CW: one swear word
(Sign language written in traditional format.)
HELLO, WELCOME, Professor Le Roux signed to her American Sign Language 101 class, TODAY ME TEACH-you GOODBYE. The lecture hall was quiet, students stilled with confusion. “We’re learning about basic goodbyes today,” she clarified. It was after lunch and everyone was worn down, still digesting their meatloaf and gossip. Someone coughed. “Now, a bit of deaf culture background to begin: usually, deaf individuals stand farther apart when having a conversation”—she models it—“and they maintain eye contact. Looking away when someone is signing is considered extremely rude.”
Professor Le Roux paced back and forth in front of the students, pausing occasionally to remember a sign and hold it up for the ten rows of chairs. She continued, “There are many ways to sign goodbye, and they are similar to partings in other languages as well. For reference, the wave.” She vigorously waved to a student in the front row, and they waved back, embarrassed. No one wanted to be called out amongst the 150 other people in the room, but Professor Le Roux moved on, unfazed.
Slowly walking up the left staircase to the back row, she said, “The wave can be used for many circumstances. However, some forms of ‘goodbye’ are more formal. These include . . .” Before demonstrating to the class, she snapped her fingers in the face of a boy with a nose ring who was scrolling through his phone. After grabbing his hand and forcing it into an uncomfortable handshake, she stated, “Handshakes. These can be used when you’re conversing with an important person.”
His hand was cold. Almost slimy. It instantly reminded Professor Le Roux of her lawyer’s handshake: cold, slimy, stiff. The same words she’d use to describe her daughter’s gaze that day. It wasn’t exactly a happy day at the court, but everyone could’ve been cheerier.
“Next,” she practically shouted, ripping her hand away from the boy’s, “is the nod.” On her way back down the stairs, she nodded at an old man and a college ‘freshie’ sitting next to each other. Amazing, the kind of people who want to learn basic ASL. For some reason, Professor Le Roux continued to think about the court. She remembered how she nodded at her ex-husband and her daughter. How the judge nodded when Abbie spoke through the translator, retelling her tragic life story.
“Professor Le Roux?” A student in the second row raised her hand. The professor nodded at her, signing YES? YOU TELL-me? This threw the girl off but she regathered herself, “Uh, how do you say ‘see you later?’ Like, for informal friends or something.” Her small voice echoed off the walls.
“I was just getting to that,” the professor commanded, enjoying that feeling of cradling all the pupils in the palm of her hand. “Informal goodbyes for family or friends often include ‘see you later’ and ‘love you.’ Another part of deaf culture is stating when you’re going to meet again. You could, for reference, say . . .” Professor Le Roux began to sign: GOODBYE, SEE YOU LATER. ME MEET-you SATURDAY. “‘See you later’ in ASL starts with holding up two fingers with your right hand.” She held up her peace sign to show the hall, and some students giggled, others saluted, some snapped photos to send to their friends. Look what prof LR did in class today haha . . .
Not all the students held their twos up in the air, so the professor yelled at them until everyone’s right hand was high in the sky. “Now, place it next to your right eye with your middle finger resting on your cheek.” More laughs at middle finger—were they in middle school? She kept a tight smile on her face and kept going, “Now move your hand from your cheek to the person in front of you, then point to them.” They did as she said. “Alright, that was ‘see,’ with the two fingers, and ‘you’ when you were pointing. Next is ‘later.’ Class, make an L with your fingers. Yes, it looks like a normal L with your fingers, pretty easy.” Professor Le Roux pointed her L at the students and some pressed their lips together, knowing she was calling them all losers in childish slang. “Now move the L forwards like you’re moving forwards in time. Great, very good! Okay, put them all together.”
The class became filled with mumbles and random hand movements, some college-aged boys even flashing gang signs in each others’ faces. The elderly folk were actually trying and some even asked the professor to come mold their wrinkled fingers into the correct shape. That was the beauty of community college courses, she thought, anyone can take them.
While the students were chatting, Professor Le Roux took multiple swigs of her iced coffee and sat down in her chair to give her legs a rest. In her mind, her daughter Abbie was signing to her, SEE YOU LATER, sarcastically. She was slinging her duffel bag over her shoulder and marching out the door. “ABBIE!” you called, but she couldn’t hear you. She never heard you. In the next moment, she was young. Her pigtails were bouncing on her shoulders and she was running over to sit with the other deaf kids, but the professor followed. She signed to her daughter’s friends, accidentally calling one a motherfucker. Abbie couldn’t even look at her for the next week and stayed home because she was ‘sick.’ And then it all happened too fast—
Professor Le Roux looked down and realized she was cracking her fingers, a nasty habit she needed to get rid of. She swallowed and stood, brushing off her modest dress and noticing how her Mary Jane flats felt too small as she walked back to face her students. What was going on with her today?
“Enough, enough,” she interrupted their side conversations, even banging on the desk a few times to get their attention. “Quiet, you in the back. Anyways, the next form of ‘goodbye’ might be uncomfortable for some of you, but I’m sure you’ll get over it. It’s also informal and mostly for friends and family.” As she declared this, she strided over to a poor middle-aged woman in the front row and opened her arms wide. The woman seemed confused at first, but Professor Le Roux pulled her into a tight hug that lasted several seconds. She pushed herself out of the hug and sat back down, noticing how the professor’s perfume smelled too much like chemicals.
“Thank you, Amy, for helping me demonstrate the hug.” The woman frowned and looked at her shoes. “Hugging is a lost art that I know you all know how to do. Please, class, stand up and hug the person next to you.”
