Kurt smiled at the man who slipped in a side door and took a seat in the front row. No matter how many times Kurt insisted Dave didn't need to come to his lectures, the other man was always there. Dave had been there for him so many times and Kurt still didn't know what he had done to deserve it. The memories came rushing back to him, just like they always did when he gave a talk. The first few times he had tried to block them, but now he let them rush over him as he spoke.
"It started with a headache. It seems so stupid now. Headaches happen to everyone and we hardly think twice about it. I certainly didn't. I popped in a few over the counter pain pills and headed to class. The pills didn't work, but the pain left after an hour into my day anyway and I didn't give it a second thought."
"I think I should drive you to the doctor, Kurt," Blaine said when Kurt woke up for the third time that week with a splitting pain centered behind his left ear. "My older brother had migraines and the doctor's gave him medication."
"It's just headaches," Kurt said with a forced smile. He threw the covers off him and stood up, willing the world not to spin. "I feel better already. See?"
Blaine looked torn, but in the end he walked over and kissed Kurt gently on the lips. "Fine, but if you need me just call, alright?"
"Yes, sir," Kurt said with a mocking smile. He made himself count to one hundred after Blaine closed the door before falling back on the bed, clutching his head. The pain was excruciating, like someone took an ice pick and jammed it into his brain. Twenty minutes later, he was feeling fine. Aside from feeling a little silly about getting so worried about a headache.
The pattern repeated itself for the next month with one difference – he never told Blaine about his headaches again. About three or four times a week he would wake up to a splitting pain in his head, but he would force himself to get up and act like everything was normal until Blaine left. He ended up missing almost all of his morning classes, and eventually he knew he was so far behind he wouldn't be able to catch up. Thankfully the professor was willing to work with him, and emailed him the notes and a recommendation to see the doctor.
The headaches had been growing steadily worse over time. They were always in the morning and always subsided a few hours after he got up and started his day, but the pain was getting to the point where just the thought of going to sleep terrified him. He would find any excuse to pull an all nighter, preferring the lack-of-sleep headache to the one waiting for him with the morning light.
Normally, staying awake would ward off the headaches. When he did need to sleep, he would do it in the spare room where Blaine couldn't see the tears staining his pillow when he woke up. Where he could lay in the fetal position with his head clasped between his hands in the middle of the night. He had no idea what was happening to him, but it terrified him beyond words.
Four months passed that way. Blaine was worried, but Kurt kept putting him off, explaining his weird sleeping habits as the result of an increase in the difficulty of classes. He didn't like lying to Blaine, but he didn't want his boyfriend to worry over nothing.
"The first time I went to the doctor was five months after the first headache. What started out as one headache became one a day. They usually happened in the morning, but eventually they started waking me up in the middle of the night. A few times the pain was so bad I had to run to the bathroom to be sick.
"I was scared. Terrified. I didn't tell anyone, but my boyfriend at the time, Blaine, and my family could tell something was wrong. They tried to confront me several times, but I lied. I wanted to be an actor on Broadway. I'd taken classes. It wasn't easy, but eventually I convinced them nothing was wrong.
"Until one night when Blaine heard me run to the bathroom…"
Kurt woke up to sunlight streaming in the window, but his relief at sleeping through the night was short lived. The familiar niggling of pain was making its way from his left temple to his right, playing a sick game of hopscotch across the back of his head. He sat up slowly, keeping one hand on the top of his head as if that could alleviate the pain.
So far nothing he had tried helped. At Rachel's instruction, he'd tried yoga. He had also started running in the evenings, but the morning after it seemed to be even worse. Painkillers didn't make a dent, even the ones that advertised for migraines. He knew he was going to have to see a doctor, but every day he found a reason to put it off.
