7956 words - rated PG
“I've had this trip on the schedule for over a week now. I didn't make it lightly.”
The woman on the other end of the phone moans her answers, stretching the ends of each word to their limits, stretching them until I feel my composure begin to tear at the edges.
“I knooowwww, I'm sooo sorryyyyy.” The sorry trails on for a few seconds before she takes a breath and starts again. “One of our drivers was involved in an accident, one is out sick, and the other two are on their way to Corvallis.”
I sigh. I sigh long and loud so she can hear it.
I think her name is Emma. She is new to the driving service. Emma, if you're going to stretch out your apologies, I'm going to stretch out my disgruntled sighs.
“It's not like I can just pop down to my doctor's office anytime I want. One point two miles is a long way to travel alone for some people. I wish I could but I can't, and I can't just reschedule for tomorrow. I set this appointment up two weeks ago.”
“I'm sooooo sorryyy, I can give you the number for another drive...”
Wait, did she say...
“Did you say a driver was involved in an accident?”
“Yes, that's right.”
“It wasn't David, was it?” Her voice catches. I didn't realize how strange the question was until I heard the silence it caused. I can hear Emma furrow her eyebrows and try to form what she really wants to say into something a little more... sensitive, a little more professional. The question sounded callous, like it would be okay with me if any of the other drivers had been in an accident.
But not David.
It is callous. And no, I wouldn't care if anyone else had been in the accident.
“I can't share that kind of information, Mrs. Palmer.”
Yes you can, idiot.
“Miss Palmer,” I say. I say it without the long, stretched endings Emma uses in her apologies. I say it in the opposite way, short, clipped, loud. I say it again. I say it for what is probably the five-hundredth time.
“I'm sorry, miss Palmer, but it is my understanding that David is on his way to Corvallis.”
That makes me feel better. David is the best driver. He understands my routes. He understands how to park so I have the best access to the parking lot ramps. Most people wouldn't realize the difference between getting out on the right side of the car and having the ramp immediately at your feet versus getting out and having to maneuver your way around the car, past curbs, past sign poles, garbage cans, shopping carts, and past the rumble and roar of other cars looking for parking spots.
“Let me get you the number for one of the other drive...”
David also knows how to talk. He talks to me like he's a human being and I'm a human being. He doesn't treat me like a patient, or like I'm feeble. He's not afraid to make fun of me. The first time I tripped and fell in front of him, he swooped in and his hands were on me and I was back on my feet before I even felt the sting of the road rash on my palms. He'd grasped the bicep of my left arm with his left hand and slid his right hand under the armpit of my right arm. I remember pushing the ground away from me to help him lift, but I didn't need to. He pulled me up like I was a child. I could feel the imprint of his fingers even when he got me upright and let go, four hot ripples on one arm and on my rib cage. Once he let go, I could feel where his fingers brushed the side of my breast.
I can still feel it, three months later. I can feel where his hands brushed the grit from the palms of my hands. I can feel where he brushed dirt from the front of my blouse without realizing he probably shouldn't run his hands across my chest. When he pulled his hand back and mumbled an apology, I just smiled.
“Miss Palmer, are you still there?”
I should fall in front of David more often.
Corvallis is 45 minutes away. Even if that is his only trip, there is no way he will be back in time to take me to the appointment. And it's probably not his only pick-up.
I hang up. Emma is in the middle of asking of which alternate driving service I'd like the number, and when she starts another long, useless apology, I hang up. I hold the phone under my chin. I like the warmth of it, and the feel of the hard, plastic edge bumping into the underside of my chin. I usually tap it slowly at first, then faster, and faster until I've finalized my thoughts about what to do next.
I could call Sherry again. I know she will probably be available, or she will make herself available. I know she will probably say yes no matter what, no judgment, no hard feelings, no problem. But I always call Sherry. I pay the driving service for their time and attention, but Sherry won't take my money. The two times I've slipped money into her hand and demanded she take it, I found the money in my purse later that day. Then I tried leaving it in her car without telling her. It didn't appear back in my purse for three days. Still, a pretty good turnaround, she's good.
I don't want her to return my money again. I don't want to owe her any more.
Emma was trying to give me the number to one of the other driving services in the area and I already have them. They are programmed into my phone, and all I have to say is “Call dial-a-ride,” or “call Gold Star Taxi.” I could call them and they'd be here in twenty minutes and I would make it to my appointment on time, probably.
