Excerpt from BUT YOU LOOK SO NORMAL: Lost and Found in a Hearing World 

Excerpt from BUT YOU LOOK SO NORMAL: Lost and Found in a Hearing World 

by Claudia Marseille 

PROLOGUE  (977 words)

It was the day of the citywide elementary and middle school track meet, and I was elated that I’d made the cut, one of only two students at our school. At age eleven, I was a good athlete and very fast, and I was thrilled to have the chance to compete against other sixth and seventh graders from across Berkeley. I’d trained hard for this day. For weeks after school my teacher, a soccer coach, drilled my friend Mark and me hard on our school playground, yelling at us to sprint faster, faster! Day after day I pushed harder and harder as I raced Mark—the only kid in our school who could run faster than I—and I could feel myself getting better. I also depended on Mark to help me navigate the hearing world. Like my brother Elliot, Mark was very attuned to me. On the playground he faced me directly and clearly repeated what had been said, carefully explaining where we were to line up, how far we’d be running, and who had taken first, second, and third place.

Now standing in the center of the field, I surveyed the bustling scene, and to my surprise I didn’t see anyone I knew. Athletes wearing their school colors stretched out on the grass or jogged in place, excited families settled into their seats in the bleachers, coaches with clipboards dashed here and there. My heart thumped in anticipation of the moment when I’d launch from the starting line with the pack of runners, sprint neck and neck alongside other contestants fiercely determined to beat me, and then, finally, stretch into the finish to break the tape. That morning, I fastened my bulky hearing aid with an extra strap to ensure it wouldn’t fall off from where it was clipped to my undershirt. I was ready.

I was eager for my mother and father to see how fast I could run, and I looked all around, anxious to spot them in the crowd. Searching the glaring hot metal bleachers, I finally spotted them sitting across the field from each other. Their fraught divorce had left them with no desire to sit together, even to show united support for me. My father looked grim and formal in his dark wool suit, and he wore a handkerchief on his head, each corner tied with a knot, which created a kooky little hat to protect him from the sun. I watched him wipe sweat from his forehead and wondered, why on Earth would he wear a heavy suit on such a hot day? Far across the field from him sat my mother, looking cool and elegant despite the sweltering heat, fumbling for something in her purse.

In the distance, I saw a coach yelling instructions into an orange megaphone as sprinters began to line up for races, but I couldn’t understand a word he said. I had trained at my familiar elementary school playground, and I was totally unprepared for how the track meet would unfold in this unfamiliar place. I still didn’t see anyone I recognized, and I began to panic. Was one of my events just now about to start? Where should I go? Mark! I thought. Mark will tell me what to do, where to go. Frantically, I whipped my head around looking for him, but he was nowhere to be found. Then, as kids started running, I stood frozen, a little statue in the middle of the field as races whirled around me. Coaches darted about, herding kids and lining up racers. Athletes whizzed past me as they took their places, ran their races, and whooped with joy when they won. But nobody asked if I needed help. No one seemed to notice that for almost an hour I hadn’t moved from where I stood rigid on the track.

Finally, it was all over. As everyone streamed off the field, I saw my father in the distance, slinking away through the far exit. My mother was waiting for me by the bleachers, and we walked slowly towards the car. She looked concerned. “Why didn’t you run in any of the races?” she asked.

I burst into tears. “I’d no idea where to line up! I couldn’t understand the man with the megaphone or what any of the kids were saying.”

My mother nodded and murmured sympathetically, but that was the end of the conversation. From the bleachers, both of my parents had sat and watched me just stand there. Why hadn’t they run across the field, grabbed me, and guided me to an adult in charge? Why didn’t at least one of them recognize that I was in trouble and needed help? And now that the humiliating event was over, there was no exploration of what had happened, why I was so lost, and what might be done to spare me such shame in the future.

As my mother drove us home, I cried quietly in the seat next to her and gazed out the window at the constant activity and clamor that made it so difficult for me to hear or understand people around me. A motorcycle roared in front of us, a bus screeched to a halt to our left, a truck beeped insistently as it backed up on our right. Whenever I was amidst these kinds of city sounds, all I could hear was the tremendous clamor. And most of the time, interior spaces weren’t much better; as I sat next to my mother, the rumble of our car made it virtually impossible to understand her unless she turned to face me, which she couldn’t do while driving. Tears ran down my cheeks as I realized, once again, how terribly alone I was. Every day I struggled to understand. There was so much I was missing. Meanwhile, almost nobody was listening.

© 2024 Claudia Marseille


At age four, Claudia Marseille was diagnosed with a severe hearing loss.  With determination and the help of powerful hearing aids, she learned to hear, speak and lipread. She was mainstreamed in public schools in Berkeley, CA. After earning master’s degrees in archaeology and in public policy, and finally an MFA, she developed a career in photography and painting, a profession compatible with a hearing loss. Claudia ran a fine art portrait photography studio for fifteen years before becoming a full-time painter. Her paintings are represented by the Seager Gray gallery in Mill Valley, CA, and can be seen at www.claudiamarseille.com.  

She has played classical piano much of her life; in her free time she loves to read, watch movies, travel, spend time with friends, and attend concerts and art exhibits. She and her husband live in Oakland and have one grown daughter. 

Find out more about her memoir, But You Look So Normal: Lost and Found in a Hearing World, due out in May from She Writes Press, at www.claudiamarseilleauthor.com, www.facebook.com/Claudiamarseilleauthor, www.instagram.com/claudiamarseille,   www.linkedin.com/in/claudia-maseille-49620384