by Amy Casseaux
The plane thundered down the runway and I felt the nose wheel leave the ground. A moment later, the rest of the wheels left the ground and we began rotating skyward. My fantasy vacation had begun. As soon as we reached altitude, I reached into my bag and removed a cassette player. John Grisham’s latest novel was on tape and I hadn’t heard it yet. My fingers crossed the Braille label and I found the first cassette. Into the player it went.
“You do that so well.” The flight attendant said, in awe. “It just amazes me what you people can do.”
I guess I have to explain: ever since a childhood encounter with a blind school mate, I’ve always been intrigued by blind people. The ability to function in a visual world with reduced visual cues or no visual cues at all. In college, I briefly dated a blind girl until she went home - she’d spent most of her life in a residential school and the unstructured life of a university was overwhelming to her. After college, I began to simulate low vision around the apartment. With a little scotch tape, the world became a blur. With a little flesh colored tape, the world became light and dark, with no other input. With a little electrical tape, the world became total darkness. This was how I spent my entire weekends sometimes.
At first, it was strictly an at-home kind of thing. A mop handle became my cane. Then it grew. With a letter and a check to the Lighthouse for the Blind, I bought a folding cane under the pretext of buying a replacement for a relative. When that folding cane arrived, a whole new world opened. I used the Internet to search for items: a Braille labeler, a Perkins Braille typewriter, books on learning Braille, books written in Braille, books on tape, a watch that spoke. One by one, I acquired them. From Sharper Image, I acquired a Mindfold - a soft, comfortable blind fold that allowed no light whatsoever into my eyes. I could wear that without any risk of damage to them. After all, I needed my eyes from Monday through Friday at work.
I spent some time learning Braille. I had grown up the son of a diplomat, so I spoke Spanish, French, and German with near native fluency after living in Europe most of my childhood and teen years. Compared to tacking on a new language, Braille was merely a code.
I guess I had been building up to it - going out in public, I mean. One day, I had to know what “blind” life was like outside my apartment. I soon found out that it was exciting in a visceral way.
Since I was known to several people in Fort Worth, going to Dallas seemed wise. By combing my hair differently and wearing dark glasses (a necessity!) no one would recognize me if they saw me there. After quick drive to a parking lot downtown, I’d catch a cab to a bar or a restaurant. From the time I was picked up on the curb until I was brought back to the lot, my eyes were taped shut with a little thin strip of ribbed tape - the kind nurses use when you have an IV put in. I’d relax my eyelid while closed and put the tape on my eyelashes. It allowed me to pen my eyes slightly, but not see clearly, just a blur. Once the Ray-Bans went on, no one could see the tape, and I couldn’t see at all. I’d call a cab with my cell phone and I was in business.
Being led by people and seated in restaurants was a blast. Sitting at a bar was even better! Sometimes, I’d leave my cane unfolded and standing next to me, other times it would be folded and sitting next to me on the bar. Women would come and sit down next to me. In no time at all we would start conversations. I had my cover story all worked out: how I’d lost my vision, O & M training, and so forth. My cover story would always have me be from out of town, just killing time before going to the airport. That way I could always disengage if someone started getting too close.
Getting too close was a problem, I soon discovered. One woman took my glasses off without warning me and I had to come up with an excuse involving an infection for the tape. That woman had wanted to take me home and jump my bones in the worst way. Both my bones and I had wanted to go with her, but my fear of exposure kept me from doing it.
In the cab going back at my car, I pondered the situation. The risk was too high to continue this. If I were caught at it and it became known that that I was some kind of - well... I’d never put a label on what I did, but the word freak came to mind - if that came out, I’d lose my job, have to move, etc. I didn’t want that.
For the next month, my blindness simulation returned to at-home-only status. Then, I was watching TV one night and the answer came to me in a most unique form: I was watching an old rerun of Star Trek - The Next Generation . It was one of the episodes where LaVar Burton removed his Visor and showed his eyes, or more accurately - the contact lenses that were used. That was it!
The TV went off, the computer went on, and google.com led me to theatrical contact lenses. Hooray!
I saw several kinds, but only three that simulated blindness for the wearer. One gave the impression of stitches from a recent surgical procedure - that one was out. The second one gave the eye a marled look and allowed no vision at all. The last one gave the eye an infected kind of look and allowed the user to see only shapes and shadows. The last one was cheaper and the lenses had a more realistic look to them, so I placed an order. That was a long week I spent waiting for them to arrive.
