Mrs. O’Neil and SilentJoe

According to a friend, this blog tends to be a wee bit serious. Last month I wrote a post with a lighter theme. I’ve decided to make it a tradition with a little humor the second wednesday of each month. So, the staid entry I scribed over the weekend shall have to wait.

In the winter of 1999, I was dating a man who lived near Boston while I resided in the western part of Massachusetts. Occasionally, I went to stay with him and we would shop at the local grocery store. One such day I waited by our cart and he went in search of something, probably his favorite food – bread. A woman approached me and introduced herself as Mrs. O’Neil. She then introduced me to her son, Joe, who was blind like me. At this point I knew things were going to get interesting.

Joe said absolutely nothing and gave me a hand shake that involved only some of his fingertips. I was probably not the friendliest or most enthusiastic person on the planet at that moment, but compared to him I could have won Miss Congeniality. Easily.

Mrs. O’Neil began extolling Silent Joe’s virtues. He went to college all by himself, was somehow involved with the school’s radio station, and had some nice friends. Mrs. O’Neil was very obviously proud of her little boy.

I uncharitably could not help thinking that I had graduated from one of the Seven Sisters, ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students, lived one hundred and fifty miles from my parents, and had friends who saw me through think and thin.

Finally, Mrs. O’Neil got around to the point. “You seem like such a nice, lovely young woman. That’s why I brought Joe over to meet you. You two have a lot in common. Where do you live?”

I happily explained, “I live near Amherst, but my boyfriend whom I’m visiting resides right around the corner. He’s off finding something.”

Okay, in Mrs. O’Neil’s place I might have taken that as a creative line designed to brush her off. Apparently, she concluded just that because she kept talking about SilentJoe and me determined to find common ground for us. Whether I liked it or not. SilentJoe surprisingly had no opinion.

I kept replying with “my boyfriend” this and “my boyfriend” that. Eventually, she took herself and SilentJoe off to continue their own shopping.

In discussing the event with my boyfriend, I discovered SilentJoe was also CanelessJoe led around by his Mother. Admittedly, from time to time I go around without my cane, usually because I brought the dog who was sacked out in the car or because I was with the object of my affections and we were holding hands. The hand-holding does not preclude the use of a cane, but sometimes it’s nice to focus on the romance of it all. Normally, even if I’m going sighted guide, I have my cane in the other hand and force myself to use it properly. Sometimes it even saves me from calamity.

In any case, SilentJoe had and still has my sympathies. He was raised by a woman who saw little potential in her blind child and raised him with low expectations. Her pride in her child is admirable, but setting the bar ridiculously low to have that pride is sad. Instead of fostering her child’s independence, she encouraged dependence by leading him without a cane. The fact that he never spoke is truly distressing to me on multiple levels. I hope SilentJoe found his voice and his sense of self.

But today I am suppose to be full of humor not woe and my story has not quite ended. About fifteen seconds after Mrs. O’Neil and SilentJoe departed I heard her voice, then my boyfriend’s. She’d cornered him.

Later he told me she had stopped him, introduced herself and SilentJoe, and asked if he was with me. He answered in the affirmative. She then asked if he was my boyfriend. He indicated that was the case.

This let lose a flood. “Oh, you must be such a nice young man to be dating her.”

My boyfriend by now familiar with the things people do around me replied, “Actually, I’m pretty lucky she’s dating me.”

Mrs. O’Neil would have none of that. “It’s amazing that you take care of her. What a special person you are.”

My boyfriend responded, “WE take care of each other. It’s a good relationship.”

Mrs. O’Neil was as tenacious with her praise of him as she was in trying to set me up with her son saying, “Oh, dear, there’s a place in heaven for you.” At this point, my boyfriend managed to escape.

I have told this story frequently over the past ten years, but it was not until this moment that a question occurred to me. In Mrs. O’Neil’s mind, would my boyfriend of the time lose his place in heaven if he broke up with me? What about if he became an ax murderer later in life? And, um, did dating me erase all bad deeds up until that moment in time? I really want to know the answer to these burning questions.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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