Yanny and Laurel came to visit last night. It did not turn out well.
My wife and I were watching Stephen Colbert, just beginning to nod off and prepare for bed when the doorbell rang. We don’t get many visitors, and certainly not at night. Odder still, the big German Shepherd who guards our house from people just walking by on the street and breathing her air, did not stir. I should have taken that as a bad sign. Instead, I turned off the TV, went to the door and opened it.
The man said something, but I couldn’t make it out. The woman said “And I’m Laurel. Can we come in for a moment?”
I led the couple into our living room. The dog didn’t look up. My wife stood to greet the visitors. I said, “Honey? This is Laurel and, uh…”
The man spoke and extended his hand. My wife took it and said “Good to meet you, Yanny. Won’t you come sit with us?”
She led them into our little den and gestured to the high-top table. They took seats on the far side. I asked if they would like some wine. Laurel said “Yes, please. That would be wonderful.”
The man said something. My wife said, “One beer, coming up.” She turned to me when I hesitated and said, “Dear?”
I served our guests and sat with my wife on the other side of the table, she closest to Yanny, and me near Laurel. Like people sometimes do when they feel they have a sympathetic ear, Laurel began at once talking to me of their problems.
“It’s been really bad” she said. “We can’t understand what’s happening. Up until a couple of weeks ago everything was fine. But now, it’s like a nightmare.”
I saw my wife listening to Yanny, nodding her head as he spoke, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. “What happened?” I asked Laurel.
“We don’t know why, but suddenly, some of our friends and family can’t hear Yanny when he talks. The rest can’t hear me!” Her eyes widened as she spoke, and she nervously worked her fingers on the stem of the wine glass. “We’ve been married for five years, and everything was fine. But now…”
Her voice trailed off as she looked down at the glass. She raised it and took a sip, her trembling hand agitating the dark wine into tiny waves.
I couldn’t think of anything to say except, “What?”
“We’ve learned since that no one can hear us both. Store clerks, the mailman, our neighbors. Some can hear him, some can hear me, but not both!
“But” I said, still with nothing to say, “that can’t…”
It’s even worse than that” Laurel said, setting the glass down carefully. “I can’t hear him, and he can’t hear me!”
“Oh my” I heard my wife say, “that’s terrible!” Yanny went on talking, nodding his head, but still I heard nothing.
“I can’t hear him” I said, feeling embarrassed, “but I can hear you.”
“Yes, I knew as soon as you came to the door. Yanny spoke but you didn’t answer. We’ve learned how to tell quickly who can hear him or me.”
“But, how? Do you know…”
“Oh, I can imagine!” my wife said, taking Yanny’s hand in hers. “You must feel so cut off, so lonely!”
Laurel took a long sip of wine and again moved slowly and carefully to set the glass on the table. “We don’t know what happened, or how. We went to a doctor, and he could only hear Yanny. When he explained our problem, the doctor brushed it off. Said that people can hear some frequencies and not others. He said it was just a fact of human physiology.”
“Well? What can you do about it?”
“We don’t know! Neither does the doctor. We’ve tried to find something on the Internet, but it says the same thing. People hear differently. That’s all!”
Laurel was near tears. I looked over at my wife and saw her dab at the corner of her eye with her finger.
“We can’t go anywhere alone” Laurel said. “If I went shopping and no one could hear me, I’d be lost. If we’re together, we know one of us will be heard.”
“But then, you can’t hear each other?”
“No, we can’t. We’ve been trying to use a sort of sign language, like we were deaf. We write notes. We point. Sometimes I can read his lips.”
Still caught up in her story, a small voice made me wonder. “I don’t mean to sound harsh” I said, trying to not sound harsh, “but why are you here? Why have you come to see us?”
“We’re trying to find someone who can hear us both” she said, meeting my eyes. “We’ve been up and down the neighborhood, knocking on doors, for two days now.”
“What if you did find someone?”
“We thought, maybe, if one person heard both our voices, they could help us figure out what went wrong. Maybe their hearing could be tested to see what’s different about them. We don’t know, frankly. We’re desperate.”
I felt like I was watching someone drown and had nothing to throw for rescue.
“Well” I said, then hesitated, not wanting to say it, “I guess we’re not able to help.”
“No, I guess not.” She looked down at the wine glass and put her hands in her lap. “I’m sorry we disturbed you so late.” She looked up at Yanny, who met her eye and nodded. As we all rose from the table, he spoke to my wife and again took her hand.
“That’s all right” she said. “No trouble at all. I’m just sorry we can’t help. I hope you can get this all straightened out soon.”
“Thank you” said Laurel. Yanny only nodded sadly.
I led the pair to the door and waved goodbye. I decided I had no words. Even if I did, they would be useless. I watched them walk, his arm around her shoulder, down the driveway and turn left at the street. I wondered if they were going home now, or would they ring the bell next door.
As I closed and locked the door, my wife sat back in her living room chair. “Isn’t that just the saddest thing?” she said. “I feel so sorry for them.”
“Yes” I said, sitting, and pushing back in my recliner with a sigh. I suddenly felt very tired. “I can’t imagine how they feel.”
“I have to say, though” my wife said, a familiar tone in her voice, “I didn’t like her much at all.”
“What? Why not?”
“She didn’t even try to speak to me. Not one word!”
“You couldn’t hear her, could you?”
“She could have tried. Made eye contact. Something. She just sat there cooing over you like a fan girl.”
“She wasn’t cooing, she was crying!”
“And what about him, huh? And you? The two of you looked like kids crushing over each other at the malt shop!”
“He was in pain. He was reaching out.”
“So was she!” I kicked the footrest back underneath the chair and sat up. “But I wasn’t caressing her hand like you were his!”
“I wasn’t caressing… I was just trying to offer some solace.”
We were silent a few moments. My wife tucked her legs underneath her, as if she was settling in for a while.
“And I didn’t like her dress, either” She said.
“What about her dress?”
“That tight, stretchy white and gold number? Out to, supposedly, look for people to help them with their problem? Yeah, right.”
“It was blue and black, not white and gold.”
My wife turned and looked at me with a puzzled frown. “Are you blind as well as deaf? It was white and gold!”
“And it showed off her curves nicely. What’s that all about, huh?”
“Well what about him? In that ridiculous thing? I’ve seen them before, on the Internet. What’re they called?”
“Yeah, a Romper. A Romper is something you put on a toddler! What is a grown man doing in such a stupid outfit?”
“I thought he looked fine in it.”
“Of course, you did! It really shows off his… his… you know!”
“Oh, stop it! You’re being stubborn and foolish now!
“I’m being foolish? I’m being foolish?”
I pushed back hard and flipped the footrest up and let out an exasperated sigh. I knew from long experience that the argument would go on for a while. I also knew that for the next ten minutes or more, neither of us would really hear what the other was saying.