I came home on Friday and found a package in my mailbox. It was the contacts! I took them inside, forcing myself to calm down. After carefully reading all of the literature that came with it, I went to the bathroom and put one on, then closed my other eye. It blocked all color, and when I passed my hand over my eye, all I perceived was a shadow. I couldn’t tell that it was my hand, even when I wiggled my fingers. Judging from medical literature that I’d read, this was the vision of a person with extreme, inoperable cataracts. Next, I took a look at it in the mirror. It completely occluded my eye while leaving it barely visible beneath a thick layer of white. It gave it a look that suggested a trauma from years past or a birth defect.
I put the other contact in and vision went away. It was so much different from a blindfold or tape because my face wasn’t covered and I could keep my eyes open - not that it did me any good. I knew one thing for certain: with these I could return to my occasional public appearances with confidence. The following night, I did.
I preferred a quiet little bar on Greenville Avenue. With no loud music, conversation was possible. I had bought a new pair of glasses - instead of the dark Ray-Bans, these were lightly tinted, allowing my eyes to be seen if someone really concentrated.
“Mike?”, I heard. Mike had been my cover name.
A hand was gently placed on my arm and I heard, “Hi, it’s Kim. What brings you back to Dallas?”
“Business.”, I replied. “I have a client here that deals with some European vendors. He brings me in for conference calls and long meetings.”
My cover story had been that I was a simultaneous interpreter - one who could listen, translate, and speak all at the same time as opposed to one that listened and gave a ”he says..” synopsis. Since I really can do this, and had earned extra money in college doing it for visiting professors, it makes for an easy cover story. My real degree is in Law and I actually work as in-house counsel for a major electronics giant, so I’m fairly conversant on a number of subjects.
Kim had been the woman who had wanted a look at my eyes and had removed my dark glasses a month earlier. I could tell that she was staring at me now, I was fairly sure that she was looking at my eyes. As I had been with that former girlfriend in college, Kim was a devotee of blind people.
Our conversation picked up where it had ended a month earlier, almost as if no time had passed. Kim gently pressed me for details about being blind , techniques, perceptions - all under the guise of polite conversation. This was not a problem, since it was my favorite topic as well. As it turned out, Kim was a 3-L; that is, she was in her final year at SMU Law School, so we had a lot to talk about.
Drinks led to dinner, dinner led to dancing, and dancing led us back to her apartment. My car was safe enough where it was since I had used a hotel parking lot this time, so I was in no rush to leave or end the experience.
I have to say that blind sex is indescribable. It’s also really good. I’ll draw a veil over what happened the rest of the weekend.
Monday morning was a bit of a rush for both of us. She dropped me off at the Hilton before going to class. I’d offered to take a cab, but she wanted to do it. Fortunately for me, it was out of her way and there was no time for her to come up to my room - fortunate since I didn’t have one! I made a quick call as I drove in to work, explaining that I was running late. It all worked out.
I’m a little ashamed of the fact that I used Kim, but use her I did. For almost a year, we’d meet once or twice a month. I’d park my car at Love Field on Friday evening and then take a cab directly to her apartment. We’d spend the weekend together, go for drives, picnics, movies where she would whisper stage directions to me, concerts, and honky tonks where we’d dance until closing. On Monday, she’d take me back to the airport for my early morning flight. From there, I’d drive to Fort Worth and go to work.
Since I “traveled” so much for clients, we E-mailed and ICQ’d each other mostly, or I would call her. I purchased some software for my laptop that did speech-to-text and text to speech. After all, I did work for an electronics company. I was always getting new software offers. She thought it was so cool when she saw it.
Not giving her a phone number at which to reach me was a small problem. Ostensibly, I lived in LA, so she would have known by the area code of any number I gave her that I was in Texas. Things continued to work out for us using our Internet hookups and we had a kind of serial relationship. Then, when I really did have to take a trip to LA on business, I purchased a cell phone with a California number. It rang wherever I was, so she now had a phone number for me.
