Happy Birthday to You

School had already started for the fall semester. It was September of 2006 and I was excited about the many new beginnings in my life. My family had a challenging spring and summer that year, and I was ready to embrace the coming changes in my life just like the leaves on the towering trees, which were embracing changes as well with fall fast approaching.

My friend, Jex, texted me one Sunday afternoon after church to invite me to a birthday party, which he was hosting for a friend at his apartment. I have to admit, I felt a little apprehensive at first and discussed the issue with my parents. I wanted to go, don’t get me wrong. My friends, Day Day and Kula, were going to be present. In addition, I somewhat knew the birthday girl, AB, from school, so I knew the company would be great. However, replying positively to Jex’s invitation required a lot more gumption than saying, “yes” to carpooling with him. I had never been to a friend’s apartment before, let alone a guy’s, and this made me even more nervous than my first car ride with Jex, who also happened to be the first guy I rode with alone. In the end, I pushed my fears away long enough for me to text him back with a simple “I’d love to.”

Jex told me the party began at 4:00 and he gave me directions to his apartment but soon gave up and told me to meet at the Andy’s Ice Cream place instead so that I could folow him there. By the time we reached his apartment, it was around 4:15 or 4:30, and I felt bad for being so late. I thought maybe the other party-goers were already there at Jex’s door waiting. Since I am a hearing person, I never completely understood the meaning of “Deaf Time” until this moment. To my surprise, there wasn’t an angry mob waiting outside his door like I had imagined. Everyone was running on Deaf Time, meaning everyone was running fasionably late to the party.

I was okay with this until I actually had to go IN Jex’s apartment. I almost freaked out and ran the other way when he opened the door for me, but I swallowed hard and tried to think of all my hearing friends who went to each other’s apartments countless times and nothing bad ever happened to them. My heart had to have been pumping a million beats a minute, but it probably wasn’t since that is impossible. With a deep breath, I stepped over the threshold knowing that this would either be the beginning of a new life or the end of my life as I knew it.

I was holding a couple of plastic Wal-Mart bags in my hands, each with two soft drinks inside. I followed Jex to his kitchen and helped put the drinks in the refrigerator. Afterwards, Jex motioned for me to go in his room to see what he had bought AB for her birthday. I tried to convince myself that everything was okay and nothing was going to happen, but even though I had spent a lot of time with Jex, going out to eat and hanging out at school, I still did not really know him yet. He was a new friend, and I will tell you that making new friends and getting to a point where I trust them is difficult for me. I am one of those introverted people who takes a while to develop friendships.

At any rate, I walked timidly in his room to where he had his gifts all laid out across his bed. He had bought AB some nice presents and it perplexed me why he spent so much money on a gift for a friend. My hearing friends, and me included, did not spend vast amounts of money on each other. Our gifts were always simple expressions of our friendship. This was yet another part of Deaf Culture that I did not grasp until later that night.

Deaf always take care of each other, support each other, and help each other. If someone has something to offer that another Deaf individual doesn’t have (such as money, a car, etc.), then they willingly donate whatever resources they have to serve other Deaf. That is what Jex was doing. AB didn’t have a lot of money to spend on frivolous things. She had two children whom she adored but had no way of preserving the memories of their growing up years. So what did Jex buy for her? A digital camera and all the extras so that she could take pictures of her kids. I was amazed at this part of Deaf culture. I wish it were more a part of hearing culture, too. As the night went on, I began to see more examples, especially between Day Day and Jex, of how they shared whatever they had with each other and other people as well.

Coming back to the story, I was still alone with Jex and everyone else had yet to show up. Every moment that passed increased my anxiety all the more. I’ll have to ask Jex one day if I looked as scared as I felt because I think that he could sense how nervous I was. To pass the time while we waited for the others to come, Jex suggested we play video games on his PS2. I agreed but warned him that I wasn’t skilled whatsoever. It was fun, and I even won a few games just by pressing random buttons, which held no meaning for me. I was still nervous though, don’t ask me why because I don’t know.

Day Day finally paged Jex and told him that they would arrive shortly and explained why they were running late. Jex then relayed the message to me, saying that Day Day had to pick AB up in another city about an hour away and that’s why they were running late. This made me feel somewhat better knowing that everyone would soon arrive.

