Mom always said that Dad’s nose would turn inside out whenever he told a lie. She didn’t mean a terrible lie, the kind you’d feel really bad about; she meant the kind of bullshit people sling around at their loved ones in the course of a regular day. Note quite a white lie, but not a serious deception either. That’s the kind of lie Mom was talking about, and yes, she was right. When Dad did that, you’d swear his nose was trying to turn inside out.
That’s one thing I remember about Dad.
Here is another!
It was often hard to get his attention. If he was watching television, for example, you could chatter away and he didn’t hear a word you said. You could ask him a question, tell him something, even something important, or otherwise make an effort to get his attention, all in vain. Short of shouting at the man, he simply didn’t hear you.
Yes, it could be damned frustrating!
Mom and Dad always said this was on account of Dad’s years as a helicopter pilot in the early air-ambulance operations of the military. He had also experienced plenty of other loud noises in the military, including at least one very loud noise (complements of the North Koreans) that would have killed him had he not tripped and fell flat on his face at just the right moment just a moment before it went off. In any event, Dad had heard a lot of loud noises back in the military, and this had left him with hearing loss, so if he wasn’t focused on you, he just didn’t hear what you had to say.
I grew up knowing this.
It was annoying, being ignored like that, but that was the cost of Dad’s service to his country.
Mostly on account of the helicopters.
In time, I came to experience hearing loss of my own. It set in at around 22 or 23 along with a nasty dose of tinnitus. I don’t think I slept for about 6 months. The ringing in my ears just wouldn’t let me sleep.
The hearing loss itself was all kinds of disorienting. I remember that I could no longer orient toward a sound. If someone called me from the left, I would turn to my right and wonder where the Hell they were? In a crowded room, I could no longer tune other people out to focus on the person I was talking to. (I still find that impossible.) Also, I got a quick lesson in how much I relied on my hearing during day to day activities. Once I began to cross the street and got a honk from an oncoming car behind me. That’s when I realized I was using the silence in place of actually looking to see if the street was clear, which was about as far from smart as it could possibly have been. I didn’t even realize I had been doing this until it was no longer an option.
In the years since, I have come to live with all these problems, all without an aid. Mostly, things re okay now. I keep some noise going at almost all times, but the tinnitus doesn’t bother me so much anymore. I just don’t notice it. I can hear most things that I need to. It’s a problem when my students are shy and don’t speak up; otherwise, my hearing loss doesn’t affect my classroom. My fiancé gets tired of repeating herself, but that’s not the worst of her frustrations with me. (She’ll live!) I reckon, some day I will get the aid, but for now, I am fine,
The story of my hearing loss is nowhere near as interesting as that of my Dad. The truth is, I don’t exactly know what did it. It might be a particular guitar note from Toni Iomi on the Black Sabbath “Born Again” tour (which is incidentally the inspiration for the Stonehenge sequence in Spinal Tap). I always wore ear protection to concerts, but not that evening. I’m not sure why, but I decided to rawdog the sounds that night only to find Iomi’s guitar impossibly loud and high pitched. Still, I was enjoying the show when he hit one particular note that filled me with pain all the way to my toes. That might have done it! Still, that had been a few years before my hearing loss set in. More recently, I had been listening to Jimi Hendrix on earphones. That might have done it. Or perhaps it was all the shooting I did as a kid, all without hearing protection, at least until I joined a gun club, only to begin assaulting my ears once again with heavy met in my freshman year of high school. I really just don’t know how much any one of these could have contributed to my hearing loss. Any or all of these are good candidates for an explanation.
I also know that my own story of hearing loss doesn’t hold a candle to my Dad’s. My stories are stories of self-indulgence. His are stories of service to his country.
In any event, it was Dad who took me to get my hearing checked. I had aged out of coverage on his own military insurance the year before, but none of us knew it at the time. We thought that was how we would pay for the inevitable hearing aid. At the time, I really couldn’t imagine going forward without some help, so off to the hearing doctors I went.
The technician at the testing center didn’t tell me much, except that I had lost some hearing in my left ear. I was to take this information back to my doctor who would decide where to go from there.
On a lark, my Dad decided to take the test himself. He came back fine. Had the hearing of a young man or so the technician described it.
It wasn’t until hours later, that it finally dawned on me.
“He Dad, didn’t you used to say that your hearing had been damaged from your years as a helicopter pilot? Back when you used to ignore us while watching television? You always said it was because you couldn’t hear us.”
Dad didn’t say a word.
But his nose turned totally inside out.