Why do I have to change my plans? I don't do well with changing my plans.
My phone vibrates, then rings. Thank you for letting me know I have a call coming in, Lady Gaga.
“Call from doctor Schelling office,” the phone tells me. The British man robot voice was my favorite a year ago when I got the phone, and I haven't found anything better since. I could ignore the call. I could answer and tell them my ride fell through and I need to reschedule. Then I wouldn't have to do anything today. I could go back to my book on tape. I could make an early dinner and go to bed early. I could run a bath, I haven't taken a bath in weeks.
“Hello, this is Caitlyn.”
“Hi, Caitlyn, it's Carla from doctor Schelling's office.”
So bright, so cheery, ugh. I can hear her lips pulling away from her teeth as she smiles. Breaking the suction between her teeth and her cheeks and lips makes a wet click, like the first drops of rain.
“Hi Carla,” I say, trying to smile big enough to mirror her fake emoting enough to make her comfortable enough to maybe bring her jubilation down a notch or two.
“How are you?” she asks. Well, other than the sudden glaucoma-induced blindness I experienced a year ago, I'm super great.
“I'm fine,” I say.
“That's great, that's great. Well, I'm calling to confirm your two o'clock appointment today and make sure you have everything you need. Have you secured transportation?”
I haven't. They failed me and I don't have the strength to call another company and meet another driver who won't even be close to David. I don't want to pretend to be grateful, I don't want to retell my story again. I don't want to deal with any of it. So no, I haven't secured transportation.
“Yep, I sure have,” I hear someone say. The someone sounds very cheery, and totally in control of the situation. Also, the someone sounds a lot like me.
“That's great! Well we will see you at two o'clock.”
The voice thanks Carla and says a cheery goodbye.
I hate when I want to be snarky and mean and depressed and angry and my social skills won't let me. Please let me be rude, brain. I feel like I deserve to be a little rude, or even moderately grumpy. I feel like I've earned the right to devolve into a sarcastic prick, or a cold-hearted hag.
I'd really like to work my way all the way down to “straight up bitch.”
For now, I've told my doctor's office that I have transportation and will be on time to my appointment. Why? Why would I do this to myself? I had a perfect excuse to push this useless, depressing appointment back a week or two, and I very much don't have a ride and very much can't promise that I will be there on time.
I could call a taxi like an adult.
I could call Sherry.
I bring the phone up to my mouth. I touch it to my lips. Sometimes, since I can't see what's in front of me, I like to bring items all the way in, to feel them against my lips or my chin or my cheek before I use them. I can feel them with my hand, but sometimes I need something more.
Only sometimes. It's not that I don't trust my hands to tell me everything I need to know, but sometimes I need a second opinion. I need a second source to remind me of the feel of things, of the reality of things. Once in a while I will bring an item up to my eyes and hold it there, hovering. I open my eyes aggressively, making sure that they are open. Since I am drenched in darkness whether my eyes are open or not, it's hard to tell if they are open or closed, so I have to strain and feel the air on my corneas and I wait. Even now, over a year later, I wait for my sight to return.
When it inevitably doesn't, I close my eyes and push the thing I'm holding against my eyelids. I press the phone, or the spoon, or the TV remote, or whatever it is, into the firm spheres, letting the eyelids slide around under the pressure. I can't see the colors anymore. I can't see the ridges, the rough edge of a cracked dinner plate, or the smooth glass finish on my crock pot. I can't see the picture of Jason and me, playing volleyball at Newport beach beside a golden sunset. Somehow, for some reason, pressing these things against my face helps me keep them clear in my mind. I can still remember what it was like to see these things.
For the things I don't touch anymore, it's different. The things I don't touch anymore are gone.
“Call Sherry,” I tell Mr. Darcy. That's what I call him, my dashing double-o seven phone bot. Mr. Darcy.
“Calling Sherry,” he tells me. I appreciate his simple, polite obedience.
Sherry likes to answer all phone calls within two rings. She once told me she didn't like letting people wait and wonder, so if people call her and it rings three times, chances are she is unavailable. She likes giving people that certainty and consistency.
When the third ring finishes, I pretend she might pick up on the fourth ring. I hold out hope even on the fifth and sixth rings. Even after the eighth ring, when the ringing stops and the phone clicks and prepares for the voicemail message, I still think Sherry might come on, live, and welcome my offer for help without whispering even an ounce of resistance.
