Enlightened Interactions

On this especially foggy morning, Dad drops me off at the sidewalk by the library. I walk forward, finding that I move more easily through fog than glare, and I trace the path that slides past the library. Narrow strips of brick interrupt the smooth surface of the sidewalk, and my cane catches awkwardly in each groove. Quickly I switch from dragging to tapping. so the cane’s tip won’t get caught up in the sidewalk and slow me down.

My route leads me past the scattered bistro tables and through the back entrance of Starbucks. As I file into line, I notice how the building echoes with emptiness. The music, a blend of obscure indie tunes and blues lyrics, overfills the large, cavernous space. I stand by the pastry case, waiting for my turn and listening to the comforting hum of the cooler. I glance to the right, where the overhead lights cast a distorting glare on all the enticing pastries.

Hearing the woman two places ahead of me order her drink, I move my attention to the woman in front of me. She wears a dark striped shirt, easy for me to track. I listen attentively, waiting for her to place her order. This is the easiest way for me to know when it’s my turn to order.

Stepping forward, she orders a tall iced coffee with one packet of Splenda. Then, she walks around another customer, to the second register.  Now, I must shift my attention to the other customer, who stands at the register I will use. As I watch her gather her things and move toward the counter to wait for her drink, I start to move forward. Before I can approach the register, the barrista’s voice sails over the pastry case, shrill and cheerful in the big, empty space. “Hi, Emily! Tall Pumpkin Spice Latte?”

Turning my head to throw my voice at her, I reply, “Yes ma’am!”

Presumably she disappears behind the counter, because I do not hear her reply. I pay for my drink and move to the counter at the other end of the line and wait for my drink. I rummage in my overstuffed bag for my crocheted coffee sleeve.

A few minutes later, another barrista—whose voice is low, masculine, and familiar—sets my drink on the counter and says, “Tall Pumpkin Spice Latte for Emily.”

I see that he has already placed a sleeve around the cup; it contrasts easily with the whiteness of the plastic. “Thanks!” I ask the same question I’ve been asking for the past week, “Do you have a stopper?”

“Already in,” he says cheerfully. “Have a great day!”

“Thank you!” I retrieve the cup and, indeed, a small green stopper plugs the hole at the top. I can’t believe he remembered! Now, I won’t spill hot coffee on myself as I walk to my office!

I emerge from the front entrance of Starbucks and follow the sidewalk past more bistro tables, a few bushes with contrasting flowers, and a series of precarious mini-columns. I take a left, then an abrupt right. I begin to follow the line of a building that will lead me to the elevator. (Even with a stopper in my latte, I do not brave stairs with hot coffee and a heavy bag on my arm.)

When I’m about a foot away from my elevator, someone calls, “There’s the elevator, just in front of you!”

I turn to my left to find a maintenance worker, whose voice sounds familiar, standing there, holding some boxes. Immediately, I feel the need to compensate for the impairment he sees in me. I smile brightly. “Thanks, I know my circumstances pretty well.”

“Yeah,” he chuckles. “So…are you totally blind or do you see shadows?”

I am impressed that he knows about the degrees of blindness, that the white cane can indicate different kinds of  vision loss. “I have low vision—limited fields and sketchy depth perception.” I press the (unlabeled) button that calls for the elevator. I am surprised by the ease of my spontaneous disclosure—how natural it feels for me to amend the anomaly that people see in me.

“Oh okay.” He pauses. “The other night on TV, there was this program where they gave a guy his vision back. So there’s a cure out there somewhere!”

I shift my bag on my shoulder and turn to face him, my smile still in place. “You know, it’s funny—I guess for people who have lost their vision later in life, a cure would be a good thing. But for those of us who have grown up with our vision, it’s just another part of us. It’s not something I need cured.”

“Right!” he says excitedly. “Yes, I know what you mean.”

“It’s not scary or weird,” I continue. “It’s just about getting to know the body you were born with, the gifts you were given.”

“Yes,” he says thoughtfully. “Well, you have a nice day, ma’am. Oh, and your elevator didn’t wait for you!”

“Yes, I heard it leave me.” We both laugh as I press the button again.

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