For almost a year, we lived at the Oak Ridge apartment complex, eight-unit blocks of government-subsidized housing, divided by grassy spaces and massive oak trees.
Our neighbors across the hall were Travis and Jeff, two single men in their early sixties, and Sunny, a yellow Chihuawa. Both men were deaf. Sunny, not to be outdone, was missing an eye. When my older son first noticed this he offered to go find Sunny’s eye, probably imagining it rolling around on the ground like a shiny black marble.
Travis was a heavyset Black man who rode in an electric wheelchair with Sunny perched in his lap more often than not. Regardless of the weather, Travis always wore colorful knitted hats.
Jeff was small and thin, with hunched shoulders and a ragged gray beard. He was the more talkative, or perhaps I should say communicative, of the two. Travis kept his distance with a bob of the head or a regal wave as he buzzed by.
One Sunday morning as the boys and were getting ready for church, I heard a commotion in the hall. Jeff and Travis were being even louder than usual, apparently. Up until having them as neighbors, I had entertained the misconception that deaf people would have no reason to shout, scream, bang on things, etc. This is not the case. Not only were Jeff and Travis loud, they also seemed unaware of how their noise might be disturbing to other people, which, upon reflection, makes perfect sense. But I digress.
I opened the apartment door and looked out.
Jeff was beating on his apartment door. With gestures, grimaces and a few scribbled notes (I generally had a stash of paper scraps ready for these occasions) he conveyed that he’d been locked out. As he occasionally did, he asked me to make some phone calls for him. I called the Hickory Trace Emergency Maintanance number (the man was there but disinclined to become involved) and a locksmith (closed Sundays) it occurred to me to ask Jeff where Travis was. Travis was inside, Jeff wrote. But there was a catch. He was asleep in the bedroom.
Jeff began jumping up and down in hopes that the vibrations would carry through the floor, wake Travis, and Travis would wheel out to investigate.
This seemed unlikely. Jeff was a small person and the bedrooms are in the very back of each sizeable unit. But I didn’t have a better idea, so we jumped up and down together, Jeff in his oversize pants and frayed plaid shirt, me in my Sunday best.
While my boys and Sunny the Chihuawa watched in wonder, I brought out my biggest metal mixing bowl. Jeff and I took turns beating it against the ground right outside the door, willing the vibrations onward.
Then Jeff got another idea. He wrote and asked if we had a flashlight. His plan was to go around to the back of the building, shine the light through the bedroom window, and bounce the beam around until Travis woke up and noticed it. This seemed to me only slightly less farfetched than the vibrations theory, but I was game to give it a try.
We did have a flashlight, but it had gone on an out-of-town trip with my husband. I decided to go outside and see if there might be anybody up and about who could lend us a flashlight.
It was quiet, as Sunday mornings at Oak Ridge always were. With the exception of us and a Black family across the way who would make their stately and rather ostentatious process down the middle of the courtyard each Sunday morning, nobody seemed to go to church.