“You've reached Sherry Nolan. Sorry I missed your call, but if you...”
Even as I listen to the message, I hope for a moment that she saw that it was me calling and decided to prank me. I hope that she decided to try and sound like her voicemail message, and that at any second, she will yell “Gotcha!” and talk to me and help me deal with the day's problems.
She doesn't. When the woman tells me I can leave a message at the tone, I end the call (Oh yeah, can I hang up now or press one for more options?) The phone goes back to my chin. Maybe she'll call right back. Maybe she was in the shower. Maybe she was going to the bathroom. Maybe she saw my call and tried to answer but dropped the phone into the frothy yellow bowl of piss beneath her.
Maybe she doesn't want to talk to me.
It's fine, I don't need her to want to talk to me. I don't need her help. I'll get to the office myself. It's just over a mile away, only three road changes, and I can tell that it has stopped raining for the moment.
I could blow it off. I could spend the rest of the day in bed listening to my Bob Marley Pandora station. I could continue listening to “The Davinici Code” on CD. I could take that long, amazing bath I've been daydreaming about. I could ride to the office and back in a taxi, being bombarded by the whirlwind of horrible smells that are always included.
Or I could walk to the front door.
My shoes are where I took them off. They are where I always take them off, sitting side by side on a rubber mat next to the door, next to the jacket rack where my three coats hang (green, brown, black), next to the fake tree Sherry brought me the day I moved into the apartment, which sits next to the wall between me and my neighbors. I think my shoes will look fine with this outfit. I've arranged my closet and my drawers by color, and any texture differences, like denim versus corduroy, are up to me in the moment. I took a white undershirt (I think) and a cream-colored sweater (I think) with black slacks (I think), so my black flats should be perfect. Without a spotter, my closet may be off. Sherry hasn't been here to check my sorting system in probably three weeks now.
I have separate dirty clothes bags for white, cream and beige, green, red, blue, and black, and I have to be careful about putting the right clothing items in the right bag when I take them off. If I tear off my shirt and throw it on the floor, I might not find it again for a few days and by then I will have no idea what color it is. Then Sherry has to sort it out and pitch me, again, on the importance of a tactile labeling system.
I'm bored just thinking about it.
Sherry told me I should mark each item somehow. She suggested punching holes in the tags, or attaching different threads to the inside of the collar, or the cuff of a sleeve. They were good ideas, and maybe someday I'll do it. Someday I might get more bags for yellow or purple, or tie-die, or sparkling rainbow glitter items. Then again, someday maybe I will have a full time man servant who will sort it all out for me. He will lay out my clothes each day, then give me my full body massage, which will lead nicely into a gourmet breakfast. Then he will read to me from Pride and Prejudice, then entertain me with passionate love-making.
What am I doing?
Right, black flats, black slacks, a cream-colored sweater, my purse and umbrella. I'm ready.
I can do this.
Everyone says Portland is brutal. You'll need to go tanning for vitamin D, they say. You'll want to cut yourself to see color, they say. I love Portland, and not just because I can't physically see color. I love it for the rain. There is no other smell like the cool, early morning rain. Also, being tied to sounds has made me notice them more, and notice which ones I hate and which ones I love. I love the sound of rain. I hate the sound of cars accelerating. The faster the acceleration the more I hate it. I love the sound of Anderson Cooper's voice.
I hate the sound of the neighbor's dog, Slinky, whining at the door.
I love the sound of my refrigerator. Whatever frequency the hum is hitting is my frequency. I'm afraid my fridge will break down someday and I will never get that frequency again. I'll try a new one and hate it and send it back, and the workers from Home Depot will bring another one and install it and I will hate that one, too. I'll become a thing at Home Depot, that crazy blind lady who hates all refrigerators.
I hate the thought of losing my refrigerator.
I love the sound of the rain on the walls of my apartment, on the roof of a car, on the puddles in the street, in movies, everywhere.
I love this feeling, of walking out into the cold, damp air right after the rain has stopped. I have to be careful though about taking it all in with a deep breath. I stepped out onto my front walk and took a deep breath after Slinky had recently finished decorating the sidewalk with one of his greasy dumps. The smell hit me in the psyche. My stomach clenched so hard and so suddenly that I pulled a muscle. I threw up in my mouth. It punched a deep hole in my hard drive, and now I'll never be able to take a full, unguarded breath again.
