Music

The Loss of Dear Things

This has been going on for months – maybe even years. I think I am losing my hearing. Certain voices have become hard to hear – it is almost like the sounds don’t register even as I see words being formed on lips, and it is especially hard to hear some voices when there is a noticeable bit of background noise. So, I made an appointment to have a hearing evaluation.

Blue on left ear, red on the right.

As I anticipated the evaluation, I thought of reasons that may have contributed to hearing loss.

I suffered from repeated ear infections when I was younger. One ear infection episode in my mid-20s was so protracted and painful (multiple steroid and antibiotic courses) that I was damn near ready to turn in my ears for good. Just be done with them.

Earless seal. This beast seems to get along nicely without ears.

Could an ear infection from half a lifetime ago – one that lasted for several weeks – have tipped the balance toward a slow hearing loss?

Through the years I have worked at some super loud jobs, but have often worn ear protection. Would the times I did not wear ear protection have created a crack in the armor to contribute to some permanent hearing loss?

And then there are these.

A sampling of tickets stubs representing a fraction of the concerts I have attended.

These tickets stubs represent a fraction of the live music concerts I have attended over the years – mostly without ear protection. There would certainly have been a negative cumulative effect on my hearing from all the beautiful (and very loud) music I heard through the years. Could it have been a single incident? Was it Deerhunter in 2010? Stereolab several times in the 90s and 2000s? Metallica in 1989? Dead Kennedys in 1984? One of the half dozen or so times I got to see the Flaming Lips?

The evaluation was this morning. I have been thinking for weeks about what hearing loss would really mean to me. What would it be like to lose something so dear?

Then, last night, I learned that someone who was very special to me had died. (She was special to everyone who knew her, by the way.) My friend, my Dear Steffanie, had an incandescent smile and an easy laugh. She also had a very cruel disease, (as well as punishing complications that followed her disease,) that she dealt with in an almost superhuman way. A truly brave way.

We became friends in junior high school and became closer in high school. We went to the same college, and perhaps it was there especially, as we matured and our lives became more complicated – even though the trajectories of our individual lives continued to diverge – we became closer still. Our friendship, (even just thinking about our friendship,) acted throughout my adult life as a placeholder for returning to a time when things were blessedly simpler.

Learning that Steffanie had died made me want to listen to music. Music was her default mode, and she was herself a talented, joyful singer. At first, I thought of listening to sad, pretty songs sung by women. I listened to Teardrop and Song to the Siren sung by Elizabeth Fraser.

But I quickly concentrated on the news that Steffanie had died at peace, on her terms, and surrounded by family and with her friend Jon. I decided to find some upbeat songs from the time when we were young. I wanted songs that would represent youthful abandon. I disregarded the lyrics or found instrumental songs that would make me close my eyes and bob my head. Songs that I would want to play very loudly. Songs to remember times when my friend was young and healthy. Here are a few.

You, The Night, and The Music by Tones on Tail from Burning Skies EP (1983).

I’ve never felt better in my life…. The Classical by The Fall from Hex Enduction Hour (1982).

Magic, magic, magic… Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic by The Police from Ghost in the Machine (A&M 1981).

Ladybird by XTC from Mummer (1983).

Windout by R.E.M. from Dead Letter Office (IRS recorded 1984 – released 1987).

I “passed” the hearing test this morning, which is good news. I get to keep exploring what is going on there, but for now the assessment is that my hearing is normal, and, of course, the whole thing seems pretty insignificant in light of Steffanie’s passing. So I have let that go for now and instead I have been thinking about how lucky I have been to have had such friendships. Even when we’d drift apart sometimes, we could pick back up where we left off with a shared language.

I have been thinking of all the people whose lives my friend touched. I have been thinking about losing dear things. And I have been thinking that there are some things that you never lose.

Dear Steffanie, goodbye. Among other things, you were a proud redhead with a blinding grin. A teacher, a singer, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. There was no one else like you. Your very presence was cheering. You were easy to love. Thank you for the memories, dear things I will never lose. Goodbye, Dear Steffanie.

Barramundi by This Mortal Coil from It’ll End in Tears (4AD 1984).

Rest… Ma Soeur by Tindersticks from Nénette et Boni.

Friends. Steff and me at our 30 year class reunion. She would smile, and she would make you smile.

28 Feb 2018

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