A Day in the Dark
“I-is there any way to make you stay home longer?” Mustering those words out undoubtedly sipped a great amount of strength from me. The emotions already began to deluge my entire body; the darkness surrounding me became somewhat bolder than before. I started to tremble violently, relying on my sturdy cane for balance. All the quivers slowly vanished when a soft hand grasped mine. Though I never even got to see what it looked like, I already knew who this belonged to.
“I’m afraid not,” my older sister, Jennifer, replied, as she squeezed my free hand as a means of comfort. “The university’s next break is next month, only three weeks from now. Then I’ll come home…but you’ll survive, won’t you, T-Rex?” I nodded, but the tears only redoubled, sliding down my cheeks in a feverish haste.
“But Jenny, how am I going to deal with high school without you? This college stuff is so unfair!” I protested, my words shrinking to pianissimo as I stated my greatest fear. “The students there are going to make fun of me.”
“Don’t think like that,” Jenny muttered, her hand sweeping in to wipe the tears from my face. Releasing my hand, a blanket of heat wrapped around me. Hugs were rarities in my life, and they only arrived at sentimental events just like this one. “You’ll be alright,” She whispered, her voice faltering. “Goodbye, T-Rex, don’t get into any trouble.” The worst part about getting a hug was its time limit, and furthermore, the level of its dedication. You didn’t know if it was long or short, meaningful or hollow. But because of Jenny’s rush to move in, the warmth of the hug ripped off of me too soon, and the pounding of sneakers began to drift away from my reach.
*Two Weeks Later*
How does it feel to be blind? In my opinion, it’s a real thrill, yet some people don’t fully understand the experience. It’s not hard, really. Go ahead; close your eyes for a moment. Every inch of light and color rapidly dissolves from existence, before you can pause to cherish it one last time. In its place is a dull, interminable black wall that soon becomes your only friend. You begin familiarize yourself with this newfound void, but it’s not long until you crave vision again, and you open your eyes. A few seconds pass until you forget the tiny centimeter of patience you donated to this cause, and you continue your day without another care.
Everyone takes eyesight for granted, but in my case, it’s a paradise I’ll never be able to visit.
“You ready for your first day, Rex?” Mom sweetly asked. It’s 7 AM, and we’re in the kitchen, a place I recognize by the elegant fragrance of Mom’s lavender air freshener. Mimicking the noise of an airplane, she sang, “Open up!”
“No,” I admitted dreadfully. Along with Jenny’s moving day, the first day of high school was not something to celebrate. “Aah,” An ice-cold spoonful of Yummy-O’s was immediately scooped into my mouth, the metal sending a brief jolt upon my tongue. This is so humiliating, the idea of being fed for the last fourteen years.
“As long as you have Caney, you’re good.” By the mischief in her tone, I could sense a smile was plastered on Mom’s face the moment she mentioned the name of my childhood “friend”. Normal kids like Jenny had imaginary friends, and I had my white cane, which I used to name “Caney”. Though children would eventually abandon the figments of their imaginations, my cane would be loyally at my side for the rest of my life.
“Mom,” I whined, and we chuckle until she serves me another mouthful of cereal. The milk and the wrinkly O’s synchronously washed out my taste buds with a final mark of satisfaction.
Clang! The empty bowl dropped in the sink, which would then be waiting for its next bath in the sink. Zzzip! My pack opens. Muffled sounds lead me to guess that she’s stuffing all of today’s supplies inside. It’s the same routine every year.
“Remember to tell all your teachers about your situation,” Mom reminded me for the tenth time in a row. “They’ll know about you, so they have a textbook completely in Braille for you.”
“Okay,” I replied, settling my cane on the frosty porcelain floor. Scratchy backpack straps rested on my shoulders, and Mom grabbed my unoccupied hand. Her hands are usually soggy from yesterday’s dishwashing, and the texture of it is disconcerting. Creeeak. The door opens, outside air streaming through my stale lungs. The bottom of my cane is lifted into the car, and I plunged into the cozy backseat. A click, a grumble, and we’re gone.
The road beneath us had many obstacles. Bump, bump, bump. However, Mom’s favorite radio station, Classical Corner, drones down the background noise. The graceful glissando of the harp binds me into a dream-like spell, and the lightweight taps of the piano never fails to give me a joyous feeling. But it’s the bass that transfixes me the most, with steadied pizzicatos and a hypnotic rhythm that makes me want to sway from left to right. The smooth, composed characteristics of the bass had always captured my attention.