Did I mention I hate the sound of Slinky whining at the door? Why are you whining, Slinky? Do you need to go outside and poop on my life?
Maybe I should get a dog. Maybe my seeing eye dog could eat Slinky.
Like I'm going to get a highly trained, working, obedient, soft and squeezable love of my life just to have him or her die in my arms in eight to fifteen years. I've had enough recent tragedies. No, no dog for me, not right now. Maybe some day. Right now, the reassuring hard plastic of what I've been told is my white and red cane will have to do.
Oregon Eye Specialists.
One point two miles.
I can do this.
Out my front door there are two steps down to the sidewalk. They are two shuffle steps long, each. Once on the sidewalk I can turn right and begin my journey. The seams in the cement give me some sense of straight ahead. If I veer to the right or left for the first two blocks of my walk, I will feel the well-edged grass on either side. This section of the sidewalk is even, straight, and easy. It leads to the gas station I occasionally venture to when I need a Baby Ruth or a case of holy water.
It's the greatest drink in the history of mankind.
It's probably stolen alien technology. Or maybe aliens dropped it here for mind control.
I can tell the distance to the gas station by the smell of the gas and by the sound of the jingling door bell. There is also a slight downward slope about thirty steps from the curb break where cars can pull into the gas station's fueling lanes or parking spaces. The station sounds busy today, five jingles in less than thirty seconds. If I make it back later this afternoon, I'll have earned twenty-two ounces of magical universe juice.
Maybe even a six pack. We'll see.
Past the station things change. This part of the sidewalk has more old trees and their roots roll and twist under the pavement and writhe upward and outward like a dog trying to get comfortable in its bed. The sidewalk accommodates them, tilting up at the joints and forming a jigsaw of toe snagging, blind-woman-tripping booby traps. The uneven sidewalk is a big part of why I don't usually walk farther than the gas station. The sad thing is I would probably get used to it if I wasn't afraid to walk on it. Catch twenty two.
I make it about one hundred yards before my first stumble. While trying to gauge the height changes of the tree-ravaged sidewalk slabs, I've forgotten to check my side to side clearance. I can feel that the sidewalk is slanting down again when my foot slips off the cement and down the two or so inches to the dirt of a flower bed. The altitude change throws me off, and the slippery dirt doubles the instability factor. The dirt crunches under my foot as I grind it down in a sudden six-inch slide. My foot is stopped by something solid, a rock or a root, and I haven't split my feet far enough apart to lose my center of balance and actually fall. But nearly falling rattles me. It doesn't matter how minor the slip, it rattles me. When you can't see what tripped you, or what you might be falling into, slipping is a lot more terrifying. I wish it didn't scare me so much but it does.
My arms shoot out and grab nothing. My right foot is still on the sidewalk and my left is in dirt wedged against a rock or a root and I stand there, arms out, wavering like a surfer being taking by that perfect wave.
My balance holds. I push against the rock or root and bring my foot back underneath me. My cane finds the ground again and I realize how hard I was tensing for the fall.
I've made it this far, about half a mile, and I didn't fall. I almost fell, but I didn't fall, and yet I still want to go back. I still have time to call a taxi. I still have time to call and cancel the appointment, tell them my driver was in an accident. Carla from Dr. Schelling's office would understand. She would tell me not to worry about it. She would tell me it's no trouble to reschedule, and she would thank me for the call. It would be easy, letting other people do everything for me yet again.
Jason would tell me to go back. He would tell me to relax, that I don't have to do everything on my own. It's okay to ask for help, Caitlyn. I want to help you.
I continue down the sidewalk. I'm not done yet. I imagine there are people watching me from cars or from windows. They probably saw me almost eat it back there. I imagine them watching me and cycling through the different reasons a woman might be shuffling so slowly and awkwardly down a sidewalk alone. At a distance, I probably look like an old woman, slowly sliding my feet one at a time, carefully ticking my cane back and forth before me. I'd like to think their first thought is, Oh, look at that, an attractive young blind woman walking on her own. She's so brave. Look how brave she is. She's so independent. Look how strong and brave and independent she is.
