Perception is Everything (When Helping The Blind)

This next story was assignment4 in my Fiction I workshop. We had to choose an event, and then write about it from three perspectives. It took me a little while to decide on my event, but once I remembered it, my fingers flew across the keyboard.

Let me know what you guys think. Who’s perspective you liked best.

***

Shayna Canaan 

“Danny, listen to me.” I have the urge to shake my phone in agitation like my mother used to do when I was a child. But there are two problems with that urge. The first, I was using Bluetooth headphones, so I would have to take my phone out of my pocket. Upon doing so, I would not receive the same level of satisfaction that my mother seemed to. An iPhone was not the same as a corded landline. And there was no base for me to slam it onto when I simply couldn’t take it any more. The second, I was in public and refused to be the crazy person everyone whispered about as they skirted around me. “I’m not trying to control you.”

“I never said that, Shay.” He says. “But you’re not being reasonable.”

“I just want what’s best for you.” I tell him, shading my eyes to better see the street sign in front of me. It’s a warm, sunny day in mid-March, but I’m still wearing my winter coat, open to enjoy the slight breeze. Lana had tried to talk me into something lighter, but I’m a seasoned New Yorker. I know when the sun goes down, the wind picks up and the temperature drops back to winter normal. I did let her talk me out of a hat, but I refused to leave my dark hair down. She said it made me look younger, but the high ponytail made me look my age. “I’m sure Janette’s a nice girl but her family… Your mother–”

“Is dead, Shayna,” he says, gently, as though soothing a child. It sounds as though he’s moving, and the suspicion is confirmed as I hear the clinking and tinkling of dishes and the roar of his dining hall quiet as he continues. “Lan and I are so grateful for everything you’ve done for us the past ten years. But–“ 

“Hang on!” I shout over multiple sirens as an ambulance and fire truck zoom past. I see a Nuts-4-Nuts stand at the next corner and think about buying a bag as I pass. The scent brings back memories of family trips from Long Island. Mother would never allow us to buy from dirty street vendors, but my sister and I still dreamed. “Go on, Danny.”

“Lan and I are so grateful for you taking us in after mom died. But you’re not actually our parent. And, I don’t think she’d care about Jan’s background, just the person she is now.”

His words hurt. I can almost feel a physical pain in my chest. I nearly stop in my tracks, in the middle of midtown foot traffic. But I refuse to be that person.

“Danny, I don’t know what to say.” I can feel the tears prickling behind my dark blue eyes. It was more than his mother, my sister’s passing that I was trying to compensate for. I say a quick prayer, hoping that everything goes well at my appointment today. Thirty-two was far too young to be worrying over wills and family legacies. “I’m just trying to honor her memory, and make sure her kids are okay. And that includes who you date. I want to make sure you both have good futures.”

“No.” He says. “It doesn’t. Advice, yes. And I hear you. But you’re not actually giving her a chance. Or me. You don’t trust my character judgement?”

“I do, Danny, of course I do it’s just–Wait, hold on!” I hurry the last few feet to the corner and wait impatiently for the light to change.

“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” I say. “But there’s a blind woman across the street. I think she needs help.” I watch her just barely avoid the City Bikes. I sigh in relief as she passes them. Then catch my breath when she narrowly misses a lamp post.

“What’s happening, is she okay?”

“I don’t think so.” I say as I rush across the street. “The sidewalk is cracked, and there are so many obstacles. Oh my God, someone almost walked into her! People are so careless. God, it must be terrible being blind. At least she’s well taken care of, her outfit–”

“It’s not always about money and looks, Shay.” he sighs.

“Wait!” I call out as the woman navigates around another crack. They should really fix up the sidewalks around here. I take her arm and walk her to smoother ground. “Are you okay? Do you know where you’re going?”

“Yeah.” She says, blinking cloudy blue eyes at me. “I’m fine.”

“Can I help you cross the street?” How can a stick be any protection? I’ve seen blind people run into poles. I wonder why this woman doesn’t have an aid. She seems pretty young, early twenties maybe. I wonder if there is an age requirement. But I remember the handicapped children at school having someone.

“I’m fine, thank you.”

