June 15, 2006

A Play A Day #63


Jeff - mid-twenties
Miles - same age

Setting: Blank stage, Jeff enters with Miles holding his elbow.

Jeff: I've known Miles since we were babies. He's five weeks older than me. We lived two houses apart for eighteen years. He can't see. He also can't hear. He's never been able to speak either. He still can't. Our mothers were, still are, best friends. Miles and I followed their lead. Still do. MIles and Jeff; Jeff and Miles. Attached by strings.

When I was very little, my mom said I used to drag Miles around in a small plastic wagon. More than once I pulled him down his steps. Thankfully, they were carpeted. Thankfully, it was the seventies, so they were really carpeted.

I can't imagine how bizarre that must have seemed for him. Just feeling himself bump down and down like that. He could cry. He made sounds of frustration or pain. When we were six, Miles was sent to a school for deafblindness in Maine. I remember crying for a very long time. I thought he was gone forever. I think what I missed then was my love of Miles as sort of a living doll. I didn't really think of him as a real kid. He was a marionette; I held the strings. He needed to be led, and I was a leader then. Still am, in small ways. I had the best toy a boy could want, a doll I could lead anywhere.

Not that he followed. Usually, he pulled against me or swung about wildly. But, over time, I developed a way to communicate with Miles. I called it Magic Talking. I knew he couldn't see or hear me, but we spoke with each other. I mean that I spoke to him and then would pretend he was speaking to me. I would move his arms for him as if he was gesticulating while he spoke to me. Like I said, he was my doll. A doll who hit me a lot. I got very used to that. He broke my nose once when we were eight, I touched him when he wasn't expecting anything, and he swung his arm right there, whap! Really hurt.

My mom and I would go with Miles's family to visit him in Maine, at least twice a year. I met other kids like Miles. Miles was actually one of their hardest students. He was totally blind and profoundly deaf. They told his mom that he had no real chance of ever learning to speak.

He would come home for 3 weeks in June, and at several other times throughout the year. It was like getting my toy back! A little June Christmas for me. At first, I didn't notice any changes in Miles. Either I was too young to notice, or nothing had changed. But June was my favorite time of year. I'd visit every day. I was connected to him. He... was my brother. He IS my brother. My actual brother is almost ten years older than me. He's a good brother, nothing against him, but he wasn't really my peer. He was dating; I was still learning how to ride my bike.

But Miles... Miles connected me to something else. Something I have never been able to describe completely. I think because we had known each other since infancy; since we had been together so much, Miles and I actually could communicate. He couldn't see me or hear me, but he knew where I was. He knew when I was talking to him. He knew what I was saying. I think he even laughed at my jokes... no, probably not, my jokes were always bad. Still are.

The Maine school taught him to fingerspell; Miles's mom taught both me and my mom how to do it. I understood it almost immediately. A lot of it reminded me of our Magic Talking. It's different, but the intention felt identical. Miles grew more and more able to actually communicate with me. I became better at actually communicating with him. I watched "The Miracle Worker" about twenty thousands times. Somehow though, Miles never was able to say "wahhh-tahh" when I squirted him with our hose. I never really expected him to be able to.

Our connection grew stronger. I made many other friends in junior high and high school, but none of them ever as solid as Miles. My friends concerned themselves with Miles only as curiosity; they either felt sick with sympathy for him, or they resented the depth of my friendship with him. I never felt as close to the friends I could communicate with so easily. I don't know why. I think the strongest strings are the ones you can't see.

I can't lie though; I've always wanted one of our invisible strings to be visible. I've always wanted to hear Miles speak. I'm always imaging his voice in my head. I know it wouldn't be clear, but, in my head, he's a radio announcer, a professional actor enunciating exactly, the motivational speaker with perfect cadence and timing. I would give everything to hear that. Just once.

