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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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In Silence: Growing Up Hearing in a Deaf World

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“I am sorry, but you cannot have another. You may not take out books, return them, and take out another on the same day with a temporary card. You will have your permanent card next week.”

My eyes pleaded with her.

She shook her head. “Rules are rules.”

Not wanting her to see my tears, I turned and rushed down the steps to my mother.

“Don’t worry,” my mother said, “I buy you a funny comic book.”

On Monday morning I walked sadly into Miss Chanin’s classroom. Thirty eager voices didn’t ease the library loss. I sat down at the back of the room.

“Ruth,” Miss Chanin called, “that is not your seat. You belong in the front of the room. You wear glasses and need to sit where you can see the blackboard.”

I returned to my seat and sat quietly all morning.

As my class filed out for lunch in an orderly line, Miss Chanin stopped me and asked, “Would you like to have your lunch with me? I need a monitor to help me sort out some books.”

I looked at her gratefully. We sat together in the classroom filled with the empty wooden seats and desks. I faced my beloved teacher and, glowing with conversation, ate my egg salad sandwich. At home we ate in silence. Our hands could not talk and eat at the same time. When I finished my meal, I crumpled the red milk carton into my paper bag with the crusts of bread I loathed, and dropped the mess into the waste basket under the teacher’s desk.

“I am ready to help you now, Miss Chanin.”

She opened the locked closet door in the back of the room. The books were piled in complete disarray. Some fell out of the closet onto the floor.

She instructed me. “We have to separate the books that are torn and that have pages missing from those that can still be used. You will put the books in good condition on the desks and the others you will leave on the floor.”

I worked methodically, touching each book I held, wishing that it were mine. I found the book from which Miss Chanin read us my favorite fairy tales. In it was the story of the singing maid Romaine, who enchanted the king of the realm with her lyrical voice. This kindly ruler invited Romaine to come to the palace to sing. Although she missed her poor old aunt and her thatched cottage, she was filled with joy. The raven-haired child sang at the palace every day. But after a month she grew listless because she wanted to be just like the king’s fair daughter, Altheda. One day her fairy godmother appeared and granted her wish. Romaine lifted her voice in song, so great was her happiness. She couldn’t sing. Horrible sounds came from her throat. After three days, Romaine summoned her fairy godmother with a bell and pleaded to be herself again.

The dainty fairy said, “The princess cannot sing, Romaine, and if you wish to be like her, you will not sing.”

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