by Amy Casseaux"Gwen, you really need to make it this year. You haven’t been home in so long that I’ve forgotten what you look like. Every year, you’re too busy to come visit for holidays. You haven’t been to a reunion since you moved away. Five years, Gwen!"
"Mom. I just have so much on my plate right now. I’ve got my own agency to run and things are really taking off. On top of that the home office keeps inviting me back for seminars and speaking engagements. I just don’t have time."
"As the saying goes, ‘money that she cannot spend will make no woman rich.’ Gwen, you’re going to give yourself a heart attack if you don’t slow down. You are not superwoman."
I smiled at that. If only she knew. My family was even more in the dark figuratively than I was in the literal sense. I wasn’t superwoman, I was super blind woman!
"Mom. I just don’t have time right now. I’ve been here less than two months. I’ve got to produce or I’ll go under."
That was when she opened up the Mother’s Arsenal and hauled out the big gun: guilt.
"I really wanted you to come just because you wanted to see us all, but I guess I’ll have to tell you now. I haven’t told Bob or your sisters yet. Your Aunt Pauline is dying. The cancer is ahead of the chemo and the chemo can’t catch up. This will be her last family reunion, so I’m going to do whatever I have to do to make sure everyone is there. Now call the airline, get your reservations and let me know when to expect you."
I couldn’t think of anything to say. Aunt Pauline had beaten cancer twice - or so we thought. It looked like big C was going to win after all.
"Okay. I’ll call you back."
Once I had hung up, I dialed my assistant. "Carol, I need to be on a flight to Dallas tomorrow evening, and set me up for a return flight Sunday afternoon - Love Field, not DFW. I can cab it to the airport, but I’ll need a car to meet me for the return."
"Got it. Hotel?"
I thought about that. Did I really want to stay at Mom’s? No. Truth to tell, I never wanted to go back there at all. I had escaped, damn it!
"Yes, try to get me something near the Galleria. Get a car to meet me. Do an hourly, ‘cause I’ll be doing some running around while I’m up there. The usual arrangements."
"Got it. Brennerman called: you’re on with the city council next week; Call Faracy about the claim on Johnson. He wants to know why we sold a liability policy to a man with two DWI’s."
"Call Faracy and tell him it’s because we charged him through the nose for it. Johnson got rear ended and pushed into another car. He was sober at the time. It wasn’t his fault and we have witnesses. The car that hit him was uninsured. We’re just going to have to eat this one."
"Got it. Your ten thirty is here."
"Put him in the meeting room and I’ll be there in a minute."
I laughed. "Carol, what would I do without you?"
"Not nearly as well.", she said with a smile I could hear.
I hung up and stretched, knowing that the people from Big Top Mining were being shown in to the meeting room, which was set up with all kinds of visual aids that would convince them that they needed to buy more insurance. All that was left was to convince them that they needed to buy it from me. The corporate policy for Big Top Mining was all but in the bag.
I stood and pulled at my dress, fixed my pantyhose which was beginning to bunch, and ran a brush through my hair. My shoes went on, then I grabbed my cane and unfolded it. Using the cane, I navigated the path to the door, went down the hallway, and entered the meeting room.
"Gentleman, thank you for coming."
I heard them rise and move my way. Handshakes all around and then Carol led me to my seat. I know this office quite well. I could have left the cane in my private office and found my own chair, but both were as much visual aids as the charts and slides that Carol would be using as I spoke.
You see, the more helpless I looked, the bigger help it was to me. It was all part of a plan that had worked so well.
= = = = = = = =
When I was in junior high, one of my teachers went blind due to her diabetes. It was gradual and she managed to hang on to her job with the help of a teaching assistant. Somehow, being blind didn’t diminish her - it made her bigger. By the time I had graduated High School, Mrs. Parker was the principal. She was like Super Blind Woman. She’d run in marathons (with a partner), water skied for an independent film on people with disabilities, she took karate (and kicked ass) - there seemed to be nothing she couldn’t achieve. She was an inspiration to us all, and especially to me because I knew her secret. She wasn’t any more powerful than anyone else, it was just that no one expected as much of her, so her accomplishments seemed larger. It was a con.
I had been one of several students who got work study credit for helping out in the school office. I did a lot of errands and small jobs for Mrs. Parker. I also learned a lot. She had a way of getting students, teachers, and the school board to do what she wanted. She blatantly used her blindness at times. Boy, did she know how. I was learning at the hands of the master.
