A few years ago, for the first time since I was a boy, I woke from a dream in the middle of the night crying.
Only, it wasn’t monsters terrorizing me. It was worse. I was talking with my daughter somewhere in our house. Just random conversation, nothing important. But as she spoke, her voice began to fade. Slowly. Slowly. Until it disappeared and all I could see was her lips moving. I remember wondering why, and asking her if she could hear me, only to watch her try to answer—though I couldn’t hear. Then I woke up. Crying.
It was pretty heavy and made me realize just how much I love my kids and how devastating it would be never to hear their voices again.
Look, I’ve gotten 2/3 of the way through having teenage daughters, and so yeah, there have definitely been days when I wish I *couldn’t* hear them. But this was different. It was permanent. And it felt real.
The truth is that I’ve been losing my hearing for a long time. And the damage occurred early on in my life as the result of working around aircraft and too many Iron Maiden shows–all without hearing protection.
Fun fact—I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have tinnitus. Roaring, constant tinnitus.
About five years before the night I woke up crying, I was diagnosed as having about 50% hearing loss in my right ear. My left was better with just 25% hearing loss.
“This will never reverse course, Jim.” a well-respected doctor whose daughter played soccer with my mine, said flatly. “It will only accelerate. It’s time for hearing aids. Your quality of life will improve as you age when you wear them.”
Bullshit, I thought. He’s just trying to sell me.
That’s also the day I realized that hearing aids are hella expensive.
I’m 55, not 75, but I’ve needed hearing aids for at least ten years. And since that initial diagnosis, it’s only gotten worse. I haven’t had another crying dream, but my ability to hear anyone with a soft voice is nearly gone. I’m not kidding. Like, gone. I strain hard to hear soft-spoken people. And there are a lot of them. Including my wife.
And, despite being married a long time, I want to hear her voice. But when I can’t hear her, I can always ask (over and over) to repeat what she says. This doesn’t work so great with other people during normal conversation, however. And it’s awkward to say, “Could you please speak in a louder tone.”
At the outset of business meetings with new people I’m always sure to say, “As a result of the military, I’ve lost most of my hearing in one ear, so if you see me lean in, I’m just trying to hear.” Then I’ll joke about it really being from heavy metal shows as a teenager, and everyone will laugh. And then I’ll struggle to hear the soft-spoken people. Always.
It sucks, man. And I’m scared.
Cost. Because I’m an American and have the best insurance money can buy, I have to pay for these hearing aids myself. And they’re fucking expensive. Did you know we have a kid in college?
They’ll work. And then I won’t be able to ever live without them. Like the glasses I suddenly needed the night my wife took me to dinner for my 40th birthday and I couldn’t read the fucking menu and I was like are you kidding me?? On my 40th birthday?! Note: I only need the glasses for reading. Driving, playing sports, watching movies, I don’t need them. But I wear them all the time. I’ve grown dependent upon them. Which is my fear with hearing aids.
Pride. A couple of summers ago, I saw a photo of myself from behind. There was a bald spot. It was male pattern baldness. I couldn’t believe it. “I’m bald in the back?” I asked my wife. “You have a little thinning, yeah.” she said sweetly. I had no idea. That’s the day my vanity rose up and I shaved my head. I haven’t allowed any hair to grow on it since. You’re goddamn right I’m gonna worry about having hearing aids and what someone might think of that. I’m a writer. In advertising. Old people who succeed are usually charming curmudgeons. I’m not one of those. I’m a concept guy. That’s a young man’s game (according to stereotypes.) Anyway, yes, I’m vain. We’re all a little vain. It’s why we put on makeup. And why we work out to fit into that swim suit. And why we buy nice-looking clothes. We like to project ourselves the way we think of ourselves. We like to control that first impression. So yeah, excuse me if I’m a little freaked out about the stigma that comes with wearing ‘an aid,’ or whatever the old kids call them these days.
Aging is funny. You don’t control it. You just do your best to roll with the changes. Some of us age well without care and are happy. Others get plastic surgery and liposuction. Still others dye their hair or even shave their heads. But aging is constantly happening regardless of what we do. That is until we stop aging. And then nothing matters.
I don’t feel old. I mean sure, there are some days I roll out of bed onto my knees to give thanks for another day and my back will be sore from old work and sports injuries. But my brain is still firing just fine. Plus I work out and am more fit than when I was 30. Because as you age, if you don’t work your body, it begins to slowly erode. Like eyes. And ears, evidently. It’s natural. It’s all good. But still, none of us like the idea of “being old.”
I do not want to wear hearing aids. For a lot of reasons. But here I am, losing the ability to hear the voices of the people I care about most. And ten years after the warning about it never reversing itself, I can attest that this is true.
“A lot of people say that hearing aids help reduce their tinnitus too,” the well-respected doctor added that day.
Only, I’ve grown accustomed to that constant presence in my brain. What will I do when it’s gone?
So many excuses.
This morning I went back to the audiologist. They ran tests and determined that my hearing has indeed worsened since my last tests. As such, they fit me for custom hearing aids. The kind you won’t be able to see unless you look into my ear. Because, vanity.
Unlike what some people would have you to believe, aging doesn’t suck. Aging simply forces you to accept change. Then it’s up to you to roll with it. Like everything in life. No, aging doesn’t suck. The alternative to aging sucks. And even that is perfectly natural.
Anyway, here we go. This is all so humbling. I sure hope it’s worth it.