I said goodbye to summer this past weekend the same way I’ve said goodbye to the previous thirty-four or so—I went swimming.
I’m not sure exactly what it is that draws me to water, but it’s something. And it doesn’t matter if that water is fresh or salty or chlorinated or as big as an ocean or as small as a puddle. Family lore states that the Coffeys were once fishermen in the dangerous and stormy waters off the coast of Ireland. Our family crest is emblazoned with a man riding a dolphin. Maybe that’s why. Maybe it’s DNA.
My children, I’ve found, share this trait. Both spent more of their summers in the water than out. Unfortunately, my work schedule prevented me from sharing much of that time with them. But not over the weekend. It was a genuine party in the pool.
The trouble started the way it usually does—with me showing off. A dive off the board turned into a flip into a cannon ball into a jackknife, all of which were greeted with the sort of ooohs and ahhhs every father wants to hear from his children. The dives didn’t impress much. They wanted big water. Huge splashes.
To the diving board I went. When I bounced off the edge it was with all the force I could muster, and I hit the water with less splash and more ka-boom! It was epic, that splash. Drenched everything—people and grass and towels and even the mockingbird that was watching on the fence.
Everyone enjoyed it just fine. Well, everyone but me. Because when I hit the water and that ka-boom! gathered in around me, half of the water in the pool became lodged in my right ear.
And there it sat for three days, like heated lead swishing around in my brain. I tried everything, too. I banged on the side of my head, did the vigorous no-no-NO motion until I gave myself a headache. I cleaned the shelves of the local pharmacy of ear drops. I even held a hot rock from the garden against my ear.
You think these things will go away. The human body is an amazing creation and able to correct many of the dings and damage we do to it. Not this. By day two, the swishy lead had hardened into stone.
I could hear only half of what I was accustomed to. That was the hardest part. The pain and discomfort didn’t bother me, but having to say “WHAT?” all the time in a grouchy-old-man voice did. And because half of my auditory systems had been shorted out, everything I said seemed to echo back to me. It made me cringe. No one likes to hear themselves talk.
That’s what convinced me to finally go the doctor. That voice. Me. And after seventy-two hours of pain and suffering and general aggravation, it was all over in a matter of about ten seconds. “You just need some irrigation,” he told me. Which didn’t sound all that wonderful, but it worked just fine.
I can hear again. No more grouchy-old-man tone, no more swishy lead. No more hearing my own voice.
The funny thing about that last point is I thought it would do the most in making me feel better. But you know, it hasn’t. As much as I hated the looping feedback of my own words, it did become useful. I could listen to what I was saying and how I said it. I caught bits of my speech I should have never let pass through my lips, bits that I had no doubt had passed through them many times before. The only difference was that this time I heard them. It was as if my conscience had grown its own voice.
So that’s where things stand. I’m better as of today, but also a little worse. I think I can fix that, though.
I considered just sticking my finger I my ear whenever I talk so I can hear my conscience speak again, but that seemed a little too socially awkward. So maybe instead I’ll choose my words a little more carefully. Maybe I’ll run them through my heart before I run them through my lips.
Yes. That’s it. I have to do something.
Because I think in a lot of ways, I’m more deaf now than I was.