For a moment, no one did anything. Then, a rather cheeky student forced their friend into a bone-crushing hug in the fourth row. More and more people stood to hug the adjacent stranger, and Professor Le Roux wrapped her arms around her torso, hugging herself. She deserved a hug after all that had happened. She closed her eyes and she saw Abbie. Again. She tried opening them but all she saw was Abbie, standing there, her eyes in shock and her hands aching from signing certain words at her ex-husband. The nice thing is that she could yell and nobody would hear her. Nobody at all. YOU FIGHT-him? Abbie signed, and the professor assured her everything was fine. ME HAPPY, she signed, stalking close to her ex-husband and gathering him into an awkward hug. WE HAPPY. But Abbie saw past the masquerade. She always did.
“Ahem,” Professor Le Roux exclaimed, blinking her eyes and realizing all the students were staring at her. “Ah, yes, the next one. Deaf individuals use a thumbs-up to say ‘goodbye,’ but it’s mostly amongst young children or parents who are trying to show their children that they’re cool.” This earned a chuckle. She idly walked back and forth in front of the front row, giving a thumbs-up to some students. “You make two thumbs up and make sure the person you’re signing with sees it.”
A girl in the fifth row giggled loudly and stage-whispered as she held up her thumbs, “I feel like a bank robber.” Her friends snickered.
The professor ignored her and continued pacing in front of the class. “Let me think of the last one . . . what is it again?” She jabbed her finger into her temple and glared at the carpeted floor. How was Abbie’s face on the floor? That coffee stain, her nose, and those loose strings, her eyes. She begins to sign: GO-you, STOP-you. COOL-you NOT. YOU DEAF NOT. YOU HEARING, YOU UNDERSTAND-me NEVER. STOP-you, TRY-you NOT. BE-you MOTHER GOOD, STAY-you AWAY. Tears are slipping down her cheeks and her hands are fading away. The professor knew she and her daughter never had a close connection before the divorce, but after it just got worse. Yes, maybe she’s not deaf and she can’t take an ounce of critique but that doesn’t mean she can’t try to understand . . .
“Does the last one have something to do with love?” a student in the back row asked lazily. They just wanted to get out of class early.
Professor Le Roux’s face lit up. “Correct. This one is most commonly known for being used by family members and, like, Youtube influencers. Anyone here an influencer?” Three people raised their hands including a woman who looked like she was in her sixties. The professor seriously doubted it but continued, “Great. Well, you can use this form of goodbye. It is abbreviated as ILY for ‘I love you’ and is super easy to remember—unless you haven’t been doing your ASL alphabet practice.” Some students glanced at the ceiling guiltily. “It starts with making the letter I, which can be done by making a fist and leaving your pinkie finger up like this.” She held her pinkie high. “This, obviously, stands for the I in ILY. Next is the L for ‘love.’ Keep your pinkie in the air while making an L with your index finger and thumb on the same hand.” She showed the class, examining everyone else’s hands in the air to make sure they were correct. “This is the shape—you’re already done. The Y for ‘you’ is already there because its sign is just the pinkie and thumb outstretched. Please, show your peers the ILY sign, but like you’re an influencer or a BFF. To differentiate from the serious ILYs and the ‘I’m so quirky’ ones, the influencers usually make the sign and move their index finger up and down to make it more cute-looking.”
The students tried this and before she could take her hand down, the professor was thinking about all the times she’d used the ILY sign. After learning ASL with Abbie when she was only three years old; visible by the glow of her nightlight when she tucked her into bed; the first, second, third—all the days of school. Did Abbie return it? Did her delicate hands form the sign and smile or did she pretend to not have seen it and skip away. Doesn’t she know it’s all for her—this whole thing? Professor Le Roux thought of all the times she should’ve used the sign, like at the court when the judge declared emancipation after declaring the divorce. How could she let the time slip away? All the times she could have signed ILY: Abbie’s graduation, her wedding, to the grandchildren she could’ve known . . . all gone.
Behind her back, she signed the truth—and a few other words she wasn’t allowed to say in front of her students. A certain finger was released.
“Are you alright, Professor?” an older man called out.
She didn’t catch who exactly it was but she smiled like nothing was wrong and nodded. “Yes, I’m just a bit distracted. Going through a rough patch right now.” Some students frowned empathetically and others exchanged odd looks that read why is she even sharing this with us? “Um, that’s all I had planned for this class, so, uh, you can all leave now. Class dismissed.” Students practically shot out of their seats and packed their bags as quickly as possible. The younger ones all poured out of the doors, but some of the older students stayed behind to tell Professor Le Roux that they were there for her if she needed anything. Some even signed ‘See you later’ and flashed her a thumbs-up on the way out.
Of course, she denied all the requests to help and pressed her lips together when one of the sophomore boys hollered to his friend, “Bro! That was such a boring lecture. Can’t believe LR’s letting us out fifteen minutes early—haven’t you heard she’s like the strictest teacher here?”
Students who were trying to get their language requirement filled with ASL always bothered her, but she didn’t seem to mind that much. Instead, she returned to her desk and sipped her iced coffee until her giant lecture hall was completely empty. Damn, she thought, everyone really wanted to get out of here.
Instead of dwelling on it, she propped her iPhone up on the back of her plastic Peet’s cup and unlocked it with Face ID. She clicked iMessages, then Abbie’s pretty seventeen-year-old face. Before her mind had time to catch up, her fingers were pressing on the camera extension and the red button for video became small to indicate it was recording . . .
Professor Le Roux glanced down as her hand formed the ILY sign. Would Abbie even open a text from her? Her hands were shaking. She moved it up so the camera could catch it. She looked deep into her own reflected eyes as she moved her hand in a horizontal circle.
She hit send.