Life, for me, was never normal. I was always separated from all the other kids in preschool and elementary. It was because I was special, they said to me. But that was the problem. I couldn’t hear them.
I never had more than one friend, because I didn’t understand a single person for a while. It took me forever to learn how to use my hands to communicate and to read other people’s lips. The first time I ever ‘talked’ to anyone was in 1st grade, with my mom. Being the lovely mom she is, she learned ASL (American Sign Language) just for me. She made a gesture to me and I understood, and excitedly, I hugged her and she hugged me back and it was a happy moment.
I saw tears in her eyes and asked, with my hands, what was wrong. It was supposed to be happy. She smiled even wider and signed that it was happy, just so happy she’s crying. We signed I love you to each other and sat there for a while.
In third grade, I met Kit. She and I, well, we were, and still are, a team. Best friends. In my special 2nd grade classroom, who before had housed nobody other than myself, I saw her for the first time. She had bright red hair and straight bangs that cut across her forehead. Her lips were small, in the childish way, and her nose was a bright red. Her eyes were big and green, but something was different about her eyes. She seemed to be gazing in my direction and had no interest in me coming in. I signed a hello to her, but her eyes stayed just over my shoulder. I saw her mouth move.
“Hello?” It said, but I couldn’t be sure. I signed hello another time, but again, no reaction. My confusion was beginning to show itself, and I walked closer to this strange girl who did not seem to acknowledge me. Maybe she was just being rude. Before I could put my hand in front of her face, though, I saw the teacher, Mrs. Jovan, walk in the doors out of the corner of my eyes. I signed hello to her and she signed hello back.
“Who is this?” I signed to Mrs. Jovan, who was now walking closer to the girl. The girl’s eyes did not follow her.
“Her name is Kit,” she signed. “She’s a new student. She’s also blind, so be careful.” I nodded. Mrs. Jovan opened her mouth and said something to the girl that was Kit. I roughly read her lips the best I could.
“Kit, this is Sienna,” her lips said. “She will be your classmate for the rest of the year, maybe even more years. She can not hear you, so I may translate for you if you want to say something.”
I watched Kit’s lips move, but they moved in the childish, little way that kids spoke and I could not understand. I looked to Mrs. Jovan for help. She smiled and gladly translated.
“Kit wants to tell you hello,” signed Mrs. Jovan. I noticed she hadn’t assigned a sign for Kit yet, using the three letters of her name, and I realized that she was waiting for me to.
Well, tell her, I began to sign, but stopped myself. What should I call her? Then the word comes to me, almost right away. I sign Kit’s name with a K and the sign for cute. “...Kit... I say hi back. I think we’ll be best friends,” I sign. And I was right. We are.
The first day of 7th grade, I walk into the school, holding Kit’s hand in mine, leading her through the hallways. Room 107, my mom had signed before I left for the bus. I nod at the memory, counting the numbers. I can feel Kit’s hand in mine, shaping itself into words.
“Are we almost there?” She asks in my language.
“Yes,” I say. One of the few words that I’ve learned how to say over the years. I look over and see Kit smile with anticipation, and her smile makes me smile.
103, 104, 105, I count. 106, 107. I slow to a stop and turn to see Kit’s mouth move.
“We made it!” her mouth says. I smile and say another yes out loud.
The teacher comes through the doorway. He’s a large man, with large ears and a large nose and twinkling eyes.
“Hello,” he says, and I read his lips. I sign hello to him, and I know Kit says it out loud.
“That must be the teacher,” I sign into her hand.
“Yeah,” she signs back.
“You must be Kit,” he says, pointing to her. She nods.
“And you must be Sienna?” he signs to me. I nod too, and timidly say yes out loud. He looks at me, impressed.
“You can speak?” He signs. I begin to shake my head yes, but it quickly turns into a no. He opens his mouth, and I can tell he’s laughing. I see Kit smile and look in my general direction.
“He seems nice,” she signs into my hand. I sign another yes.
“So,” he says, and I begin to read his lips. I can tell that he speaks slower and expresses his words more to help me, and I’m grateful for it.
“I am Mr. Kelly,” he says. “I’ll be your teacher for 7th and 8th grade.”
I spell his name with my hands to be sure that I read correctly, and he nods. He then gestures for us to walk into the classroom, and I gladly follow, pulling Kit along behind me.
Mr. Kelly and Kit and I had a great two years together. We grew closer together and Kit’s sign language got better and better. I learned ten words in addition to yes and no in those two years. Hi, Bye, Mom, Dad, Kit, Deaf, Blind, Cute, Sad, and Happy. Mr. Kelly helped me with all these words. I begged him to learn Kit’s name first, and finally, he agreed. When I went home one day, I said my mom’s name to her and we had another happy-sad moment, crying and hugging. But this time I understood her tears, and I was beginning to tear up as well.
Me and Kit started 9th grade together. High school. We had to split up sometimes. I was assigned a translator, and I was forced to go to regular classes, though I felt like I didn’t understand anybody there. Sometimes my translator, Kori, was too slow, and got way behind the teacher’s talking, which left me leaving the class disoriented. I saw Kit whenever I could. I helped her find the bathrooms during passing periods, even if it meant I was late. Once, I skipped a class altogether and stayed with her in her classroom. She had a service dog, now, who helped her. I always played with them.
“You love my dog, don’t you,” she signed into my hand. I nodded and said yes. She laughed.
“But you love me more?” She said, this time aloud. I read her lips and, of course, nodded. We laughed together.
Now we entered 11th grade. I had sent letters and letters and emails and emails to my counselor, and finally, he let me stay with Kit. I convinced him that we need each other. I need her ears and she needs my eyes, it’s simple. We go together like peanut butter and jelly. As juniors, we stayed in the same classroom with Ms. Benson. She was nice. She helped to teach me how to better read lips, and helped Kit struggle through braille. And, since I had nothing better to do, I learned braille with her.
Senior year. I pull her down the hallway, just like in 7th grade, and I feel her laughing through our connected hands. I turn to her and put my finger to my lips, making the “sh” sound. She quiets down, but her smile doesn’t fade. Her grip loosens, and I feel her forming words with her hand.
“Where are you taking me?” She signs.
“It’s a surprise,” I sign back, and I see her giggle. I lead us out the doors, and her eyes widen when she feels the light breeze on her face. Though we’re legal adults, we still know how to have fun. I take us to the elementary school next door, our old school, and lead Kit over to the swings. I watch as she feels around her, and when she touches the swingset, her face brightens. We sit down and swing lightly together.
“It’s so weird,” I see her say, reading her lips. “We were here 6 years ago.”
“Yes,” I say out loud. She smiles at my voice. “It is weird.” I sign the rest into her palm. I turn to watch the sunset.
In college, me and Kit are roomates. I told the school that I didn’t need a translator. I had Kit. So, Kit used her ASL during classes. She’s learning to become a translator, and I’m learning to become an author. Eventually, I bought a small house and Kit moved in with me. We lived together and did everything together. That’s where we come to now.
I turn to Kit, sitting behind me, listening to me type. I grab her hand and sign, “I love you, best friend”. She laughs. I grin. And that is that.