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American Annals of the Deaf

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The Cry of the Gull
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I was at the age when babies crawl around on all fours and start trying to say “mama” and “dada.” But I wasn’t saying anything. I sensed vibrations on the floor. I felt them from the music and would join in with my seagull-like sounds. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

I was a perceptive little seagull. I had secrets. A world all to myself.

I come from a seafaring family. My mother’s father, grandfather, and brother were among the last of the Cape Horn sailors. That’s another reason why they called me their little seagull. But the French words for “seagull” and “mute” look and sound practically the same: mouette/ muette. So which was I? Today, that strange phonetic similarity makes me smile.

Uncle Fifou, my father’s older brother, was the first to say, “Emmanuelle makes shrieking sounds because she can’t hear herself.” My father claims it was my uncle who “was the first to arouse our suspicions.” “The scene stuck in my mind like a freeze frame,” says my mother.

My parents didn’t want to believe it. To such an extent, in fact, that it was only much later that I found out my paternal grandparents had been married in the chapel of Bordeaux’s National Institute for Deaf Youths. What’s more, the institute’s director was my grandmother’s stepfather. In an attempt to hide their concern, perhaps, or avoid facing the truth, my parents had forgotten about all that! Basically, they were proud of not having a little brat who would wake them up in the wee hours of the morning. So they got into the habit of jokingly referring to me as their little seagull. It was their way of not admitting they were worried because I was different.

Some people say we loudly proclaim what we really want kept silent. In my case, I had to yell to try to hear the difference between my screams and silence, to compensate for the absence of all the words I saw moving on my mother’s and father’s lips and whose meaning escaped me. And since my parents silenced their anguish, maybe I had to scream for them as well. Who knows?

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