Later in college, I needed a job to help make ends meet. I wound up being the personal assistant to an insurance salesman who was blind. All I had to do was get him to the client and then get out of his way. He used custom made sales books that had little Braille codes so that he knew what was on each page of his sales books. He also had the info in Braille for reference, but rarely did he need it. By the time I had graduated and had my MBA. Mr. Posey had his own albeit small agency and I was one of his top sales people. He used his contacts to get me a job at the home office. So long, Austin. Hello, Chicago.
It didn’t take me long to start climbing that ladder, but the competition was fierce. After two years, I was in line for a pretty big promotion.
That was when Providence stepped in. Actually, that was when I was in a car wreck. When I woke up at the hospital my eyes were bandaged. Two days later the bandages came off, but all I saw was a white haze. It was as if I were in a fog.
Once I stopped screaming and feeling sorry for myself, I calmed down. If Mrs. Parker and Mr. Posey had succeeded in their chosen fields, so could I. Little did I know that I would have to cheat to do it.
Because I was in a company car on company time when the accident occurred, this was a worker’s comp issue. Insurance companies do not like to pay out on disability claims. It’s bad for the image. My bosses made it clear to me that I still had a place at the company and that big things were still expected of me. That promotion I’d been in line for - it was mine just as soon as I was ready to take it. I’d be given whatever training and assistance I needed.
Translation: They didn’t want a big claim or an ADA discrimination suit. That was okay with me.
Once I got over the shock, I found being blind slightly... well,... exciting. Doing things by touch turned me on. Being touched and handled did, too. It was weird, but sensual somehow. I was constantly horny, a fact which I kept to myself.
O&M training went well. I already knew some Braille and I knew a lot of cane techniques. Using them was different from seeing them, but still I did good. That overachiever thing again. I learned how to function at home, on the street, in the market, and in the marketplace. With no idea that I could just fold into a quivering blob of tears and go on disability, I succeeded, as had been my way since childhood.
Looking back, I knew that I could have folded, but I refused to. Folding meant going home and being with my family. It meant being matched to a nice boy from the church, getting impregnated repeatedly, tending a household full of kids, going to church twice a week, and praying my relatives into heaven. Screw that! I resolved to succeed and literally, I never looked back.
It was during my last week at the center that my vision began to improve. I could see shapes through the fog. It came and went and it was never very clear, so I never bothered to mention it.
Once I was back at work, my new job came with all kinds of perks. An assistant, an expense account for meals and cabs when I met with clients. Most of all, I didn’t have much to do in the way of real work because not much was expected of me. There was no need to go out and produce; I was the token ADA girl. They hauled me around to speaking engagements where I was the object lesson in having good insurance and to other engagements where I demonstrated that there was no need to pay injured employees to sit at home.
What they didn’t expect was that I would take on projects, assemble a team and manage them so well. Once they were sufficiently surprised at that, I asked to do some sales. Give me the tough ones, I told them. The ones other salesmen have given up on. What have you got to lose, I asked.
I am a good sales woman. I’m also smart. The other things is, I can play on the blind thing and then move in for the kill. That was how I made the impossible sales. That was when I began to make my reputation as Super Blind Woman, the can-do queen. That was also when my vision began to really improve.
The doctors told me about a new procedure that might restore as much 90% of my vision. I wouldn’t need the cane, but probably wouldn’t be able to drive. There was also the possibility that I could lose all my vision. All of this came on the cusp of an offer to take over a big agency in Phoenix from a man who was ready to retire. The staff, the office, the clients, the profit - it was mine if I could come up with the buy in money.
= = = = = = = = =
"Thank you, gentlemen. The contracts will be printed out with all the modifications shortly. In the meantime, I’d like to treat you all to some coffee downstairs at Starbuck’s. In other words, the latte’s are on me."
Then Carol added (as I’d instructed her to), "As the person who takes her clothes to the dry cleaner, I can tell you that she’s speaking literally."
I laughed at that so the clients would know that they could, too. I stood and unfolded my cane and led the way to the elevator. Once there, we descended to the ground floor and Mr. Harrison was gentlemanly enough to offer me his arm for the walk across the street.