A sudden lurch interrupted my thoughts when Mom parked the car. Reminiscence of what today was supposed to be returned, and it made me feel sick. Mom helped me out of the car, and my cane hoofed a seemingly bumpy surface. Mom’s hand slid into mine, and she guides me in. Our entrance is marked by the sharp smell of fresh paint, and my cane meets ceramic. Click, clack, click, goes my cane down the hallway. Shwoom. A carpeted floor satisfies my sneakers and cane. “Good morning,” A deep voice rumbled. Before I knew it, I was dragged westward, where Mom instructs me to sit down.
“Good morning, Principal Anderson. My name is Nancy Lawson, and I have a son named Rex with a current disability: blindness.” Mom’s voice said almost confidently. It’s as if she doesn’t know I’m next to her.
I’m sensitive to the word “disability”, especially if it’s used towards me. Although it’s true, the term cripples me; its negative connotation makes me feel like I don’t belong in any acceptable category. I was born without any idea of what the world looked like; I had no template. But other than that, it didn’t mean that I should be treated any differently. I keep my thoughts to myself and let Principal Anderson continue.
“Oh yes, Rex Lawson,” Principal Anderson noted, his voice directing towards me. “Pleasure to meet you, Rex,” I nodded, wishing that I wasn’t here. Suddenly, the jazzy snap of “high heels”, according to Mom’s Braille shoe dictionary, took authority of our conversation, heading towards us from the right.
“Rex, this is Miss Tiffany George.” Principal Anderson introduced. “She will lead you to all of your classes this year.”
“Morning, Rex,” Tiffany huffed a sigh, and I didn’t even need vision to tell that she was very unenthusiastic. “How are you,” Tiffany sounded like she’s reading directly from a script, without any effort whatsoever.
“Fine,” I puffed back with nearly the same lazy tone as Tiffany’s.
“Well, Tiffany,” Mom chirped, failing to notice the lack of excitement. “Here’s Rex’s schedule!” The whiz of paper made its way towards Tiffany. “Principal Anderson, it was nice meeting you, but I need to be on my way. If there are any problems with Rex, contact me on my cell.” Shwoom.
“Ten minutes left until the students arrive.” Principal Anderson stated. “Tiffany, you can take Rex to his locker to drop off that heavy backpack of his.”
“’Kay,” Her bored voice already began to annoy me. I’m not as weary as she is, just anxious. “Get up,” Tiffany barked, and the command made me stab my cane into the ground.
“Have a great day!” Principal Anderson blissfully called as I struggle to follow Tiffany. He and Mom must be blinder than me not to discern Tiffany’s moody behavior.
I gradually formed a strong distaste for Tiffany, especially when she carelessly left me confused with the staircase. “It’s a staircase, go up it.” Tiffany’s know-it-all side was frustrating as I experiment the floor’s elevated level. Gosh, what’s up with her? I tentatively ascended, making every step with caution. I haven’t been up the stairs without any assistance before. My middle-school guide, Daphne, would link her arm with mine, singing the word “Up” constantly with an unrealistically cheerful tone. Although it was embarrassing to ring arms with Daphne during school, I now preferred it over this.
As we trailed across another unfamiliar area in the school, I get exhausted of being so puzzled, and luckily, a plan struck me. “Miss Tiffany?” I spoke up. The bossy ticking of her heels pauses, shrieking as they pivot towards me. Under the newly-found spotlight, I inaudibly gulp before giving a half-hearted request.
“I’ve never said this to my mom, but I want to get an idea of what the school is like so I can navigate on my own. What if you took me to a central spot in the school, and I tried to memorize the routes of each of my classes from there? All I have to know is whether to go up, down, right, or left. I’ve been doing this since we’ve left the office, but your pace is a little too fast. I have good memory, though, so I was thinking you can remind me of my paths well enough for me to memorize it for the rest of the school year.”
Nothing comes from Tiffany’s mouth for a while, and I began to wonder if my unrevised scheme was being processed through, or on the verge of being completely scrapped. “No, do as you’re told,” Tiffany decided. An unpleasant screech broke my eardrums, followed by a steady clacking ahead. My cane talked to the beat of the shoes until after a short moment, Tiffany halted. The swivel of a school lock healed my ears.
