I Saw the Sign

I remember being in my preschool classroom. Alone at the bookshelf that was being used to block the fire escape. It was free time and none of the other kids could read, so none of them joined me among the small selection of books.

Though I could easily read the storybooks there, that’s not the one I chose most often. I had plenty of books at home.

The book I chose was different than any book I had ever seen. It was of a woman I knew from my television. A woman who fascinated me.

It was the deaf woman from Sesame Street. She was happily depicting signs for different words. Words I could read, hand movements I tried to imitate.

I don’t think I retained anything from this book, but I did absorb a fascination that would stay with me.

I remember being in our public library. I went there every weekend to be read to, do activities, check out books. This week, however, instead of having a book read to us, we had a story signed to us.  She explained to us how, when speaking to a deaf person, it is not polite to speak to their interpreter. You were supposed to maintain eye contact while speaking to them. This didn’t bother me in the slightest, because I didn’t want to take my eyes off this fascinating person who was doing this dance with her hands.

I was very, very young when this happened. But I remember it so clearly. I remember this room I haven’t seen in over a decade. I remember her teaching us the signs for “deaf”, “whale” and “friend”.  I never shook this fascination with sign language. I’m not sure why I didn’t take it in college. I think it’s because I didn’t realize it would count as a language. Also, because I somehow figured that learning sign language would be harder than continuing Spanish.

I have never stopped wanting to learn this language. I memorized the ASL alphabet in elementary school. I learned some songs in ASL in high school.

It’s not enough, though. I want to be able to speak it.

I’m extremely talkative. I’m loud and I’m rambly. I talk with my hands in the way Italians do. I think it’s a beautiful thing to be able to listen without hearing, to speak without talking.

I will learn sign language someday. For real. For now, I watch videos and clips and television shows that have sign language in them. I try to learn. I will learn.

I don’t know what it is, really. I’m fascinated by Spanish as well, but I understand enough of it to get by. I want to be able to understand sign language without subtitles.  Even if it’s a language I never end up having to use.

I want to learn that beautiful dance that you dance with your hands.

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~ by Valerie Anne on 08/03/2011.

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