Author of Amy Signs, Rebecca Gernon, advertizing her book via a tee shirt. Can you read what is printed on the shirt?

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 Sneak Preview of Chapter 1 of Amy Signs

Four Words: Rebecca 1969

An anxious sigh escapes my lips. In the cold December air, my warm breath is a small cloud which soon vanishes, but my concerns do not. I remove my daughter, Amy, from her car seat, position her on my left hip and trudge through ankle-deep snow toward the doctor’s office. The wind is cold and raw; so are my thoughts.

"Come on, John." I extend my right hand to my three-year-old son. He runs to catch up with me lugging my purse.

Pushing the door open with my body, we enter an unfamiliar waiting room packed with adults. Heads turn toward us. I scan the room for a vacant seat. An old man seated between two empty chairs nods at me and moves to the right. I smile my thanks.

"Sit down there, John." I motion to the empty chairs and walk to the receptionist’s desk.

John climbs onto a chair and squirms to the back of the deep seat. The toes of his rubber boots jut toward the ceiling. He is a compliant child, happy to do what I ask without question. In public he is quiet, almost to the point of shyness, but at home he talks and talks.

The warmth of the office is stifling. While holding Amy, I loosen my wool scarf and unbutton my coat. "I’m Rebecca Willman. Amy’s here to see Dr. Profitt." The receptionist nods and hands me a clipboard. I add my name to the long list and retreat to the vacant chair.

I sit Amy in the chair to remove her snowsuit. When I pull off her knit cap, static electricity sends her wispy blonde hair skyward. I smooth the flyaway hair and pull her floral tee shirt over the top of her pink slacks. I help John unzip his jacket while scanning the room for a coat rack; there isn’t one.

"Scoot forward a bit, John."

He uses the wooden armrests to pull himself to the edge of his seat, dislodging clumps of snow from his boots. I shove his jacket and Amy’s snowsuit behind him, and then I sit holding Amy on my lap. She squirms to be free, but I do not release her to crawl on a floor covered with snowy footprints and muddy smudges.

The old man beside me tickles Amy under her chin. "What’s his name? How old is he?"

"Her name is Amy, and she’s eleven months old." My exasperated voice tells him he is not the first person to mistake Amy for a boy. Most people pay no attention to her lace trimmed shirts, but focus on her short hair, which has never been cut and assume she’s a boy. Amy inherited my fine thin hair, with one difference. I’m a brunette; she’s a blonde; she appears bald.

"Sorry." He picks up a worn magazine.

"That’s okay. A lot of people think she’s a boy."

A woman in a starched white uniform appears in the waiting room. She runs her finger down the list of people on the sign-in sheet. "Mrs. Carstens. Mr. Beckman."

Two people stand, gather their belongings and disappear down the hall. The nurse scans the room until our eyes meet. She consults the list again. "Rebecca Willman."

I rise, grab my purse and Amy’s small diaper bag. "John, get the coats."

I stare at the nurse’s back as she leads us to a small examination room. "The doctor will be with you in a minute." She exits, pulling the door shut.

Today my worries, not my claustrophobia, press upon me. The tiny room has two chairs, an examination table, a desk, and a metal tray on a stand. The desk is lined with glass jars of tongue depressors, cotton balls, and swabs. An odd assortment of metallic instruments lie on the metal tray.

John sits on the edge of a chair and swings his boots. The swaying boots distracts me momentarily from peering at the metal tools. As I rise to look at the unfamiliar medical equipment, the door springs open.

"Hello," Dr. Profitt says. "Put Amy on the exam table." The nurse stands behind him.

Dr. Profitt is Grand Island, Nebraska’s, only ophthalmologist and ENT doctor. If he wore a red velvet suit with plenty of padding, he could pass for Santa Claus. Under his snow-white hair, black-rimmed glasses perch on his nose. His voice is soft; his gaze filled with solemn concern. He looks over the top of his glasses at Amy. He cups her chin in his hand and tips her face toward him.

As he examines Amy ears with various tools, my nervous chatter fills the room. Dr. Profitt nods and says "Uh huh." When I gasp for breath, he asks about Amy’s birth and medical history. I rattle off the requested information.

CLANG! "Sorry." The nurse grabs the heavy metal tuning fork she dropped on the metal tray and nestles it into a foam slot in a wooden box. She moves to the door.

"I don’t see anything physically wrong with Amy’s inner and outer ears," Dr. Profitt says, "but, she does not hear."

December 13, 1969, 10:15 a.m., those four words ring louder than the dropped tuning fork. Moments ago my voice filled the room, now my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth.

While Dr. Profitt explains his examination, I recall the countless times Amy moved her lips in silent imitation to my chatter or was unresponsive to loud noises. What kind of mother am I? I should have known she didn’t hear after the Fourth of July. Cherry bombs and whistling rockets exploded near us and Amy slept through the entire fireworks display. People around us couldn’t believe she didn’t wake up. That was my wake-up call and I missed it. From my subconscious stories my mother told me about visiting the Chicago School for the Deaf when she was a child surface. "Deaf children don’t speak because they can’t hear their language," she told me. I’m an idiot. I should have known this months ago.

"Rebecca." Dr. Profitt jars me from my self-persecuting reverie to the stark reality of the examination room. "You should have my diagnosis confirmed by an audiologist."

Confirmed? Isn’t hearing bad news once enough?

"Do you want me to send a letter to the university’s audiology department requesting an appointment?"

Always ready with a quick response, I’m locked in a slow-motion world, speechless. The nurse’s pen is poised to write my response on Amy’s chart. John has added thumb sucking to his boot swinging behavior. Dr. Profitt removes a small flashlight from his shirt pocket and flicks the light off and on. Amy reaches for the light, and he gives it to her. My answer will set the room in motion. Seconds pass. I force my dry, paralyzed tongue to move.

"Yes."

"Good." Dr. Profitt nods to his nurse. She scribbles something on Amy’s chart. He lifts Amy from the exam table and hands her to me, taking the flashlight in the process. Turning to John, he pats his legs. "You look just like your Daddy." Before exiting he says, "Tell J.W. and Esther ‘Hello’ from me the next time you see them."

"I will." J.W. and Esther are my husband Jack’s parents. I could pass Dr. Profitt’s greeting to them fifteen minutes from now if I stopped at Willman’s Grocery on my way home, but I’ve no desire to utter ‘she does not hear’ in a busy store.

Outside I suck cold air into my lungs. An hour ago the sun shone; now the sky is sullen and grey. A light snow is falling, covering the dirty, two-week-old snow with a pristine blanket. This could be a sign. Don’t give up hope, Rebecca. Dr. Profitt could be wrong.