Jenny showed me her school lock before. The process of opening it was one of my favorite sounds. Swivel, pause, swivel, pause, swivel, click! Naturally, I wouldn’t be able to open the lock, but Jenny gave me an outlook of her experience by letting me feel it. Rugged edges covered the shape where you place your fingers, and I enjoyed playing with the jagged lines. They reminded me of Mom’s bumpy car trips, except they possessed a quality that comforted your fingers, definitely not for feet and a cane.
A gust of air slapped my face, and a light drumming of something like Tiffany’s high heels was on my left, where the lockers were. “Your locker is 5481.” Tiffany indicated. “So, um…yeah,” An unnecessarily loud SLAM echoed in the hallway before I could even reach out to touch it, then Tiffany clopped away.
“I’m going to the restroom,” She told me, unexpectedly grabbing my wrist. Sharp daggers punctured my skin, and my hand forcibly slapped a solid box at room-temperature. “Keep your hand on the water fountain until I say so.” Creak, shwoom. She reminds me of one of Jenny’s old friends that Jenny used to complain about: someone who would socialize with her friends rather than taking full responsibility of priorities ahead. I tried my best to understand Jenny’s stress at the time, but it never came to my complete understanding until now.
It wasn’t very long after Tiffany’s leave when the commotion thundered from an immeasurable distance. With each passing second, the chaos crept closer, elevating with a blend of pain and anxiety. They’re coming, and I’m invisibly chained to a water fountain.
Second grade was the horrifying year that provoked my long-lasting fear. At the time, we’re all seven to eight years old, the age that initiates thoughts and opinions of its own. Many kids were bold to state theirs directly into my face, and if not, somewhere close by. First came the typical questions, which I had gotten accustomed to now:
“Why does he have a cane?”
“How old does he think he is?”
“Miss Simpson, why does he have sunglasses when we’re inside?”
Others’ reactions to my blindness were more harsh than curious, especially if they knew about my blindness already.
“How is he going to be in the spring musical looking like that?” “Exactly, he won’t fit in with any of the parts.”
“Want to see what’s on the lunch menu today? Oops! I said the word ‘see’! MY BAD!”
“Hey, Rex! How many fingers am I holding up, huh? Oh, that’s right, you can’t see.”
By the end of elementary school, the entire class was used to having a blind person, making third grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade a breeze. The petty insults slowed down, and I was starting to feel accepted, wishing I had some kind of visual to openly express my happiness. When I told Jenny about it, she told me about the gift of smiling. I’ve been unknowingly using it for a while, it seems, and now that I knew its true meaning, I began smiling to others as a means of pure gratitude. Everything was at peace for now.
Dad’s career transferred to a different state the day after fifth grade ended. Jenny and I were placed in a middle school that served grades 6-9, but because students had more independence here, their harmful actions were often aimed towards me. Peers would lay their items on the floor, deliberately becoming angry with me whenever I tripped over them. “You just crushed my brand-new smartphone…can’t you watch where you’re going?” Besides the classic prank, the taunts prepared were more treacherous.
“Rex Lawson, can you hear me? It’s your principal speaking, and I want you in my office right now…if you can find it.” A pre-mature voice mocked, followed by high-pitched snickers.
“Oh, look, it’s Grandpa Rex strolling down the hallways. Dude, let’s say hi to him and see if he can hear us,” joked the guys with gravelly throats.
Jenny eventually discovered the bullies from the supposed bruises on my legs. Ever since the incident, she’s fought them off.
All these years, she’s defended me from the cruelties of this world, but even under her brave exterior, she knew how frustrating it was to endure something as bad as this. “It’s tough to be living your life, but you’re a strong T-Rex for not breaking after all this time.” Jenny admitted one day after school. “If I had to be in someone else’s shoes, it would be yours… only if it would mean that you had a chance to live an abuse-free life for at least 24 hours.”
After my graduation from middle school, our family moved again to be closer to Jenny’s university. Though I was happy to be near Jenny while she’s gone, I was going to be in yet another unfamiliar school. I was vulnerable to everyone and everything, and there was no way to avoid it. And now that this new collection of students was beginning to stampede towards my direction, I wanted to hide.
For the first few moments of the parade, I was undetected. Nevertheless, I grasped tighter onto the box, waiting for the attention to latch onto my skin. In my chest, tension inflated like a balloon until it finally popped, leaving behind its empty, broken pieces behind. It crippled me in the end, unable to battle the apprehension any longer.
“Hey, Monica,” A girl’s airy voice squeaked. “Did you ever notice that there’s a guy with a cane over there? Is he staring at us through those sunglasses?”
