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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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On the Beat of Truth: A Hearing Daughter’s Stories of Her Black Deaf Parents
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Then Daddy’s lawyer said, “Aren’t you pleased so many people have come to help you. It doesn’t mean the woman who brought these charges against you didn’t believe this happened. It was just a case of mistaken identity.”

I looked at Daddy and signed, “Lawyers say woman make mistake.”

He grimaced. His eyes, his face, his breathing, even his stature, all conveyed hatred.

“She make me shame. I pain. I pain my heart. People think bad man me. They think because I deaf, I bad things. I hate woman.” He flicked his middle fingers, signing the word “hate” as if it were venom.

As we left the courthouse, we began to go in separate directions. Mama had somewhere to go. Aunt Arnell went in another direction, the lawyer in still another. I planned to go with Daddy to the bus stop, where I would go home, and he to his job. As I walked alongside him, I suddenly heard his teeth grinding, gritting against each other. It was a soft gnawing sound. Grit. Grit. Grit. His upper teeth were grinding against his lower. I looked at him; he was staring directly ahead. His clenched lips were pulled in tightly. His pretty face, pale almost colorless, looked puffy and filled with agony. The fingers on his right hand were moving back and forth as if he were playing the piano. Was he talking to himself? His mind seemed far away. I wanted to say something soothing, but I didn’t know what to say to him. We walked beside each other for a few steps. As we crossed the street, he grabbed my hand, looked both ways for approaching cars. I was suddenly conscious of the dampness in the air, the wet autumn-hued leaves on the ground, and the brisk gentle wind blowing in our faces. I clenched his big hand and felt the calluses of hard work. Holding his hand felt so good and secure.

I began to long for things to be as they were. I wanted the old daddy back, the daddy who would smile that wry smile, coyly, when I asked him how did he kiss Mama because his lips were too thin.

“My secret,” he said.

I wanted the daddy back who forgave me for sneaking into his room and trying to steal Fanny Farmer candy given him by his white deaf friend. I wanted the daddy back who would let me comb and plait his hair and would smile when his hair clearly was too straight to be braided and would then unravel. I wanted the daddy back who sang “My bonnie lies over the ocean” with such glee. I’d even forgive him for yelling at us, getting drunk, and insisting that we ate too much and spent all his money. The daddy who drank too much beer and told jokes only he thought were funny. It would be all right if he yelled and screamed at us the way he used to. I just wanted that daddy to come back.

Although he was holding my hand, I felt him slipping, slipping through my fingers, his bitterness, his fury, his anger was slipping, slipping into his world of revenge, of getting even.

“I kill her!” “Sheen! Sheen!” “Mong Fong!” “Mong Fong!” his words for “shit” and “motherfucker.”

In the days and weeks following the court trial, Daddy became obsessed with the idea of getting even with the woman, and he continually shrieked obscenities everywhere: when he sat in the living room reading the newspaper, he began to swear, “Sheen, mong fong”; when he ate dinner, he grimaced at the food and said, “Sheen, mong fong”; even when he went to the bathroom, I heard him through our thin walls, “Mong fong.” He came home from work reeking of booze and still yelling obscenities.

“I sue her. I take her house. I take everything. I no care she poor. She must pay.” His hands, his face, his body, wanted revenge.

Some weeks later I went with him to see a lawyer. We entered his small office where the well-dressed, chocolate-brown-complexioned lawyer listened carefully as we retold the saga of what had happened to my father. The lawyer responded in measured words, “Well, I certainly believe he has a case. Does she own her own home? Where does she work? We can attach her salary.” I sensed my father’s momentary optimism that he would at last have sweet vengeance.

We left the lawyer’s office to catch the bus and report to Aunt Arnell that we had good news—we were going to sue the woman. We caught the H Street bus and disembarked on Twelfth Street, N.E., at Arnell’s row house, only a few miles from Capitol Hill. Daddy traveled this bus route at least once a week to visit his sister, just to eat her home-cooked meals and converse with her by fingerspelling and gesturing a few words. She was the one person he could always depend on to help him. But just as important, she gushed with love for him while bringing him up-to-date news from Tennessee.

This time, when we stepped through her foyer into the living room, our excitement was evident.

“Tell her, tell her what the lawyer said,” my father signed. He could hardly contain his glee, but was soon devastated when Arnell became visibly overcome with weariness. Her once-smooth face now showed signs of worry wrinkles on her forehead and dark bags under her eyes as she sat beside Daddy on the purple velvet sofa, struggling to sign that she had had enough. She shook her head and exaggerated the words, “No, No,” then pointed to herself and slowly fingerspelled the word “tired.”

“Maxine, tell Herbert this case has been a nightmare.” Not knowing a sign for the word nightmare, I signed, “This bad dream.” Daddy gave her a blank stare, either not understanding me or refusing to acknowledge the possibility of giving up.


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