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Sign-language wedding signals a new beginning

Joey and Kerry Provost dance their first dance together as a married couple at their wedding reception.

Photo courtesy of the Anderson family

Joey and Kerry Provost dance their first dance together as a married couple at their wedding reception.

WEYMOUTH, MASS.

Kerry Anderson's manicured fingers flit gracefully like large, bright dragonflies.

And her hands move in a way few of us will ever understand. They speak: "I do."

Joey Provost signals back: I do, too.

I smile as I hold the camera, trying to capture my cousin, dressed in a white dress with glistening flowers. But my hands don't move like hers. They're clunky, nervous and shaking, because inside I couldn't be happier.

For the wedding is something of a miracle, and so is the bride.

• • •

In the late morning hours of April 4, 1978, Kerry emerged from the womb flat, dry and pale, her umbilical cord wrapped six times tightly around her neck.

The baby hadn't breathed in more than 10 minutes. Her tiny lungs were clogged with mucus and her kidneys had failed.

Her mother, confused and distraught, lay on a steel gurney in a sterile room at South Shore Hospital. Why wasn't her little girl crying?

She kept asking her husband Glenn, but he didn't say anything.

She was frightened, and no one would talk to her.

The doctors, nurses and neo-natal experts were too busy working as quickly as they could sticking tubes inside the newborn, trying to resuscitate her. Finally, a physician, who had lost his own child years before, quietly told my aunt and uncle that their firstborn was not going to live.

"It was the happiest day of my life," my aunt told me later. "And the saddest."

Then something happened.

The baby choked, then coughed, then cried.

To this day family members don't really know why Kerry came back to life.

The doctors told her parents, "We see miracles happen all the time."

• • •

A neurologist told the Andersons their baby would be fine, but technology didn't reveal that Kerry had a learning disability. She couldn't put things into sequential order by using her eyes. She had to rely on her ears.

That was fine for the first 14 months of her life. But then she stopped responding to her mother's voice. A virus had taken away her hearing.

Nine of the 12 words she knew also were taken away. She could still say "mama," "daddy" and "Mark" — the name of an uncle.

By first grade, Kerry left public school for the Boston School for the Deaf, where she'd tightly clutch her favorite toy: a Cabbage Patch doll that wore the same bulky hearing aids she did.

During those years, her sister Kaitlyn was born. When Kaitlyn turned 6 months old, Kerry looked at her mom and asked when the baby would get hearing aids.

"I told her everyone was different and she wasn't going to have them," says my aunt and Kerry's mom, Dianne. "It broke my heart."

Kerry attended high school at the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut. She had a few friends there, but after graduation they all went home to different states and she was alone again.

"I always thought no one liked me, that I wasn't pretty enough," Kerry says. "It was tough growing up; I was very lonely."

She had a boyfriend, but not for long. She asked other guys out, but they turned her down.

• • •

Kerry did have a loving family, and the stories they tell about her are both funny and touching.

When she was about 4, her Aunt Terri recalls, family members asked her what she called her dad. She kept saying "Glenn." They wanted her to say "Dad." When they pressed further, she said: "Mama calls him a damn fool sometimes."

There was another time she pulled a fire alarm — twice, actually — at school. She didn't know what it was, nor, obviously, could she hear its shrill ring. When the police arrived, they didn't have it in them to arrest the 8-year-old with curly brown hair and striking blue eyes.

Then there was the time she went bowling. A volunteer group that organizes events for the deaf invited her along. That's where she met Joey Provost.

• • •

Now 41, Joey had led a lonely, isolated life, too. He couldn't communicate, and his speech didn't develop until he was 16.

He joined the Job Corps after school where he learned the art of welding. When he was 33, he met Kerry.

"I think he was in love with her the first minute he saw her," his father, Joseph Provost Sr., tells me during the reception. "Kerry helped in a big way, restarting his sign language and opening up a whole new world for him."

The two went out on their first date on Dec. 22, 2000.

He would buy her flowers, take her to dinner. They would sit for hours, listening to music, or rather, to the pulsating beats that the tempos produced. They'd take strolls, go to the beach, go to the mall, all things she rarely did with others outside her family.

Then, in December 2005, Joey handed her a box, got down on one knee and signed the words and asked aloud: "Will you marry me?"

• • •

At the wedding, 73-year-old Father Charles Murphy, who is also deaf, signs to Kerry that she'll again "surrender her life." But this time, through a bond with her husband.

"There are no more 'I's' in marriage — there is just 'we,' " he says.

Joey puts the wedding ring on Kerry's trembling finger.

There is joy and not a little relief as the bride and groom kiss inside the old Catholic church.

Then, more than 100 people loudly clap or silently raise five fingers in the air and shake them — all signaling their approval.

Times staff writer Mike Donila attended his younger cousin's wedding, which was conducted in sign language at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Weymouth, Mass., on June 7.

Sign-language wedding signals a new beginning 06/21/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 27, 2008 5:31pm]

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