At long last, after slowly saving up for it, I suggested that we go away on a trip. Of all the places she could have picked, she chose Disney World. As she apologetically said that she had never gone as a child and had always wanted to go, the thought going through my mind was YEEEEE-HAAAAA! Going to a place loaded with sensory input - dedicated to sensory input, in fact - was like a dream come true.
The thing is, it’s fun to move around in a place you know well - as I had done and still did in my apartment and in Kim’s. Going to new places, not knowing what was around me, having it described, being led - those things were the big turn-on for me. Go to Disney World? Hell, yes!
Okay, one of the screams was mine. Where being blind is concerned, a roller coaster has a whole lot in common with telling an angry drunk to go f*** himself: you know the fist is coming, you just don’t know where you’re going to be hit. I had expected being shaken up a bit, but not this much.
It seemed like forever before I felt the car slow and then stop. Kim helped me stand up and another hand took mine from above. “Here, sir. Let me help you.“
I was willing to accept any help offered to me. My inner and middle ears were telling me that I was still moving even though I knew that I wasn’t. One giant step up and then I heard Kim join me. First, she handed me my cane, then she gently placed my hand on her elbow and asked, “Ready?”
“As far as the next bench or chair, yes.”, I replied. “My equilibrium needs to settle down some before I go very far.”
Kim kept leading me in the same direction, but subtle changes in the way she moved told me that she was looking around. While I knew that she wouldn’t lead me into any solid objects like doors or walls, I kept my cane in front of me to check for potholes and bumps. “Okay, there’s a sidewalk café about a hundred yards. Will that do?”
A few minutes later we stopped and Kim moved my hand from the crook of her arm to the back of a seat. I reached out and touched the table and then the seat of the chair before sitting down. Kim sat to my right and took off her back pack. “That was kinda wild, wasn’t it? You look better than you did, but you’re still little green, hon.”
I had to laugh at that. I said, “Growing up, there was no roller coaster in the world that could make me whimper. One time I smuggled a banana onto a roller coaster just to prove to my best friend that I could ride and eat without getting sick. I ate the entire banana that day before the ride was over and it was my friend Pete who barfed. Three years ago, I had took skydiving lessons and loved it. Who would have thought that eyes play as much a part of balance as the ears?”
She laughed, “Most people, I think.”
“You’re probably right.”
We spent the rest of the day on the more tame rides, although twice I insisted that she leave me at a bench or at a café while she rode the other big roller coasters alone. She was reluctant to leave me alone, but I knew she really loved those rides.
The day had been a wild one. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride had nothing on the one I was currently on. I was having the time of my life.
I guess I should explain. Ever since a childhood encounter with a blind school mate, I’ve always been intrigued by blind people. The ability to function in a visual world with reduced visual cues or no visual cues at all fascinated me. In college, I briefly dated a blind girl until she went home - she’d spent most of her life in a residential school and the unstructured life of a university was overwhelming to her. After college, I began to simulate low vision around the apartment. With a little scotch tape, the world became a blur. With a little flesh colored tape, the world became light and dark, with no other input. With a little electrical tape, the world became total darkness. This was how I spent my entire weekends sometimes. It was a major turn-on.
With a cane purchased from Lighthouse For The Blind, I began making public forays and hanging out in bars. That was where I met Kim. She had no idea that, five days out of seven, I can see perfectly well. I use theatrical contact lenses that give my eyes a marled, slightly traumatized look. They also block 95% of my vision, allowing me to tell night from day, but nothing more. I fake being a blind man quite well, having taught myself Braille. Any lack in experience or “blind knowledge” can be covered by my cover story which has me losing my vision during the last couple of years.
As bad as I feel about using Kim to get my jollies, I rationalize it by telling myself that she’s getting off, too. Like I was back in college, Kim is a blind-devotee. She gets the same sexual thrill by being with blind people that I get out of simulating blindness. Does she simulate blindness when I’m not around? Possibly. I don’t know.
Anyway, here we are at Disney World. She’s leading me around, describing things, helping me to “see” through her words and we are both having the time of our lives.
At the end of the day, we went back to the hotel and showered, then headed for the pool. Hey, if groping blindly in the air is fun, then doing it in the water is twice as fun. Buoyancy doesn’t give you the same orientation that standing or sitting does. It defies words.
