Today was my second lesson with Tamar and my husband Joe came with me to get some lessons of his own on how to be a good and helpful Guide Person. I don’t know if Guide Person is the right terminology, but I think it works so I am sticking with it.
I don’t think Joe was particularly anxious about the lesson today; he has pretty much been my guide for 9 years, but I was looking forward to him learning some of the techniques that Tamar taught me which I find super helpful. Tamar was really warm and enthusiastic on meeting Joe(no surprise), and they started joking with each other right away. I think they are both really good at taking the nerves (mine, in this case) out of a situation.
We started with me and Tamar giving Joe some examples of the techniques used in being a guide, and the importance of what Tamar calls VP (verbal and physical prompts). She first approached me without saying anything and grabbed my arm in an attempt to help me, so I could grab her hand and take it off my arm (an example of what not to do as a guide). She then approached me, said hello and asked if I needed help (verbal prompt), then put the back of her hand against mine so I could find her elbow (physical prompt), and off we went. We showed Joe the physical prompt for entering a narrow passageway (hand behind the back and I hold onto the guides wrist) and the information a guide should give about things such as doors (we are coming to a door and it opens to the right) or stairs ( we are coming to a flight of stairs going up and I am at the first stair). Tamar guided me to a chair, told me I was in front of the chair and put my hand on the back of the chair so I could sweep the seat, find the arms and know I was sitting down correctly by making sure the backs of both my knees were touching the chair before actually sitting. And then it was Joe’s turn to be guided by Tamar.
Like me the previous week, Joe was given something to cover his eyes and he couldn’t see anything but a bit of light coming through the blindfold. He was going to have to put his trust in his guide; lucky for him, his guide was Tamar. It was an emotional experience for me to watch Joe in the position I had been in with Tamar and that I am in more often than anyone knows. Even Joe, who sees more than anyone how much I don’t see in my daily life, can’t know how limited my vision truly is. It made me think about a night when we were leaving the Hollywood Bowl, being swallowed up by a crowd of hundreds, and I was terrified. I kept trying to hold onto Joe the way Tamar taught me, but he hadn’t had his lesson yet and was just trying to get us through the crowd the best and quickest way he could. I remember one particular part when I thought we may be approaching stairs and I asked him to find another way; I was afraid to attempt the stairs with that many people trying to rush through such a tight space. I, of course, didn’t have Zelda with me because I wasn’t ready to take Z out in the world at that point. I was just another seemingly fully sighted woman trying to get out of a giant fucking crowd.
When Joe held onto Tamar’s elbow and assumed what is usually my position, it was hard for me to see him so vulnerable and made my own vulnerabilities rush to the surface. I wondered if he was feeling a bit of what I felt when Tamar guided me for the first time, or if he was experiencing some of the sensations I experience on a daily basis. Tamar guided him all around the BI and I followed behind them. I saw him get anxious about the stairs, just as I did and do every time I come to a set of unfamiliar stairs, just like that night at the Bowl. I watched him feeling triumphant once he got the hang of the stairs. I watched him put his trust in Tamar, the way I put my trust in him every day. It made me love him even more. He wasn’t just helping me by being supportive, but being brave enough to put himself as much into my shoes as he could.
When it was Joe’s turn to guide me, I felt pretty confident that he was going to be a good guide, but I also knew that Tamar would ask him to be a bad guide so I can learn to pay attention to things a not so great guide may fail to say or do. I also knew it would be a bit of a challenge for Joe to guide me while letting me play my part. Tamar equated the guide and guided relationship to a dance; each partner has their part to play or steps to take. It takes practice to move through the dance smoothly, but Joe and I are a good team, so I knew we would be sailing across courtyards and down stairs in no time.
We started with going in and out of doors, which we tackled with at least a modicum of grace and the more we did it, the smoother it felt. Then, he guided me back inside and down a ramp, where Tamar stopped us and asked me if I had Zelda, which of course I did, but she was hiding in my backpack. She asked me to get her out so I could learn how to hold my cane while I was being guided. Joe helped me get Z out of her hiding place and I unfolded her like a total spaz ( I am sure Joe and Tamar had to duck out-of-the-way), but Tamar assured me that we would work on that during our next lesson; probably mostly for the safety of those around me.
We continued down the ramp and Tamar instructed me how to hold onto Z and utilize the hand railing at the same time. When Joe and I got to the stairs, I held the cane between my thumb and Joe’s elbow, freeing up my right hand to use the stair railing. We did the stairs (quite well actually) a few more times and then we went back outside and, for the first time, I was using my cane outside. Through Zelda, I felt the textures of the ground and the cracks in the pavement. When Joe was (by instruction), being a bad guide, Z showed me when I got to doors and to stairs. Everything Tamar had taught me about using the cane correctly, I am sure, flew right out the window, but I still felt great that I was actually outside and doing it and feeling it. I was engulfed by feelings of liberation and in those moments, the feelings of anxiety crept into the background.
As I anticipated, Joe was a great guide; so good, that it was hard for him to be bad when Tamar asked him to. One time, while practicing with the doors, he let me know that he was going to be a bad guide, which of course let me know that we were coming to an obstacle. It was great that during this thing that is overwhelming and stressful and emotional, we can laugh and have a good time together. I am so grateful that Joe is the one standing next to me (or a couple of steps in front of me, as a good guide does) through this and all things.
I keep returning, in my mind, to Tamar’s description of all of this as a dance. There are so many steps to remember and when I am so focused on one step, I will sometimes forget the others or stumble or even fall, but I am glad that I am learning and I know that one day the dance will be beautiful and seamless and I will move through the world again with confidence.