A Blind Ear Transcript

A note about this transcript: The Moth is true stories told live. We provide transcripts to make all of our stories keyword searchable and accessible to the hearing impaired, but highly recommend listening to the audio to hear the full breadth of the story. This transcript was computer-generated and subsequently corrected through The Moth StoryScribe.

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So, I grew up in a deaf family. My mom is deaf. My dad is deaf. My mom's parents are deaf. Almost all my aunts and uncles, they were all born deaf. And this usually prompts a lot of questions. I'm sure you've got some, so you know what? I'm just going to answer the top three questions that I usually get when people find this out, so we can just get that out of the way.

Yes, I know sign language. I learned how to talk, because I'm not deaf. And, yes, I'll teach you all the dirty words, but after the show. Now, when I was seven years old my dad moved us to the woods of Texas. And I

say woods, but this was snake-infested forest. And we camped in tents. We didn't have running water, no electricity. We didn't have plumbing, so we used an outhouse. And we did all this while we were clearing the land, preparing for the arrival of a trailer.

And eventually my dad built us a one room tin shack that we all shared. And my dad led this expedition for this trailer, and he dug a water line that tapped into a natural spring well. He dug a septic tank and created a plumbing system so we didn't need that nasty outhouse anymore. He even brought us electricity.

He did this all on his own and to me as a kid, man, this was like he was like Daniel Boone and Frank Lloyd Wright and Ben Franklin just all rolled into one. And I was his baby girl. He would have done anything for me, including risk his life.

There was this one time on the ride back from Galveston Beach, and I was riding in the back of our Chevy pickup truck. And my flip flop just tumbled out of sight. I don't even know how I lost it, but seeing it tumble down the Houston highway made me burst into tears.

And my dad saw this, saw me crying in the rearview, and he would have none of that. So, he brought the Chevy to a screeching halt, backed up down the highway, jumped out and ran across four lanes of traffic. Cars are swerving, dodging, people screaming and honking. It was mayhem. And I wasn't crying anymore. And my dad, he got that flip flop. He raised it up like a trophy and he ran back, swerving through, dodging cars. And he gave it back to me, and he said, [signing] "Don't cry, baby girl. Don't cry."

He was a superhero. And he was my dad. But he was also a husband, and not a very good one according to my mother. After 22 years of marriage she had gotten fed up with the spontaneous lifestyle of his, this wild life of the party and, you know, the financial troubles that came with it. Oh, we had gotten the trailer, but the trailer got repossessed. And we moved back into that one-room tin shack.

And so we relocated to Fort Worth. My mom and I shared a two-bedroom apartment and my dad got some crappy studio down the street. And, now, I knew about the money troubles because as a Child of Deaf Adults – or a CODA – I answered the phone, and I interpreted the bill collectors' calls. I negotiated payments. So I knew about this side of their troubles. But I didn't really know about their fighting, because unlike hearing parents, who might shout - you would overhear shouting - I didn't hear them because they fought behind closed doors. So, I also didn't see them. 

But one night- one night I did see them fight. It was August 15th, 1988, and something woke me up, which, as a CODA, should have been a signal that something was not right. Because, you know, one of the false assumptions about deaf people is that they're quiet. No. They have no regulation at sounds. They are burping and slamming cabinets and banging pots and pans. They are obnoxiously loud. And as a CODA, you just tune out the sounds of everyday life.

But this night it is like three in the morning, and something woke me up, and I went to investigate. And I saw the light was on in my mom's bedroom. And I peered in, and I see her lying on the floor, and my dad is straddling her, and his arm is cocked back, ready to punch.

And seeing me in the doorway made my mom, like, shift her head. And in that split second my dad hit the floor and missed her face by a fraction of an inch. If I hadn't been in the doorway, he surely would have hit her. And in hearing this thunderous crack of his knuckles on the concrete floor, with that cheap carpeting over it - it stunned me and, and I just backed up away from them. They scrambled to their feet and everyone's screaming and crying. My dad is threatening to kill her and then kill himself. And I have never seen my dad hit my mom. I've never had him lay a hand on me. He never spanked me my whole life. This was terrorizing.

So, I raced to my bedroom and I called 911. Now my first instinct was to protect my dad. See, in the deaf community, stories were often circulated about how the police would show up and a deaf man wouldn't know that the police were commanding them to stop, or drop their weapon, or put their hands up. And the deaf person, of course, didn't know that they were being yelled at and so didn't obey these commands and they were shot dead.

This is a story that I would hear all the time. And so my first thought to the operator was, “Please, make sure, make sure that the cops know that my dad is deaf and he might not do what they say. But I'll be here, I'll take care of it.”

And so I tell my parents that the cops are on the way and they calm down and they sit in the dining room and that's when I noticed there are holes all over the dining room wall. And I think, well, maybe that's what woke me up. I don't know, but when the cops arrive, they don't care about the holes in the wall. They don't care what I witnessed. They don't care about what the 911 operator told them. All they really wanted to know was the status of my parents' relationship - were they still married? 

Now, yeah, technically they were still married. You know, they were separated. “My dad - his name isn't even on the lease,” I told them. Well, that didn't matter. Did he have personal belongings here? Well, yeah, he had some clothes hanging in the closet, and toiletries.

