Pulling You Out of the Shadows
The girls and I were out having dinner last night, when I spotted an old college classmate of Jason’s. She asked what I was up to? How was work? “I’m not working much right now,” I told her. “But I’m writing a lot.” She asked what I was writing. I tripped over words, trying to find the best, short explanation.
“She’s writing a book about ME!” said Grace. I cringed.
Kali was sitting quietly in her seat.
I am still reeling over the feeling I got when Grace said that. And although I’ve written a lot of painful posts that bring up a lot of difficult emotions, this might be the hardest one of all for me.
When I first started writing The Deaf Girl Who Could Hear, I wanted only to get down on paper all that we had experienced as a family who’d been thrust very suddenly and unexpectedly into the world of deafness. I had struggled so much and things had turned out so beautifully for Grace and our family, that I was compelled by an uncontrollable desire to write it down.
Once I returned to writing the book after a long hiatus, and began thinking of this as a project I hoped to eventually lead to a publishing deal, I started having reservations about continuing. I’d be putting our family out for the world to see. I’d be sharing peoples’ names, personal stories, admitting to things that might be ugly or private or controversial. But most of all, I worried about Kali. How would me focusing a great deal of my energy and time on a book about her deaf sister and her journey into the hearing world impact Kali? Already, she was often overshadowed by Grace’s big personality, her minor-celebrity status as a success story, her charmed life at school. What kind of damage would I be doing to this girl – so remarkable and unique and extraordinary herself – by shining such a giant spotlight on her big sister?
Over the past year, there have been glimpses here and there of Kali’s quiet resentment. In a conversation with her aunt about swimming, I heard her say, “I don’t like meets. But I like getting ribbons.” This led to a discussion about how many ribbons, medals, and awards Grace has. Kali said, “They’re all over the house.”
I’ve always tried to display a balanced representation of the girls’ accolades – but Kali’s perception might not have been so far off the mark. Grace has gotten a lot of praise: Student of the month at school, chosen for Team captain on her lacrosse team, asked to be a speaker at conferences, in classrooms, and on scientific panels. Just the other night, Jason said to me, “Maybe I’m not being objective here. But Kali feels like you spend more time saying goodnight to Grace than you do her.” “That’s ridiculous,” I told him, hackles going up. But now I think I shouldn’t have dismissed the conversation so readily. It’s not how much actual time I spend in each kid’s room. It’s the fact that there’s a deeper issue impacting Kali’s perception of imbalance.
Last night, at bedtime, I said to Kali, “You know, this book I’m writing, it’s not about Grace, it’s about our family.” She looked at me and nodded. “I just finished writing a piece for the blog about you and your cousins, about how close and amazing your relationship is.”
“I bet it’s mostly about Grace, though,” she said. My heart broke.
“It’s not,” I said. But I cast my mind back to what I’d written and had to be honest with myself, even if I couldn’t bring myself to say it to her, that there was more emphasis on her sister’s role in that foursome than on her own.
“When I first started writing this book, doing this blog, I was really worried about how you would feel, Kali,” I told her. “You know, right?... that you are just as important to me as Grace is. That I love you just as much. That I think you’re amazing and unique and incredible. Right?” She nodded, but she looked a little dubious. “I am so sorry about how what Grace said tonight made you feel. And I am so sorry if I’ve made you feel…”
“It’s just that she gets so much attention. With the book, and the blog…”
“Do you want me to stop? Stop writing?”
“No. I don’t want you to stop.”
“Because I will.”
Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch.
What damage have I done? Any pain I’ve caused, any bruises to her soul, I cannot undo. It took me a long time before I felt okay leaving her room last night. As if, if I hugged her long enough and tight enough, I could fix it.
So here, [swiping tears with the back of my hand], I want you all to know something: This kid, this girl who by no fault of her own has two ears that work, she is extraordinary. She is a flower whose new colors keep showing themselves every time she opens another petal. She is a poet:
(here’s a poem she wrote):
A dream is a wild thing,
A thing you can’t capture,
Like a colorful, delightful wind,
Not knowing it’s coming,
Not knowing it’s going.
A dream is a thing
That takes you away,
Gives you the time of your life,
Then leaves, unexpectedly,
Suddenly, then expects you to
She’s an artist (Just look at the illustrations she does for my blog). She’s a designer (of clothes, websites – which she taught herself to build). She is an astute observer of the social world around her, a gentle warrior, and the One Who Makes Me Laugh Most In The World. Our family would be incomplete without her. Take notice of this one. This one is going to Make Her Mark. This one deserves to be seen, and heard. This one is love, and she is loved. And I hope she will forgive me for my part in casting her into the shadows. I hope I can make her know how hard I’ll try to pull her out.