When he was sitting upright, he groaned and leaned forward, resting his forehead in both his hands and his elbows on his knees. He instantly regretted that when the taste of bile rose in his mouth, burning the back of his throat and nose and sending him running for the bathroom. He barely made it in time to empty the content of his stomach into the toilet, knees slamming into the tiled floor so hard they would bruise. But at that moment, all he could think of was the crescendo of pain that doubled down his spine at the rough movement.
He heaved until there was nothing left in his body and even then it was hard to stop. At some point, he couldn't remember when, Blaine appeared at his side. He felt Blaine's cool hands running across his back, brushing his hair back from his face. When he was sure he wasn't going to be sick again, he let himself fall back against Blaine's chest.
"You have to go to the doctor, Kurt," Blaine whispered, arms locked around Kurt's body as if they were holding him together. Kurt was pretty sure they were. Kurt couldn't bring himself to talk, but he nodded in the embrace, letting himself relax.
Kurt hated doctors, a fear that only his dad understood. He had hinted to Blaine over the three four years they'd known each other, but he knew it was an irrational fear. Just because his mother had died in the hospital didn't mean all doctors were bad. But he allowed Blaine to lead him in to the waiting room of the general practitioner a few blocks from campus.
He checked himself in, feeling stupid when he saw a waiting room full of people with valid complaints. All he had were some headaches. It was only Blaine's insistent expression that he forced his hand to work to sign the papers. The receptionist, a young woman with long blonde hair and a perfect smile, was nice, making small talk as he filled in the stacks of paperwork. His shaking hand betrayed his nerves and she reassured him that Doctor Reynolds was very good at his job.
"Kurt Hummel?" Kurt jumped when, twenty minutes later, his name was called. Only Blaine's hand wrapped around his kept him from leaping to his feet like a startled deer.
"Want me to come with you?" Blaine asked. Kurt considered for a moment. On one hand it would be nice to have someone back there with him, but on the other, he really didn't want anyone else to see his embarrassment when the doctor told him it was nothing. He shook his head. "Okay. But I'll be right here the whole time, okay?"
They did all the standard tests Kurt remembered from his childhood checkups – height, weight, temperature, pulse, blood pressure. The nurse who called him back said nothing aside from giving him monotone orders and he had to force himself to breathe. Several times he wanted to ask for Blaine, but he bit his bottom lip between his teeth and waited out the bouts of panic.
After sitting alone in a room for another ten minutes, a middle aged man in a white coat walked in. He was looking down at what Kurt assumed to be his chart, though he looked up at Kurt when he entered the room. "I'm Dr. Reynolds. How are you feeling today, Kurt?"
"I'm so sorry for wasting your time, Dr. Reynolds," Kurt said, standing up and shaking the doctor's hand. "My boyfriend insisted I come in for my headaches."
"I assure you, you're not wasting my time." Kurt sat back down in one of the chairs beside the exam table as the doctor took a seat in the stool. "Tell me about your headaches. How often are they? Do you notice a pattern in when they occur?"
"I've had them for years. But I guess they started getting worse a few weeks ago," Kurt said. "And at first they were three days a week, but now they're more like six days. But they're only in the morning and they always go away after a few hours." He tried to brush them off like they were nothing, but Doctor Reynolds obviously wasn't going to let him get away with it.
"Have you tried any of the over-the-counter pain relievers?"
"Yeah, but they don't really work." He shrugged.
"It sounds like you might have migranes. I'm going to ask you some questions, and I want you to answer yes or no, okay?" Kurt nodded. "Is the pain localized to one side of your head?"
"Not really. Sometimes, but most of the time it…well, it jumps around." The doctor nodded and wrote something on his chart. Kurt couldn't quite read what it said from where he was sitting.
"Does the pain come in pulses, or is it steady?"
"Uh…it's pretty steady, I guess."
"Alright." Another mark. "How would you rate the pain – mild, moderate or severe – through the majority of each episode?"
"Severe," He admitted.
"And does it get worse when you get up and walk around the house or up and down stairs?"
"Not really. It just…hurts."