Well, that gave him a right to be there. The laws were different then. This is before the Violence Against Women Act. This is 1988, and what happened behind a family's closed doors was their business - a weird don't ask, don't tell policy. He, therefore, had a right to be there. All they could do was ask him to leave. Ask him to leave, not tell him. So after 20 minutes of negotiating, my dad finally says, "Okay, fine. I'll go."

And the cops assure me that they will follow him and make sure he's out of harm's way - our way - even though he was clearly blitzed and in no condition to drive. But hey, if they didn't care, I didn't care, and they were gone. And my mom and I just, we didn't even hug. We were just shocked, stunned I guess, and we just went back to our bedrooms. I mean, like, what do you do after you've witnessed this? Go to sleep.

So, I'm waiting, trying to fall asleep. But the adrenaline's still pumping through me, and, I'm thinking about working the next morning and that's when I hear just this tremendous crash. And I leap out of bed, and I see my dad charging down the hallway straight at me. In one body slam he has knocked the front door completely off its hinges, just destroyed it.

And I grab this rotary phone that's sitting by my bed and I start to dial 911, which, I gotta say, in the age of rotary phones - Nine? Really stupid number to have to dial in an emergency. It hasn't even gotten back to its starting position and my dad's already reached me. He's got the cord in his hands like he's going to crack a bullwhip, you know, and he goes like that and rips it right out of the wall.

He corrals us and pushes us into the dining room and he makes me and my mom sit there while he interrogates my mother about who she's sleeping with. And I, you know, I can't hear them fight, obviously, so I just cover my eyes. This is a way to, I guess, maintain some dignity for my mother and also because I don't want to know these details about my parents' relationship.

And hours pass, and I can see that the sun is rising. I'm not going to work in the morning. And my mother is not giving my father any emotion; she's just a blank slate. And this starts to, I guess, just get on my dad's nerves to the point where he decides to turn his attention to me. He wants to make sure that I know what a horrible human she is and what a horrible wife she is. And he starts to graphically describe her sex life to me, “Your mother is an S-L-U-T. Slut!” 

I search his face for a sign of who, who, who is this person? Where is my Dad? And he's searching my face for a sign that I'm on his side. And I wasn't. This made him snap.

He grabs my mother by the neck in one move, slams her against the wall and starts choking her to death. And her heels are like digging into the wall like she's trying to pull herself up and she's got her hands around his wrist, like, just trying to get some leverage, anything. And I think, “Okay, what can I do I? I can grab a finger. If I can just grab one finger and bend it backwards, he'll have to let go from the pain.”

So, I just try to focus on just one finger, if I could get my fingers behind one finger. And I couldn't. He was so strong. He was too strong. And my mom's face is turning purple, her eyes are bugged out, and the vein on her forehead is fat and might burst and so I change tactics. He's so focused on my mom's eyes that I get between their faces and I make my dad look at me.

"Look at me! It's Kambri, your baby girl."

And his eyes start to well up with tears. And I see, “Oh, it's working, it's working! I'm gonna keep doing this.” So I keep saying it, "It's Kambri. It's me, your baby girl. Your baby girl."

And with that, he just lets her go. So, I race to the dining room phone, which, thank god, was a touch-tone, and dialed 911. And I hear the operator say, like, "911, this is an emergency," or, "What's your emergency?"

But my dad, he's already reached me. He grabs the phone and slams it into the cradle. He grabs my mother by the back of her hair, forces her into a seat and pulls her head back and now has a knife that he's pulled out of his back pocket at her throat, that he's made long and lean.

But since he's deaf, what he doesn't know is that the whole time, the phone is ringing. 911 had called immediately back. And I have a choice. This whole time I'm thinking, I have a choice. I can either try this baby daughter routine, or I can grab the phone. And I know the baby daughter routine won't work. I'm the enemy now. He sees this.

So, I made a choice and I ran for the phone and I screamed, "He's back!" And in that instant, seeing my mouth moving, my dad, he knew the jig was up. He knew it was done. So, he dropped the knife and tried to make everything look like it was in order again. And the cops, they were there in a blurry instant. And one officer is tending to my mother. And while they're working with her, the other one asks me to interpret my father's Miranda rights.

So, I start to interpret them, “You have the right to remain silent.”

And that's when the other officer is like, "Oh, maybe we can do that back at the station." 

Yeah. Maybe.

And they tromp through the front door. And they left me and my mom just to pick up the pieces, and for a variety of reasons my mother didn't press charges. And because of the laws being what they were then, my father was never really charged with anything too serious. He got four years probation.

And over time I discovered that my father had been a cheat from day one. He had cheated on my mom the day they were married, the whole first year of their marriage. He had been abusing her the whole time, too, but because she used to make him fight behind closed doors where I couldn't hear and I couldn't see, I didn't know these things.

And so she had given me this superhero of a dad - crazy memories of just this wild, carefree father. And that's the one that I have to choose to remember, that Daniel Boone, that Ben Franklin, and Frank Lloyd Wright, all wrapped into one. The father who would rescue my flip flop. Because he thought it meant something to me.

Thank you.