Study Guide

The Orange Houses Suffering

By Paul Griffin

Suffering

She got by just fine when she kept her hearing aids turned on. She didn't much. The machines were what City Services could give her, old technology that jug-handled her ears and rattled her with phone and radio static, a high-pitched whir. They sharpened and dulled everything at the same time the way water will just below the surface. But turned off and plugging up her drums, the aids screened out the world. She lived for this silky silence. (1.6) 

Mik's hearing aids don't sound so hot. (See what we did there?) Even she admits that they are not the best the world currently has to offer, but it's all she can get. You'd think they'd be her worst enemy, but she prefers being in control of what and how she hears the world. 

This was what it was all about—the sadness muted. She could live and die without hearing another people-made noise. Except that guitar. (3.9) 

This wonderfully poetic description of what it's like to not hear the world seems beautiful on the surface. Except when you think about the guitar. Mik desperately wants to be able to enjoy the sound of music just like everyone else, but instead has to suffer without it. 

She heard him in her ear, a low, distant rumble, soothing but indecipherable. She clicked on her aids. "Say again," she said. She could talk a little in front of Jimmi. He never would make fun of anybody. (6.21) 

Embarrassed to talk, Mik feels like her voice sounds strange. It's great that she feels comfortable enough to talk to Jimmi, but it also reminds us how <em>un</em>comfortable she feels the rest of the time. She'd rather use sign language and read people's lips than speak. And while there's nothing wrong with sign language, since she's surrounded by people who don't know or use it, it's isolating.

She woke with an ear infection. This happened once a month. She was used to the pain. She went through the drill: scrub the ears and aids with hot soapy water, then peroxide, then coat them with Neosporin. She popped the first of the ten generic antibiotic tablets that were always on hand, always liable to upset her stomach. (12.2) 

Check out how her ear infection is described: She's <em>used to </em>the pain and does a <em>drill </em>because it happens so frequently. It's easy for us to forget the way Mik's hearing impairment affects her life when we're reading a book, but passages like this remind us of the regular suffering she goes through. 

"These are much smaller machines, quite comfortable, and you'll have far fewer ear infections. The new aids would let you keep your ear canals open and maximize your natural hearing. You won't have those plugs stopping up your ears." SO I WON'T BE ABLE TO BLOCK OUT THE SOUND ANYMORE? (16.14) 

The doc can't understand why Mik would care if the new hearing aids could turn on and off at will, like her old ones. To Mik, this is just about the worst news she could receive, though. Why? She likes to control the sound instead of having it control her. It allows her to suffer less in her mind. 

It would be too much, she wanted to say. So many people making noise, so much garbage getting into my head. Folks like Shanelle, that idiot Jaekwon, dumping their nastiness on me. And the other folks, the ones crying out with complaints, trying to hitch up their problems to me, as if sharing their sadness will lighten their burdens instead of doubling them. As if I can do anything to cure their ills. Making me realize I'm powerless. I can barely get by with all that craziness blunted. Reality straight up? No thank you. Connecting to full-blown reality is tapping into full-blown insanity. (16.22) 

When asked why she wouldn't want to hear, this is Mik's response. Of course it's only in her head, because she's too ashamed to vocalize any of it, but it's really telling. The word that jumps out at us the most is <em>powerless</em>—she feels like she's stripped of her own agency with the new hearing aids. 

Mik cradled the old radio. A hip-hop symphony throbbed in her arms, rib cage, spine, neck, popped and crackled in her old aids. The low frequency notes soothed her before the song started to fade. Mik cranked up the volume, but the music slipped further and further away. Her hearing aid batteries were dying. (16.31) 

Mik's dependency on her hearing aids is clear when she can no longer hear the music playing on the radio. It makes her think twice about whether she loves her beat-up hearing aids so much. 

Mik clicked on the aids. If sound were color, everything was too bright. If it were a hand, it scratched the backs of Mik's eyes with sharpened nails. The metallic sizzle in her throat reminded her of the time that girl in second grade tricked her into licking the top of a nine-volt battery. (24.23) 

We love color, but we get how too much of it can be overpowering at times. For Mik, her new hearing aids are so strong that it's tricky to get used to. Even with the aids that are supposed to be an improvement, she still struggles to find the right setting and pitch. 

"Moms doesn't have to work so hard and nobody's lonely and nobody fears and I can hear it all pain free." She opened her eyes.

Jimmi nodded. "What all you hear, angel?"

Mik smiled. "What's real." (37.27) 

What do you think Mik means by "what's real"? It's a poetic way of looking at life, yet we want to dig a little deeper. Is she talking about the fact that she only hears things that are important, or said loudly enough? Or is she pointing out that she only turns on her hearing aids when she <em>wants </em>to hear something? 

The cat's purring was nice in her new hearing aids. Across the breezeway some old dude was playing sax in his kitchen. Folks argued, TVs screamed commercials, police helicopters chucked. The world was loud, no doubt about that. She thought maybe she could get used to it. (45.27) 

In the end, Mik decides to give the new hearing aids a fighting chance. She doesn't <em>love </em>them, but she's open to the possibility of using them—and we can't help but notice that Fatima gently encourages her to get to this point. Besides, Mik's seen enough drama and pain that she wants to stop her own suffering. 

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