisy pool in the corner of the office, plowing through a used introduction to psychology textbook she’d gotten from another older friend who was already at college…
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