31 Mar 2016

I Need To Learn Braille Better

Dear Gateway readers, it gives me great pleasure to share the following account by my writer friend and RP colleague, Jeff Floddin who is based in Chicargo. 

Even though we have only met across Cyberspace, one lovely gift that RP has brought into my life at least,  is the sharing of our stories: the good, the bad and the sometimes outrageously funny incidents that can catch us off guard with having such an eye condition.

Jeff’s reflections of how he adapts to losing his eyesight are like little gems of wisdom: his stories often move me and catch me off guard too. As we approach April 1st, I couldn’t think of a more fitting (and true) story that is bound to tickle your funny bone!.

We get on the elevator, Sherlock and me.  Sherlock is my guide dog.
We’re at the third floor of five.  We want to go down to the first floor.
The door slides shut.  Nothing happens.

I press the bottom button.  The door slides open.
“I need to learn Braille better,” I tell Sherlock.

I run my fingertips along the wall.  I think I find the Braille for number 1.
I press the button next to it.  The elevator goes up.
“I need to learn Braille better,” I tell Sherlock.

I stand tall and the buttons sit low.  It’s hard to read Braille with my finger upside down, so I drop to all fours.  Sherlock thinks it’s playtime.

He puts his elbows on my back and stands on his hind legs.
Then, God bless him, he begins to hump me.  He has assumed the Southwestern Sidewinder position. 

While I’m thinking how I need to learn Braille better, I say to Sherlock, “Get off my back.”
The elevator stops and the door opens.
A woman gasps.  I crawl forward.  She steps backward.

I ask, “Can you help me?”
But I hear her heels run away from me, down the hallway.
The door closes.  Sherlock dismounts

I press another button.  The alarm sounds.  I press the button above that one.
The elevator goes down.  “This is security,” booms a big voice from a small speaker.    “What is your problem?”

I scramble to my feet, stand tall, remain mute and pat Sherlock’s head.
The door opens.  We’re at the first floor.

I command, “Sherlock, forward!”
The crowd parts.  We stride across the marble floor.  We project nonchalance. 
I can tell what the people are thinking.
They’re thinking, “Look at that self-assured blind man and his well-trained guide dog.”

“This is security.” That voice again.
We keep walking.  The voice gets far away.  “What is your problem?”

“Problem?” I ask Sherlock.
“What problem?  I just need to learn Braille better, that’s all.” 
NOTE:  Sherlock was Jeff’s Seeing Eye dog from 2003 to 2010.  A version of this story was published in Kaleidoscope magazine in 2012. 
It also appeared on JalapeƱos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss by Jeff Flodin (March 16 2016).

About Jeff Floddin:
Jeff was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at age 35.  His vision loss did not prevent him from moving around the country as he has lived in Rockford, Tempe, Philadelphia and Chicago. 

 Jeff received his Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Lake Forest College.  He then earned a Master’s degree in social work from Arizona State University.  He worked in the social work field for 25 years.

Jeff wrote his first story in first grade and writing has been his primary vocation for ten years.  He is currently working on a short story collection about vision loss.  Jeff has completed two books, as of yet unpublished. His stories have appeared in “The Rockford Review” and his letters in “ChicagoTribune.” 

Read more of Jeff’s stories at:https://jalapenosintheoatmeal.wordpress.com/