Even a fool is considered wise when he holds his peace;
when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.
Though I’m coping with my vision loss today, that wasn’t always the case. I just made up two rules back then: know who to be quiet around and who to vent to. Follow these rules and no one is the wiser. Not even me.
It was obvious to people who knew me that I couldn’t see enough to function well in my job or get around town without disastrous consequences. At the very least, they would be subject to listening to one of my many stories. Confronted more and more by loving friends and concerned family members, I felt obligated to “do” something about my predicament.
In September of of 2008, I ran across an organization called the “Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services” in Erie, Pennsylvania. I gave them a call and before I knew it, I became their client and on their caseload. Though I went through the motions of seeking help, I had difficulty accepting that I needed it. Only those closest to me knew that I was learning a crazy new skill–cane training.
“No one at work even knows I have a vision problem,” I grumbled.
“Amy, how can they not know?” My friend dripped sarcasm.
“Hmph! They never see me outside of the classroom.”
As usual, I got the last word in. This didn’t exactly prove my point though.
Here are a few of my early responses to Chet, my blind mobility instructor. He tried to prepare me for change through the lessons. I don’t know how much he guessed about my attitude back then, but I wasn’t buying the “this-is-gonna-make-a-big-difference-in-your-life” talk either.
* * * *
This is insane! Why am I walking with a long, white cane when my two eyes can get me where I need to go just fine?
My friends all shared in my dilemma. Some screamed at me; others consoled. But the end result remained, “You’re in denial!”
Denial? No way.
I imagined myself standing in front of a crowd at a group meeting where caffeine kept blurry-eyed people focused on the problem at hand. “My name is Amy Bovaird and I have Retinitis Pigmentosa. I am losing my vision.”
The truth was: I could say the words but I couldn’t accept them. Or I didn’t believe them. So I didn’t make a heart-change in my attitude. Not a real one. Not at first.
My condition sounded simple when the eye doctor explained it. “It could be one year, or ten years or down the line sometime. We don’t know. Think of your vision like a television picture tube that becomes dimmer and fuzzier over time until it eventually wears out.”
Chet, my orientation and mobility specialist, suggested we use my neighborhood for our first cane practice location. That day I pasted a smile on my face for the whole hour. I scooted a good pace ahead of Chet with feigned briskness. As soon as I entered the house again, I folded the despised cane shut. “I looked like a cross-country skier bumbling without snow – absolutely ridiculous!”
The second session Chet suggested we do some on-the-job training. My fake smile returned as I slid my cane through the hallways of the school where I taught Spanish after classes had dismissed.
We practiced around my classroom and up and down hallways. I didn’t think we’d run into anyone. Boy, was I wrong! Meeting the principal didn’t cause any embarrassment. She knew all about Chet. But did he have to act so friendly toward the others? Like the accountant. The elementary Spanish teacher. No one missed his booming voice and our long canes sliding across the varnished wooden slats that late afternoon. I kept on smiling. But inside, my stomach tensed in knots. Traitor!
Just as I was about to suggest that we finish up, Chet spied the staircase, “Where does this lead?”
“Well, down to the gym” I admitted more truthfully.
“How about if we go there?”
“Uh, the basketball team has practice.” NO, not there. Anywhere but there.
Off to the gym we went.
I braced myself again. Oh dear. There’s the coach, who doubles as the gym teacher.
Chet explained once again that I was “getting comfortable” with my cane.
The coach had never seen me use a cane. What must she think?
I wanted to run to my classroom and crawl under a desk. I had fifteen of them, after all. But no self-respecting teacher shows any loss of self-control, does she?
I heard two familiar female voices. Not students! Apparently so. Two of my sophomore girls slowed on the stairway as they neared me.
“Hola, Profesora” came the greetings, followed by curious stares.
Be Quiet, Chet. Just let them wonder.
But Chet thrust out his hand and introduced himself. Straightaway, he explained our “getting-comfortable-with-her-cane” business.
They exchanged glances.
Oh no! You’re leaking my secret and destroying my reputation here, Chet. You scoundrel!
The very worst moment came in the parking lot. Chet slid open the door to a van that did not belong to his driver. I recognized the driver. His daughter attended my class. She also played on the basketball team. I backed away quickly. Did she recognize me? Chet quickly made friends with the driver as the man waved to me. Earth swallow me up. I wouldn’t mind being blind at this very moment…
After that harrowing day, I lost my mobility specialist’s phone number.
Unfortunately, he found mine just where he put it. In his appointment book.