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HIGH LIFE : And a Child Shall Lead Them : Joyce Clark Has Interpreted the World for Her Deaf Parents

July 02, 1988|GRACE CHOY | Grace Choy, who will be a senior at Sunny Hills High School, is co-editor of the school's magazine, the Quest, a member of honors societies, served as junior class secretary and enjoys snow skiing. and Her story first appeared in the Sunny Hills student newspaper, the Accolade, and received the first-place award for feature writing in the Los Angeles Times Orange County Edition High School Journalism Awards competition

"Love Is Never Silent."

This 1985 made-for-TV movie depicted the life of a teen-age girl with deaf parents and the struggle between having a life of her own and being their link to a hearing world.

It is a story known all too well by Joyce Clark, who will be a senior at Sunny Hills High School in the fall.

"That's how my life is," said Clark, 17, whose parents--Richard, 57, and Margaret, 48--have been deaf from birth.

"But it's not as hard for me as it was in the movie," Clark said.

Unlike the parents in the film, Clark's mother and father enjoy meeting her friends and encourage her to go out.

"What I have in common with that girl in the movie," she said, "is that both our parents use us as interpreters."

Some may wonder how Clark handles this different home environment, but it is a situation she accepts because she has grown up with it.

She is the only child of Richard and Margaret, who met at the L.A. Club for the Deaf and have been married 20 years. She has a half-brother, Larry, whom she met for the first time when he moved to the area from Denver.

"I guess you could say I learned to sign before I talked," Clark said matter-of-factly. "I've always known it, and I probably signed 'Mama' before I actually said it."

Mel Sorenson, an old family friend who is also hearing-impaired, lives with his family near the Clarks.

"They have four hearing kids, and I'd always stay at their house," Clark said. "I learned to talk and sign over there."

Sign language is Clark's only means of communication with her parents, since they are unable to read lips.

Her parents used a sound-sensitive light system to monitor Joyce when she was a baby.

"They had an intercom system hooked up," she explained. "When I cried, a light went on in their room."

The lights, which are hooked up in almost every corner of every room in her parents' Fullerton house, are sound-sensitive and now tell the couple when the telephone or doorbell rings.

"When the doorbell and phone ring at the same time, all the lights are flashing and it's kind of crazy," Clark said.

Two problems her parents encounter with this system are that if someone knocks at the door instead of ringing the bell, they won't know it. Also, during the day it is difficult to see the light for the phone.

"They have a phone for the deaf, and it's just like a typewriter," Clark said. However, the person on the other end must also have this specialized phone in order to receive and send typed messages.

Once, after returning home from a vacation over the Christmas holiday, Richard and Margaret Clark forgot to turn their light system back on, and Joyce Clark had gone out that night with some friends.

"When I got home, I realized that I had locked my house key inside the house, and I had no way of getting in," she said. "All I could do was walk down to a nearby store and call a friend."

She left a note for her parents on the front door and stayed at her friend's house that night.

Despite the obvious drawbacks of being deaf, Clark that there are some advantages.

"Deaf people are more careful drivers than 'normal' people because they know they're deaf and so they pay more attention," Clark said.

"And on Friday morning, when the garbage trucks come, they don't wake up because of the noise."

Serving as her parents' "ears" has given Clark her share of frustrations as well as opening opportunities to her.

"When I was a kid, everyone made fun of me (because she was signing). Once people found out my parents were deaf, they wouldn't come over because they thought I was strange or felt awkward."

Clark finds that those friends who do get the chance to meet her parents "get along" with them, almost making a game out of trying to communicate.

"It's almost like charades or something," Clark said, laughing. "If someone comes here and just says two letters in sign language to them, they'll love him forever."

Clark is trying to make her parents less dependent on her. She is refusing, more and more, to go places with them to interpret, instead telling them to find their own outside help, so they will be used to doing it when she leaves.

"They depend on me a lot," she said, "and it will be a lot harder for them to let me go in the future. I'm trying to make them independent."

Her mother, who said she no longer wants to bother Clark "with everyday things," is not afraid to do things on her own, be it going to the grocery store or to her job at Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton.

Margaret Clark works in assembly, where it is so noisy that the company requires all the employees to wear earplugs--except Margaret and a few other hearing-impaired workers.

"I've always felt left out and lonely," Margaret Clark signed. "I'm constantly asking, 'What did they say?' when other people are talking."

Richard Clark, who was raised on a farm in Texas by parents who did not know sign language, recently underwent surgery on his back and is unable to work.

Said Joyce Clark: "One day they surprised me by coming home and telling me they had bought a new car, and I thought, 'Gosh, they really are getting independent.' "

She said it would feel strange when they reach a point of not needing to rely on her as much.

"It will be like, 'Oh, are you sure you don't need me to do something for you?' "

She is still unsure what she will do come next June, when she graduates from high school.

"In a way, I would like to go far away," she said. "I'm tired of being here, and it's tiring living with deaf parents."

Clark has had plenty of time to get used to the stares and questions she and her parents receive when they go places and communicate in sign language.

"When I was a little kid, I'd stick out my tongue at (people) if they stared, but now I understand that they think it's something neat."

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