After a few more minutes, Day Day, Kula, and AB came walking through the door. I was relieved. We all visited while Jex put some pizzas from Pappa John’s in the oven to bake. As the aroma filled the room, AB opened her birthday presents. She was ecstatic about the camera Jex had bought her. I think Jex was just as excited about giving the present as she was receiving it.

Jex was a great host, as are most Deaf, I have found. They are always quick to make sure their guests are comfortable and have something to drink as soon as they walk in the door. Food is always provided. When the pizzas were ready, we all crowded around Jex’s small dinning room table to eat. I ate my pizza plain and most of my friends drizzed (and at times poured) ranch dressing on theirs. We continued visiting, mouths full. Day Day was quick to move the two liter soft drinks off the table. I asked him why he didn’t leave them there and he replied that he had moved them so that we could see each other more clearly (I tell you, my Deaf friends were SO patient with me, lol. I appreciate that more than they know).

The chatter continued, and, for the most part, I had no idea what they were talking about. I would laugh when they laughed and look solemn when they were serious. I think I bluffed my way through quite poorly. When I could understand a discussion, I would get involved and I would enjoy it, but if I didn’t understand, I expended all my brain power and energy to try to figure out what they were talking about. They were sweet though. They didn’t always leave me in the dark. Lol. Most of the time, AB would slow down and voice what the conversation was about or Jex and Day Day would restate things for me. At the time, I couldn’t understand Kula hardly at all. I think that was because I took so long to learn someone’s signing “accent” and I hadn’t known Kula for very long.

After dinner, it was time for birthday “cake.” Actually, AB wanted something other than cake, so we had some sort of bannana pie, I think. Jex brought it out and set it on the table with a candle in the middle. While he and Day Day were trying to light it, I wondered if Deaf “sing” “Happy Birthday.” I couldn’t see any reason why, but I just waited to find out. The candle lit, we all told AB “happy birthday” and she blew the candle out. Yep, just as I thought–no “Happy Birthday” song. It was just as well. I probably wouldn’t have known how to sign the song if it WERE a part of Deaf culture.

Eventually, we moved ourselves and our conversations to the living room. Two more guys showed up and grabbed some cold pizza and joined us. I had had never seen the new guys before. After we were introduced, Jex got up and motioned me into the kitchen (here’s another example of Deaf culture: you have to sometimes go to another room to have a private conversation). I couldn’t figure out why he wanted me to go to the kitchen, but I went anyways.

He told me that sometimes the guys, who just showed up, use bad language. At the time, I didn’t know one single bad word in sign, so it wouldn’t have mattered because I wouldn’t have realized they were using profanity, but I thought to myself that it was sweet that Jex would want to warn me about it (Jex and my other friends knew I didn’t cuse or use bad language, even though I never had to tell them that). Then, he said, “I want you to know that I would never invite you to something where there is alcohol,” (he knew I didn’t drink and he knew I was worried there would be alcohol at the party) then he said, “I want you to be able to trust me and I want your parents to trust me, so don’t ever worry about me inviting you to someplace you don’t want to be.”

I was shocked. Jex, Day Day, and Kula are my only friends who have different beliefs and different boundaries than me, but still completely respect me and my beliefs and boundaries. I knew my Deaf friends drank on occasion and I knew they weren’t opposed to using bad language, but they never did either when I was around. Most of my friends who use profanity or tell dirty jokes or whatever, do it when I am there, but these friends were different. They gained a lot of respect from me because of this, too. I took a lot of comfort in what Jex said, and it really changed the way I viewed him, Day Day, Kula, and many of my other friends. I wish everyone held that kind of respect for one another.

Anyways, I thanked Jex for telling me about his friends and about trusting him, and we both joined the group again. We visited for a long time and watched some “America’s Next Top Model” with captions before I had to leave. Telling everyone “good bye,” I walked out to my old, dilapidated Nissan Maxima with Jex. I told him thank you again for inviting me and that I had a good time.

On my way home, I pondered all the new things I had learned, both about Deaf culture and my friends. This was definately the beginning of a new life for me–a new life that would lead me all the way to the center of the Deaf-World, Gallaudet University.


One Response to “Happy Birthday to You”

  1. James Channer Says:

    Casey james Channer Here again.I need some help with something. is is possible for you to send me an email. its T_khols@yahoo.com.

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