felt like instant karma. Payback for almost running over an unsuspecting
kid a few years ago because I hadn't been smart or brave enough
to quit driving when I should have.
a bright, warm September Los Angeles afternoon, I was strolling
down Fairfax Avenue past CBS Television City and Farmers Market,
headed for the neighborhood Lucky, my purposeful stride belying
the fact that my eyesight was more than three-fourths obliterated
by Retinitis Pigmentosa. But so it was.
ongoing research into gene therapy, stem cells and retinal transplantation,
among other potential remedies, there as yet exists no treatment
or cure for this predominantly inherited condition that afflicts
something like 100,000 Americans. And so my irreplaceable photoreceptor
cells, which in most people last a lifetime, keep wiping themselves
out by a process of bio-suicide called apoptosis, with nothing to
be done about it.
world looks like a hazy, unfinished painting. After a few nasty
mishaps when the deterioration first became severe. I learned to
scan ahead radar-like as I walked to catch at least a glimpse of
approaching hazards. I owned a long, white cane, but I didn't have
it with me. Isn't a cane, I thought, for when life feels constantly
like coming awake in a strange house in the middle of the night?
Doesn't "blind," after all, simply and unequivocally, mean sightless?
considered carrying a cane if only as a signal, to forestall incidents
like the time I stumbled into the side mirror of a bus while hurrying
clumsily to board, and the driver, climbing out of his seat to readjust
it, inquired sarcastically if I was blind or something. To simplify
the process of asking strangers for help, as from time to time I
I wasn't about to do it. No way. For one thing, I had this spooky
foreboding that to take up the cane would be a dangerous capitulation,
would bring on total blindness even faster. Magical thinking, I
knew. Primitive. A childıs metaphysics of causality. But I couldn't
help it. Besides, I'd be marking myself disabled, for all to see,
destroying whatever vestige of masculine appeal I'd managed to preserve
into middle age. I'd become just another blind guy, groping his
expressionless way along on some pathetic errand of the terminal,
aging bachelor. So the cane, as always, was hanging by its elastic
handle loop from a hook inside my living room closet, gathering
I was passing beneath the protruding eaves of one of the Farmers
Market buildings, grateful to be shielded from the sun's dazzle
by more than just the brim of my baseball cap. A few feet away,
the midday traffic rushed by in a din of car engines, horn blasts,
diesel rattle, and the concussive thump of mega-watt, bi-amplified
something charged past me, tugging at my T-shirt sleeve. Through
my remaining islands of vision, like a bird darting across a slit
in a castle turret, flashed the profile of a small face, a boyish
body hunched forward over handlebars, a flurry of legs churning.
"Damn," I yelped, edging over more toward my side. I probably looked,
I knew, as if I might be playing a crazy, private game of chicken,
had meant to surrender those few extra inches of clearance at the
last second, but had simply miscalculated. When the truth, of course,
was that I had no warning at all. Anything moving faster than walking
speed can slip from blind spot to blind spot, completely undetected.
Skateboards betray themselves by their clatter, but Not so bicycles,
with their rubber-tired stealth. I took a deep breath and resolved
silently to be yet more vigilant, in the future.
And then something slammed into my shoulder, the same shoulder,
Another flashing image of a small boy, pedaling. But this time,
I was flung from my feet. I felt my skull collide against asphalt.
I had a dim but troubling realization that my body was laid out
full length across the northbound curb lane of Fairfax and that
I could, in a heartbeat, be crushed and dismembered. Fueled by a
burst of adrenaline, I made a mad scrambled back to safety.
the point where I had left the sidewalk stood a short, elderly woman.
trailing a two-wheeled wire shopping basket behind her. Crazy,"
she clucked empathetically, "crazy. They almost killed me, too."
She spoke with the old-time Yiddish accent that is rapidly giving
way to Russian as the Fairfax District and neighboring West Hollywood
become the Southern California version of Brooklyn's Little Odessa.
"I'm fine," I assured her, and as she continued on her way, I brushed
myself off, gingerly checking for damage. My head was bruised and
bleeding, my shoulder ached, the forearm I tried to break my fall
with was a mass of lacerations, and my cap was missing, probably
pulverized into blue cotton oblivion. Dazed, but nonetheless still
in need of groceries, I proceeded with my shopping and trudged home
to a stinging shower and some bed rest.
next time I left my apartment, there was a nylon day pack slung
jauntily from one shoulder, the kind students carry their books
in. The kind in which the kid I knocked down that time with my Tercel
was carrying his. And in my right hand, I held the long white cane.
Not tapping it in an exploratory arc. Not yet. But bearing it before
me like a protective talisman, a Mosaic staff. And feeling relief
mixed with horror at the sight of people making way for the blind
man I was still in the process of becoming.
2001 Joel M. Deutsch.
All rights reserved
Republication or distribution in any medium prohibited without express,
written consent of the author