That's not what I would have thought a year ago when I could see. I would have thought, Oh wow, that is so sad. Look at that poor blind woman who is all alone. Does she not have any friends or family that could help her? Why would her family let her walk the streets of Portland by herself?
Jason left me. I knew he would, things were rough when I could see so having to help me with everything, having to listen to me cry and moan and bitch, having to deal with my anger and depression was, of course, too much. Being a professional, actually successful painter didn't help. It's no fun when you are a regionally famous painter who creates beautiful oil and digital works of art your wife will never see. It's hard when you're a couple and you're not sharing one of the biggest parts of your life together. There aren't a lot of Braille paintings out there. And it wouldn't matter because I still can't read Braille.
I don't care. Jason is gone, dad is dead and mom lives in California. She tries to help, as much as you can help from a thousand miles away. I think she feels that calling me and telling me what to do is helping. When she asks what I've been eating and wants every detail, she feels she is helping. When she tells me she's been doing research on corneal transplants and gene therapies and retinal repair using stem cells, she thinks she is helping. Until they find a way to repair the optic nerve, I'm screwed.
I want to think she means well. I think she is trying to help... she is trying to help herself feel better. She is convincing herself she is doing all she can, considering how busy her life is and how many people depend on her and how unreasonable it would be to move to Portland, Oregon to help her blind daughter. I don't have any kids, but my brother, who lives thirty minutes from her, does. He has three kids, and she probably loves them more than she ever loved us.
She is the kind of woman who would say, “Well, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the US,” as if that should make me feel better. “Hey, honey, at least you got the blindness lots of other people got and you're not some freak. I would hate to have to explain to my bridge club friends how my daughter got one of those 'weird' causes of blindness you never hear about. Can you imagine explaining that, again and again, to every person you met?”
Imagine my mom's embarrassment at explaining a genetically caused blindness, something that could be traced back to her.
I'm glad she isn't here. The thought of hearing her awkward condolences after a fall would be too much. I don't need that, I'm doing fine by myself.
The sidewalk is starting to level out. I can hear the dogs barking at Wallace Park. At a time like this when it's still pretty warm and there's been a break in the rain, people are going to be out with their dogs. I can always hear the higher pitched yapping of the smaller dogs first, the farthest out. Maybe because they tend to bark more at dog parks, in general, or maybe because their higher pitched barks travel farther or something, I don't know.
I was right, I'm here and there must be thirty different dogs running around. I can hear at least fifteen different barks, and lots of dogs don't bark at all out here so there are probably at least thirty.
I just did my favorite thing as a blind person, other than falling down in public. My cane caught on something and I stepped forward at the exact wrong moment and jammed the thick end of the cane into my pelvis. It got me right in the bladder, in my, I now realize, very full bladder. I think I'd rather have fallen down.
I stop, righting myself, and take note of the emergency level of this pee. I'm less than a mile from the office. Can I make it there or do I need to use one of the public bathrooms here?
I really, really don't want to use a public bathroom.
I'm already smelling the distant aroma of half a dozen dog piles, I don't need to add the direct onslaught of the feces of dozens of humans in a small, enclosed, rarely cleaned cell.
There is a dog growling, low and angry. He is near, and I can tell he is growling at me. I can feel his focus, and I can feel that he is a big boy.
Please be with your master. Please be on a leash.
“Mommy, is she blind?”
A little girl's voice, similar distance as the dog. The mom shushes her.
“I don't know, Lucy, but it's not polite to say that.”
Not polite to ask if someone stumbling around a park with a long white cane is blind? I imagine little Lucy, furrowed brow, wondering, in a pretty yellow sundress, why the world is so confusing. I want to tell her no one knows why the world is so confusing. I want to tell her all about my blindness, and ask her what color my outfit is, and ask her what color her outfit is. I want to shake her hand so she knows it's okay to touch blind people.
“Come on, sweetie, let's go. Come on, Brutus!”
And I want to slap mommy in the face.
I hear the clink of chain against chain and Brutus lets out one last growl. The mom has him on a chain choker leash. Brutus is probably very protective of little Lucy. I don't usually enjoy getting growled at, but I have to give it to him.
Good boy, Brutus.
“Mommy, I think she's blind. Should we help her?”
Lucy is intrigued by what could be the first blind person she's ever seen. Or maybe the first one she's seen up close. I hear Brutus jump into the back of their mini van or SUV and mommy continues to silence Lucy's questions as she closes them all in and starts the engine.
