Beyond Words

by Sally Hokosawa
June 12, 2016

Sally Hosokawa is a Community Fellow for Writers’ Group, a Swearer Center Community Program that facilitates creative writing workshops for adults with developmental disabilities. She studies literary translation in the Comparative Literature Department.

“My name’s Roger, and I love the Red Sox.”

    It’s the first writing workshop of the year, and my brain races to capture the torrent of new names to learn. Roger, like A-Rod, except I guess he’s a Yankee...right?

    Still trying to remember the color of Rodriguez’s uniform, I turn to the brunette woman sitting to the left of Roger.

    Before I get a chance to ask for her name, the site supervisor interjects. “She’s Caroline. She doesn’t speak much, just signs a little bit.”

    Caroline offers her name sign, a “C” handshape next to her chin, and waves.

    C for Caroline... like Sweet Caroline.

    “Nice to meet you, Caroline!”

    Today, we decide to write about our favorite objects. Roger begins writing about his baseball cap--Red Sox, of course. Lucy asks how to spell “coffee,” and Jake draws a fishing boat.

    I crouch down next to Caroline. “What do you want to write about?”

    She looks at me, silent.

    I try to draw upon my sign language skills to elicit response, but my hands end up in awkward positions. Caroline doesn’t react to my jerky hand movements, and I realize that she can understand speech just fine. Still, she remains expressionless to any questions I sputter out. Nervous sweat starts to form as I ponder my next attempt at communication.

    Then, Caroline leans over to Mary, who is engrossed in a story about her ring. Reaching over, Caroline’s fingers curl around the pink beads threaded onto the string of Mary’s sweater.

    “You like beads, Caroline?”

    “Yuh!” She beams.

    “What do you like to do with beads? Do you use them for crafts? Yeah? Like making jewelry?”

    Caroline’s face lights up again at the word “jewelry,” and I scribble it down. Finally, I feel like I am gaining a glimpse into Caroline.

    “What should we write next? What do you like about beads?” I clench the pencil, eager to continue.

Caroline smiles back in silence.

Again, we have hit a communication barrier.

    Scanning my eyes around the room, I see the other writers hunched over their paper. Lucy has already made her way onto the second page, but Caroline and I only have two contrived sentences so far. I bite my lip.

    A firm touch jolts my attention back to Caroline. Her soft hand grasps onto my bony one.

    “Ha!” She shouts.

    A smile radiates from sweet Caroline’s face. Is she also feeling this warm, this friendship, this mutual understanding? Though we don’t quite share the same language, with this one touch, I feel a budding connection.

    I give Caroline’s hand a squeeze and put down the pencil. We do not need words.

    After workshop, the writers shuffle out of the room. Caroline’s walker scrapes across the floor, but pauses for a moment. She turns her head to look at me.

    I think about opening my mouth to call out goodbye, or to salute her in a traditional sign language farewell. Instead, I stand silently and smile.

    She smiles back.


*Writers’ names have been changed for confidentiality.