The Things People Do

One friend best summarized how strangers behave around me by saying, “Jen, when it comes to you, normal people get weird and weird people get talkative.” Often the odd things happen late at night when I am walking home from my nearby live music venue.

On Friday, I was headed down the sidewalk going for the corner. Someone stopped and asked me, “Do you need help? Can I walk you to your car?”

For a change, I thought on my feet. I wiggled my cane and said something like, “My car with this?” I then began giggling. I mean, really. This man thought I needed help because I am blind then decided I drove a car? It’s funny. Really funny.

Guess he missed the humor because he started verbally back pedaling with an apology etc. Poor man. I’d say I turned him off from helping entirely, but when I came by later he offered more aid.

Sunday night was even better. After the concert, I was standing by my seat and trying to decide if the crowd had thinned out sufficiently to leave. I hadn’t made up my mind when a woman approached and asked if I needed to be walked out. I unhelpfully replied, “I don’t know.”

There was some small talk then she said, “Well, do you want help?”

“Sure,” I replied. “I’ll just take your elbow on this side.” I waved my empty left hand. She kept standing on my right, so I made it clearer. “I need you on my left. This side.” More wagging of my hand.

She then takes my left hand. In disengaging from that, I somehow touch her breast. Ooops. Eventually I have her elbow and we take off.

The man who runs the music venue sees her walking me and must have realized she’s not being a great guide, so he tells her, “Be careful.”

From this I realize I’m dealing with a novice. I do the smart thing and sort of get a little behind her which will keep me from running into things. Mostly. We make it outside in one piece and I thank her.

We exchange names and I discover my helpful stranger is Ashley, who is apparently feeling chatty. She states more than inquires,”So, you have some sight.”

“Um, no.” I reply.

Ashley has just successfully completed one of the items on “The List of Things Strangers do When They Meet Me.” I guess people have this idea of how competently a totally blind person would function, and when I don’t behave in that way, they assume I have some vision. I guess I am too proficient to be totally blind. Who knew?

We check another item off the list when Ashley starts telling me about her deaf teacher who “had a thing in her head.” I think she was referring to a cochlear implant. Ashley goes on and on about how this woman did ordinary things.

My former neighbor Marilyn is a regular at this music venue – she actually introduced me to it. Her background is in special education and she knows me fairly well. I am grateful when she joins our little group. A discussion of guide dogs begins. Ashley keeps saying things like, “Oh, but you can’t do that.” I need to say nothing because Marilyn jumps in with, “Uh, yes she can.”

Eventually, I escape and walk home, only to discover I don’t have my house key. Attempts to remove a screen from my window so I can crawl inside fail. It is about 11:30pm and there are two people with a spare copy of my key in the neighborhood, but I know I will wake up the closer person. The other is a night owl like me, so I call. She is up and I head back out. I am just crossing the first part of an intersection when Marilyn calls, “Did you forget something?”

“My keys,” I groan. “I’m going to get a spare from a friend.”

Apparently Ashley is still with Marilyn because she then states, “You’re going to need help getting there.”

Marilyn saves me again. “She knows her way around here pretty well.”

Ashley’s parting remark is, “Make sure you listen for traffic.”

I guess I would otherwise ignore what my ears perceive and walk into an intersection without thought. If I did that regularly I would have long ago won a Darwin Award posthumously.

With the same reliability as the sun rising, I will have another encounter to share soon. Since I am flying east to see my family, the chances are doubled. Airports make people crazier than usual. Actually, I think it amplifies their personality because nice people get nicer as well. I once met a man on an airplane, so you never know.

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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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