“No, bubelah, it’s no problem, let me help you.” Oy, she’s turning me into my mother in ways parenting mischievous twins from adolescents to adulthood never had.

“Shay, she said she’s fine.” I’d forgotten Danny was still on the line.

“I’ll cross you over then come back, it’s no problem.” She’s likely being modest. I wouldn’t want to be a burden on anyone. Yet I can’t imagine smiling through it all as she is.

I take her arm more firmly and begin to usher her across the street.

“How are you liking this weather?” I ask, noticing that her sleek green coat–is it from L L Bean, I’m certain I’ve seen it in the catalogue–is unzipped. 

“It’s nice,” she says, her face glowing a brown similar to one of Lana’s caramel Frappuccinoes in the sunlight. If she weren’t blind, she would be a better fit for Danny. I wonder if the Columbia boots she wears means she’s willing to spend for comfort. In her situation money must be important.

“Stay safe.” I tell her, once we make it to the other side. “And don’t be afraid to accept help. People want to help you.” I raise my voice near the end to ensure that she hears me as she walks away. She certainly walks fast. Someone should-

“Shayna, what was that?”

“I helped someone cross the street.” I say, making it back across just before the light changes. “You know I love helping people, animals, you name it. Like when that bird fell from the tree when you were kids?”

There’s a pause, then Danny says, “I have to head to class now. But please give Jan an actual chance at dinner.”

“I’ll try.” I tell him, my heart light enough to humor him. “Don’t study too hard.”

As we hang up, I murmur a prayer before walking into the hospital. Hopefully, I had earned extra goodwill points for my humanitarianism.

Madeleine Banks

“Hey J,” I said, grabbing my phone just before it stopped ringing. I’d just changed my ringtone and so still got more excited to sing it than answer. “What’s u—”

“What you doing this winter?”

“Um,” I said. “Working as an editorial assistant if Randomhouse has any sense?”

“No. Well, not just that.” She said, her voice moving with the motion of her footsteps that I could just barely hear. “You’re coming with me to St. Vincent for a week.”

“I am?” I asked, closing my laptop.

“Yes. I am so tired of this fucking city. And L.A. isn’t happening for at least another year, so I need a premove break.”

“Go to Jersey.” I said, changing into my current PJ’s—Bob’s Burger tee and sweats—before rolling into bed. So much for keeping the momentum going. I’d actually been excited to do my homework for once. But, clearly, the universe had other plans. I knew my friend, and that tone, this would probably take awhile. And, as I stretched out under my navy blue covers, I wasn’t complaining. At all.

“You’re not funny.”

“Bitch, I’m hilarious. But what happened? Which one of us monstrous New Yorker set you off now?”

“All of them!” She said, and I could imagine her throwing her slim, dark hands up in exasperation. “First, the supposedly homeless lady asking me to give her money, when I said I didn’t have any, she was like ‘how about food?’ When I reminded her that I didn’t have money, she was like ‘So how’d you buy that drink?’ I was like bitch–”

“Did you actually call her a bitch?”

“No. But I thought it really hard.”

I laughed. “Why are you skeptical about her being homeless?”

“Her coat had fur… And it looked real!”

“Maybe it was donated or something.”

“Maybe. Anyway, so she followed me down the block muttering about disrespectful kids (she was an old blond woman). Ugh, I get it you have a motorcycle.” She growled the last at the revving engine I could hear in her background. “Then, I’m walking past the dorm and I see that blind girl-”

“The one you asked about her eyelashes freshman year?”

“Yeah, she’s the only blind person in the dorm. Well, besides that short white guy.” At 5’10, short was a relative concept for Jessica Stephens. “Anyway, so she’s walking and, first of all, I tripped on a bike–you know, that City Bike shit–and almost dropped my cup. But she walked around it. What kind of sick joke? I’m sure God had a good laugh at that one.”

“Not just God.” I said, snickering into my pillow. It smelled strongly of my vanilla bean shampoo.

“So anyway, she was walking and this woman came up to her, she looked older so I didn’t think she was a friend, like a peer, but the way she grabbed her, I don’t know,” I can imagine her shrugging slender shoulders. “I thought she was at least an acquaintance. She just did it so smoothly I didn’t think about it.”

“She grabbed her?”