I ended up going to college in California. Miles stayed at the Maine school for their post-secondary program. He perfected Braille and fingerspelling and Tadoma, which is tactile lip-reading. He reads a lot. He's very bright. He's read more great works of literature than I have. Every one of Shakespeare's plays, Dante, amazing stuff. He writes, can even handwrite.

My college schedule never meshed with Miles's schedule. I didn't come home often. At one point, I went eighteen months without seeing Miles. I experienced some bouts of depression. I was isolated. But, the strings were still there.

After college, I moved back home, surprise, got a low-paying job a couple years ago. I saved enough to start renting my own apartment about a mile from my parent's place. Miles is back. He goes back to Maine a lot, but he's at home more often than not. His Mom tells me that he's still really working on expanding his ability to communicate. He's started writing the story of his life. He lets me read it, but he doesn't listen to any of my criticism - not because he can't listen, rather because he doesn't trust my memory or my version of his childhood. We get together almost every day.

I got a better job recently. I work with the local forest service office. I spend a lot of time clearing trails in state parks, I wear the noise cancelling earphones since I use the chainsaw so much. Sometimes, when I have them on - but not when I'm using the chainsaw - I close my eyes.

I used to do that when I was a kid. I thought it would teach me how Miles felt. It's never the same, of course; I didn't know so at the time. I thought, look at me, I'm Miles. Of course, I know what things look like before I close my eyes; I know what sounds are there before I put the headphones on. When I was younger, even when I was in college, I spent a lot of time thinking it must stink to be Miles. So much to see, so much to hear.

Maybe it does stink. Miles tells me it doesn't. I guess I have to believe him; he usually seems happier than me anyway. He has asked me what makes me happy... I told him I like my new job, feeling the wind in the trees and the sunshine on my face.

(Miles takes notepad and pencil from his pocket, begins writing)

So he asked me to bring him out to one of the trails I cleared. Just worked on it last week. So, here we are. I love this view; I love these trees. Miles said he had (air quotes, making a little fun of Miles's sentimentality) "something to say about happiness."

(Miles tears off sheet of paper, holds it out to Jeff. Pause while Jeff reads it, stares at Miles, then reads it out loud)

"I'm happy because I don't need eyes to see the wind; I don't need ears to hear the sunshine."

(breaking up a little) Ummmm... wow... yeah. Like I said... he's amazing. (puts his hand on Miles's elbow to start leading him off-stage, Miles hangs his head down, doesn't move, Jeff attempts to fingerspell to Miles that they should go, Miles makes a great effort)

Miles: (very rough sounding, but just clear enough to make out) Jeff. Love.

Jeff: (pulls back, he's in shock, eyes wide, he falls down and starts crying loudly in joy) Wha...?! Oh my God! Ahhhhhh! (continue amazed vocalizations and ad libs, while Miles starts writing again, tears it off, hands it in general direction of Jeff, he reads it out loud through heavy tears)

Jeff: "And I don't need a voice to tell you that I love you." (Jeff hugs him intensely, he is blubbering) No... no... you don't... you don't... I knew it already, but... but... you did... you did, and it was beautiful... it was beautiful, Miles... it was beautiful... thank you, thank you, thank you. I love you too, Miles... so much... so much... (lights fade out as Miles turns around, and Jeff shakily grabs his elbow from behind. Miles leads Jeff off stage.)



Brendon Etter said...

Again, don't know where this play came from. Probably from walking around a pond on a very windy day and closing my eyes for as long as I could without falling or running in to something.

This play has had eight different names; first, I called it "Deaf. Smart. Blind." , then "Deaf. Dumb. Blind.", then "Deafblindness / Blinddeafness", then "Feeling It All", then "Through It All", then "Invisible Strings", then "The Strongest Strings", then, finally, "Strings".

I like it. It's sappy for me, but it's good to try different styles, different emotions.

Love to know what you all think.


Anonymous said...

Wow- that's one of the most touching things you've ever written. I kept waiting for the slam and there wasn't one. I'm so impressed. Wow.

-Your Favorite Wife