Lost in Translation
by Amanda Farbanish
Drew University, Madison, New Jersey
by Amanda Farbanish
Drew University, Madison, New Jersey
We were bunk bed rebels. Bedtime was only the beginning. We had a system. About fifteen minutes after we were tucked in, I’d hang my head over the side of my bunk, ignoring the protesting creaks of wood as I gripped onto the headboard and rail, grinning upside-down at Lauren lounging beneath her covers. If I received a thumbs-up, we were in business. The goal was simple: Don’t get caught out of bed.
Our nightly escapades varied based on where our parents were. Parental HQ was right next-door, so if they were in their bedroom, we conducted a silent disco. Jumping, flailing, whisper-singing--anything that could technically be heard without actually being heard, sounds that would sit on the edge of their consciousness but overall be drowned out by their talking and the TV and the dog panting at their feet.
As the oldest, I had the job of giving the signal if I sensed danger. At any sign of detection, we’d sprint back into our beds, adrenaline throwing me up the ladder. It was truly an art form. We had to move fast enough to outpace one or both adults swinging grudgingly out of bed and padding across their room. We had to be quiet enough to fake sleep, or at least make the claim that we had never snuck a toe out from under the covers in the first place. And we were not above arguing that they’d only been hearing things.
We are assaulted by a wall of sound all day. Imagine yourself in the kitchen. Your mom’s cooking and singing along to a song stuck in her head as peppers and onions sizzle in a pan. The radio’s on, and baseball announcers give a play-by-play of the game, their voices rising and falling depending on the likelihood of the players rounding the bases. Your younger sister’s sitting on the floor, riling up the dog with a rubber ball. And you’re attempting to listen as your dad talks at you.
Your brain and your ears are wired to filter out sounds, to sift through the noise and focus in on what you want to hear. Everything else becomes part of the background as you tune in to the conversation. It can be a pain in the ass to concentrate with such a racket, but you can do it.
Unless you can’t. And if you can’t, then all of those noises—the singing, the sizzling, the announcing, the laughing, the barking, the speaking—occur at the same volume and intensity. No matter what you do, how hard you listen, pay attention, concentrate, Dad’s voice is no louder than the rest. If you’re Lauren, it’s just an equal wall of sound.
It's hard to tell when she’s just being lazy and when there’s a Lost in Translation between her ears and her brain.
“Lauren,” Dad calls down the hall, “take the dog out.” If she doesn’t respond, a booming “Lauren!” echoes throughout the house.
There’s a drawn-out groan. “Okay.”
She answered, so the logical conclusion is that she heard. Ten minutes tick by. The dog has not been taken out.
“Lauren, I asked ages ago. Take the damn dog out!”
Now, there are two possible responses: A defiant “It hasn't been that long! Just give me some time, God.” Or an indignant “What are you talking about?”
The sounds she hears don’t always transfer to her brain intact. She technically heard the request—heard it well enough to give an answer—but the brain didn’t distinguish it as anything significant to remember. It became an inconsequential noise, no more important than the surrounding din. Like soap on glass, the sound made contact and then just slid off.
I don't remember much about the support group. Even my parents only vaguely recall sending me there. For a few weeks in third or fourth or fifth grade, I was picked up by a tiny school bus and carted off to another elementary school. It was a support group of some kind for kids who had siblings who were different. I remember anxiety twisting my stomach and tightening my muscles as I watched unfamiliar streets whizz past on the first bus ride. I remember each meeting starting with a snack, usually overly-salted pretzels I sometimes nibbled on. I remember playing a game with a violently yellow rubber chicken, the kind clowns use. And I remember the initial introductions.
“My sister strangled me,” one boy said matter-of-factly. We stared at him as he adjusted his oval glasses. They were at the pool and she had suddenly attacked him, wrapping hands around his throat and plunging them both into the deep end. I don't remember what she had.
It was my turn. I wasn’t sure what to say. “My sister has Auditory Processing Disorder. Mom and Dad help her with her homework more than me.”