Your mother could help me, Lucy, but she won't.
And neither would I.
And neither will you, someday.
I don't want to hear their car rev and pull away. I cover my ears and count to ten. When I can hear again, the van or SUV or monster truck, whatever moms drive these days, is just a part of the greater constant traffic rumble of 25th avenue.
I was right about the break in the rain bringing people out from the shadows. Another quarter mile down the road and I'm surrounded by one of my other least favorite sounds: footsteps. The footfalls of boots on wood floors, sneakers on a basketball court, high heels clicking on cement or marble or tile, ugh, the worst. I don't like how repetitive our steps are. I don't like tracking the click clack click clack across a parking lot or a lobby. It's not the sound itself, at least that's not the problem entirely. It's the wondering. When I hear footsteps, I can tell very little about the person making them. If there are big, thunderous boot landings I can assume the steps are of an adult man. If I hear high heels, I can assume it's a woman. But what kind of man? What kind of woman? I'm not Daredevil, I can't hear their heart defects and know their age. I can't hear the gun tucked into their belt, rubbing against the leather. Footsteps mean questions. Footsteps means sighted people who may need me to do something for them.
Or it could mean I'm going to be abducted, tortured, and murdered.
Ted Bundy could be walking next to me and I wouldn't know it.
Freddy Krueger could be sitting next to me at a coffee shop and I wouldn't know it until he jammed his finger knives into my chest.
One of the worst places is my apartment. When I hear footsteps heading up the path to my front door, I freeze. I always, every single time, hope they don't ring the door bell, hope they don't knock, and hope they just go away. I don't want to talk through the door to another delivery man about where he can leave the package, or about sliding his signature device through my extra large mail slot so I can sign for my packages without having to open the door. Again, hearing footsteps and hearing a voice say I have a package doesn't tell me much. I can't look through the window to see who it really is. I can't look through that little peep hole some doors have for proof of UPS or FedEx employ. I don't want anyone, anywhere, to know where I live and to know that I am blind. I don't want the man who delivers my food from the local market each week to know that I'm blind. There are sick people out there who would try to take advantage of my weakness. They can assume I'm sick, or that I'm agoraphobic, or that I'm really shy. I hope they think I'm an eccentric, wealthy genius who is way too smart to interact with commoners. But even if I know who it is, generally, and even if I know why they're coming to my apartment, I still hate it when I hear their footsteps approach my door.
Now, in the last few blocks before Dr. Schelling's office, the rush of footsteps fades. Around Wallace park there were tennis shoes, work boots, kid sneakers, high heels, the normal mix of large groups of people. Now, I hear my own footsteps on the still-wet pavement. I hear my flats crunch over loose sand and light gravel, hear them splash into the occasional shallow puddle.
Every gravel patch I hit, another set of feet hits a few seconds later.
Every puddle my feet splash in and out of gets splashed by someone else a few seconds later.
People tend to give space to the blind. They tend to make their own way around blind people so as not to make us feel rushed, or crowded, or like we are in the way. Most people are considerate.
Whoever is behind me is walking at my pace, very slow for a sighted person. They are keeping the same distance they've kept for two blocks now. I haven't heard anything from them besides the mirroring sounds of their feet to mine. I can tell they are bigger than I am. I sense it's a man but I'm not sure. They really shouldn't still be walking at my pace, they should've passed me or made there way off of the sidewalk toward their destination.
I'm going to slow down even more. I'm going to slow down and give them the chance to pass me. A normal person would pass me. If someone is following me this closely for this long, I feel like they are probably studying me.
And waiting for an opportunity.
I'm nearly to 22nd street and the ophthalmology office. I can hear the light rail cars as they swing onto Northrup street from 23rd. I'm almost there.
He's still behind me. As I've slowed, he has slowed, and now that I'm walking a little faster, so is he. As the light rail cars pass by us, their noise takes over. The footsteps are gone. Is he running up to me? Is he going to throw me in a van and drive me away?
The cars pass and the noise fades and he is still there. I think he is closer than he was, maybe ten feet back. A car passes us, 80's metal screaming from the probably just barely open windows.
He sounds closer again, eight feet.
