In the World of Books, It Didn’t Matter That I Couldn’t Hear! – by Khalil Barnett

In the World of Books, It Didn’t Matter That I Couldn’t Hear! – by Khalil Barnett

I remember my first trip to the Beltone. I was 15 going on 16. The year was 1993 and Homestead, Florida was still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Andrew. I was getting ready to begin high school at South Dade Senior for the ’94 school year, but any excitement I might have had over the event was clouded by apprehension regarding my progressively diminishing hearing, and the fact that I had to grudgingly go with my mother to the Beltone Hearing Care Center for a test and hearing aid fitting.

It was a sunny and hot day so the contrast of cool air hitting us when we stepped into the office was welcome. Inside, the lobby area was small and compact. A stack of magazines rested on a thatched coffee table and, on the wall, there was a portrait of an unnamed lake at night with a one word caption under it that read “Believe.”

After the red haired female receptionist greeted us, my mother and I took our seats nearest the door. The only other people in that small waiting room were a hand-holding couple and a lone man seated three seats down from them, reading a newspaper. All three of these people were old and white. My peers…

This was a watermark for me in my formative journey. Alienation. There were no deaf people in my life. No family or friends. No characters representing deafness in popular entertainment. Only now these three nameless old white people – heralds, they’d become, to an overwhelming sense of disaffection in me that would remain. I was outfitted with big, clunky hearing aids that day for the first time, and have been wearing hearing aids since. Upgrades and repairs becoming my custom.

Much later in my history, I would learn about Deaf Culture so it wasn’t until I discovered literature that I’d find a place of peace. In the world of books, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t hear. No one would ever have to repeat themselves for me to get what they were saying! My guides and archetypes became James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, Walter Mosley, Alice Walker, Stephen King, Toni Morrison…

I read Richard Wright’s Native Son, and cried. The part I connected with, again, was alienation. I knew about the aloneness that haunted Bigger Thomas, I understood the abiding isolation that shaped (warped?) his persona. This was also true for many other characters in countless other stories I’ve read. And, the way their authors described their afflictions gave meaning to life’s chaos, reminding me each time of what Camus said about a writer’s purpose being to keep civilization from destroying itself. It was the difference between Fact and Truth.

Walking the aisles of a library or bookstore, looking at the authors’ names and the stacked roads paved with book spines… That indescribable sensation of wonder, mixed in with endless possibilities, would be the catalyst of my decision: Writing was the magic I wanted to learn how to wield.

Through writing, I would make sense of the world and, from the unique experience of deafness, a personal Great Unknown, I would create stories to share with an audience that, hopefully, would be moved in some way. Inspired, maybe – like I was upon my introduction to the world of letters.

“To survive, you must tell stories,” the philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco said. And, nowhere does it ring truer than during the time that any writer is looking to find their stride – their audience, their voice, and looking to turn writing into a vocation. The connection for me between deafness and writing is like that, a survival imperative. And, I’ll tell you this – it is worth every sacrifice to thrive!


An alumni of the University of Central Florida, Khalil is a prose writer, screenwriter, and martial artist living and working in Orlando, Florida. He published his first book, Guerillas, is 2001. And he wrote the screenplays for the short films, The Way: Fighters Twitch, which was in the 2014 Orlando Film Festival, and Dry Land Swim, which was in the Urban Action Showcase International Film Festival of 2019. The Cynosure of All Eyes is his second novel.

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One Response to "In the World of Books, It Didn’t Matter That I Couldn’t Hear! – by Khalil Barnett"

  1. Pamela Allegretto  November 6, 2020 at 2:53 pm

    Such a beautifully written and inspiring story. My compliments.