I have been hesitant to illicit the help of Zelda outside the Braille Institute, but Tamar pointed out to me the importance of utilizing the cane at least at street crossings, to let people know that I may not see them. Makes sense, but I still felt anxious about taking her out.
I had plans to visit my Dad, across town, and was taking the bus, so I thought about using Zelda at the street crossing at Sunset and Gardner; I sat at my desk before leaving the apartment and took her out of my bag and unfurled her and practiced a bit in the house, and paced and agonized and put her back in my bag. I couldn’t do it. I was feeling nervous about being exposed in my neighborhood, about my friends and neighbors treating me differently or forgetting who I was before they knew I was blind. I think I am a pretty friendly person, but I prefer to stay in the shadows, away from spot lights and prying eyes.
I have thought a lot about whether my feelings around my blindness and the white cane come from a place of shame, and I really don’t think they do. I sometimes feel as if my RP makes me less than whole, damaged and broken, but I am not ashamed of it. I have a disease; it has no cure and no apparent origin and I am not responsible for its inception. It just is. I definitely feel shame about other aspects of my life and myself, things that are in my control, but I think with the blindness, what I truly dread is the attention it will attract once the cane becomes a more present part of my everyday outside life.
I left that day for my Dad’s, just like every other day, cautious walking down the street and crossing Sunset to the bus stop, but kept Zelda tucked away safely in my bag. During the ride across town, I thought about taking Z out when I got to Westwood and using her in the street crossing there, but still I kept her hidden. I got onto the second bus, the one that takes me within a mile of my Dad’s house, still contemplating taking Zelda out. Half a block from my stop, I took her out and held her tightly in my hand. I got off the bus and made my way down a short street to the wide and busy street crossing that would take me into my Dad’s neighborhood. With my heart pounding, I released Zelda from her constraints, her sections popping into place like puzzle pieces, and waited for the light to change.
When the light turned green, I looked to my left to make sure the car in the turn lane saw me and I felt that the usual urgency I get from drivers, impatience to turn, wasn’t there. It was as if the cane gave the driver pause and therefore gave me a safer crossing. I stepped out into the busy street, sweeping Z in a 10 to 2 arc, practicing the footsteps Tamar taught me, and made my way across the intersection. Even writing about it brings the tears welling up in my eyes; I felt like I had crossed a threshold that I have been turning away from for years. I felt proud of myself and terrified and grateful and also like I wanted to shrink away and hide. But, I didn’t hide.
I kept Z out and crossed another intersection. I could have gone left, up a side-walk where there were no other pedestrians, or right where I saw at least five people chatting and smoking outside a local business. I chose to go right and I held my path. I remembered the advise from my friend, fellow RPer and Blogger, and I just kept moving slowly forward, not attempting to move out of the way of the people ahead. I came toward them and they gave a quick stare, then cleared the way for me. I felt like bloody Moses; I told Joe later that perhaps that is what I should have named my cane.
The next person I saw was a young woman walking two dogs. She noticed me coming down the sidewalk and got a bit of a panicked look in her eyes. Her dogs were busy sniffing the trees, as dogs do, and I think she wanted to stay ahead of the poor blind lady, so she picked up her smaller dog and moved at a faster pace down the sidewalk. She turned around 3 times to look at me, but I didn’t feel disdain from her, just curiosity. She raced off and I continued at my slow pace down the sidewalk.
I got the last street crossing before my Dad’s street; this is actually a street crossing that makes me a bit more nervous than others, because it is wide and there are no stoplights. I came to it with my usual trepidation, but was curious if having Z with me would make me feel more secure. I don’t know if security or confidence were present in my heart just then, but I did feel less timid and crossed the street in a much less rushed way. I sensed the drivers staring at me from inside their cars, but I just kept walking, concentrating on the steps Tamar taught me. I just kept dancing the dance.
I walked down one more short stretch of sidewalk and then put Zelda back in my bag, feeling pretty good about our first real walk together.