Three more cars drive by. I can feel the water spray from their tires. It mists my pant legs and shoes. The wind is picking up again, bringing the next series of showers. They'll be here within the hour. Another car passes, then two people on bikes yelling at each other, then a truck. I jump when the truck honks its horn. The cyclists yell at the truck driver. He yells back.
Six, maybe five feet. He is gaining.
“This is a bike lane, idiot!”
I want to cry out for help. Two random cyclists seem safer than the quiet man who has been following me for almost five, ten minutes? I've lost track, it feels like forever.
“Then go, morons, some people have work to do!”
The last intersection I have to cross is close. I'm almost there and I tell myself I'm safe. There are people everywhere and I'm almost there and I'm safe. You're safe, Caitlyn, you're freaking out for no reason. I hear my mom's voice in my head. It's my voice, then her voice, saying the same things.
“No one is going to kidnap you. You're over-reacting.”
He's right behind me, a few feet.
“It happens all the time, mom.”
“Portland is a safe city.”
He's reaching for me, I can feel it. Something touches my shoulder. He's going to grab me and there's no way for me to protect myself.
“Stop being so dramatic, Caitlyn, you're always so dramatic.”
“I'm not being dramatic! Will you think I'm being dramatic when you find out I've been killed?”
I can hear him, hear his breath. His mouth is open in a snarl and he is going to grab me. He is going to grab me and smother me and take me somewhere and kill me. I won't be able to fight him off. I won't be able to see his face. I'll be a news story. People will shake their heads and sigh. “So sad,” they'll say. “Who would do such a thing? And to a blind girl?”
Not this blind girl.
I won't be a helpless victim.
“Get away from me!” I scream. I want to hit him with my cane but as I turn and start to swing it up somewhere near where I think his head will be, it catches on something. I twist and slam it into a utility pole, which knocks the cane out of my hand. I wasn't ready for the sudden shift in my momentum and I catch the side of my foot on a crease in the pavement. It stops me from putting my foot out to stop my sideways spinning trajectory and I can't avoid the fall.
I fall sideways onto my elbow and shoulder, but the ground isn't where I think it will be. It is lower, and my natural instinct to reach out and catch myself has me flailing at empty air. I land on hard asphalt. It is the street, I've fallen off the sidewalk and into the street. There were cars coming only seconds ago, I heard them. They're going to be right here any moment.
My hip hits first, then my elbow and shoulder. My hand didn't help me at all, and the force of the fall sling shots my face onto the wet asphalt with a short crack. Just before I hit, I can hear the skidding of tires. I'm going to be run over.
My head hits the ground as the screeching tires crescendo. Then ringing, a high-pitched ringing is all that is left. Darkness, pain, and a harsh high hum in the middle of my head. I wait for the impact.
Local blind girl falls into traffic.
The ringing sharpens and spikes, along with the pain.
I wait for the impact.
Tragic local story tonight.
Lying at this height, the car will hit me directly in the head and face.
At least it will be a quick death.
I wait for the impact.
The ringing fades ever so slightly. Other senses emerge.
I feel the grit on my hands as I push up from the ground. I feel the asphalt under my palms, feel it grinding against my hip and knee. I smell and taste blood. The road was wet but the wetness I feel on my head feels like more than that. It is running down the side of my face. I think it's blood. When a woman's voice grows louder as she runs up to me saying, “Oh my God, are you alright?” I know it's blood running down my face.
“Oh God, she's bleeding.”
“Someone call an ambulance.”
No, please, don't call an ambulance. I want to say this out loud but I can't yet. I try to make my mouth work but it won't.
“Call 911, somebody!”
I shake my head and wave at them, wave at all of them.
“No,” I say. At least I think it's me. “No, no.”
Someone's hand is on my arm.
“Whoa, easy there, just stay where you are, miss.”
It's an old man's voice, rough and faded like his hands. I can feel the years on him, feel the wrinkles of his life's work.
“No, please, don't call 911, please,” I stammer. At least I think I say that, I try to say it. I'm not really sure if it came out right. The ringing is loud and the voice I hear sounds kind of like me, like when you hear your voice on an answering machine. It sounds like someone doing a decent impression of me, but maybe under water?
“Well you're bleeding pretty good here, sweetheart,” the old man says.
It's him. He's the one whose been following me. I can smell it. I wasn't sure what I was smelling before but now it makes sense. It was a particular brand of old man smells. There is old cologne, some kind of vapor rub, and pipe smoke.
