When Your World Suddenly Goes Silent

It happened in Decembers of 2010 -- the opposite of a holiday gift. My family and I were at a wedding at The Four Seasons in Boston, the tables set with tall vases of lilies. My grandson, barely 3, began break-dancing and my husband, Bernie, watched him in fascination. Bernie was so swept up in our grandson's moves that he didn't realize he was only a couple of feet from one of a pair of huge amps on the stage where the musicians banged out their music. Within a few minutes, I saw Bernie grimace, then wiggle his finger in his ear.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"What?" he said. "What?"

All he could hear was ringing. He thought it was temporary, but after a few months, he accepted that he needed to take more steps. The ENT sent him to an audiologist and he was fitted for hearing aids. But even the top models today don't adequately filter out the background noises. Around his neck, he now wears a rectangular blue tooth that connects to his cell phone. He also bought a microphone that hangs from his neck. Wearing all that equipment makes him look official. People stop him on the street to ask him about traffic laws, parking rules, where to get a cab, a walk-in clinic, a police station.

When we walk along together and passersby (especially young people) see me speaking into his mike, they begin waving wildly. "Pick me, pick me."

"For what?" I once asked a twenty-something with pink-streaked hair. .

"Aren't you doing an interview?" she said. "Or like a reality show?"

Tired of explaining that the microphone's sound goes straight to my husband's hearing aids and not a media outlet, I held out his microphone and asked, "Do you listen to loud music?"

"Yeah, like is there any other kind?"

Sometimes my husband's deafness causes problems between us. I think he hasn't heard me so I raise my voice and then he's miffed that I "shouted" at him. And sometimes he withdraws into glumness because he thought that in retirement he could work as a pharmacist, but he can't anymore. What happens if he can't clearly hear the doctor calling in a prescription and makes an error? At those times, when his sudden deafness hits him like a packed snowball with a rock inside, there's nothing I can say to him. I just have to wait it out.

Still, we've gotten closer in some ways, too. Sometimes, when he's in another room, I find his microphone and sing throaty torch songs into it. "It cost me a lot." (The mike is $2,000 and only works when it feels like it.) "But there's one thing I got. / It's my ma -- an" And I hear him laughing from the next room and it feels like old times, before that overly-amped wedding.