No one knew exactly what to expect as we approached the house. The only thing that was definite was that our co-worker Brian would be there. This would be our last time to see him, because he would be leaving D.C. on Sunday, the following day.
Kemet forewarned her friend Uril, “We never hung out with him outside of work before, so we don’t know what kind of party this will be.”
Uril nodded. We were not the ones to be blamed if this turned out to be a bad experience.
Our collective anxiety branched out beyond Brian being Caucasian with ear plugs, blue eyes, a full beard, and dirty blond, spiked hair, because it had already been established that he was cool. It came instead from him being deaf and using hearing aids to communicate with people who did not know sign language.
Outside the house on 1103 7th St. N.E., near Gallaudet University, two guys lean on the railings, while a third exchanged money for carry-out with a delivery driver. The two that were posted casually signed to each other across the third. The three of us walked past them as we had been told to come straight into the house when we arrived.
Walking on to the scene was like coming to a familiar place, but noticing that someone had changed stuff around and took something away. At first, it is hard to tell what it was missing. The party setting was familiar, with everyone interacting in different groups: beer pong, card game, video game match, and plain conversation. It did not take long to figure out the missing piece though. It was background music and conversation chatter.
It took a moment to adjust to the scene which was kind of surreal. From the looks of it, the three of us were the only ones who did not know how to use sign language fluently to communicate. At least, Kemet knew key words and how to spell her name. We spotted Brian. Kemet and I greeted him with hugs and then commenced “work talk”.
“Do you guys like the new manager?” Brian asked.
“Which one?” I responded. “The skinny one with black hair or the red-head?”
“No, not really. He’s kind of stiff and serious, but then again he’s alright.”
I soon got comfortable and began surveying my surroundings. I noticed more purposeful touching and body interaction than I usually saw at other parties. It threw me off until I realized that it was often necessary to get someone’s attention that wasn’t looking at you.
“This is kind of cool,” Kemet uttered. “This is what it feels like when anyone of them is in a room with people who don’t know how to sign.”
Soon, I started to feel embarrassed that everything had to be translated for me. I was not used to living in a world where I had to adjust to those who use their hands primarily to talk. So, rather than stay ignorant, I set out to learn my name in sign language. I wanted to be able to introduce myself to Brian’s friends.
Brian showed me the first time, helped me the second and made me do it by myself the third. I had it, and I was in business. All in all, it was an eye-opening and excellent learning experience. It felt refreshing to be placed in a position that some people too often overlook or sadly do not seek to understand.