The Phoenix sun was hot and I began to sweat - excuse me, glisten - immediately, even though growing up in Texas made this feel almost like home. With Carol’s help, my dress had been chosen to reveal some cleavage and some leg. Donna Karan knew how to design clothing to do just that. My heels were low enough to be stable, but high enough to make my legs look good.
At Starbuck’s, I ordered my usual and put the tab on the account I’d set up. I regaled the men with funny little stories about being blind and learning a new life. Little blindisms that were amusing to people who had never thought about them. I was doing a stand up act (while sitting down) and they were all laughing. They were putty in my hands and money in my bank account. With this sale, my agency was set. I had just sold a two point six million dollar policy. Ka-ching!
= = = = = = =
Carol has been a major help to me, both in business and in self discovery. I hired her a little over a year ago, when my first assistant got promoted. She and I clicked very well and she knew exactly what I needed, having grown up with a blind parent. She’s also very smart. In order to keep her, I’ve given her some hefty raises and a piece of the commissions she’s helped me bring in. We became a team.
I also let her into my heart and into my bed. I didn’t know she was a lesbian at first, but then I didn’t know that I was either at the time. My drive to succeed had overpowered my sexual drive for a long, long time because success meant independence and I equated failure with going back home.
Then, when I went blind the first time and was so aroused all the time, things changed. Once I had established myself at work, I began dating. One night stands and a series of failed short term relationships had me crying one day after I’d broken up with a guy at lunch and had been forced out of the car during an argument. My professional life seemed unlimited, but my personal life had run into a brick wall. The same brick wall that I was clinging to as I heard him drive away.
I had no idea where I was and several of the people passed me by refused to answer my request for help - all I needed was information. Finally, I heard the ell a few blocks away and started walking that way. Since I had relied on drivers to take me places and lead me where I needed to go and since I used personal service people to do my shopping, it was really the first time I’d been genuinely alone and on my own since going blind. It was a rude awakening, let me tell you.
Cane in hand, I followed the outside wall of the building, passing shop doors as I went along. With only a general idea of where I was going, I had no idea how many steps between each block. People bumped into me despite my cane, and while crossing the street a car almost ran me down. By the time I reached the ell and found out which station I was at, I was in tears. No Super Blind Woman here. I called Carol at the office and asked her to come get me.
"Boss, I know what you need." She’d told me that Friday afternoon. "You need to let your hair down, be a regular person, and tie one on. You need to cry, you need to grieve, and you need to do it now."
"Yes. I know what my Dad was like after he went blind. He was so set on functioning that he didn’t take the time to really grieve for his loss. He’d lost Mom and his vision, but he to take care of me and make some kind of a living. One day, he nearly collapsed and cried for days. They put him in a hospital because he couldn’t stop crying. You need to deal with this, boss. Better to do it now than let it build. Let me cancel your afternoon meeting and come with me.
I knew I was in no shape to take that meeting so I said yes. Carol took me to a bar and we talked the night away. I told her about my fundamentalist, family-values mother and father. I told her how they discouraged my career plans and had tried to convince me that a home life, children, and frequent prayer was the path for me. I told her how I had resisted and went to college, then how I moved away completely.
"We’re semi-estranged. I call them infrequently, and I avoid going for visits. In fact, they still don’t know I’m blind. At first, I hadn’t wanted to burden them, and then later I hadn’t wanted to be bothered with them. I’ve been blind for almost two years, and I still haven’t..."
That was when I lost it. the realization that I had been blind for almost two years hit lke a hammer between the eyes. Carol held me and then she shared her story. Carol’s parents had been in a car wreck like mine, except her mother had died and her father had lost his vision. She’d grown up doing things for him and helping him function. "I’m basically a nurturing, caring person. I considered nursing, but somehow it didn’t seem right for me. I’m a one person nurturer."
That was how she had come to work for me, she’d said.
Then she explained that she had fallen in love with me. Things might have been different had she said it two seconds earlier, but I had passed out from the booze by then.
I woke up in her bed, next to her, hung over and very confused. Her arms were around me and I could hear her breathing. I was very calm for some reason. I had no urge to run screaming from the room. It was comforting in a way no man’s touch had been. That was the reason - not my being blind - that all those relationships had failed. A new world opened up for me.