"Okay. Just a few more, Kurt. Bear with me. Does light or sound make it worse?"
"I don't think so."
"Have you been sick with anything recently? Any virus? Or has anyone you come in close contact been sick?"
"Last one – have you experienced any nausea or vomiting?"
"Both. Just recently, though." Kurt unconsciously swiped his tongue around his mouth, tasting the toothpaste that covered up the taste of vomit.
"Okay, Kurt. It sounds to me like you're suffering from migraines. Now, there are a few things we can try, but first I'm going to give you some oral meds. They take from two to six weeks to take effect, and I want you to come back when you're down to one or two a week. If it doesn't work after six weeks, come back and we'll do some more tests, alright?"
"They didn't work. I hated taking them, but I hated the pain even more. About three weeks in I woke up one morning and it felt like I had headphones on, lowering the sound of everyone around me. It wasn't a big deal compared to the headaches, so I didn't mention it to anyone.
"Six weeks passed and I found myself back at the doctor…"
"Kurt, I've scheduled you for a CT scan later this week," Doctor Reynolds said when he walked in the room. Kurt nodded, feeling tears behind his lids. He blinked them away. The lack of sleep was starting to take its toll on his body, and he would give anything for a full night's sleep. "For now, I'm going to write you something that will get rid of your headaches no matter what the cause is, okay? You can stop taking the pills I prescribed last time."
"Okay. Thank you." Kurt gave a genuine smile as he took the prescription and left.
The pills worked like a miracle. As long as he kept them, a glass of water, and something quick to eat beside his bed, the pain would be gone before it even got a chance to get bad. He caught up on his sleep and managed to get to all of his classes for the rest of the week. He felt normal again, something he'd missed in the past months. The next week was finals week, and as long as the medicine kept the pain away, he could still pass the semester.
Blaine was working on the day of the CT scan, but Kurt assured him everything would be fine. The office staff was helpful, talking him through the procedure. They would inject him with a contrast material, wait a few minutes for it to disperse, and then the scan itself would take a few minutes. The longest part would be waiting for the technician to read the results, which could take up to a week. He signed all the forms saying he understood the risks.
With his headaches under control, his finals going better than expected, and the anticipation of winter break, he almost forgot about the CT scans until he listened to a message from the doctor. The message itself said nothing, just a request for Kurt to come in to the office to discuss their findings. He tried to convince himself there was nothing ominous in that.
When he saw Doctor Reynolds' face a few days later, he knew that his worry was well justified. He swallowed deeply, sitting up taller and tucking one ankle behind the other as he forced himself to mask his fear behind a smile. He felt fine now, except for a ringing sound in his ears that, combined with the muted sound, made it more difficult than normal to hear.
"Kurt, I got the result back of your CT, but I have to say the finds surprised me. Do you have any other symptoms you didn't mention?" Kurt furrowed his brows, unsure what the doctor was talking about. "Any ringing in your ears? Buzzing? Anything at all?"
"That's been going on for years," Kurt insisted. "And a few weeks ago everything started sounding a little muted but…It's nothing, right?"
"Kurt – normally we catch these things fairly early on. Your CT scan showed you had an unusual mass of cells – a tumor – in your brain. There are several options."
Kurt didn't hear anything after that, sitting there in numb silence while the doctor explained what steps needed to be taken from there. When he finished, he gave Kurt a hand out and told him to go home and talk it over with his family. In the meantime, they had to schedule more tests to determine which options were viable.
"After a few more weeks of testing, I was diagnosed with grade II Posterior fossa meningiomas. It was benign, but that didn't really make it sound any better. I'd been experiencing symptoms for years without realizing it. If I'd told someone about the ringing in my ears instead of just assuming it was from Glee practice or the sound of working in my dad's garage, none of this would have happened.
