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Out of Sight, Out of Sound


My family puts a lot of emphasis on being attractive. My mother taught us to be impeccably groomed at all times and well mannered, like mini newscasters — which, surprise, is exactly what my older brother grew up to be. But I didn't understand how I was supposed to be attractive and disabled.

As for my difficulties seeing, I was fine in small groups, like at home, where my brothers didn't treat me differently. But by the time high school hit, it was hard to decipher what I was and wasn't hearing and seeing, since I still thought I was catching everything. In reality, I was missing a lot; my teachers were always accusing me of daydreaming.

I got my first hearing aids in high school, but I would only wear them with my hair down, and only in history class because the teacher mumbled. At least I had the built-in coolness that came with being a twin. I was good at sports (so long as it wasn't a game with a small ball — those were becoming hard to see). And yet, I was starting to feel I didn't quite belong.

Marie Claire Photo of Sign Language 1

One thing I did to fit in was drink. Usually, I only drank beer — and not an abnormal amount for a kid that age. But one night, a month before I was supposed to start at the University of Michigan, I sat in a playground with my twin brother, our friends, and a bottle of vodka. I got so drunk that my brother had to carry me home. Trying to walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I went out the bedroom window instead and fell 27 feet to the stone patio below.

It's hard to say if the alcohol or my eyesight caused the fall. I broke nearly everything and was in a wheelchair for months. The doctors were amazed I'd survived — although they seemed certain I'd never walk normally again. I did four months of nonstop physical therapy.

Around the time I went to Michigan a year later, my hearing took its first big dip. My family learned to whistle to get my attention. Still, I was resistant to wearing the aids, despite needing them more and more.

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