We became very close. I maintained an apartment for appearances, but I moved in with her. I shared with her the secrets of how being blind had helped me and that my vision was bad, but not quite as bad as it had been. I could tell whether it was light or dark, and I could see fuzzy shapes if they were really close - like touching my nose. Carol told me that my being blind was a turn on for her. That was when I confessed to her that it was for me, as well.
Carol was both a blind devotee and a blind pretender. When we went away for weekend trips, she’d be blind with the aid of eye patches and dark glasses. Sex was wild. We liked to hire escorts and be taken dancing or shopping. We took nature tours and we liked to touch things and have them described to us. Did I mention that the sex was wild?
That was when the two major changes happened. I got the Phoenix offer with a thirty day option and I had the surgery. I had become accustomed to being blind, but my bosses assumed that I wanted to see, even if it was just a little. They were the ones pushing me to do it and not having it was not an option.
I feared losing Carol, but she understood. As much as she enjoyed her blind weekends, she liked taking off the patches Sunday night. What she told me was that she loved me more than she loved me being blind. Still, when I went to the hospital, I was very ambivalent. Under the guise of work, Carol stayed with me. A laptop and some file folders were kept open for appearances sake in case someone came in. I spent three days in a state of high anxiety, waiting for the unveiling.
The surgery worked - sort of. My vision was no longer foggy, but it was if I was looking through a waterfall. The doctors smiled and congratulated themselves. Success, they said.
"But when will it improve?’, I asked. "When will I really be able to see?"
"Oh, you may improve by a couple of percentage points, but this is as good as it gets, Gwen. Where you used to be blind, now you’re only legally blind."
I wanted to slug him. If I could have moved, I would have. There was light and there were shapes and colors, but it was all wavy and blurred. Lines weren’t straight and they kept wavering. Yeah, I could see, but I couldn’t tell what I was seeing. I still couldn’t read. I’d still need the cane to navigate. I could see more, but from my point of view, I was no less blind.
That night, at the hospital, I realized that I had to keep it to myself - that no one could know. Carol had been at work when the bandages had come off. Likewise, none of my bosses had been present. It seemed to me that a lot of things would go away if people thought I could see, even a little. Doors would close. Doors that I needed to stay open. I was no less blind in terms of functioning, but if people knew that I had the slightest amount of vision, they would perceive me as sighted. Sighted people don’t differentiate between sight and usable sight. It was weird. The pain meds didn’t help the thinking process. It was like having mud in my brains.
I brought all to mind and considered all the options and considered all of my possible futures. As strange as it was, being blind was the key to my success so far. I needed to stay blind. The problem was that faking blindness wasn’t going to be of much help if the doctors proclaimed that the surgery was a success. Insurance companies have a sixth sense for fakers. It had to be real. I had to blind myself.
Through the drug induced haze, I laughed at the thought. A blind woman was going to have to become blinder! She wasn’t blind enough!
I took a deep breath. Complete bed rest was required for two more days. I couldn’t receive any bodily shocks or make any sudden movements. I listened and looked. No sound, no light from the door. It was closed. It was late at night and I’d sent Carol home to get some rest. The nurse had just checked in on me. That meant at least fifteen minutes before she’d be back. I slowly let the bed rail down, then with a bit of a whimper, I rolled off the bed.
PAIN... and then nothing.
Seven days later, I left the hospital not on Carol’s arm, but in a wheelchair. A nurse helped Carol get me into her car and propped me in with pillows to help avoid any unnecessary jolts during the drive home. Unnecessary jolts caused pain - lots of it. In Carol’s purse was a rather large check from the hospital. A hurried, take-it-now-please, out of court settlement for their negligence in leaving the bed rail down, plus compensation for a lifetime of blindness. I could have owned the hospital, but instead I wanted the agency in Phoenix.
A lifetime of blindness. Blind for life with no hope of any new procedure bringing me back my sight. Through the pain, I thought, what had I done to my self?
= = = = = = =
Once the contracts were signed, notarized and the wire transfer had been confirmed, I shook hands with Mr. Harrison and led him to the door. A long business relationship had just begun. Carol led me to my private office and once inside we hugged each other and jumped for joy. I directed her to settle some bills we had run up, make sure the paperwork was fed-ex’d next day air to the home office and then I told her to get ready for a night on the town.
That night as we lay together after making love, she asked me for something. Carol doesn’t ask for much. In fact, I sometimes have trouble getting her to let me do things for her.