After the pool came dinner and dancing at an Orlando landmark called Rosie O’Grady’s. That was where I had an interesting encounter. We both needed to make a pit stop while we waited for our table, so Kim led me to the Men’s room and told that she was using the ladies room right next door. Whoever got done first would wait on the other.
As much as I like being led, I sometimes like finding my own way around in a new place more. There is a visceral thrill in not knowing what is around you and not having the safety net of a guide to warn you. I stepped into the rest room and stopped. Water running on my left told me that the sinks were that way. A flushing sound and a trickle of water told me that the stalls were straight ahead. With my cane a pace ahead of me and my index finger in the “D” position so that a slight push/relax, push/relax movement gave me enough of an arc to keep me from tripping, I walked straight ahead with my free hand at stomach level. I found a wall and used it to guide me to the stalls. Walking blind always makes me hard, which requires a bit of effort to pee. Once I was finished, finding the sinks to wash up was easy because the map of the room had already formed in my mind.
I was on the way out when I heard the door open and became aware of someone entering. For a second, I thought I heard two canes tapping, not one. Then my cane came into contact with his cane, causing a tangle. I lost my grip on my cane, tripped over the other one and we both went down.
“Hey!’, I heard. “Watch where you’re going!”
It was a young voice, adolescent, mid-teens I guessed. I smiled as I realized what had happened. I asked, “What would be the most ironic situation possible right now?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care.“, I heard.
I got to my knees and reached for my cane, which I was pretty sure was to my right. I encountered his hand on my cane and heard, “Would you please let go of my cane. I need it more than you do.”
“I wouldn’t bet on that - ‘cause that’s my cane.”
“What are the odds on two blind people knocking each other down?”, I asked as I stood up and used my cane to locate his. When I did, I tapped my cane on the floor and said, “Yours is here. Let me know when you find it.”
“I have it.”
I was about to apologize for the collision when he asked, “Christ, is everyone going blind?”
“Was that question rhetorical?”
“Only a little. Since I went blind, I seem to spend all my time with other blind people.”
“I get it. You’re still taking O&M training, aren’t you? Are they coming to you, or are you living at a center.”
“A center. I asked my parents to take me out for one night so I could go somewhere that wasn’t... I dunno. Just somewhere different.”
This was a slightly surreal conversation for me, but I felt the need to continue with it. “How long?”
“Three months. You?”
No wonder he was so angry. He was still in the stages of grief. “Two years, almost.’
“Yes.” I replied.
“Any chance of ever seeing again?”
“Some, not much.” I don’t now why I said that. I wasn’t part of my cover story that I had made up.
“I had cancer in both eyes. They had to take ‘em out. I got artificial eyes now.”
Now that was hard to hear, especially since being blind was pretty much a weekend thing for me. All I could say was, “It gets easier as time goes by. You gain confidence and life goes on.”
“Yeah, right.” I heard as he moved towards the stall. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard, “not for me, it won’t” as I left the rest room.
In the hallway, I found Kim, who told me that our table was ready. I told her about my encounter.
“Wow. There’s a woman at my church who had her eyes taken out. She had cancer, too, but she didn’t get the replacement eyes. It’s weird just looking at her eye sockets.”
We were just ordering dinner when we heard a commotion. Kim said, “It’s an ambulance crew. I guess someone got sick.”
“That’s a comforting thought.”, I quipped. “I hope I don’t order what they did.”
“Oh, very funny. I meant sick like a heart attack.”
“I’d rather have the food poisoning.” I was on a roll tonight. Somehow encountering another blind person had put me in a good mood.
A few minutes later there was another commotion, and Kim said, “Oh, my God! It was a kid. He looked like he was barely thirteen.”
Instinctively, I knew it was the boy from the rest room. “What was wrong with him?”
“I don’t know. Dear God, he was drenched in blood and they were wrapping his arm with another bandage as they wheeled him out.”
Hearing that was like a punch in the gut. Being blind was fun for me, partly because I knew that I could see again as soon as I removed the contacts.
I thought back to something I had seen years ago while waiting for a plane. A young teenaged girl was also waiting and saw one of the airport wheelchairs. Curious as to what it must be like, she sat in the chair and wheeled it around. A harmless curiosity, I thought at the time. I remember the look on the girl’s face when a woman in a wheelchair was pushed by a skycap through the waiting area. The woman’s legs had ended just above and just below the knee. The girl had stared in horror as the woman was wheeled past, then looked at her own legs. Then she began to cry as she stood up from the wheelchair and moved to a regular seat.
