My cat Frida is going on her sixteenth year and—as with any centenarian—is hard of hearing. Frida’s eyes are still clear and without blemish, her teeth intact, so she’s otherwise winning in the age game despite the fact of her world now monasterial in its quiet. Maybe she’s winning because her eardrums have retired their vibrations. I don’t know—I just wonder if she feels we’ve inexplicably stopped talking to her.
I’m only guessing, but I don’t think felines have an idea of what deafness is. Frida just yowls louder now when entering a room, the way people raise their voices when speaking to out-of-country visitors. But volume rarely equals comprehension despite the instinct to raise a voice when feeling misunderstood. I’ve learned to make eye contact with her until her whiskers point antennae-like recognition. Every night she visits me where I sit on the couch writing; she announces her presence, then curls up on the backrest of the sofa, legs wrapped around my neck like a living stole, head next to my ear. She’s replaced our usual conversation with more tactile communication, and purrs something she herself probably can’t hear.
Finn appears in the living room at night, too. Like clockwork, even. At midnight, there is the click of a bedroom door, then the sound of little feet trundling their way through the kitchen.
“Daddy—‘wahr’,” and Finn will tap his chin with the ASL ‘W’ before sidling next to me on the sofa, thumb resolutely in mouth. ‘Water.’ Then Finn will tap at the screen of my laptop, not understanding the magic, yet, of the keyboard. I’ll retrieve him a cup of water, our ritual, and then lift him from his perch and replace him in bed. These are the ways you communicate in the appreciable quiet, when the mockingbirds have given up their late night din in exchange for crickets and paraques and when we could all be deaf yet still hear everything.