My roommates and I crowded out of the hotel room, into the hall, still laughing over the silly way we had been entertaining ourselves for the past hour. I felt more like I was 18 years old than 28, but I didn't care. I was having a great timewith new friends, taking advantage of a rare opportunity to attend the annual convention of the American Council of the Blind. I normally could not afford to go; but during this particular year, it was held in Louisville, KY, just a two-hour drive from my home. My parents had agreed to drive me and two other girls one way, and one of the other girls' mothers drove the other way. For one week, I was able to exercise my wings and experience life without worrying about anyone being afraid of what might happen if I failed or messed something up. ... And on this night, my roommates and I, accompanied by one girl's boyfriend, would be taking the city bus to an area of town where there was supposed to be a good Mexican restaurant.
"The button's already pushed," said a man who was standing near the elevator bank. His voice sounded familiar. I thanked him and asked if he was going down. When he spoke again, I was certain he was familiar.
"Kevin?" I said. If I was correct, my week-long attempt to arrange a meeting with someone whom I had previously known only as an online correspondent would end.
"Yes," he said.
Excitement washed over me. Not only was my game of tag over; but this chance meeting represented a rare opportunity. For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to initiate a greeting scene spontaneously and without assistance and show genuine happiness at seeing someone. I rushed to him, praying that the elevator would not come first. I knew that the appropriate thing to do would be to shake his hand--we were not well acquainted. But before I knew what I was doing, I hugged him.
I worried immediately that I had been too presumptuous; but it was done, and the truth was that nothing less could have conveyed what I felt accurately. Kevin had written words to me that lifted my spirit out of deep pits of self-loathing when I was passed over for job interviews because of my blindness, when I struggled with vision loss, and on a number of other occasions during the past two years. I had hoped that someday we would have the opportunity to meet; but neither of us had expected it to happen in Louisville. He had not planned to come; and when he did come, it proved difficult to connect with each other. How could I not express my excitement at this meeting?
I am often bothered by press coverage portraying blind people who are despondent about not being able to see a smile or a face visually. It is difficult to put the reason why into words. I feel that too much emphasis is placed on the sensory loss and too little is placed on the social loss. The fact that I cannot see the feature of someone's smile doesn't bother me much. If I had ever seen one, it probably would. The fact that I have no means to exchange gladness with a person bothers me greatly! I do this with my blind friends often by some kind of touch or voice inflection depending on the situation. It is rare to find sighted people who feel comfortable with these things. I think this is why some of my family's "quietness" is difficult for me. Their mode of communication is almost entirely nonverbal. This doesn't work for me... Even if I could learn to send it, I can't receive it back; and I need two-way communication.
I have been realizing lately that sometimes I have difficulty recognizing people's voices, even familiar ones, especially if I encounter the person in a place where I am not quite expecting them. Sometimes this can be as minute as a different hallway or a different part of the building at an odd time of day. I'm trying to figure out how to help people know when I need them to identify themselves... It seems very silly to have a person who spends each day with me telling me, "It's Melanie," every time she says hi to me. But there has to be some way for Melanie to be able to figure out that I'm not recognizing her in the event that I haven't realized that I should know her... I'm so used to people speaking to me in passing that sometimes I treat a known person like an acquaintance who is speaking in passing and don't realize it until later and then become upset because I would have liked to have paused to speak the person's name--and maybe I had been hanging on to something I wanted to say to them all day. It doesn't make sense to ask every person who speaks in passing to stop and tell me their name... That takes time out of my schedule if I'm in a rush but would like to filter who I stop my rush for...
Just musing... I'd sort of like some thoughts on this. I'm sure there are quite a variety of perspectives, and ultimately I'll have to settle on what's comfortable and works for me. I just keep thinking there has to be a happy medium somewhere.