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
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.
The 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?
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
But 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 dust.
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 hip-hop bass.
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.
I yelped, edging over more toward my side. I probably looked,
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.
At 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 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.
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.
Joel M. Deutsch.
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