He lives in Portland, of course he smokes a pipe.
“We really should call you an ambulance, dear,” he says.
“Please,” is all I can say as I shake my head.
“Is she blind?” someone asks.
“I think so,” comes an answer.
The old man pulls my cane to my hand and closes my fingers around it. “There's a medical center right across the street,” he says, helping me to my feet, “maybe we can get you some help there?”
I try to say thank you but I can't. I'm spinning in the darkness and I'm not sure where his voice is coming from and I can't tell if I'm standing straight or if I'm about to fall again. I can't make my mouth tell him that the medical center is where I was headed, but his hand stays on my arm and I feel his other hand on my back and he must have received some kind of message because he walks me the rest of the way across the street. He talks to me most of the way. I don't understand much of what he says until I hear him ask my name.
“Caitlyn. My name is Caitlyn.”
I'm not sure my ophthalmologist can stitch up head wounds, but having to only go to one doctor's office instead of two would be nice.
“There is an urgent care office...”
“Dr. Schelling,” I say. The ringing is dying down, I can hear myself more clearly now.
“Sorry?” he says.
I stop walking and so he stops.
“Dr. Schelling... I have an appointment...”
“Oh, okay. Do you know what office he is in, or the address?”
I do know. I've been there dozens of times in the last six months. I've heard Carla say it to me in person and over the phone. I've heard it when calling in, when I'd get the answering service after normal business hours. It's right there but I can't... remember it.
“I'm sorry, the Eye... something. Something about eyes.”
I shake my head. How stupid must I look to this poor nice old man. A minute ago I screamed at him and tried to kill him with my cane. What does he do for revenge? He picks me up, walks me to safety, and tries to get me where I need to go.
Truly brutal form of revenge. I'll never be out of his debt.
“Oregon Eye Specialists?” he asks.
Of course it is that. Of course he looked around and found it immediately, despite my terrible directives.
“Yep, says Dr. Alan Schelling right there on the door. So that's the place?”
I nod. He guides me toward it. The blood feels like it has stopped running so profusely from my wound, but as the old man opens the door and Carla sees me, my perspective shifts a bit.
“Oh sweet Jesus, Caitlyn, what happened?”
I assure her it's fine, that I don't need an ambulance or a trip to urgent care. But I could use a doctor, and I'm pretty sure Alan Schelling is a doctor.
He is. He is an eye doctor, but he is still a doctor, and apparently he has sewn up a lot of eyebrows over the years. He is mildly concerned when he first sees me. I imagine my face is many colors it shouldn't be and many different shapes it shouldn't be, but he cleans it up and tells me it's just a scratch and that he can fix it up in no time. It's not a scratch, but I appreciate him trying to calm me down and make me feel better. He does fix me up in no time, though. I thank him, then and later and again and again until I'm out of the office. I thank him again when Carla drops me off at my apartment. I thank her at the door and I ask her to thank him again when she goes back. He couldn't give me any good news about my eyes and their health. He's never going to be able to provide that, not without nerve transplants. But he did sew my eyebrow up and he did tell me he'd like to see me again in a few days and that Carla would be picking me up and he did show me that there are nice, helpful people out there.
The bathtub is filling up and the beautiful steam is rising to meet me. The Davinci Code is saying something about an albino priest, but I'm not really listening. I'm thinking about David and his return trip from Corvallis. I'm thinking about the next time he takes me somewhere, and how I'm going to have to tell him I met another man. He's older... like, a lot older... but he's kind and smart and traveled all over the world as an emergency doctor during large natural disasters and wars. His name is Oscar and he loves coffee and he smokes his tobacco out of a pipe. He says he uses a pipe because he's a friggin gentleman. I believe him. I hope Jason is jealous. I hope it encourages him to finally ask me out. I know he checks me out in his rear view mirror.
I can hear it.
I can smell it.
I run my finger over my forehead and smooth out both eyebrows. I can feel the tiny stitches. It's barely even sore, and I imagine I'll be left with barely a hint of a scar. I'll never see it, and most other people won't see it, but I will feel it and it will make me smile to know it's there. It will remind me of the dangers of the world, and of the people out there dedicated to making avoidance of those dangers just a little bit easier. The Alan Schellings, the Carlas, the Oscars of the world. The happy, helpful, interesting people just waiting out there.
Out in the darkness.