I was sitting in the front seat of the car, as I waited for my friend Joan, to come back from a quick errand. I opted to wait in the car with Pippen, even though it was cold, mostly because my back was killing me, from the sciatica, but also because I really didn’t want to go into a hot crowded store. I was wondering what on earth I was going to write about for this post, when I heard Joan say to a store employee, I have a blind lady in the car, so you can just put it in the back seat. I was stunned. Why did she feel she needed to tell him I was a blind lady? Why didn’t she just say, “My friend is sitting in the front seat, so please put that stuff in the back seat.” To say that the reality of Joan’s perception of me was a slap in the face is close, but not exactly what I felt. It was more like someone yanking on my hair, causing me to stop dead in my tracks. Oh no you don’t, those thoughtless words said. Don’t go off and think you are a person first in Joan’s mind. You are a blind lady, and that’s all. For my entire life, I have strived to be perceived as a person first. It’s not that I am ashamed of being blind. It’s just not my preferred label. I’d much rather be known as friend, lover, co-worker, neighbor, who happens also to be blind.
One day last summer, I was taking a walk with Pippen in the neighborhood, when we passed by some kids playing kickball in the street. One of them announced to the others in a loud voice, “She’s blind.” It was a rude and thoughtless thing to say. Didn’t he know that I could hear him say that? And what did he expect his playmates to do, stop and stare? I had an impulse to stop, turn, and say to him, Yes, she is, but she can hear, or maybe just stop and stare at him, but I continued my walk and turned the corner, both literally and figuratively. I will never be a woman walking her dog. I will always be that blind lady. They were kids, and it’s too bad that their parents hadn’t taught them better manners. But what about Joan, a grown woman, my contemporary, someone I had known for years? Had I been fooling myself in regarding her as my equal, my neighbor, my friend, when all these years she has been regarding herself as the caretaker of the blind lady? It’s always a compliment when someone says they keep forgetting you’re blind, even when they are fibbing a little. It always stings when they never let you forget it. Just when you think you’ve finally reached the point where it isn’t upper most in their minds, someone yanks on your hair to remind you, you haven’t.