You’d have to know Arnold to understand. Most of us call him “Absent Arnold” – and we’re his friends! It’s because he can so focus on one thing (or several) going on his mind that he can’t hear what is spoken to him.
I should have been forewarned when we were dating. He’d sit next to me in a booth eating a burger with one hand, holding a book with the other, keeping his knee pressed against mine so he’d be aware if I happened to slip out of the booth without telling him.
Oh, but I could tell him: he just wouldn’t hear me. Hard of hearing, you say? Naw. We’ve had his hearing checked—three times.
I was honestly worried that at our wedding he wouldn’t hear what the minister was asking, “Will you have this woman…?” But I had checked to be sure he wasn’t carrying any contraband reading material, I’d had the scripture verse above the altar covered up so he couldn’t read that, and positioned his best man so close to him that should there be a hesitation, the best man would give him a subtle kick in the shin.
You see, Arnold thinks—no, he really believes—he invented “multi-tasking.” He thinks the world just finally found a name for what he’s been doing all his life. And no one yet has been able to convince him that they actually said something to him, but he hadn’t paid attention. He claims he “didn’t hear.”
Stand in line at the bus stop? Arnold is reading a small pocket New Testament, listening to music on his iPod, and planning his day’s schedule, entering it in his PDA. Ask him a question about any one of the three, and he’ll be able to answer you—usually.
Yes, we had him tested for Adult ADHD. Nope. All clear there. “But,” I said to the doctor (or more like “whined” to the doctor), “he doesn’t hear me when I talk to him!” Which is what I told all three doctors who tested his hearing, and then sent him to this ADHD specialist.
So I’m convinced there is just something in the particular timber or tone of my voice that is outside of his hearing range. I mean, if he can do all this multi-tasking, why can’t he hear me? (I forget, at these times, that other people express the same problem with him.)
Take the other day. I was in the kitchen getting breakfast. Arnold had just come in from his morning run, and as he headed for the stairs I asked him, “Are you still picking up the kids from school?”
“Sure, hon,” he answered cheerfully. I wasn’t fooled.
“Then you’ll be sure to kill the crocodile in the pool before they get home?”
“Absolutely will,” his voice floated down the stairs.
He came close and looked at me like I’d just begun speaking in tongues (which, as everyone knows, Presbyterians don’t do).
“What did you just say?” His tone matched the look.
“What did you just hear me say?”
“I think you said something about a crocodile in the pool,” he said, those lovely eyebrows knitted in bewilderment.
“Yes,” I said, “and what did I say before that?”
“Huh?” I could see the wheels turning, thinking fast. “You didn’t say anything before that.”
“AHA!” I yelled, accidentally flipping the butter knife through the air in my exuberance. You DON’T listen to me.”
“I DO listen to you,” he argued. “But you didn’t say anything before you said that stupid thing about the crocodile in the pool!”
“Arnold, you were closer to me when I asked you about the kids than you were when I said that about the crocodile. You should have been able to hear me!”
I stepped closer to him. “Arnie,” I squeezed his shoulders and looked directly into his face, “this is what I’ve been talking about. You tune me out.”
“You can’t accuse me of that if you don’t know for sure whether or not I actually heard you,” he argued sensibly.
Somehow I got the feeling that this conversation—or one very much like it—was taking place between couples all over the world.
Females will hear a lover’s smallest whisper, the baby’s faintest cry, the bending of the grass as the intruder steps upon it at the corner of the yard, and can do this simultaneously.
The male is busy going, “Huh?”
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