Thinking back, I understood now. Pretending to be crippled had been fun for the girl - imagining the special attention one got - but facing someone who really was disabled had taken the fun out of it.
Dinner that night was quiet. Neither Kim nor I said much. We went back to our hotel room without going to the dance floor. I knew why I was in a poor mood, but I had no idea why she was. After we got undressed, I found out why. It began with a question.
“Mike, What’s it like being blind and knowing you’ll never see again?”
Time for the cover story. “Scary at first. Frustrating. Humbling.”
The lights went out. Then she asked, “I want to do something. Please don’t think less of me for asking.”
“What?”, I asked gently, expecting the answer.
“Let me use your cane for a moment. I... want to know what it’s like.”
“Okay. Take my cane and go get a bucket of ice down the hall. Listen carefully. It’s to the left, out our door. Thirty steps for me, but for you, just count five doorways. Turn right into the alcove. The ice machine is the second one. Hold the ice bucket from the top with your index finger inside, push the ice button and you’ll know when the ice reaches the top. Then come back. Take the key with you. I won’t open the door. You’ll have to do it.”
No sooner had the door opened and closed than I removed the contact lens from my left eye and blinked a few times. I went to the door and softly opened it, then peeked out. Kim was doing it just as I had told her, and undoubtedly as she has seen me do it. Her steps were hesitant, and the arcs of the cane were too wide and too fast. I could hear her breathing hard and fast. From the rear, I saw her beautiful red hair was in a french braid. I like red heads. I like women with dynamite legs, too and she had ’em. I closed the door and put my contact back in. It was the first time I’d ever seen her.
When she returned, she set the ice bucket down and I heard her fold my cane. When she got into bed next to me, I asked, “Was it what you expected?”
“Not even close.”
“Wait until it’s real.”, I said as I reached out, found her face and ran my fingers over it. “That when ‘not even close’ really kicks in.”
Somehow, I knew her eyes were closed as we made love that night. I often suspected that she did that, but this time her breathing had that same almost-panicked sound that she’d made on the way to the ice machine.
The next morning, we ordered room service. I could tell that she hadn’t turned the lights on and that the drapes were pulled shut. As we ate, I picked up on some auditory cues that told me that she was eating with her eyes closed. Basically, she was making the same sounds that I made as I found items instead of the usual sounds she made when eating.
It was the last day before we flew home and we had no firm plans. After we got dressed, I heard her flipping through the phone book. Looking for an address, I guessed. When she led me to the rental car, I asked where we were going. She said, “There’s something I want to do. It’s really important to me, okay? I mean, will you bear with me?”
I relaxed as she drove, something that took me a while to learn to do. I’ve always been a bad passenger, preferring to drive myself. When we reached our destination, she said, “I’ll be right back in a few minutes. Windows down or up?”
“Down, please. There’s a nice breeze.”
As I waited, I heard a sound that I should have recognized sooner, except that I like to play the Guess-what-the-sound-is game. It was a steady tapping, followed by a hollow metallic sound. A trash can, I realized.
Then I heard a voice ask, “Okay, what is it?”
Second voice, a young voice, a girl’s: “It’s metal.”
First voice, an older woman: “You gotta do better than that.”
More tapping on the can, then a rattle. “A trash can?”
First voice: “Yes. Now get past it, re-orient and continue.”
Second voice: “I want a dog.”
First voice: “A guide dog won’t do you any good if you don’t have your basic skills down pat.”
That was when the car door opened and Kim got back in. Why had she brought me to the Lighthouse, I wondered?
I found out why a few minutes later when she parked the car. “Mike, I know this sounds odd, but I want to know what it’s like for you. I want to understand what life is like for you. I need to understand it.”
Okay, I had to ponder a bit. This was getting too weird. She had gone from devotee to wannabe, like I had. My guess was that she had bought a cane at the Lighthouse. How to make myself believable as an understanding person when any real blind person would be royally pissed off right now. Then I realized that all she wanted to hear was “yes”, and wasn’t going to care about my reasoning.
“I think I understand. Where are we?”
“A little strip shopping center. I’m parked at the end and no one can see us. There is a store down the way and I want to go in it.”
