thanks to the blood leaking from my eardrum, my right ear had to be perpetually plugged with a cotton ball which, despite repeated reminders from my parents, i always failed to remove during photo-taking so this time in our lives has gone down in family forward history as "caroline's cotton ball years."
1990 was especially rough in oline ear history. my mother and i went traipsing to norcross nearly every week so doctor franco could poke about in my head and ponder what he wanted to do.
i don't remember much about these visits, except that- with the advent of lasers and modern medicine and whatnot- the methods seem severely primitive now. the anesthesia unnecessarily brutal. the recovery surprisingly difficult. and o the tools! they were like something from a museum devoted to Medicine Of The Frontier.
whenever doctor franco put his instruments in my ear, i would look plaintively at my mother, who sat in the corner of the room calmly smiling in a power suit. presumably this was meant to be reassuring but, in my characteristically melodramatic way, i interpreted her smiles as a failure to fully appreciate my pain. in retrospect, the process was as torturous for her as for me and the sad cow eyes i cast in her direction every time the otoscope nicked my inflamed ear canal undoubtedly did not make it easier.
this was back when the nerves still worked. when i could feel things. (it is, at times, a small mercy to be numb.)
several months into all of this, after an aggressive surgery followed by my stunningly poor performance on a particular hearing test, doctor franco took my mother aside and quietly warned her that there might be nothing more he could do.
my mother nodded curtly, gathered our things and shoved the cotton ball back in my dud ear. she put us both in the car and drove us one parking lot over to target, where she marched to the music section and fished a cassette out of the bargain bin.
this was presented as my great reward. for what, exactly, i did not know since i was well aware that in a test involving tones i had heard none.
that this cassette was composed of visibly cheap gray plastic only further lessened its value in my eyes.
but my mother said we had had a hard day and we did not know what the future held. and she put that tape into the tape deck of the mini-van she'd made my dad buy her only to realize she did not want to drive a van, and turned up the volume higher than i'd ever known her to turn up the volume on anything before.
and that is how i met elvis. on a day when, faced with the prospect of her daughter going deaf, my mother bought burning love & hits from his movies, vol. 2.