She asked me for a commitment. "I know you love me, and you know I love you. We’re a team. You’re the brains and I’m the support. It works for us and I like it that way. I like taking care of you. Chicago wasn’t the place for us to be together publicly, I know that. We could have lost everything. But now that we’re here and we’re making them money and they know we’re gonna make them a lot more. You’re their golden girl success story. You make them look good. They ask you to speak all over, making them look good. They aren’t going to risk that.
"I want us to be an us. Phoenix has a very liberal outlook and you know the gay community is politically active here. No one is going to make a move against us if we come out of the closet together. I’m not asking for a big announcement, just to stop hiding it. I won’t kiss you at the office and I’ll still call you boss, but I want everyone to know that I love you and that you love me."
As her voice broke, I reached out and caressed her face. I felt the tears on her cheek, the strand of hair in her face, the bump on her nose from a childhood accident. I traced her lips and the little bit of bulge caused by her overbite. All I could think of was to say, "Come with me tomorrow night. I want to introduce you to my mother and father."
She hugged me tightly and said yes. Then we made love again.
The next morning, we went to the office and I laid out a list of things I needed Carol to do. Busy work, but she didn’t know that. They were legitimate tasks. I disappeared into my sanctum sanctorum and made some calls. About three o’clock, my intercom rang.
"Boss, I have a Mr. Chaney here. He insists that he has an appointment, but he’s not on my calendar."
"Send him in now, then get Valerie to cover your desk. Join us as soon as she gets up front."
I rose to greet Mr. Chaney and asked him to sit. His case made several clicks as he opened it. He described his merchandise and I selected four items provisionally. That was when Carol came in and closed the door behind her, then gasped.
"Pick one out, Carol. Then pick one for me. You know what I like."
I heard her sob and then the next thing I knew I was on the receiving end of a ferocious hug. She looked at the rings and then she said, "This one."
I held out my hand and she passed it to me. In the time I’ve been completely blind, this was the first time I truly wished for sight, even if only for a moment. I really wanted to see this ring and Carol’s face.
I gently pushed her back a step and got up out of the chair, then I reached for her left hand and I put the ring on her finger. I said, "Carol Lawson, will you be my life partner for as long as we both shall live?"
She hugged me and cried, nodding her head on my chest. Mr. Chaney said, "That was a definite yes. I’m a witness, Ms. Chandler. A very happy witness."
I thanked him and asked him to present a bill at his convenience. He left and I led Carol (strange as it seemed) to the couch and we held each other.
"Thank you.", I heard through her tears. I couldn’t have spoken just then, either. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door and Valerie stepped in. "Ms. Chandler, everyone is in the meeting room. Also, the caterers here."
Blind as I was, I could feel the look of surprise on Carol’s face. We went into the outer office and I walked, head held high and arm in arm with Carol as we stepped into the meeting room. I held up Carol’s hand and mine and shouted, "She said yes!"
There were cheers all around. Wine poured and caviar was passed around. They weren’t being polite; they were genuinely happy for us. That night we went to the airport and we flew to Dallas.
"You mean you E-mailed everyone in the office and they kept the secret all day long?"
"I sure did. I’m not as helpless as I look."
"I know that. I’m the one who set up that computer system for you. I’m just surprised."
"You were supposed to be."
"And now we’re... I can’t believe it."
"Going to meet the parents." I lowered my voice and said, "Young lady what are your intentions toward my daughter?"
She leaned over and whispered her answer. What a woman! I wondered if I could get the Captain to fly faster. That room at the Westin-Galleria was going to waste.
When we were exiting the plane and walking up the ramp I got a shocking surprise when I heard my name called out by a voice I recognized. My mother’s.
"Gwen, over here!"
Carol whispered, "Is that..."
"Yes, it is." I hadn’t expected this. I had plans for how to do this and they didn’t include a scene at the airport. Before I could say anything, I was hugged, kissed, and hugged some more by various people who were probably my sisters and brother. I didn’t smell his cigar residue, so Dad was undoubtedly circling and waiting for us to appear at the curb.
Carol took my arm and squeezed twice so I would know it was her. I said, "Everyone, this is Carol. I asked her to come along."
The more the merrier was the general consensus. I took Carol’s arm and we made our way to the baggage area. My mother is dull, but not stupid. After a few steps, she asked why I was wearing my dark glasses. It was almost eight o’clock after all.
