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By Aubrey Hart Sparks

Edited by Dan McGlothlen

I decided my relationship with Bob needed some change. If Seattle had been a larger city I could have just made him go away, but as it is small I would see him on Broadway, going to the grocery, the gym or my favorite restaurants. I had to admit that he had potential, but still I kept him at a distance with the armor of my politeness. Partly, this was due to the politics in the leather circles in which we both spun.

Bob's second sash event was burning wieners and hamburgers on the patio at a bar while he forced a smile and was determinedly clever. It was a success, but about halfway through, he realized he had hit the ceiling in the leather contest circuit. He had gone as far as he could go. Most leather contest winners arrive at this place. As Bob's contest year came to a close, everyone thought of him being successful. He was successful. I do not remember his speech as he took the sash off to give it to the next generation, but I do know that while he seemed to be concentrating on delivering it, he was actually worrying about what he would do next.

That night Bob had a horrible dream where he saw a large herd – mooing and chewing, moving toward the butcher. He woke. Getting out of bed to get a glass of milk, Bob was sweating and his hands were trembling. The memory of the dream floated away.

A large part of his problem was that now he was the Dowager. What was his responsibility? He had no idea where or how he would continue his journey. Would he spend the rest of his life sitting on a bar stool, holding onto his romantic memories? His father had done this. His father had been a successful high school jock, not knowing at the time that this would be the peak moment of his life. From the other side of his life, his father could see that he had slipped, without realizing he was slipping, into a dumpy middle age. He was a pencil pusher, a middle manager who spent his free time saving his life with credit cards. He consumed anything and everything. He groped, with each compulsive purchase, around the edges of his life and found nothing there but failure. Bob wondered if he would be the same.

Bob asked me to lock him in my iron cage. He was asking to begin leather training.

I simply asked him, "Why should I train you?"

He was shocked.

"There are already too many problems in my life at this moment," I said. "Why should I put you on my list of things to do? I am still seeking my 'home'. How can I give anything to you when my well is so dry?"

We eventually agreed that, if he got some profession counseling, I might help him unlock the door to his erotic freedom in my cage. He agreed to my suggestion. This was the first time I felt that our agreements were positive – looking forward, rather than the usual falling backward.

I thought that this conversation was done but realized a moment later I had more to say.

"Okay," I said, looking directly at Bob. "Do you want to know why I am at angry at you?"

As usual, Bob was the deer in the headlights. "Yes, please. Why?"

"This is why: Bob, you want to be my friend, you want to be in love with me, but you have never adapted so that we might communicate better." I paused to let him process this as his gears ground along. "Do you understand that being deaf and being hearing impaired are not the same?"

"Yes," he said, but I could tell he did not understand.

"I am hearing impaired. It would be easier if I were deaf. Being hearing impaired makes everything more complex for me. Obviously I am not deaf, but hearing impaired. A person might be called hearing impaired if he is deaf in one ear but not in the other. Perhaps his ability to hear was burned with too much sound. Perhaps he cannot hear pitch or rhythm and so forth. There are a thousand different hearing impairments. For me, I can hear sounds, but my ability to communicate was broken in my stroke. This is called aphasia."

I looked at his face to see if he was following this. He looked as though he were feeling guilt over being selfish. And he spoke. Whatever he said, he said it so quickly it was impossible for me to hear, to understand.

I sighed. "Let me approach this differently with you," I said. "You consider yourself in the contest circuit. But are you aware that there is a deaf contest in addition to the others?"

"I think we talked about it before. But how it that relevant?" he asked.

"There is a man named Michael Ratzlaff who lives in Seattle, who participated in the International Mr. Deaf Leather Contest. He won. He is the first deaf person in the history of that contest to win from the Pacific Northwest region. The bottom line is that you will have to communicate with this man because you are both now part of the local contest circuit. And if you are going to connect with him at all, which I am sure you will want to do, you'll have to adapt your communication skills for him. And of course you'll do that because you'll see that, since he is deaf, you have no choice. The problem is, Bob, that – because you are in the hearing culture for all of your life – you assume too much. You would adapt your communication skills for Michael, but you have never attempted to do so for me."

Looking at Bob's face, I could see that the tiny cup of his brain had been full twenty minutes earlier. Everything I had just said was like the tea pouring over the brim. The saucer was full now and the tea was falling onto the linen tablecloth. I saw he wanted an exit.

Perhaps I could have gotten a spoon and dug into his armor, down to where I might have seen if he had a heart or not. Was he worth it?

I said nothing. I have the ability to hurt people with my mouth because my words can cut. I wanted to hurt him, but all we would have gained from that was more pain and nothing else.

I silently waited. I had served the ball into his court. I wanted to see if it would come back. It was his choice now.

Post comments about this story at the truetales blog.

The preceding work is entirely fictional. Any resemblance between its characters and actual people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental – except you.

This chapter from Equal Thirst is reprinted with permission of the author. The author adds that he "hopes that you will read the Equal Thirst archives, with clues hidden in there for you to see if there will be a happy ending or not."

This page is part of the disabilities issue of True Tales, which includes articles, stories, photography, and links related to leather and disabilities.

About the Author


Aphasia. [American Speech-Language-Hearing Association]

Copyright © 2005 Aubrey Hart Sparks. All rights reserved.
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