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April 03, 2008

"My Shrapnel:" Blogger Recounts Life Since Suicide Bombing Marred Her and Deafened Her

Partially deafened her, to be precise, but it's a serious impairment.

It's a much more poignant story than a listing of the dead; as they say, dead men tell no tales. The survivors do.

But if the physical aspects of hearing loss are challenging, the mental and emotional impact has been devastating. I am isolated. The heart of the social scene in Jerusalem is the Shabbat meal, and the heart of the Shabbat meal is the conversation. I cannot participate in these conversations anymore because I cannot hear well enough to follow. Even if I try to speak only with the person next to me, the conversation tends to be somewhat stilted as the buzz of the surrounding conversations impedes my ability to hear the person I am speaking with. The same limitation applies to virtually every social situation involving group conversations, be it chatting with people after services when everyone gathers outside the synagogue to shmooze, going out with friends to a café or even just having a simple get-together in someone's living room. Sure I can participate, so long as no one minds if I interrupt the flow of the conversation every 5 seconds to ask “What? What?” And that is assuming that the language being spoken is English. If the conversation is in Hebrew…well, forget about it.

There is really nothing I can do about the situation, and so more and more, I find myself sitting quietly and saying nothing. What is the point? I do not even sing anymore. For those of you unfamiliar with Shabbat meals, it is the tradition to sing songs during the meal. However, when I sing now, I cannot hear the other singers, making it impossible for me to sing with them. Sometimes I mouth the words. More often, I do not bother.

As a result, those who have met me at group events since the bombing would probably describe me as quiet and shy. And indeed, I have become shy. I no longer feel comfortable engaging new people in conversations. Admittedly, even before the bombing I lacked self-confidence with Israelis, but now I feel that way with everyone. I feel stupid, awkward, tongue-tied and boring. The fact that I am self-conscious about my looks does not help, of course. So now, when I go to group events, I no longer try to meet new people. Instead, I hang out with the people I know. If I do not know anyone, I find a corner and sit there quietly with a vague and hopefully pleasant expression on my face, catching conversations as I can, and waiting for the time that I can escape and go home.

A couple weeks ago, I was invited to a Shabbat meal hosted by an retired couple that makes a habit of inviting singles to join them for meals. The guests included a married couple, myself and four other singles my age, —two women and two men—and like me English speaking immigrants. The two women were well dressed, well spoken, attractive, and exuded intelligence and confidence. Then there was me: scars on my face which I have yet to figure out how to cover, bad hair, a stupid looking headband, glasses, and of course, half deaf. The other guests were soon engaged in an animated conversation. I could not follow. What was I supposed to do? Stand up and scream that I may look like shit and be deaf as a doorknob, but hey, behind it all is intelligent, interesting, witty person? Hell, I do not know that I believe that myself. I did try. I made an attempt to talk to the guy next to me, but I could think of nothing to say aside from “oh, you are from Toronto? What a beautiful city”.

Oh yeah! That is some witty and intelligent conversation there! My, I must be the world's biggest dolt.

Maybe I am imagining things? Maybe I was always this boring, this retreating, this shy, this tongue-tied? Why do I feel like I was been transformed into someone else? I know I used to be too aggressive, and too argumentative, but I toned that down a bit and learned to be nicer. I know I used to feel stupid with Israelis, but I thought that was just with Israelis, and that it was because of the language barrier. Was I always like this? I couldn’t have been. There is no way I could have as involved as I was in D.C., had as many friends as I did in D.C., if I were really like this. I keep trying to remind myself of that.

Thanks to Alice H.

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posted by Ace at 12:36 PM

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