My wife wears ear plugs when I talk to her. Not always, of course. Not in public. But most mornings, and on weekends often for extended bonus periods. We both started wearing them years ago, tired of each other’s snoring. I take mine out once I’ve rejoined the conscious world, but Geneviève says she “likes the quiet.” Apparently the deafening roar of our child-free, pet-free, top floor apartment in a detached home of sleepy west end Toronto disturbs her ritual of reading the news on her iPad. (A dinner guest once commented, sitting on our front patio: “it’s like we’re in the country”.)
Once she’s up and about, the ear plugs persist. Whether it’s a quick trip to the kitchen for juice or an hour of chores, they remain firmly lodged in place. Occasionally there are unfortunate consequences if, like me, you’ve exposed yourself to the full aural spectrum of domestic life. With her hearing muted, she gains an increased tolerance for the volume of any activity, which can transform an already noisy task into a thunderous one. If you think putting away cast iron pans into that drawer under the oven is loud, ask someone to do it wearing ear plugs.
In her defence, I think she may need these sessions of peace and quiet as a counterbalance to weekdays working in live television news, where she tells me she regularly listens, via separate headsets, to two competitors’ broadcasts simultaneously.
Mostly it’s the ear plugs’ impact on casual conversation that gets to me, since the most common initial reply to something I say or ask is “Hmmm?” or “What?” even though she’s three feet away. I once complained about having to shout when she’s so close, but she helpfully suggested that the situation provided good practice for when she’s old and deaf. When I insist she take them out so I can speak at a normal volume, she complies, but with a bit of a sigh. She removes one — just one — and turns her good ear toward me, a not too subtle “I trust this is important” look on her face.
Despite an absolute objective confidence in the sanity of my request, her expectant gaze will sometimes cause me to question the value of what I had to say. But, following her suggestion of embracing opportunities to prepare for our twilight years, I might start using these moments to repeat the same question I had only a few minutes earlier, or to say I can’t remember what I was going to ask. I’ll just tell her it’s good practice for when I’m old and forgetful.