There was an almost pleading quality to her voice, so I smiled and said, “Okay. But you gotta do it my way. Closing your eyes isn’t good enough here. You’ll need...”
She interrupted me. “I have eye patches and a cane and sunglasses.”
”You’ve given this some thought.”, I laughed. “Okay, let’s do it.”
A few minutes later, I was leading her (talk about the blind leading the blind) down the sidewalk, whispering instructions to her. Slow her arc, listen, count steps, etc.
When we got to the store, she had a sales clerk help her find a denim skirt and lead then lead her to the dressing room. Next it was shoes. I could tell from her breathing that she was excited. The rest of the day was spent at public parks with walking paths, the hotel where we walked the halls, going to the pool. Several times I thought she was going to orgasm. Strangely enough, I was getting off on it, too.
That night we took a cab to a restaurant and she had her first blind meal in public. I began to wonder and worry a little. Was she leading up to a permanent commitment? That wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t going to pretend to be blind for the rest of my life. I wasn’t sure how she’d take the news that I wasn’t blind. I couldn’t be sure whether she was turning into a wannabe or just trying to figure out what our life together would be like before committing.
I resolved to end it as soon as we got home. The fun was over.
Not surprisingly, she wanted to be “blind” for the flight home, which was fine since we had taken a cab from her house and since I was supposed to take a connecting flight from D/FW on to my “home” in LA.
Actually, my car was at the airport’s long term parking lot. As soon as we separated at the airport, I’d go to the bathroom, remove my contacts, wait until there was no one around, and head for the long-term lot.
All went well on the trip home, and Kim gave me a firm hug and kiss as we parted. As soon as her cab pulled away, I went to the bathroom as planned. Once my contacts were out (I was sitting in a stall, so no one could see me go from blind to sighted), it took a while for my vision to come back to normal. I didn’t matter. I had a few minutes, since I was waiting for everyone who was in the bathroom when I came in to leave.
A glance in the mirror on the way out showed very irritated eyes. The brochure that came with the lenses warned against prolonged wear. I’d been pushing the limit.
I thought about the weekend as I drove home. The young boy’s suicide attempt weighed heavily on my mind, as did Kim and her behavior the last two days of our trip. It was definitely time to end that relationship. I felt like a heel and with good reason.
It took me a week of careful thought to decide on how to break up with her. Our next scheduled weekend was a month away when she graduated law school. I resolved to end it then and let her have as big a scene as she wanted. She deserved it.
When I called her on Saturday, there was no answer. A recording told me that the number was disconnected. I called her work number and was told that she had quit. I called her apartment complex and the manger told me that she had moved out. I was as perplexed as I was relieved.
The next few months saw fewer public forays. The contacts, the brailler, the cane - they all went into storage. I spent weekends with my eyes open. I knew that I would go back to it one day, but for now simulating blindness had lost something.
It was almost a year after that trip when I got a call from HR informing me that they had found a law clerk for me. Top twenty per cent of her class I was told, and she was studying for the upcoming Bar Exam. Then the other shoe dropped. In keeping with my company’s commitment to the American’s with Disabilities Act, my prospective law clerk was disabled. Not to worry, I was told. She had excellent skills that had been verified and with the help of technology, she could fulfill all of her duties.
I had no problem with that.
“Send her in for an interview tomorrow.” I told Mrs. Jackson. “If she passes muster, I’ll take her.”
“Actually,”, I heard over the phone, “She’s here now and would like to meet you. Do you have time to come down and interview her?”
“Sure. Be there in two minutes.”
I took the elevator to the third floor and walked down the hallway to HR with an image of a woman in a wheelchair or maybe a prosthetic arm. I took a peek through the window of Mrs. Jackson’s office as I walked across the outer office. From behind, I could see that she woman was red haired, wore a very nice dress that came to her knee, black tights and low heels. I’m a leg man, I admit it.
After I knocked on the door to Mrs. Jackson’s office and let myself in, my new law clerk stood up and transferred her cane to her left hand as she held out her right. “Hi, Kim Dawson.”
“Tom Fletcher.”, I said in a distracted kind of way. The blood drained from my face as I shook Kim’s hand and stared through her lightly tinted sunglasses into the two empty sockets where her eyes had been. Now I understood.