"Instead, I was given two choices…"
Kurt spent the winter break avoiding the pamphlets he'd been given by the doctors. Doctor Reynolds had long since been replaced with a neurologist, an old man named Doctor Cole who smelled bad and tended to jump in to surgery at the first sign of a problem. After his first visit to the neurologist, Kurt threw the pamphlets on the counter of their small, two bedroom apartment and didn't give them a second thought.
The people around him didn't seem to understand. Blaine brought them up at least once a day, finding ways to casually mention them in conversation. Rachel and Finn managed to corner him and ask about his decision once a week. Even his dad and Carol flew all the way out from Lima to be with him and help him. All he wanted to do was spend a normal Christmas together with friends and family.
He threw himself in to decorating the apartment, creating a holiday wonderland. They had a tree for his dad and Carol, a Hanukkah bush for Rachel and the newly Jewish Finn, and plenty of lights and candy and reindeers for Blaine and Kurt, who went the commercial route for holidays instead of the religious. He even made several trips to the fabric store, bringing in all the red and green and white patterns he could find on sale and sewing curtains and pillows to match the theme of the season.
When anyone asked him about his headaches, he said they weren't so bad anymore – some mornings he didn't even need to take any medicine. The doctor explained to him that just because the headaches were lessening didn't mean the issue was any less pressing, but he chose to tune that part out.
It was only at night when Burt and Carol were over at Finn and Rachel's place and Blaine was asleep in the main bedroom that Kurt let himself think about the weight pressing in on him. There was one pamphlet he'd kept to himself, hiding in the pocket of one of his coats. Hearing Loss Due to Meningiomas.
He hadn't told anyone, even Blaine, about his hearing problems. At first it was because he didn't believe it was anything. But after his series of doctor's visits, it was because the truth was too terrible to bear. The doctor had given him the information for a support group where he could go and learn sign language to aid in communication. So far, he hadn't touched that.
"My chance of keeping my hearing was virtually nonexistent. Because of the location of the tumor, surgery would almost certainly damage the sensitive structures of the inner ear. At the rate it was growing, the doctors gave me a year to two years before the tumor itself caused irreversible damage. Either way, I was faced with the actuality of losing my hearing.
"And the surgery carried other risks as well. A blood vessel could rupture, leaving me paralyzed or blind as well as deaf. Plus the chance of brain damage or death was high with a tumor as large as mine. It was a huge decision. One I just wasn't able to make on my own.
"And that's where my story really starts…"
Kurt started to pay attention to his hearing. Every time he missed something, he was sure that he was deaf and he would never hear again. He made every effort to act normal and eventually everyone started acting normal around him again, though he knew the tumor was at the back of their mind all the time.
Eventually it got to where he could no longer pretend. There were certain sounds he couldn't hear. It wasn't obvious, because he could still hear most sounds, but certain sounds were so muted he almost missed them. He panicked, locking himself in the bedroom and refusing to let anyone in.
He sat on the floor with his back against the wall staring into the darkness. He kept the blinds closed and the lights off as if he could will himself into nonexistence. All his life he had one dream. When people threw him into dumpsters and ruined his clothes, when he had to hide a limp from the bruises and when his spirit was so damaged he thought about killing himself to end the pain, there was a single shining light in his future that kept him going.
He would never make it on Broadway without his hearing. He could no longer sing if he was deaf. He wouldn't even be able to listen. It was already over. What use was listening to his Wicked track when he had to struggle to make out each word? His dreams all came crashing around him in the dark room, shattering with a sound that even he could hear.
His phone rang almost constantly. He checked each time, not sure why he bothered. Rachel called six times. Finn called three; Mercedes called eight; Santana, Quinn and Brittany called twice. Tina and Artie called four. Even Mike, Puck and Sam called once. Everyone from his past was trying to get a hold of him. Some of them he hadn't spoken to for months. He didn't answer a single one, just like he didn't answer the door when Blaine knocked.
It was the third day of his self-imposed exile when an unknown number with a Lima area code showed up on his screen. His hand hesitated over the screen a moment before pressing the button to accept the call. He held the phone up to his ear, not saying anything.
