Wishing on Green Eyes
“You can tell me anything, you know that.” Man, if only that had been a possibility years ago. How would my life be different now? Would I want to change anything, or did my whole life lead up to this point. I'm staring at green eyes. My god! Those green eyes, I have wanted to tell him since I can remember how I feel about his green eyes. They sparkle and dance and seem to convey a smile without even needing to see the rest of his face. Thank god the accident didn’t blind me, I guess. I don’t want to feel bad for myself, I am lucky enough as it is that I am alive. But my voice? Really? My ability to communicate and yell and sing and tell this green eyed man how much I love him? But god, those eyes.
I remember waking up in the hospital at night, it was dark out and the moon was shining through just the corner of my window. My sister came bustling over toward me, grabbed my hand and started asking me a fury of questions. Nothing came out when I tried to answer. I was confused and scared. It was like when you try to scream but your throat catches in a weird way and you end up with a sort of strained gasp. Or when you dream that you are trying to dial 911 but your fingers can’t quite get the numbers correct. This wasn’t a dream though. Sadie let go of my hand and grabbed a notebook and pen. She told me that the doctors had warned her that this may be my new reality. The way my body flew into the dashboard upon impact somehow damaged my vocal chords so extensively that the scar tissue became overwhelming and unable to be repaired. Apparently they provided her with a notebook and a pen to give to me when I finally woke up so that I would be able to start getting used to writing everything down for conversation. I think back to that day often. If I were a fly on the wall I would have seen a big sister doing her big sister duties. Helping her little brother in any way she could even if it meant daily lessons on how to write faster and simplified. I didn’t want to be simplified though. I didn't want to have my thoughts and my voice and my connection to others by means of language and communication to be simplified, limited, cut short for convenience sake. So, in typical “little brother” fashion, I threw absolute fits. Tantrums from a 25 year old man is not a pretty site. I suppose if I were that fly on the wall I would have chosen another room. I wish I could tell her thank you.
But god, those green eyes! I had just gotten back on my feet and decided to get out and grab a cup of coffee at a local shop near my apartment. This was the type of coffee shop where you ordered at the counter and they would bring it to your table with a small plate of crackers or cookies within no more than 2 minutes from the time you ordered. Luckily, they know me and my order by heart, double shot of espresso with almond milk. I noticed there was a new young kid working the counter which made me nervous. I didn’t bring my notebook with me because I’ve always known everyone who works here. I never need to write anything down for them. Luckily, the manager behind him waved with a friendly, “I'll start on your order now, Liam”, as I dropped the bills beside the register. The scared looking kid rushed over with a tray full of steaming beverages and a mixture of cookies and crackers falling off of the plates with every jagged movement he made. I wish I could tell him that it will get easier. Instead I nod and sign “thank you” to him, hoping he gets the fact that I’m not being rude, or not trying to at least, I just can’t speak those words to him. It’s a listening world though. People don’t notice when I try to convey a simple sign to them or begin writing something down for way of communicating. If they don’t hear an immediate response, they get turned off and it takes them a minute to understand what is going on. I wonder how many people I was quick to brush off in my speaking days.
The first sip of coffee is always the best. The way the warmth and roasted nutty taste coats your whole palate and then it’s as if you can feel the warmth rush all the way to your stomach once you’ve managed a big “gulp”. Perfection. That’s why I was quite surprised when I took a big sip from the white, ceramic mug to find the shockingly bitter taste of grass filling my mouth. I just about spit it across the table in disgust before I was met with the most beautiful green eyes. His dark hand floated across the table and loosened the cup from grip. I was still staring at his eyes slowly starting to scan the rest of his face when he replaced a new piping hot beverage in front of me. “I think the new kid got our orders switched. I’m guessing you’re not a tea fan, huh?”, he said with a chuckle. I finally broke my mesmeric gaze at him but obviously couldn’t say anything back. I sat there, mouth slightly agape, kicking myself for not bringing my notepad for moments like this. I just wished I could tell him how beautiful his eyes were. And maybe something funny about the fact that he drank hot grass water. And then maybe I would have offered to buy him a coffee! And then maybe he would have found me to be charming and funny and quick-witted, but those things really don’t transfer over simplified written conversations, do they? Regardless of the situation at hand I just could not let this opportunity slip. I grabbed a napkin and pen that was laying on a nearby table that was empty. I wrote as fast as I could so that he wouldn’t turn away at my unresponsiveness. “Can’t speak, name?”, was all I managed to get in the rush of trying to keep his attention. He smiled humbly and began to finger-spell his name. Although I know some sign language I did want to clear up the fact that I was not deaf but instead mute. I didn’t want him to mute himself and resort only to sign. Not only did I not know how to have a fluent conversation in sign language but I also wanted to hear more of his voice. I wish I had told him that part, that I wanted to hear more of his voice.
Years have passed now and we are both in our thirties. Shortly after the coffee shop meet-cute we began dating. He eventually convinced me that I needed to learn sign language. Being a middle school ASL teacher he knew it quite well, I’d say. Being the language teacher that he is, he forced me to learn. He would say helped me learn, but I say forced. I can even say it in sign. Whether I write or we sign in lieu of spoken conversation I have never once felt limited or simplified. I feel encouraged and listened to, so to speak. There are many therapies and doctors that I will have to continue seeing for the rest of my life for the damage done from my accident, aside from the loss of my speech. I have been working hard. Harder than I have ever worked in my life because I am done wishing I could say things to people and I’m done wishing that I could speak to my loved ones.
So on the coldest day of the year I returned to the coffee shop. Only this time I returned with the love of my life. He ordered his green tea and I ordered my coffee. We sat at the same table that we had the first day we met. I fumbled in my pocket for the napkin I wrote on that same day, years ago, and laid it on the table between us. I took out a pen, and instead of rushing, I took my time and spelled out the words, “can I tell you something?”. “You can tell me anything, you know that.”, he said with a chuckle and a sip of his grass... I mean tea. “I love you”, I said. Yes you read that correctly, I said it. I did not write it, I said it. Now it sounded much more strained than the way you probably just read it in your head, but I said it nonetheless. He set his mug down abruptly, slightly spilling it out on the sides and quickly pressed his fingers to his closed, watering eyes. Before he could open his eyes to meet mine again I had already started writing on the napkin once more. This time I wrote in a rush, I couldn’t wait anymore. “Can I ask you something?”, it read but very messy this time. He shook his head up and down furiously, tears now streaming down his cheeks. “Marry me”, I said as I slid a thick gold band on his left ring finger. He was speechless just nodding his head “yes”. How funny is that? In this moment I was speaking and he was speechless. I could only say very little, but it meant the entire world.
There is a long way to go still. I’ll probably always rely on signing and writing for the most part but I now don’t have to wish for more. I have spoken the most meaningful words I could ever convey to the person I love most and no matter what form of communication I am engaged in I will never feel simplified because, god those green eyes. What more could I ever wish for?