“I mean, she took her arm, grab might be exaggerating but she did yell ‘stop!’ or ‘wait!’ Or something like that.”

“And you thought she was her friend?” I shook my head deeper into my SpongeBob pillowcase. “Oh my God, did she try to rob her or something?”

“No, she looked too polished for that. She asked if she needed help and blind girl said she was fine. At first, I was like oh, that’s nice. You went about it in a weird way but how else would she’ve gotten her attention?”

“Maybe touch her arm like you did that day instead of grabbing her?”

“Yeah, I guess. But I don’t know if the grab was rough or gentle. Whatever she shouted was type aggressive though. But anyway, she kept asking if she needed help and the girl, well, I guess she’s not actually a girl but you know what I mean, she never actually agreed but all of a sudden the woman’s dragging her across the street. And when I say dragging, I mean it dragging. The blind girl looked so uncomfortable she put her phone away and I couldn’t really hear if the woman was talking to her, but I thought I saw her make a fist at some point. But the lady didn’t notice a thing. And at the end, she was shouting down the block about accepting help and she, blind girl, couldn’t get away fast enough.”

I wiggled an arm, that could be skinnier, out from under my blankets and grabbed my notebook from my bedside container. “Okay, start from the beginning but I need more details. First, what were you drinking?”

“A shake. But I’m not done. I thought it was such a nice gesture but then she went way too far. New Yorkers are just a bunch of pushy, belligerent sons of snitches. So, I just kept walking so I could walk my agitation off and called mommy. I wanted my aunt’s number to see if she was down for some company this winter.”

“Vanilla?”

“What?”

“Your shake, it was vanilla right? The purest flavor. Unlike ‘unnatural strawberry’ or ‘overbearing chocolate’?”

“Yeah, but—you going to make me another story?”

“Yes, so I need as many details as I can get. What was blind girl wearing?”

“I’m not here for your entertainment.” She sang, completely comfortable bursting into song in the middle of Manhattan.

“Every relationship has perks: you rant I get A’s. Okay, blind girl: I remember the long, supposedly natural eyelashes, and eyes like that dude from A Tell Tale Heart, but what was she wearing? Her hair? And the pushy broad, tell me about her? Accent, anything noteworthy? And which band shirt were you wearing today?”

“Jesus girl, slow down. She was wearing this long-ass green coat, jeans and dark boots. Her hair was in twists, I remember thinking how neat they were. And that I’ll have to stop her again sometime to ask what that coppery color in her hair is called. Oh! And her roots were showing. The woman was polished. I think she was wearing flats and dress pants, I don’t remember exactly, I just remember thinking money. And that I envy people with straight hair, her ponytail was so slick. You know how much gel I need to keep these edges under control? Don’t sigh at me, blind girl was more interesting. But auntie Cindy’s calling back, so I’ll call you tonight and we can brainstorm outfits for her.”

“Wait, shirt!”

“Five Finger Death Punch. I’ll send you a picture.”

I continued scribbling furiously as we said our goodbyes. Then I tucked my notebook under my pillow and rolled over to face my cerulean blue wall. I’ll sleep on it (I’d need an actual plot, some interesting dialogue) and get back to work in a bit. I should probably set an alarm, otherwise I might…

Lily Mordaunt

“We’re going to get on the 4 train right mommy?” A small voice asked from somewhere behind me. As with most young kids, the voice was ambiguous, but I was fairly sure it was a boy. A hint of bass perhaps, or just practice telling them apart? “Is there a 5 train too?”

“You know that, Johnny.” Ha! I was right. “We got on it this morning, remember?”

Their voices faded fast as I hurried to the bus stop, my cane sweeping in a steady arc before me. I remembered my own excitement and fascination with trains as a kid. The L was always my favorite as it’s the first letter of both my first and nicknames, but then I grew up and discovered what a pain that train could be. Ah, perception.

I turned my head to the right, to compensate for what I could not see on that side with my left eye, and moved over a few steps when the shape of the City Bike Rack came into focus. I hoped I’d put enough distance between myself and the tires as I both maneuvered a particularly deep crack and tried to anticipate which way the brightly dressed figure walking toward me would go. I wondered, not for the first time, if they would ever fix this section of sidewalk. But after four years of dorming here, it didn’t seem like it.