"Kurt?" He couldn't place the voice right away. There was static over the line that further obscured the voice's identity. "It's Dave."
"What're you doing calling me, hamhock?" He asked. He'd caught the entire previous sentence, but he didn't let himself be pleased at that occurrence for long. It had been years since he'd spoken to Dave Karofsky. Dave had transferred their senior year, and aside from a few run-ins that year, he had no idea what Dave was doing with his life.
"I don't know," Dave said, chuckling into the phone.
"Well, I'm rather busy, David."
"Shit, Fancy. I heard you were dead, so I'm just…I'm really glad you're not."
"Who said I was dead?" Kurt asked after a long pause.
"Azimio heard from a friend who heard from Puckerman."
"Oh." Was all Kurt could say in response.
"Are you alright, Kurt?" Dave asked.
"Do you even care, Dave? Or is it just guilt over giving me such a hard time in high school? How I am is none of your damn business. It's nobody's damn business but my own. No one knows what I'm going through. None of you would understand!" Sometime in the middle of his tirade he'd started crying, and he wasn't sure Dave even understood the words he was speaking. It didn't matter, because he wasn't yelling at Dave as much as he was shouting at the world. When Dave didn't speak for several seconds, Kurt hung up the phone, letting it slide from his hand and hit the floor with a shallow thud that reverberated in his head.
"None of my friends stopped trying to get through to me, but I wouldn't listen to any of them. I saw their caring as pity, and I hated them for it. I didn't want their support, and I definitely didn't want their pity. I'd always been independent. You don't have many friends when you're the only openly gay kid in a small town like Lima, OH. Until I joined the glee club, I didn't have any friends at all. And right then, the last thing I wanted was to be reminded of what I no longer had.
"I know now that it's my fault that they eventually stopped trying to help me. I don't blame them anymore, but for a long time I was looking for anyone to blame but the person who was guilty. I'm the only one to blame. But I convinced myself they should have noticed – the people who called themselves my friends. They should have told me it wasn't normal to get small headaches every day. Or that when I sang off pitch in practice and laughed it off as a result of a ringing in my ears, they could have told me that I should see a doctor.
"But the fact was, I was so far in denial that I would never face the truth myself. I needed someone to force me to see it…"
Kurt didn't know he'd fallen asleep until the sound of a slamming door and shouting startled him out of a dream. He struggled to identify the voices in his sleep-haze. Blaine's was easy. He'd heard it outside the door so often in the past week. It took him a minute to recognize the other.
"What are you doing here, Dave?" He didn't even realize he'd stood up and flung open the door until he was face to face with the two shouting men. They both faced him at the same time and from the looks on their faces, he realized he must look like a mess. He hadn't bothered showering at all, going to the bathroom only when absolutely necessary and when he was sure he was alone in the house.
"Dave wants to talk to you, Kurt. I told him you wouldn't want to," Blaine's eyes scanned his face and Kurt felt bad for the worry he saw in his boyfriend's eyes. He looked from Dave to Blaine for a minute before finding his voice.
"Okay," Kurt said after a minute. Blaine looked shocked, but Dave just looked determined as he followed Kurt into the bedroom. Kurt closed and locked the door before Blaine could follow.
"What the hell is wrong with you, Kurt?" Dave asked, looking around the room. Old plates were strewn around, most of them still with the food untouched. Kurt hadn't been all that hungry.
"I'm fine," Kurt lied. "I'm just dealing with a lot."
"You're not dealing with shit, Hummel." Dave's cursing made Kurt turn his gaze back up to Dave, eyes narrowing.
"Like you know so much about me?" He asked.
"I talked to your dad, Kurt. He told me about the tumor – "
"Tumors," Kurt corrected.
