Snippets from my unpublished autobiography…‘You know, Mum, blind people shouldn’t eat meat balls’
‘What do you mean Michael?’
‘Well, meat balls are very messy. Blind people shouldn’t eat them’
‘They might get them all over their clothes’
‘So what should they eat?’
Seeing the world through my children’s eyes was a natural way of life for our family. As my eldest daughter had not moved to Melbourne with us, I turn to young Michael and train my son to be highly observant, as quite frankly, it was less traumatic to teach my two year-old new skills than argue with uncooperative teenagers. It was emotionally difficult for me to accept I should, perhaps, be using a white cane – but false pride hindered acceptance of the truth.
I just couldn’t see myself doing the ‘blind’ thing. The term dis-abled just did not fit my way of thinking or being. So, I used Michael’s stroller as my guiding eyes with him safely strapped inside. The wheels shuddered over rough pavements, the vibrations showing me the way to shop entrances. I got away with bumping into things as if I were just another sleep-deprived mother distracted by her chatty child.
Michael always enjoyed our shopping jaunts. I feared them with a passion. For the non-sighted, supermarkets in particular, are a sensory nightmare. The amount of mental energy and good humour required to function amid such chaos is immense. Unfortunately, my hungry family required feeding, I would have been quite content to munch on raw carrots and drink red wine! So, once a week, I head off to hunt and gather. Michael sits in the shopping trolley, oblivious to my stress, as I chant, ‘I can do this…I can do this.’ We surge forward into the unpredictable trolley-traffic hoping to avoid an accident. I cling fiercely to the handle while wandering in a daze. Thousands of similar looking boxes, tins and packages. How am I going to find Anything? Michael gives little clues as we wander the isles. ‘Chippies mum?’ It is difficult to rely on my other senses in an environment as artificial as a supermarket. The odour of strong chemicals over power subtle food smells. Michael’s unintentional clues guide me. ‘Lollies. Juice. Jelly. Ice cream.’ I stop and touch the items on the shelf and narrow down the selection with logical precision. If this is a tin of green peas the canned tomatoes must be just around here somewhere. ‘Michael, can you see the tin of tomatoes?.....Clever boy.’ Sometimes I latch onto a trainee shop assistant packing shelves and lure them away from their work to follow me up and down the aisles in search of several products.
Market days were a weekly event which brought every man and his dog out into Main Street, and I mean, every man and his dog. Caught up in the crowd shuffle I push my son’s stroller in front of us, like a battering-ram until we get through to the end of the street. Every now and then I pause to feel home-crafted wares. To see them properly means picking up the item, working it out by its shape and texture and putting it back down again.
As I do this, the stall holder hovers close by offering information I really don’t want.’Thank you, I’m just looking,’ I say politely – then move on to another stall to do exactly the same. In a sighted persons world the act of picking up an item equates to interest in purchasing the item. In a vision-impaired person’s world, I am just browsing with my hands. I pull out a note from my purse. Not quite sure how much I am holding in my hand, I peer at it very closely for several moments before handing it over to the man in the stall. 'Saying goodbye to a good friend are we?' he asks, with a smirk in his voice. Later that day, I make a purchase over the phone. To process my order the operator asks, 'Can I have your driver’s licence please?' 'Sorry, I don’t have one, I’m legally blind.' After a moment of hesitation she says, 'Oh. You don’t sound blind?' ‘Hmm. Really?' I am astonished. How am I supposed to sound?
'Yes, you really don’t sound blind at all. You sound so, um…intelligent.''Gosh. Really? How do blind people sound?' I’m really curious. 'Oh, well you know, they can be a bit vague,' she replies as if this is a very insightful thing to say. 'Vague?' I repeat, trying now to sound vague. 'Yes…but you don’t sound at all like that.' 'So, blind people don’t sound very intelligent?' I persist as if cross-examining like a defence lawyer. 'Well, you know, they are a bit vague.’ I’m lost for words. She adds quickly, ‘But I’m so glad you’re not.' 'So am I.' I reply, hoping this conversation had been recorded for training purposes. Next she’ll be asking me if I eat meatballs too…
A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their preferences