The hem of my calf length winter coat–open to appreciate the day’s warmth as New York City transitioned from winter to spring–brushed a tire. My poor coat–not quite warm enough for intense winter anymore but still too toasty for real spring, the feathers had shifted and the tear around the butt… I sighed. It lasted four years though. And I had to remember to shop in fall this time, for the discounts (and not midway through winter when the bathing suits were coming out). As it brushed another tire, I wondered if I should move a little further left, but the pole that had acquainted itself with my face freshman year was coming up. I might see it, or my cane might register it; knowing it was coming up helped. But I hadn’t stumbled on a tire yet, so I should be fine. Stuck between a pole and a… bike place. I chuckled quietly, hoping anyone watching didn’t think I was crazy.

Cars honked. Birds tittered. The wind blew. It smelled green. I sneezed. Allergy season. A woman passed me, heels clicking unevenly. From personal experience, I knew that those cracks were a bitch in heels. I hoped they weren’t stilettos. That wasn’t my type of heel, but I imagined it’d be even worse.

“New Tweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda.” Voiceover–a program designed for blind people to read all text on the screen–said from the earpiece that was almost always in my left ear.

I often felt that voiceover gave me an advantage over the average sighted. Yes, one ear was occupied, but I still had another. I also didn’t completely block out potential stimuli from the earpiece side, add to that what information I gleaned from my left eye and cane and I had it pretty good. Your Average Sighted Susie, however, would look down at her phone and then seemed to forget that her eyes were still necessary for navigation. And ears? What ears? Four other senses you say? We lived in such a visual world that someone might dismiss the smell of smoke if they didn’t visually see a fire before them. I can’t tell you how many times someone’s walked into me (you’d probably assume it’s the other way around but generally, it was pretty evenly split, because they were busy staring at a screen.)

“Wait!” Someone shouted, my cane breaking rhythm as she grabbed the arm that held it. My heart skipped a beat, and I clutched my phone tighter as it nearly flew from my hand. Is there construction? Was I about to face-plant into something? (That damn pole maybe, but I was pretty sure I’d passed it.) Was the universe having an ironic laugh at my expense?

“Are you okay?” The woman asked, clutching my elbow in a reverse of the proper sighted-guide technique. “Do you know where you’re going?”

It took a second for my brain to catch up with her words. And when it did, I was… annoyed. To put it mildly.

“Yah.” I replied, trying, unsuccessfully, to pull my arm from her grasp. “I’m fine. Thanks.”

“Can I help you cross the street?”

“I’m fine, thank you.” I hated how deeply engrained politeness seemed to be in my DNA. Especially since people only seemed to focus on the words, and not the clipped tone. And then, not even the words if it wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

“No, bubelah, it’s no problem, let me help you across,” she said as the traffic in front of us came to a standstill. I heard the bus to my right go from idling to motion. I turned my attention back to the woman as she pulled me across. She sounded too young to use words like bubelah. (I associated it with old Jewish women with Long Island accents.) “I’ll cross you over then come back, it’s no problem.”

Maybe not for you, I thought, putting my phone into my pocket, and switching cane hands. Her “good deed” wouldn’t keep me from tripping onto the sidewalk when I couldn’t use my cane fully and she didn’t warn me of the step. Then there’d be five minutes of apologies, perhaps an offer to take me to my destination, and I wasn’t down for any of it.

We walked at a snail’s pace. She said something about the weather. I mumbled a reply. We reached the opposite corner. She told me to stay safe in that special condescending tone reserved primarily for small children and pets, then patted my shoulder, her gesture a study in contrast: her pale hand making the dark of both our outer wear–mine, a dark teal and hers, what I thought was black–more noticeable.

I, successfully this time, disentangled myself and tried to decide if this would be a blog or vlog post. This was different from the usual: people just dragging me across the street, or demanding to know what stop I was getting off at on the train or bus so that they could “help” me. She stopped me. In motion. Not walking into anything, or looking around confusedly. I pulled out my phone–Nedy or Zu, sister or friends–whoever I chose to call, a rant was definitely in order as I prayed I wouldn’t be late to chorus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s