"Fine. Tumors. He told me you locked yourself in your room and wouldn't talk to anyone. Everyone's terrified about you! Santana's hardly talked about anything else for the past month, and she tells me no one else has either. Even Brittany's been scared. They care about you, Kurt! And you're in here hiding away from the world because you're too much of a fucking pussy to deal with it.
"Well guess what, Kurt? I'm not going to just sit back and let you kill yourself. I don't know why Blaine hasn't done anything, but I'm not leaving until you get your ass out of this room and start living!" Dave stopped talking and his expression changed from anger to confusion so quickly Kurt didn't know what happened. "Shit, Kurt. I didn't mean to…I'm sorry. But…"
Kurt felt tears streaming down his face. He hadn't even realized he was crying, but once he did he found he couldn't stop. He threw himself against Dave, hands bunching the shirt that Dave was wearing as tears stained through the cheap fabric. Dave's arms closed around him, awkward at first. Soon, Dave relaxed and held Kurt as tightly as Kurt was holding him, one large hand rubbing circles on his back.
They stood like that for a long time. Kurt found himself babbling through the tears, and even he didn't understand what he was saying or if he was saying anything. Dave didn't talk back but Kurt didn't need him to. Eventually the sobs decreased, but Kurt didn't let go of Dave. He was afraid that if he did, he wouldn't be strong enough to keep standing.
"I would have believed someone telling me that unicorn sweaters were coming back in style over someone saying Dave Karofsky would be the person to pull me back from my pity party. I knew Dave in high school. I was the openly gay kid and he was the closeted jock who made my life miserable. It wasn't until he kissed me in the locker room after I chased him in that I knew his secret, though.
"I transferred after he threatened to kill me. A few months later I transferred back after he approached me and apologized. Actually, despite our rough start, Dave worked hard to make things right between us. For the rest of junior year he and a small group of people worked to get rid of bullying. I pushed him to come out when he wasn't ready at prom that year, something I hated myself for doing for a long time. Something I never apologized for. He transferred away in senior year and I only saw him three times after that before he showed up at my door that day.
"He was the last person I would have picked, but he was the only one who got through to me…"
Blaine was gone for his class by the time Kurt managed to extract himself from Dave's embrace. He suddenly felt like a mess, tear stains on his cheek and snot dripping from his nose. He told Dave to make himself at home while he went to clean up. The shower was welcome after living in dirtiness for so long. He stood under the scalding water for what felt like hours, letting it wash the grime from his skin. When he was red and raw he stepped out. He slipped on a simple outfit and went to find Dave sitting at the kitchen table.
"You really want to help?" Kurt asked. Dave glanced up and nodded. It seemed like all his anger and determination had drained away in the time Kurt had been in the shower. "Okay."
"Kurt. What I said before…" Dave started to apologize again and Kurt just shook his head as he walked over to where the pamphlets were stashed.
"Don't worry about it, Dave. I know you only did it because you were trying to make things better." Kurt put the pamphlet's down in front of Dave and hesitated. This was the moment of truth. He could tell Dave what everyone else knew or finally confide in someone. It was hard, but he forced himself to go into the bedroom and grab the last pamphlet, the one that no one else had seen.
"At least they're better than Ms. Pillsbury's…or er…Mrs. Schuester now, I guess." Dave tried to make light of the situation and Kurt found himself laughing. Somehow it was hard to take anything serious when reading one of Ms. Pillsbury's pamphlets.
"What was that one? 'Me and My Cancer'?" He laughed and Dave did as well. It was a relief to have someone who didn't go silent at the mention of the 'c' word. Everyone else instantly sobered like they were discussing some taboo subject.
"What's the one you have in your hand?" Dave asked after his gaze skimmed the front pages of the ones he had. Kurt clenched his hand tighter as he lifted it up and set it on the table. When Dave saw the title, he sobered.
"No one told me…"
"That's because no one knows. I don't want anyone to know. Promise you won't tell them?" Dave's lips tightened but he nodded.
