With pathos and nostalgia, the author recounts his roller-coaster ride with Pearl, a vivacious deaf maverick, who, unknown to him, had paranoid schizophrenia. We follow their encounters through actual notes written before Derrick learns sign language; we go on their motorcycle ride to Mexico and Guatemala; we watch as the happy couple moves to Bowen Island, a British Columbia community with just three paved roads. Pearl and the author marry and build their dream home and hobby farm. They encounter one obstacle after another while building their life together as Pearl’s perception of reality—and, crucially, their perception of each other—begins to change. The author learns what it means to be deaf, what it means to struggle with mental health, and what it means to love such a woman unconditionally—the ecstasy and the agony. There are other books about discovering schizophrenia in the family and about deaf woman-hearing man relationships, but none that tells the true story of a woman who struggled with both.
I walked into a roar of conversation, bought sushi, and shuffled through the lunchtime chaos of the Pacific Centre Food Court, looking for a seat. Umbrellas and overcoats dripped water onto the white tile floor.
A black-haired woman sat under the clock, her back to the wall, scanning the crowd with radar eyes. Her porcelain face, brown eyes, and high cheekbones gave her face a long-distance presence, yet her elegance was neutralized by a brown dress and a perm. Her drab style contrasted with the gaudy colors and big hair of the 1980s. She wore no makeup or jewelry. Her radar locked on to me as I looked for a seat.
The seat opposite her became vacant. I elbowed my way through the crowd and sat down. I was wearing a blue suit with a white shirt and a silk tie; like most bankers, I only removed my jacket on the hottest of summer days.
I loosened my tie. I ate while she studied me with the barest hint of a smile. I smiled at her and looked away. She looked at me while she ate fish and chips and sucked down the last of a Coke with a gurgle.
“What are you staring at?” I finally said.
She pointed to her mouth and then to her right ear.
“Are you deaf?” I said, at first puzzled and then surprised.
I took the gold Cross pen from my suit pocket, picked up a napkin, and wrote, “Spicy horseradish.”
I turned my napkin to face her. She read it and smiled at me as if she expected me to write more.
“I wondered why you looked at me. I never met a deaf person before.”
“I watch lips. If you speak and I ignore you will think I am rude. I don’t want hearing to think that deafies like me are rude.”
“Can you lipread?” I said.
The woman shook her head.
“Most people never look at each other. They only look at the floor. That’s why I spoke to you.”
She smiled. “We are 200,000 deafies in Canada. Our language is ASL—American Sign Language.”
“I’m getting an ice cream. Do you want one?”
The woman scribbled on the tattered napkin and pushed it across the table.
She smacked her lips, grinned, and put the napkin in her purse.
I bought two ice cream cones at Baskin-Robbins and stuffed a handful of napkins into my pocket. The music of Madonna played in the background. We sat on a bench in the mall and continued to write. I noticed her fingernails were badly chewed.
The woman shrugged.
“Mother had measles at 4 months pregnant. Lucky not 2 months or I am blind and deaf.”
I smiled. “That’s life.”
“That’s me. I accept my deafness. My children will be hearing.” She looked at her watch. “I go back to work. Nice to meet you.”
The woman stuffed the napkin into her purse and disappeared into the crowd as I watched her walk away.
I went back to the food court just before noon. The silent woman was sitting at the same table under the clock. She looked up and waved at me. I sat down. She looked at me expectantly. She seemed to be about my age, almost thirty, yet her face hadn’t a wrinkle.
I reached into my suit and pulled out a few sheets of paper and my pen.
“I remember you.”
She put down her chopsticks and wrote, “Ha-ha.”
“How are you today?”
“I feel bothered about my real estate. I am stuck to pay mortgage and apartment rent.”
“You must have a good job to afford two places.”
“I work at the post office. I sort mails. Managers and union fight. Something not nice to work there. Good pay but I have Medical Lab Technician diploma at St. Paul Technical Vocational Institute. They have interpreters there.”
“Then why do you work in the post office?”
“After divorce I come back to Canada to Vancouver because a lot of deafies in Vancouver so I can get a good job. But no hospital would hire me. All refused because I am deaf. I got a temporary job at the post office.” She turned the paper to face me so I could read it and then took it back and continued writing. “Six years ago. Temporary. Ha! But I am lucky to have education and job not to be unemployed. Most deafies are unemployed—80%. 1/3 quits high school.”
“I studied too. Electronics engineer, but I work for a Dutch bank. Boring but better than a post office job! I study Spanish at night school. I will start an MBA in September. I want to work in another country. I taught at night school, so a teacher and a student at the same time. My name is Derrick King.”
“Pearl.” Pearl pointed at herself, looked up to check the time, and mimed punching a time-clock. “I must go. 15 minute walk back and PO is strict. Bye!”