“I don’t think so.” Monica replied slowly, a more mature tone wrapping around her words. “I think he’s blind, like my cousin. Thomas has always told me that_”
“Monica! Why are you looking at that guy like that? I’m going to tell Wilbur!”
“What the heck, Ryan? I don’t even know him.”
“Yeah, right.” Four booms headed towards me, the noise growing with each step. Ryan’s voice, lowered to a firm whisper, was uncomfortably near my face, my cheek absorbing the heat of the moment. He growled, “New kid, you better leave Monica alone. Don’t think that you can just come in here and try to get her with those sunglasses. Take them off!” Boldly demanding those last words, fat and grubby fingers gripped the stiff poles above my ears.
“No! Ryan!” Monica yelled, and a loud clatter interrupted her ongoing protests. A deafeningly long silence followed the reckless action. Oddly enough, my eyes suddenly felt this burning sensation, and the pain was unbearable. Shwoom.
“What in the world is going on here?” Tiffany broke the eerie stillness. Unlike her behavior from before, her strong, soldier-like pitch startled me. Taking time to analyze the situation, Tiffany’s high heels took the floor before she came to a halt. “Ryan Schmidt,” She concluded. “Anderson’s told me about your criminal record. Did you know that this boy is blind?” The sharp daggers returned, except that I’m grateful. The temples of my sunglasses were placed back on my ears, calming the irritation.
“N-no, ma’m.” Ryan stuttered.
“Really? You didn’t see the cane?” Tiffany scoffed, which was a faint reminder of her stuffy self. “The sunglasses that you just threw protect his fragile eyes, and his eyes could have been easily damaged. You really need to learn some manners.” High heels wailing, Tiffany must have steered a different direction. “You look responsible. Lead him to the principal’s office.”
“Where is that?” Monica asked.
“Here’s a map,” The sound of crinkled paper tickles my eardrums.
“Thank you. Come on, Ryan.” Monica called. Ryan’s frustration was expressed thoroughly through his departure, a dragged, saggy walk. Shweep, shweep, shweep. Once the dull sound died down, applause detonated from the crowd.
“Yeah, don’t mention it.” Waving away her newfound recognition, Tiffany’s attention turned to me. “Look, I’m sorry for giving you such a bad attitude. The last few weeks were pretty rough for me, and just like you, I’m trying to get used to the changes that are attacking me at this moment. You’re a good kid; you didn’t deserve the harsher side of me. But Ryan definitely needs some form of discipline, heh.” Surprisingly enough, the knives didn’t hurt when her hand overlapped mine. “Can we start over?”
“Sure,” I said, shrugging. Then the bell, which was an elevator’s chime, rang.
“Oh! Let’s get going. First stop: History.” Tiffany announced, tugging my arm lightly before we glided to class.
*3 Weeks Later*
Ring! Ring! “I’ll get it,” Dad announced, the whish of the telephone lifting into the air. “It’s Jenny!” He spoke excitedly. “Rex, come talk to her!”
“Okay, okay,” I find my way into the living room, which is dusted with the scent of cinnamon. Dad helps me onto a velvet couch and allows me a break from my cane. “Hello?”
“Hey, T-Rex! Guess what, I’m coming home tomorrow! Can’t wait to see you again…how’s high school so far?”
“Whoa, seriously? Where’s the sarcasm?”
I laugh. “It really is great; the kids, the classes, the school, they’re all amazing.”
“What happened?” Jenny asked, naturally curious.
“I have this guide named Tiffany, who used to be rough on me until a bully came,” I began. “Then she started defending me, and sent the troublemaker to the principal’s office. Now she entertains me during lunch about her rebellious childhood, and helps me out on topics I’m struggling on.”
“That’s nice to hear.” Jenny said. “About the other students?”
“Well, all the bullies are gone! I thought it was neat to hear that in one week, the bully’s story had circulated around the entire school. It was like all of my elementary school years combined, all that convincing to get others used to me, had squeezed into the first two weeks of school. Isn’t that great?”
“Wow, it is!” Jenny’s clapping could be heard through the speakerphone. “I want to meet this Tiffany someday and thank her for her efforts. She seems amazing.”
“She is. I’ll tell you more tomorrow.”
“Sounds like a plan! Say, do you know where Mom is? I want to talk to her.” Jenny asked. Sweep. The heat radiating off the phone disintegrates, and Dad’s boots sigh their way to the kitchen.
Telling Jenny about my progress so far released the last of the weights off my shoulders. Everything had settled down, and for the first time, life without vision was truly perfect.