"You'll tell them eventually?" Dave asked.
"I won't have a choice," Kurt agreed bitterly.
He spent the next thirty minutes telling Dave everything that had been happening over the past few months, starting with the terrible headaches. Dave listened silently, never interrupting. Kurt avoided looking at him, afraid to see his reaction to some of the more gruesome revelations. When he got to the end he had to push past the tears that once again were threatening to overwhelm him.
"So the doctor wants to cut my head open and remove as much of the tumor as he can, and keep doing that every time it comes back. And everyone wants me to let him but I'm not sure I want to."
"What does that even mean?" Dave asked. Kurt took a shuddering breath.
"Eventually the pressure will build up so high that I'll have a stroke." He saw the rage spark in Dave's expression again. "But that'll be years in the future. Three or four years at the least. I'll be…I'll be fully deaf in two. But the surgery would destroy my hearing as well. No matter what happens, I have nothing."
"You'll always have something, Kurt," Dave said, not even bothering to be angry. Somehow that was even worse. "But it's your choice. Either way you can't spend the rest of your life hiding in a room. And I still don't understand why you don't tell people, but you told me."
Kurt didn't understand why at first either. It was because he already hated the way people looked at him like he was so fragile he was going to break to pieces. If he told them soon he wouldn't be able to hear, the sympathy would have been unbearable. People would think of him as defective, and he already thought of himself that way. And yet he'd told Dave.
Over the next several days, Dave insisted Kurt show him around. They both knew Dave was just using it as an excuse to force Kurt to leave the house, but Kurt was grateful for the ruse because it made it easier to wake up each morning. He took Dave to all his favorite places – Central Park Zoo to see the polar bear, the public Library where Dave could have spent hours walking around all the different rooms, a little deli near Broadway where he and Rachel used to go for dinner after watching a show. Watching the delight on Dave's face when they walked through FAO Schwartz or his complete amazement at the prices in Bloomingdales gave something Kurt to focus on that wasn't his own pain.
"Dave drew me out of the pit I'd dug for myself. He reminded me that life couldn't focus on a single moment, no matter how terrible that moment was. We didn't talk about what was happening to me again. At least, we didn't focus on it. But it was mentioned casually, by him and me. When we walked past the Gershwin theatre, I lamented about when I could no longer watch Wicked and Dave said it wouldn't matter if I could hear because I probably had the whole thing memorized – I did, but I insisted it wouldn't be the same. When he complained about how loud all the people were I remarked that soon I wouldn't have to be bothered by that.
"I knew that soon I would have to confront the serious issues, but for the moment I was happy just to find a reason to remember what living was like…"
A week passed where Kurt and Dave explored New York like tourists. Kurt still ignored when his friends and families called and he couldn't remember the last time he and Blaine had a full conversation. Every day Dave pushed him to tell them the truth, but Kurt ignored him, changing the subject as quickly as possible after giving a vague promise.
Kurt always met Dave at the same coffee shop a few blocks from his apartment. Most of the time he got there before Dave, but one morning he walked in to see Dave already sitting at the table. He took a moment to just observe the other man, coffee pushed to the side with a book sitting on the table in front of him. Dave was doing something with his hands, a series of movements that Kurt couldn't quite place. A small smile on his lips, Kurt walked as quietly as he could until he was standing behind Dave.
It was a sign language book. From the significant dent that was already made, Kurt figured it was something Dave had been working on for a while. That thought was touching, just another thing to add to the list of the surprises of Dave Karofsky, a list that had been growing faster than Kurt's scarf collection.
"I told Blaine." Kurt said, walking around the table and taking a seat. Dave shoved the book in his bag, looking guilty.
"How'd he take it?" Dave asked. "I guess you don't need me to go with you to your appointment today?" Dave had volunteered to go with Kurt to take a test to measure his hearing loss. Kurt never spoke to anyone but Dave and Dave always made sure to talk louder than usual so when Kurt was around him, it was easy to forget about his problem. But normal conversation was beyond him when people spoke at conversational volumes.
