Yesterday I had an experience that reminded me that I am deaf and blind and that my terrific guide dog is fundamentally a dog, although intelligent and sweet and good. I decided to meet my husband at the corner of Norwood and Forbes where he’d arrive on the airport bus, just back from a week in Boston with our son. I’d made the trek down Forbes Avenue many times, but after a week of living solo, I was high on independence and maybe a little too casual.
When I set out with Flossie, the weather stank, raining heavily. At the corner of Wightman and Forbes, I turned west. I’m sure Flossie groaned, because any time I turned that way I usually walked from Wightman to Craig Street or at least Norwood. It’s a 40-minute walk, usually made at night, when she would rather be in her cozy crate, sleeping. And then there was the return trip.
And though daylight now, it poured. I carried an umbrella, but not wide enough to shield her. She shook and sprayed me while we waited, in revenge.
“Flossie, forward,” I said when the first car moved on Forbes. It headed east, not west in my direction. In hindsight, I realized that I should have paused and waited for a car moving west beside me to parallel. That casualness again.
Flossie obeyed, but just as I was beginning to judge that enough time had elapsed for her to have reached the opposite sidewalk, I knew I was still in the street. Yikes!
Okay. Scenario 1—she veered into Forbes, so I should give right commands. First, I listened for the cars. None. Scenario 2—she veered right into Wightman…
Beep! A car whizzed past and I knew I wasn’t going up the Wightman hill. Forbes, I concluded. “Right,” I screamed and added, “Oh, Shit, right, Flossie!”
Just as I stepped onto the sidewalk, someone grabbed my elbow, pushing. “You’re in the street,” a man called. He jerked me forward.
I was grateful, but trying to process where I was. Looking back now, I had an insight. Vision isn’t just the dominant sense, as I’ve always said. It’s our most efficient. Hearing and touch suffice as substitutes, but they’re slower in processing the information given. One glance, should I have been granted a temporary peek, would have told me exactly how Flossie had goofed and how to solve the problem. But using hearing and touch, I had to absorb, then analyze all the stimuli coming my way.
“What are you doing?” he asked—his tone suggesting that I should be home where I belonged. “A car almost hit you!”
Shame. Embarrassment. Conflict—I was grateful, but the man was making me feel lousy.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Murray,” I said, but, of course, I meant Murdock. I wasn’t thinking clearly. Humiliation did that to me.
The man pushed me in some direction across some street. By its length, I assumed it was Forbes.
“I have to go,” he said. “I have a bus full of people.”
Oh God. A bus driver. He’d pulled over, stopped what he was doing to rescue me. What a good guy!
“Okay, Murray is that way.”
“I wanted Murdock,” I said.
“I have to go—my bus.”
“What’s the street on my right,” I asked as he rushed away.
“And the street in front of me?”
“Forbes.” And then I heard him, “Sorry everybody.”
Oh chagrin. How crowded was that bus? How many people witnessed my complete incompetence? I was the most out-of-it blind person standing. What kind of model was I? I wanted to yell to the bus riders, “I don’t usually do this! I’m generally pretty adept, even elegant. I’ve just pulled off a week without my husband…” But the bus had roared off–behind schedule no doubt.
Well, at least I knew where I was. I pulled a kind of U-turn, crossing east on Wightman, north on Forbes, and then west on Wightman again. Flossie and I dripped and slogged, but moved resignedly forward. She shook and shook to rid herself of the rain, but more fell on top of her. I did a kind of shaking, too, mentally, trying to rid myself of the angst. The bus driver had been a good guy. I’d have to write to the Post-Gazette about his “good Deed.” I’d scared him silly, and he’d left his post to help. His frenzy, his irritation, came from fear and his own conflict. His duty was to his passengers, but he reacted to what seemed to be a higher responsibility—rescuing the bewildered blind.
Flossie and I met up with Bob, happily. But I’m reminded of my disabilities, of my dog’s imperfections, of the kindness in the world. Here’s to an unnamed man behind the wheel of a 61 A or B or C. Thank you.