Maybe all girls go through a Helen Keller phase. Girlhood to womanhood, puberty, necessitates a going within, or a numbness, a disconnect from words. I read Helen Keller’s book, or a children’s version of it, and the way Annie Sullivan was able to reach her! The way Helen had all these thoughtful things inside that could not be put together, but by the means of communication that gave her words. Did she think before she had words?
Around the same time I wrote a short novel about a chick. Our class had gotten eggs to incubate and hatch. Where was I before I was born? was the question I was addressing, in a first person chicken narrator. It was very serious. Really, it was.
My mother played Annie Sullivan in a production of “The Miracle Worker” at her high school. Her high school was the place I would spend eight years teaching high school English. Most of my time in that auditorium was taken up in staring down kids who talked during inspirational assemblies (which I always found worthless) awards ceremonies (okay if short). During pep rallies I didn’t have to be a disciplinarian. I could just stand there. Or better yet, escape and go to my silent classroom, where much work was scratching at the door.
Last week at church the sermon message was: we’re the blind leading the blind, and that’s okay. That’s about the best we can do, as humans.
This week I was to interview someone for a job, and the man walked in holding someone’s arm. He was blind. He sat in his chair, unsnapped his cane in pieces, folded it. The three of us who were to do the interview looked at each other. And were not seen. I had fretted that I was wearing torn jeans, which hardly seemed to set a formal work example for an interview. I had tidied up the office. It didn’t matter. He was blind.
You don’t write “blind” on your resume.
Our priest had said that blindness is always a huge negative in the Bible. It is. There’s nothing good about blindness. Jesus spits and smears mud on your eyes if you are blind. What happened? they ask the blind man. Hell if I know, the blind man says.
I wake every morning blind, really, legally blind, until I feel the plastic arms of my glasses and put them on.
At Easter, we blindfold one person, and that person has a partner who leads in the egg hunting. This is how we make the egg hunt fun for the adults. I usually get mud on my dress. The winner gets a big trophy my dad made, with a power ranger action figure and a tiny plastic duck glued to the top.
I am blind. I know not how things will resolve themselves. When I will die— I had an acquaintance die young and unexpectedly, recently— and how I will live, what will seem reasonable to me, as I still hold the pieces of my life I have: job, for not enough money, but good, New York, where lonely, but stimulated and I feel I belong, teaching credentials, teaching bitterness, debt, an apartment, grief at being single, grief at being childless, anxiety, family, losses I pick up and turn over still, I hold these pieces, pick them up, and am blind as to how they could fit, where they could move, in my next mosaic, temporary puzzle of my life. Uneven edges.
Our interviewee hears me yawn, though I do so very quietly. “You’re yawning,” he says lightly.
“Sorry, it’s not you.”
It’s not. I changed my anxiety medication, and it’s given me a head of fog and chronic sleepiness. I don’t know if it’s right to give into it, or not. Is it the sleepiness of jet lag, which should be ignored because it will mess you up? Or the sleepiness of being ill, which should be honored, it’s your body telling you it needs you to turn off and heal? Does your body need more sleep time to acclimate to different levels of drug, to reregulate my serotonin which really needs reregulation, four panic attacks the last month, and more than four surges of anxiety I got to, with meds or breathing, quickly enough to cool them?
The interview ended and someone led the man upstairs and to the doors, where he would use his cane to get to the bus stop. Blind New Yorkers somehow navigate the city, busses and trains, we see them with canes, and in a place where people consider themselves tough, they are in awe. You can’t see, and you cross the streets here?
The song written by the man in the wheelchair, who watches his wife dance:
You can dance-every dance with the guy
Who gives you the eye, let him hold you tight
You can smile-every smile for the man
Who held your hand neath the pale moon light
But don’t forget who’s takin’ you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darlin’ save the last dance for me
Oh I know that the musics fine
Like sparklin’ wine, go and have your fun
Laugh and sing, but while we’re apart
Don’t give your heart to anyone
You can dance, go and carry on
Till the night is gone
And it’s time to go
If he asks if you’re all alone
Can he walk you home, you must tell him no
‘Cause don’t forget who’s taking you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darling, save the last dance for me
Image: Detail of “Blind Homer Led by the Genius of Poetry,” by Edward Sheffield Bartholomew, Metropolitan Museum of Art.