"He was really supportive," Kurt rolled his eyes to indicate his sarcasm. "He told me I should learn to lipread." Blaine's reaction had been just as bad as Kurt expected.
"Dick," Dave muttered into his coffee.
"At least I didn't have a problem hearing him," Kurt remarked. "I'm surprised you couldn't hear him from here, actually. He had quite a bit to say on the subject and all of it required him to shout it. It's like I kept it from him on purpose."
"Well, you kinda did," Dave pointed out.
"I…I think he broke up with me," Kurt said, looking around the shop. He watched Dave search for words. "So, I was thinking I should go to that support group."
"Kurt…I'm really sorry…" Dave was fumbling for words, forgetting to talk loud but Kurt could fill in the blanks.
"I don't know if I am," Kurt admitted. He didn't feel as heartbroken as he thought he would. Once, his relationship had been one of the things that he defined himself by. He'd needed it's consistency to give him order in a world out to get him. But when the world really had crashed down around him, Blaine wasn't the one who fought to get him back. Blaine had tried, but if he'd really tried, he would have found a way to make Kurt listen. "So the group is Tuesdays at four and Saturdays at eleven. You don't have to come, but…if you want to."
"Do you want to talk about Blaine?"
"No," He said quickly. "I just…let's talk about something else, okay?"
"Yeah. Okay. It wasn't because you've been spending so much time with me, was it?" Dave looked uncomfortable and Kurt reached out to take his hand, drawing their eyes together.
"It has nothing to do with you," Kurt said. Dave had been mentioned, but only in a long list of things. He let Dave's hand go and sat back. "We were drifting apart before all this happened, and I think the only reason we stayed together so long was because we hardly spoke.
"So," Kurt made a show of taking a deep breath and smiling. "I was thinking after the appointment, I think I'll call Doctor Cole and let him know I've finally made a decision about the surgery."
"Everything moved quickly from there. I was diagnosed right on the edge between mild and moderate hearing loss at that point. I threw myself into learning how to sign and Dave was always there when I needed him, but he had his own life. He went back to Columbus, where he was going to school. But I also started to reclaim my old life as well.
"I reached out to all of my friends, taking comfort from their support now instead of running away from it. Blaine and I reconnected as friends. The support group I joined helped me to see that just because I was deaf, didn't mean I had to give up everything I loved. I officially withdrew from NYADA, and enrolled in fashion design at NYU.
"But the surgery was looming over my head like a dark cloud. One I couldn't escape from no matter how hard I tried. The week of the surgery, four months after I made the decision to go through with it, my dad flew in from Lima to be with me. He held my hand as I was taken to surgery and was there when I got back. He held me when I cried; tears of joy because against all odds, they had been able to remove all of the tumors. My chances of a reoccurrence are only 10%.
"It was hard, adjusting to life without being able to hear. I had installed light alarms in my apartment for when the oven timer went off or the phone rang or someone was at the door. I had to relearn a lot of things I'd taken for granted. But I survived.
"I thought for a long time that my hearing loss would mean a substandard life. I thought it meant living alone forever. I thought it would mean being pushed aside for jobs and judged based on my disability rather than my talent.
"But my advice to anyone, whether they were born deaf or, like me, it came to them later, is this: something can only bring you down if you let it. I have a wonderful husband, a job that, while not what I thought was my first choice, turned out to be more fun than work, and family and friends that I know will always be there for me.
"Thank you so much for asking me to come here today. I think I read somewhere that I'll be out front signing books afterwards."
Kurt couldn't hear the applause as he let his arms fall to his side, but he felt the vibrations under his feet as everyone in the auditorium stood for him. He thanked them, hand closed, finger tips touching his lips and then going out to the crowd, as he walked off stage. Dave was waiting for him at the end of the stairs, hand outstretched.