"I need them, Mom, they protect me."
Mom’s voice shifted from beside me to in front of me and Carol stopped. "Why do you need them? Why are you holding Carol like that?"
"There’s a lot I need to tell you, Mom. I’m not the same little girl that went away."
I could feel waves of confusion and shock from my family and Mom’s voice hardened to that pulpit pounding, bible thumping, I’m-gonna- beat-your-butt-with-a-belt tone she used to use in my younger days. "Gwendolyn Alice Chandler, I demand that you answer my question. Why do you wearing those dark glasses? Why are you holding Carol like that?"
I placed my arm around Carol’s waist and brought her close to me.
"Two reasons, Mom. Because I love her...", I reached up and removed my wraparound glasses, exposing my empty eye sockets. The jolt from my fall had done more than just undo the procedure. In their post-surgical, not-quite-gelled state, I had ruptured my eyes.
I reached out with my other arm grabbed Mom and pulled her face close to mine. "...and because I’m blind."
For the second time that day, the second time since I’d lost my vision forever, I wished I could see. That way I wouldn’t have had to miss the moment when Mom fainted.
I heard her fall and I could sense everyone bending over her. With a sigh, I replaced my glasses and said, "Y’know, I ought to come home more often."
By the time we’d gotten away the gate, I had changed my mind. Mom’s fainting spell and the screaming denunciations made when she woke up had caused a ruckus. Security had come and a crowd had formed. Dallas isn’t quite as liberal as Phoenix. I heard the word dykes as the security people escorted us to the baggage claim area. While Carol got our luggage, I told my family in no uncertain terms, just where they stood with me.
I was quiet, but they all heard me clearly. "Listen to me. Carol is going to be with me from now on. We’re in love. Either you can accept that, accept me and accept her or you can just walk away and say goodbye forever. I don’t care which."
That last sentence was harsh and unplanned. Maybe it was uncalled for, but I realized that it was how I felt. I had come to visit a dying relative. A good woman of whom I had fond memories. I had also brought Carol to join my family. Now it was up to them.
The dead silence told me their answer or so I thought, but Eileen said, "The reunion is at Lake Lewisville, near the barge. Dad will have the boat in the water, so bring a swim suit. Here’s the directions. You’re in charge of bringing pies. Aunt Pauline still likes Key Lime and Dad will want chocolate. Bring Carol... well, I guess Carol will have to bring you, won’t she?"
Eileen was setting the party line and everyone else followed it - even Mom. When Carol joined us, Mom said, "Carol, I know you two have a hotel room, but please know that you are welcome in my house. Thank you for bringing my daughter home to me."
Carol squeezed my hand and it was only the lack of tear ducts that kept them from running down my face. I hadn’t expected this.
= = = = = = =
It had been eleven years since I had left this area to go to college, five since I had last been back. The changes that Carol described to me as she drove the rental car shocked me. Lewisville, Texas had gone from a sleepy little town on the outskirts of Dallas, to being an extension of Dallas. Still, I thought I recognized every pot hole as we drove to the last few miles to the lake. Carol saw the tents and the tables and the sign that said CHANDLER FAMILY REUNION, and we joined the clan. No sooner had we parked and I had unbuckled, than my door was opened I was pulled out for a big hug. I recognized the cigar scent, so I said, "Hi, Dad!"
He surprised me by gently taking my hand and placing it on his elbow, then leading me around the car. Eileen, Sally, Bob and his wife Ruby were there, helping with the pies I had bought at Aston’s that morning. Greetings and introductions were made and I was led to a chair. I sat and Dad sat next to me. The distance of the voices told me that the family was some distance away. They’d led Carol away so Dad could talk to me alone. I steeled myself for a confrontation, but surprisingly, none came.
"Gwen, I got quite a surprise last night when everyone got back to the car." his voice was quite gentle.
"Yeah, I bet you did.", I said.
"Your Mom was upset, but your sister Eileen was even more upset - at your Mom. As I understand it, your Mom was about to wash her hands of you when Eileen invited you to bring Carol here."
"Oh, yes. She knew that your Mom was about to make a mistake that she and everyone else would regret later. That was why Eileen spoke when she did."
He paused and I heard his pocket knife open. A scraping sound told me that he was trying to keep calm by whittling on something. I waited.
