In this four-page flashback to my junior year, excerpted from my high school memoir, I introduce Theresa, a girl who had been blind since birth.
Among other characters mentioned here is Miss Friss, the teacher who has appeared several times in these excerpts, beginning with “Transition.”
I met Theresa, who lived in a nearby town, at a summer cooking course for blind high school students. Miss Friss, still traveling between Fairfield County school districts to transcribe tests into braille and coordinate with regular teachers, had long sung her praises.
Theresa and I began spending Saturdays together at our homes, and soon talk turned to exploration. At my place, we were confined to caresses that could be withdrawn at the first sign of footsteps or a hand on my study’s door knob. At hers, she was under orders to leave open the door to any room where we were together. That was funny because her parents had a country cottage and usually went away on weekends, leaving both their daughters at home. The younger daughter entertained her boyfriend in her bedroom downstairs, while Theresa entertained me in hers upstairs.
One Saturday afternoon the younger daughter was away somewhere and their parents were to leave Theresa and me on our own. Calling from the back door, her father announced they were on their way.
“Have a good trip,” Theresa called back.
I nodded, for what it was worth, considering he couldn’t see me from down there. I hesitated to speak because I was pretty sure he disliked me. Moments later, an engine came to life, and the car sprayed gravel as it set off down the driveway.
“Phew,” Theresa said. “I thought they’d never leave.”
“I wonder if they really have.”
“We heard the car. We know Mom was already out there, and Dad slammed the back door behind him.”
“I just have a feeling,” I said. “I know I’m being paranoid, but let’s hold off for a while. Read me an Aldous Huxley story. And let’s keep your door open.”
Having learned braille as a young child, Theresa was a fluent reader. She owned a braille volume of Huxley’s stories that I loved to have her read to me.
“I don’t relish reading right now,” she said. “So, if you won’t come to bed, tell me more about your week. You always have so many stories.”
Her “relish” took me back to my summer at the Oak Hill School for the Blind, where she’d gone for several years before transferring to public high school. Kids there were always saying, “I don’t relish going to typing class tomorrow” or “I don’t relish mashed potatoes.” No one else I knew used the word.
The story that came to mind wasn’t much of one. “I had an embarrassing moment the other day. After social studies, this guy came up to me and said he liked an answer I’d given. I said, ‘Thanks, Brad.’ Remember me talking about Brad, the guy from Chicago? I like him a lot.”
“It wasn’t Brad,” Theresa surmised.
“It was a guy named Mike, someone I hardly know. I’m sure he gave me a strange look, but he didn’t say anything, and I moved on as if I didn’t realize I’d made such a pathetic mistake.”
With Theresa, I could admit to such things and know she’d understand. Actually, she had no trouble identifying voices, but she’d had other embarrassments that sighted people were spared.
“I was in a swimming pool when I had, you know, my first period,” she’d told me. “This woman started tugging at me to get out. That was a really bad day.”
Afraid to ask but impelled by curiosity, I said, “How did she know?”
“She told me there was a cloud of red around me.”
Something she said another time prompted me to explain that images and sounds travel differently. “You might hear someone talking from the other side of a wall, but the wall will block you from seeing them. Unless the person is taller than the wall, then you might see their head and maybe their shoulders.”
I wasn’t sure my explanation was clear, but she seemed satisfied, and I was pleased that I’d been able to open up her world a little.
At my urging Theresa had read the venerable Alexander Scourbie’s narration of War and Peace. She said, “Prince Andre makes me think of you.”
Prince Andre was someone I could never hope to emulate. His charm and sophistication required physical autonomy, and physical autonomy required sight, didn’t it? Nevertheless, in Theresa’s bedroom, I reveled in the incredibly flattering comparison.
In response to her demand that I tell her another story from my week, I came up with one that showed we had certain advantages. “Remember my French teacher, Mr. Harralson?”
“The Norwegian guy. You don’t like him much.”
“He has absolutely no sense of humor. If you’re going to make us learn by rote, at least tell a joke once in a while. So you know how Miss Piss badgers us to put the course name and date at the top of each page of braille notes?” This was Miss Friss’s name behind her stern back.
Theresa said, “She’s always on me about that.”
“So this week, instead of brailling ‘French’ at the top of each page, I put ‘Horrible Harralson.’ There I am, at the front of the class, right under his nose, and he can’t know because he doesn’t read braille.”
“Miss Piss will see.”
“She never looks at my French homework. She wanted me to take Spanish because that’s what she studied. Reason alone to go with French.”
“I took Spanish. She—”
Theresa broke off at the telltale sound of wheels on gravel outside. The back door was thrown open, and footsteps raced through the kitchen and up the stairs.
Sitting at the pillow end of the bed, Theresa said, “Forgot something?”
At her door, her father said, “Batteries for the flashlight and emergency radio.”
“Aren’t they downstairs?” she asked, all innocence. Lounging at the foot of the bed, I smiled pleasantly.
“You’re right. But I wanted to make sure you didn’t think burglars had broken in.”
“Last thing I need is a big scare,” Theresa agreed.
“Everything okay?” her father said.
“Great. We’re about to read an Aldous Huxley story.”
“Great. Well, I’ll get the batteries. I hope we’ve remembered everything this time.”
“Enjoy yourselves,” she said.
After they left again, we did read a story, and by the time Theresa finished, we felt safe.
To read all my memoir excerpts to date, along with other recent posts, please go to the blog page of my website here.