Justin R. Erenkrantz Where do you want to go today?

Isn´t That Rose Beautiful?

"My favourite thing is to go where I´ve never been." - Diane Arbus

Everyday of my life is a challenge. Staying alive is a challenge. Fitting in is a challenge. Being the best I can possibly be is a challenge. These obstacles take up most of my time and my energy. But, those challenges are easily overcome. I am a good student in school. I have worked hard to be a good person. Even though I left my hometown of Dallas, Texas last year, I quickly gained new friends in Springboro, Ohio. Due to my desire to achieve, I once again took leave of my friends to face a new challenge. In this my senior year, I have had the opportunity to attend college instead of high school. One can hardly call me a failure. Yet, I still feel that something is missing. What is missing is my true self. I have never had a chance to be myself and enjoy life as it is meant to be. That is my greatest challenge.

In order to understand my challenge and why it is so hard, one must understand my history. Enjoying life is something that is very foreign to me. I was never a little kid. I was always a little adult. What forced me to grow up was my hearing loss. I never had time to play children´s games. I was too busy getting ready for the real world. I´ve been in school since I was two and a half years old. There is no end in sight for me. No kid should have to go to school for as long as they can remember, as I have. But, that is my curse. It is a dastardly thing. Even though I had summer vacations, I always ended up back at school. To me, summer felt like an eternity, but it always came to an end. Kids should be able to roll around in the grass, and get in all kinds of trouble. That is what they are meant to do. Eventually, they will have to leave all of that to follow a strict regimen. Most likely, they will never depart from that path again in the course of their lives. But, they will always have those days of endless summers to remember. That is the true meaning of being yourself and enjoying life. I have never had that opportunity. At a very young age, I already had everything laid out for me.

My parents were too busy thinking about my lack of a future to worry about my lack of a childhood. I can hardly blame them. I feel that they made the right choices given the situation that was dealt to us. I had to go to school in order to learn language skills. I could not talk, ergo I could not succeed. If I could not escape from the challenge that is my hearing loss, I would just be a hearing impaired kid without any chance for success. Even with the proper education, it would take me years to be able to communicate, given the severity of my hearing loss. I had to go to school in order to learn how to speak. Most people do not realize that people must hear sounds before they can speak. Even the kids with the best hearing and intelligence take a while to mimic their parents´ vocal patterns, and say "Da-Da," or "Ma-Ma." So, it only stands to reason that if people can not hear properly, then they can not copy what they can not perceive. In order to let me have a chance, I had to be fitted with hearing aids and also learn how to communicate in sign language with the hope that I would eventually pick up spoken forms of communication. Still, there were no certainties. People could not assure my parents that their son would be able to function in the real world. If they put me in a "deaf education" program, there was a chance. My parents took that chance.

The chance to be able to hear the voices of their parents. The chance to enjoy music. The chance to hear thunder when it strikes. Those chances, I have had. No one, with the exception of someone else who is in a similar position, can truly understand what those chances mean. For most people with a severe hearing loss, or for those who are completely deaf, their world is a silent one. For that reason, my mind is never silent. Silence scares me. For most people, silence is relaxing, because they have a hard time achieving it. To me, sounds are always soothing because I can always achieve silence.

Silence still predominates my life. When I need to escape, I either read or play games on my computer. Both of these are forms of visual stimulation. Over the years, playing on the computer has evolved into something greater than a mere hobby. When they are utilized correctly, computers can develop the logical thought processes to the brink of greatness. There is no doubt that computers are my ticket to the "Big Show." The computer industry nurtures one of the most laid-back attitudes found in the modern workplace. But, do not let that fool you, it is also one of the most pressure-filled environments. Anyone who can carry out the job, no matter their race, gender, age, or handicap, is accepted by the industry as an equal. Everyday, I work beside people who are twice as old as I am, and none of them give it a second thought. Some of my older co-workers tell me that they wish that they had the kind of experience I am now receiving when they were my age. It does not matter that I am a high school student or that I am hearing impaired.

Above all of the other chances I have had, the biggest one I have had is the chance to learn. I now can fit in quite remarkably with the rest of society. Most people who know me probably forget that I am hearing impaired. I have been mainstreamed, which is the term given to people with a hearing loss that are in regular classes, since the first grade. People who meet me for the first time, or those who do not know me well, would think, "Hey, he can´t have that bad of a hearing loss, since he´s talking here with me. Shouldn´t he be in one of those schools for the deaf if he had a really serious problem?" Most likely, I should be in one of those schools. I don´t hear any more than anyone else with a comparable hearing loss. What separates me is that I try to use of all of my senses to "fill-in-the-blanks." I usually try to look at people when they are talking, so I can "read" their lips. I also try to infer what people are saying by knowing what they "should" be saying because of their gestures, or vocal tone. I have to be able to put myself in their shoes. What would I say if I were in their situation? That is why I often hear what I want to hear. My brain is expecting to hear something, and since it has to make the call, it´ll go with what it thinks is going to happen. With all of the practice I have had over the years, I can make fairly accurate assessments of what a person is saying. Concentrating at such a high level is a hard task to do, but I have done it for so long, that it is a part of who I am, and comes naturally to me. I know that many of my classmates from my early childhood are not as functional as I am. I deeply regret that. I wish they were given the same chances that I was given.

It has been so long since I have existed in a silent environment, I´m not sure I could anymore. However, I know that since I once existed in that silent environment, I´m sure I can survive the noise of the world around me. If someone were to follow me around for a long time, they would see where my situation really hinders me. They might be able to appreciate the effort I have to put in to listen to a teacher in a classroom, to watch a movie, or to talk on the telephone. I have spent so much of my life learning how to function, I haven´t been able to enjoy life.

I have not had time to stop, catch my breath, and take a quick glance behind me. If I did, I´d see how much I have accomplished. But, I am not satisfied with the past. I am only working towards my future. Isn´t that the purpose of my life? Because of my efforts, what I see ahead of me is infinitely brighter than what would be there if I had done nothing. In order to reach this chance of success, I have had to sacrifice many things. Among them are the little things in life. It is a sad fact, but it is a reality. I could never rest on my laurels. To do so would put my future at risk. Now, I am going so fast that my own mother tells me not to rush into life, and that I am still a kid. How wrong she is! I am a person wise beyond my years, forced into perpetual overdrive because of the circumstances. I have no choice, but to continue at my torrid pace. If I stop now, I feel that I would lose everything that I have worked so hard for all of these years. I can not let that happen, but yet, I must, or I lose the entire point of being alive - enjoyment.

As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "What does not destroy me, makes me strong." I have overcome many things, and I am stronger for them. I would not trade in my life for any other. I know no other life. I could not imagine being able to lead a life without hearing aids. My life would most likely be so much easier, but I would not be who I am today. Oh, I may know many things, but I have experienced so little. I have to go out and make up for lost time. Lost time that was forgotten so I could reach this point in time. That is my biggest challenge.

Justin Erenkrantz
November, 1997

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