• Born in the slums of Puerto Rico to Japanese/Puerto Rican parents
• Suffers from Neurofibromatosis type II, untreated due to lack of access/funds
• Mostly asymptomatic: benign bilateral acoustic tumors, meningioma
• Deaf: suffered progressive hearing loss in childhood as a result of above, full loss by age eight
• Basic ASL, relies mostly on lip reading/inference, pantomimes and emotes mostly
• Can vocalize/speak some words from memory; really doesn't like to. Totally laughs though
• Overuses emojis while texting
A silent life didn't feel quite right
He woke up with the sun, because it was the only alarm that could reach him. He made a habit of sleeping with the curtains open, because when dawn would break, it would shine directly onto his bed. This way he could know that the day had begun- when the heat of light touched his face, he would get up. His parents hardly needed to wake him anymore. Long before the rest of the household awoke, Gabi would be stirring silently through the hallways.
He preferred to shower outside, in the back yard. It was a leftover of a more innocent time, when they would scrub down the toddlers in a giant oil drums back on the island. Gabi preferred it this way, even if the world was a little chilly during the dawn. He'd dive into the tub with the cool water, tucked in with nothing but the sun overheard to connect him to the outside world. Sometimes, for a change of pace, he'd bath in the small stream behind their house. There was no time to be worried about who would see him- with as little clothes as he normally wore and how candid he could be, Gabi wasn't concerned with propriety. Out in the open was more comfortable than being locked in his bathroom for too long. With walls and a door, he couldn't see anyone coming- knocking did nothing to alert him unless the door visually shook.
Sometimes he could feel things around him, depending on the terrain. He walked around his house barefoot, because the creaking floorboards always alerted him to when people moved around him. It was one of the things they had told him would happen- with the loss of sound, his other senses would get strong. Touch was one of these. The island climate gave him an excuse to expose more of skin to the open air. As a rule, he wore sandals so he could feel the ground behind him. He didn't need a shirt- his vest was enough, and he could feel the shift of the wind around him. Sometimes it was on his bicycles, sometimes it was the rush of air from an open door: all these little cues made it easy for him to navigate his world.
He could remember sound before. It had been fading away when he was growing up, and he focused so much on catching some semblance as his hearing began to fail, that he knew all the other markers. Gabi could remain silent just by catching himself before something touched another. He wasn't sure, but as he set up the pots and pans every morning in the kitchen of their restaurant, he could feel that he wasn't making too much sounds. There was no flailing or scolding in his parents trying to get his attention, and people always seemed surprised when he came up behind them. They often couldn't hear him coming, and it was funny. He liked it because it was like they shared his world view for a moment.
The amusement of dealing with people was almost enough to make up for missing out on the world of sound. Those that knew him seemed to work just fine. They knew he needed to be looked at directly, that they should grab him to get his attention. It was strangers, the ones that weren't friends, that would get frustrated. Sometimes he'd be in the street, sense someone flailing or too close behind him, only to turn and see them screaming about something. It made him want to cry the first few times, but then it just became funny.
People used voice and noise so much that they seemed to stay so far from one another. Gabi didn't care. He couldn't bet on the stalling of words to get his message across, so he became more physical. He would reach out to someone, touch their skin, grab their cheeks. They'd be surprised, sometimes upset, but if he smiled, hugging and kissing them, they seemed to all calm down. There were some grumpy ones, and he could understand them not wanting someone strange touching them. When he made it clear he couldn't hear them though, they seemed to understand, and that was the beautiful thing about people.
Maybe people thought he was dumb? It seemed that way, in the way they looked sideways to one another in concern, or when they took care to speak so slowly, exaggerating their lips and pantomiming for him. It made him sad at first, but there was no time for that. It just meant that they were willing to try.
He tried to work hard, because he didn't want his family to worry about him. They minded him too much, as far as he was concerned. So Gabi cooked in the back- who needed an alarm when he just knew things were burning. It was nice to see people smile when he gave them their orders, and they always seemed amused by him. Maybe he was a little behind. Without being told things, he probably did act a little less mature than other people. It was ok. If it was really that important, they could always write it down for him.
It wasn't always easy. He knew what a voice felt like, and he tried his best to not speak or make sounds. He couldn't register the nuance of what came out of his mouth, and the last thing he wanted was to squeak or make someone uncomfortable. Maybe they'd laugh, and that wouldn't bother him, but their guilt and the almost inevitable misunderstanding just wouldn't make it worth it. Gabi did miss hearing music, but if he went during the parties, he could match everything if he could see their bodies. If the volume was loud enough, he'd feel the beat under his feet or on his skin.
The first time he went to a block party to dance, he could see his mother from aside crying. She must have been happy to see him happy during a dance again. Did his parents blame themselves for it? He wasn't too concerned with what made him lose his hearing. It was too late by the time he got to a proper doctor, when they moved and came into money finally. He was more annoyed with all the papers they gave him and the referrals, because it just meant there'd be a steeper bill than necessary. He didn't need any of this medical stuff to live. There wasn't much left to do afterwards anyway.
They asked him if he wanted a hearing aid. It would have been expensive, an implant that may have given him some semblance of sound. He could remember the conversation his mom and dad had in worried hushed tones in that doctor's office. It was frustrating, because everything already sounded like it was behind wads of cotton, but he had heard them. He lost his temper, threw the papers down and starting writing, insisting that he'd be fine without it. He could feel, he could read, and he'd be happy no matter what.
It had been a dark and quiet time.
As the world seemed to slowly become more quiet, and one day he couldn't hear anything else. He cried for hours, hiding in the darkness of his room under his covers. Everyone seemed to be inconsolable, mourning for him as if he was gone forever. So he stayed in the darkness of his room. Without sight or sound, and if he let the hard floor of that corner put his limbs to sleep, it was like he didn't exist.
Gabi spent more time in his corner than he cared to admit looking back. It took him weeks to adjust, refusing to do more than eat and sulk. It was when the door was ajar one day, as he woke from his senseless sleep, and the bright white light of the hallway cut into his self exile. He crawled out, feeling the world from his knees and pulling himself out. He learned to be sneaking, bare feet making no sound as he watched everyone go about their day.
Life moved on, so Gabi tried to move on too.
The years cycled past, and looking back on himself when he first lost hearing those ages past, Gabi was embarrassed. He just couldn't find himself holding on to such negativity as he was now. Maybe he was missing something, but he would make due with what was left. Enough of the world was written down on paper, enough could be gleamed by the touch of someone else, and if he tried just hard enough, everything would be alright.