I was adamant. As the stout brick office buildings plodded past the window of the car, I wove a lawyer-worthy argument to my mom about why Lauren shouldn’t be placed in the Language and Learning Disabled classes (LLD). She was already in Resource Room, for kids with attention and/or learning disabilities. She had been taken out of English and Math and brought downstairs for smaller classes to help with focusing and receive one-on-one attention. Bigger classes made it harder for her to parse what was being said and concentrate.
Resource helped her. But LLD was different. It was for children on the Down syndrome spectrum, for kids with severe anger management: children who would have difficulties communicating with the “mainstream class,” who would unknowingly be disruptive to others. I couldn't for the life of me understand why the school was trying to place her there. We went to the same elementary school, so when I was in fourth grade, Lauren was in first. I saw, however briefly, the LLD kids. They didn't interact much with the others besides during assemblies and lunch, and even then they were separated, kept to themselves.
I understood why our school had LLD. It gave some students the ability to actually go to school and receive the help they required. But she was nowhere near a state that required that level of aid, of seclusion. I was positive: She didn't need it.
It took years to get her out of Resource Room. And after hearing for those years that moving up would be difficult, that she needed to be there, had to be there, she believed it. Internalized it. Despite her obvious progress, she was mentally glued in place. We had to scrape her free from both her own restraints and those of the school that didn’t want to let her go. We had to prod her, then shove her, pouting and complaining—and one night, fearfully crying—into “mainstream classes” her junior year of high school. And that’s where she is now, a senior, calmly plugging away at her work, looking at colleges, taking two gifted-and-talented courses that revolve around teaching. She wants to be a special education teacher.
It was eleven at night, a mischievous time for two elementary school students to be awake. This time, before our night of playing with worn-out Barbies, we had planted a failsafe. Lauren’s hair consisted of elastic brown curls, so she grabbed one of her stuffed poodles and neatly tucked it in, making sure the snout was facing the wall and the covers only slightly suspiciously covering the head. A pillow was stuffed under the blankets, and voilà: instant body double. I did the same with my bear, though because I was on the top bunk and Mom was barely tall enough to pat my head through the rail, my body double had a larger chance of success.
I sometimes feel like a terrible person. When I describe her, and if I mention the disorder—which she herself still doesn’t mention, for fear of being seen as different—I always tack on, “Seriously, if you met her, you wouldn’t even be able to tell.” By arguing so fervently against LLD, by adding this qualification, am I raising her up by putting others down? Because I know the connotations of the word. She knows the connotations of the word. It was one of the reasons I didn't want her in LLD. Of course, I truly didn't think it was necessary for her. But I was afraid that if they forced her in, she would never be able to fight her way out. That the label "disorder" would become tangible, branded red-hot onto her forehead for everyone to see and make their own misguided assumptions. She’d be trapped.
When I heard the unmistakable soft thuds of bare feet against carpet, I signaled to her and we hid. Lauren crouched at the end of the bunk bed, covered by the dirty clothes overflowing from the laundry basket. It was the superior hiding place, and being a generous older sister, I let her have it. I slipped in a corner across the room, beside a large bureau and in front of the closet. If Mom turned around when she stood in front of the bed, she’d see me pressed against the wood. I motioned for Lauren to be quiet and still.
In came Mom, making good on her promise to tuck us in. Three hours late. She kissed the poodle on the head, mumbling “goodnight,” and then swore under her breath as she narrowly missed smacking her forehead against the bedframe. She stood on her toes and snaked her hand through the rails to brush her fingertips over my bear’s soft fur.
She turned around—my stomach jumped to block my throat and I covered my mouth—and without so much as a glance backwards, she shuffled out, leaving us in silence.
Writer, editor, and professional cat-petter, Amanda Farbanish is a junior English major with a concentration in communications and media, a writing minor, and an Asian studies minor at Drew University. She hopes to create both better writers and better writing, one word at a time.