"Gwen, let me finish saying this." Uncertainty was in his voice and I knew he was trying to choose his words carefully. "I don’t understand about you and Carol, but I accept it. The good Lord put a lot of things on this earth that I don’t understand. That doesn’t keep me from seeing what’s in front of my face, pardon the expression. You are my daughter and I love you. Your life choice is yours and if my religion tells me that it’s wrong then I have to choose you over my religion. I think if I make things square with you now, I can square things with HIM later."
He always points upward when he says HIM. I could see it in my mind’s eye, where I can still see. "Your mother doesn’t like the situation, but she likes the idea of losing you even less. Give her time and she’ll come around. In the mean time, she’ll fake it as best she can. She’s better at faking things than you realize."
I felt his hand on mine. "Give us a chance, okay?"
That was when Mom came over. I could hear her walking and saying, "Are you two done yet?"
"Yes, dear." That was Dad’s code for I can see right through you, but I’ll go along with the program. I stood up and hugged Dad and then Mom. She took my hand and said, "There’s a couple of people who want to see you. One’s here and the other one’s on the way."
She began to walk, but I dug in until she stopped. I took her hand from mine and placed my hand on her elbow, saying, "Like this, Mom. This way I can feel you as you move left and right or up and down. You can lead me, but please don’t try to tow me."
My cane was dangling from my fannypack. I wanted to use it, but I allowed Mom to lead me as a peace gesture. As we walked, I sensed her imminent tears as she adjusted to the fact that her daughter was blind and needed to be guided from place to place. In an effort to bridge the gulf that had formed between us - a gulf that now seemed as much my fault as hers - I said, "Thank you for making Carol welcome. You’ll like her, I think."
"I’ll try." Yep, there were tears in her voice.
"That’s all I ask."
"Why didn’t you tell us about the accident? Why did I get the details from Carol just now instead of you then?"
"I was afraid."
"Yes. I wanted something more than kids and a home and church. I know it worked for you, but I wanted to accomplish some things."
"You think raising three girls and boy isn’t an accomplishment?"
"Yes, but not the one I wanted to make. I didn’t want to be forced into that life."
She laughed. "Did I ever manage to force you to do anything you didn’t already want to do?"
"No, but you sure tried."
"I was supposed to try. That’s how I got you to succeed. You always worked harder for the carrot if you knew there was a stick in the shadows."
Surprise! She’d been playing me all those years.
Once we got to the shoreline, it became rocky and I had to pull my cane out. I could sense Mom’s dismay, but she said nothing. Rocks led to a wooden walkway that bounced. We were on the fishing barge. The planks ran across rather than lengthwise, so I had to be careful not to get my cane caught in one of the cracks. A minute later I heard a rod and reel working.
It was Aunt Pauline. I was led to a chair next to hers and Mom left. We talked for a while, catching up. She said she wanted to meet Carol, which pleased me. At one point I reached out and felt around for the second pole that she always brought. Aunt Pauline placed it in my hand. I found the hook, then felt for the Styrofoam cup that held the worms. I think I surprised both of us when I managed to get the worm on the hook without injury.
"Two o’clock, Gwen. Cast it out there.", Aunt Pauline said with a croaking, weary voice. The chemo was wearing her down. I whipped the rod and heard the line go out, then came the soft plop! as I heard the bobber hit the water.
"Perfect!", I heard Carol say as she approached. There was a tapping sound that came with her. It was the same sound I had made with my cane.
A voice I hadn’t heard in years, but immediately recognized said, "Are you just gonna drown worms all day? It’s time we went water skiing."
I laughed and said, "Carol, meet the original, the one, the only, Super Blind Woman."
Carol said that she already had and Mrs. Parker said, "I’m hardly the only one. From what Carol tells me, you’ve earned that title. C’mon, I still have a few things left to teach you."
"Such as how to water ski with a lunatic at the wheel of the boat."
"Oh. Mom’s driving?", I joked.
"No. I am. I’ve learned a few new tricks over the years. Being a Super Blind Woman means that you can’t ever give up, stop, or quit. Success or nothing."
I held Carol’s hand as I got up, kicked off my sandals, and pulled down my cut-offs, revealing my swim suit. My T-shirt came off next. I hadn’t skied in eleven years, but I was ready to succeed.
"Lead the way.", I said.