My first memories are shaped by my pink, beaded scrunchie that worked hard to hold back my tangled ponytail, made messier throughout the day as I navigated the world as a preschooler.
My hair is the type to tangle even more each time I brush it. As my mother showered me in detangler, my curls resisted. Eventually, she gave in to the messy pony. It quickly became my signature look.
As my peers walked into class with their flawlessly sleek hair, they would often ask me why my ponytail was so bumpy. To that, I would reply, “Because I like it that way.” I didn’t actually like it at the time, but I learned to stand by that statement.
Ever since, my ponytail has been by my side through life’s biggest moments: my first day at a new school in first grade, my first time leaving the country and the day I committed to Lehigh. As I grew out of my scrunchie, replacing it with dark brown hair ties, the reason for my ponytail remained the same. I have always felt the most myself with my hair tied back.
While my ponytail has accompanied me in life’s best moments, sometimes big moments sneak in and catch me by surprise. As I grew older, some of the biggest moments in my life were the ones that I had been trying to avoid. Regardless, they arrived with an unpredictable ability to set things off balance.
It was September of last year when I decided it might be time to find out why I couldn’t hear friends’ whispers or my professors’ “mumbly” voice in class. I knew that I couldn’t let, “Wait, what?” become my signature saying. I had much more to say.
When I walked into the audiology center, I was the youngest patient by roughly 40 years.
“I’m going to take your photo now,” the secretary said softly.
“I’m sorry, what? I didn’t catch that,” I said as she snapped my patient photograph.
The photo captured me in my last moment of denial. While it isn’t the most flattering shot, it marks a turning point toward acceptance.
As I walked past the older patients, my youthful pride guarded me as my ponytail swung.
I’m only 20 years old. There’s no way that this is actually a problem. It must all be in my head.
A few minutes later, I sat in the noise-cancelling booth, anticipating the beeps. With the control in hand, I was determined to hear each and every one.
“Do you hear anything?” the audiologist mouthed through the glass as I shamefully noticed that the test had already started, and I had yet to hear a single beep.
With a lingering silence in the booth, I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to smart my way out of this one.
Just 20 minutes later, all of my “wait what’s” and “I can’t hear you’s” were marked on the hearing loss chart. The doctor diagnosed me with moderate hearing loss and walked me to the room where I could see the display case of hearing aids to choose from.
As I sifted through the models, I noticed one feature remained the same: they all sat visibly behind my ear.
“Are there any that don’t go behind my ear? Just so people can’t see,” I explained to the doctor.
The short answer was no. With that, it became apparent that my hearing loss would be on display for the world to see.
As I came to terms with this new normal, it was the little things that felt the most threatened.
What if I want to go for a spontaneous swim? What if professors pity me? Most importantly, how will I wear my hair in a ponytail?
My high, messy ponytail had been there through life’s biggest moments. But as one of life’s more difficult and surprising moments entered my life, I was ready to ditch it completely. I knew that with my hair pulled back, my hearing loss would be revealed for all to see and judge accordingly.
The first day with my hearing aids, I woke up early to make sure that my hair was prepared to be worn down, a very rare occurrence for me. As I twisted it and watered it down, my hair was finally tamed.
As I went about my day, sounds that others have come to tune out filled me with a child-like curiosity.
Not only is the sound of my typing extremely distracting, but it’s also quite satisfying. Apparently, the refrigerator makes a noise, which may become annoying overtime. Birds seem to have a lot to say, as well.
As I took this new world in, I knew that I never wanted to live in a world without the pestering sound of my fan at night or the birds’ faint tweets in the morning.
But while elated by the clarity of my friends’ voices and swoosh of cars outside, something was still missing.
As I came home from my first day with hearing aids, I flipped my head over and pulled my hair back. With my hearing aids sitting behind my ears and my bumpy ponytail sitting proudly on top of my head, I had never felt more myself.
I know that it may take time to accept the fact that people will ask questions or over-annunciate to me when they see my hearing aids. I know that there will be days that I leave my hair down to cover my hearing aids. I know that people may ask, “Why do you need hearing aids so young?” out of pure curiosity.
As I learn to grow from this struggle, I remember the preschooler with the messy ponytail that navigated the world with an endless supply of wonder and excitement. Through the good and bad, there was always a new sight to see, new people to meet and new sounds to hear.
At some point, 5-year-old me learned to stand by the statement, “Because I like it this way” as my ponytail became a staple. As I work to own all that life hands me, I will work to accept the beauty that lies between life’s biggest moments, both good and bad.
I’m definitely still adjusting to my new ear accessory and its home behind my ponytail.
I can spend my time wondering who I would be without hearing loss, but that would be silly.
Grueling over who I could have been without my hearing loss is like asking 5-year-old me who I would be without my ponytail. I simply wouldn’t be me without a few tangles and bumps along the way.
I’m confident that someday when I look back on this time and move forward with my hearing loss and messy ponytail, I will say, “I like it this way.”