As I walked into that classroom on the campus of East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma in 1994, my big head deflated by about three times. The room was busy with activity, hands flying and NO English anywhere to be seen. My eyes jumped from conversation to conversation and I immediately knew something: I knew nothing.
The students began forming a circle of desks around the classroom. One hearing girl let the non-signers know we were going to go around the room introducing ourselves and telling where we were from.
Okay. I can do this. I watched a few people signing. Even though they were signing slowly for us newbies, I still was lost. I rehearsed in my mind what I would sign and when it was my turn, I shakily signed, "I (with initialized I) S-----A------R-----A-----H. I FROM A----R----K----...." I had planned to continue to spell my state name, but a Deaf guy quickly jumped in, signing at, what seemed to me, lightning speed.
"Arkansas?! Which town?!"
*deer in headlights look from me* The hearing girl that signed told me what he was asking.
Oh! Oh! Okay.... "F----O---R---"
"Fort Smith?! I'm from Spiro! I know many Deaf in Fort Smith. Who do you know?"
Here come those headlights again. So thankful to this hearing girl helping me out.
I could only recall Jeff. I didn't know the names of the senior citizens that graced our home when I was young. I couldn't even remember the name of the couple from my community sign class. So I signed:
"Jeff Holmes? I know him! He is one of my best friends!"
And that was my first "Deaf Small World" experience. Here I was just a green, naive, newcomer to this Deaf World and I already had a connection. With the help of the hearing girl (although she refused to straight-out interpret for me; she forced me to work to my own end, then she'd jump in to save me), I was able to communicate a little of my history as told in Part 1. I felt the smiles of my Deaf classmates as I relayed my story and, although I didn't understand it at the time, they were opening the gate for me to enter their Deaf World.