Persisting forward, no matter the challenge is a survival tactic I picked up from my mother. The older I get, the more I realize that the many crossroads I have pushed through have become essential life points. I welcome these folds with open arms because I have found that when we humbly reflect upon them without judgment, they become noteworthy and make us and our lives more vital.
During the first four years of my life, I soaked in everything visually like a sponge and grew from the comfort of being cradled in my parents' arms to full-on walking into this loud, wild world. I knew nothing other than my silent days and nights filled with color movement and my family of four, which consisted of a protective mother, my father, a man of few words, and my older sister, who can be seen in childhood pictures as the one announcing her age with her fingers in the air with vigor and intention. When I came, her whole world changed. She became a big sister, and from what I have gathered from our childhood photos, I always looked like the one with a friendly frown on her face and eyes, always seeking to understand.
My mother said she knew something was not quite right with me. The doctors told her she was an overreactive mother. When she found out the reason for her worries, she persisted!
I was born Deaf.
I often wonder how those words landed for her. Did she wonder If I ever would hear her say "I love you" and all the fears and heaviness that come with that? As a parent today, I can see how this time was a sharp fold in my Mom's trajectory as a mother.
Meanwhile, I was still happily sailing in a world of all I have ever known. My Mom became the wind in my sail, the voice in my head still today. My youngest memory was the sound of her voice, and my first word was my name. Everyone around recognized the sound, and that sound meant me, Marlene.
I never used Sign Language as a tool to communicate as a child. I created my own way of communicating and navigating through this world until I was fitted with hearing aids. I can recall the feelings in my body from that time in my life, but I am unsure how much of the visual details of this moment are mine or more of a cluster of memories shared with me. Regardless, it was a pivotal moment. My first fold became about understanding and embracing a world of sound and slowly letting go of all I had ever known for four years, silently learning to live and create space for a lifetime of finding my footing in-between two worlds.
The ritual of stumbling for my hearing aids, half asleep to welcome a new day, and returning them to my bedside table at night continues.
As a young adult, I took up American Sign Language, taught by Deaf teachers, to search for understanding, meaning, and my placement. I felt relieved to be in a learning environment where I did not need to rely on a note-taker or be hyper-focused. However, the takeaway was the feeling of Deaf Pride, an understanding of Deaf Culture, and an acknowledgment of part of me.
Decades later, I look back on my pilgrimage thus far and see experiences that have made me who I am. I love hearing the basic sounds of this world, music, the scraping of art supplies on a surface, and the laughter of my kids. I love having the choice to turn off the noise and return to silence. I do not entirely exist in the Hearing or Deaf world— I persist and take what I need from both to walk my fold. Both are part of me, and I explore this space in my art, which belongs to nobody but myself. It's my truth; it's my happily in-between.