(after years of unsuccessful psychotherapy)
Barbara, do you remember the term: “deaf and dumb” — it was the way people described them in our childhood — do you remember Judy’s parents? Esther, born deaf, who made those grunting sounds like a seal’s bark, like someone without a tongue — everything in her throat hoarse, urgent — and Fred, who’d lost his speech in an accident, who’d smile, gesture to us, shake his head up and down acknowledging, then turn to Esther, touch her hands, explain while she went on throwing her arms in the air, a little wild, afraid he didn’t understand. Calm, calm, he seemed to be telling her. This is what we plan to do. See? Yes. And she would settle down, get into the car. And he would motion to Judy as we watched; Judy, your friend, who spoke like us, normal, but who could answer silently to him as well, her hands flashing those quick mysterious messages. I remember them now. Their struggles to understand and be understood. Maybe they would drive all day and get “somewhere.” At night, in the hotel, maybe Fred and Esther would caress, write on each other’s palms. He makes a joke and she understands. There is an odd, choked laugh. They make love and lie still. And in the dark, Judy listens, imagining fingers that brush across the body like large, summer leaves. I remember them these days because they are my inner family telling me to listen, to gesture, to struggle, to go on, to live with these limitations I know I can never accept.