Modern Love: We All Have Our Secrets. Here's Mine.

Though they are nearly invisible and technologically advanced, my hearing aids fail to adjust to this romantic setting.
By Zoe B. Rosenthal

We are in my bedroom, sitting on my bed. We talk about family and siblings for a little while. Then, we start kissing as his fingers trickle up my back. We start to lie down but before we go further, I turn the lights off and close my blinds. I leap back into my bed to find his warm embrace and we continue kissing. He takes my shirt off and struggles to unclip my bra. I let him struggle just a few seconds longer before offering a helping hand. I start laughing, and he does too. I remove his shirt and run my hands up and down his hairy chest. As he pulls me towards him, the sudden movement sends amplified, pronounced noises through the things hugging my ears, my hearing aids, and down my ear canals. My eardrums vibrate so quickly that it feels like my entire body is shaking.

Though they are nearly invisible and technologically advanced, supposedly able to adjust to different noise surroundings, my hearing aids fail to adjust to this romantic setting. Like me, they lack experience. All sounds are loud, pronounced, and rigid this night. Even as our lips are consumed with one another’s and not with speech, I hear the rustling of my hair against the pillow. I hear the bed creak as we move ever so slightly. I hear his hands move up my body. I hear the bed sheets wrinkle and tangle. I try my hardest to push away these intense sounds and focus on the man beside me and the noises we are both hearing.

He touches my chest and then moves his hands up to my neck, my jaw, my curly locks of hair. As his hands move back down my body, I feel him touch my ears. I know he is about to feel the metal behind my ears, the things preventing this night from feeling truly carefree. I cannot hide them tonight the way I can even with some of my closest friends. I wonder whether he’ll flinch at the touch. Whether he’ll say he knew all along. Whether he’ll ask what he has just touched. He does none of those things. I don’t say anything, either. For a moment, I wonder what he would have done had there been no metal there. Would he have massaged my ears? Would he have touched his mouth to my ears? Would he have whispered something romantic in my ear? He moves his hands elsewhere and never returns to my ears. And I never try to lead him back there.

As the night proceeds and more layers of clothing are removed, my hearing aids still remain. Though I’m naked, free from my neck down, the heaviness of the metal behind my ears, the tightness of the tubing and the mass of the moldings inside my ears weigh down my whole body. My ear molds move and shift positions in my ears as we move, causing my hearing aids to produce high-pitched whistling, or feedback. The feedback this night rings in my ears, for what feels like minutes, when it’s really just seconds. I reposition myself to try to fight the noise, reassuring myself that I have some control over it. I wonder if the feedback is as loud for him as it is for me, whether we are hearing the same sounds. But I don’t have an answer, because we don’t acknowledge the noise. Instead, we keep kissing, as if that interruption never happened, as if we truly are completely naked beside one another, enjoying a perfect, unflawed evening marked by the same sounds.

As it gets later into the night, we stop kissing and cuddle in a warm, tight embrace. I position myself so that my hearing aids are not crushing my ears. We speak as if we understand one another, as if our inner lives are intertwined the way our physical bodies are. When I talk about my life philosophy, he holds me a little tighter and tells me he understands. But then there is feedback, as if my hearing aids are carrying me back to reality, reminding me that I have omitted details, that I should wonder what details he is leaving out. As before, he doesn’t acknowledge the noise. Neither do I. Instead, he offers a smile. I wonder whether this smile represents a silent acceptance of my secret or is simply a coincidence. At this point, we have run out of conversation topics, and it is late. I am still wide-awake.

He senses that I am deep in thought and asks what I am thinking about. I tell him nothing, kiss him on the cheek and shut my eyes. More feedback. He is right, though; I am deep in thought. I think about whether he would notice if I left his tight embrace to remove my hearing aids. But I fear he would notice and I would have to explain everything.

Would I tell him about that time in preschool when I hid under the table until my parents let me go to school without an aide assigned to ensure I could hear everyone in the classroom? Or that time at sleep-away camp when all my bunkmates were awakened by the fire alarm and left the bunk while I continued to sleep and my counselor had to come back for me, shake me awake, and give me a piggyback ride outside of the bunk? Or the time I could not listen to that boy in seventh grade sing without laughing so I turned off my hearing aids every time he sang to avoid upsetting him? Or about my fear of being ineligible to participate in reality competition shows such as Survivor because of the many challenges involving water paired with my non-waterproof hearing aids?

I open my eyes, still wide-awake, and peer over at him. He does not appear to be sleeping, either. I wonder what, if any, thoughts are consuming his mind. I think about waking him from his fake sleep to take the risk and direct his hands to the metal behind my ears and then ask what metal lies behind his. But I fear I know neither where my story begins nor how exactly it goes. I don’t know how to stitch together my varied moments and experiences into one cohesive, fluid story. And if I tried to construct something, I fear that I would misconstrue everything. I fear that he would misunderstand, that he would hear the story differently from the way I intended it to be. I decide I will save this secret for another time.

When the sun finally rises the next morning, we both awaken, groggy-eyed from our pretend sleep. We stare into each other’s eyes for a while. We cuddle, we kiss, and then we get dressed. He pulls me in for one last kiss that sends shivers up my spine, tricking me into believing we did spend the night lying entirely naked beside one another. Then he leaves. As soon as I hear the front door slam close, I remove my hearing devices and itch the insides of my ears that are now lined with wax after a night sleeping with them. I enjoy the quiet and feel the air freely flow through my ears. I sit on my bed and relish the fact that I, not my hearing aids, am in complete control of the sounds entering my ears. After a few peaceful minutes, I undress, wrap my towel around my body and head for the shower. As I am showering, my roommate walks into the bathroom and asks me how my evening was. Since I can hear her, I know she is speaking extremely loudly for someone with “normal” hearing and I smile, comforted by the reminder that some people know my secret.

As my roommate exits the bathroom, I think about how perhaps it wouldn’t be so terrible to more readily share and welcome secrets, to touch the metal behind our ears, and to acknowledge the feedback we all inevitably produce.

LoveIntrospectionModern Love