I don’t know what shirt I’m wearing.
My mother puts all my T-shirts in the top drawer of my bureau. They are all neatly folded and none of them are inside-out or anything I’ll have to fumble with while I’m getting myself dressed. But they all feel like T-shirts to me and they all look like dim, fuzzy blobs, so I have no idea what is what.
This morning I selected the T-shirt at the top of the pile. I think it’s my navy blue Pats T-shirt. I felt the logo with my fingers and it seemed about the right size and shape. I’ve had that T-shirt for a decade now and I know it well, but not enough to distinguish it by feel, apparently. So I think it’s my Pats shirt. But really, who the hell knows? And I’m probably never going to know, because I’d feel like a dummy if I went downstairs and asked my parents what T-shirt I’m currently wearing.
My parents bought me a color identifier that a blind person can swipe across clothing to find out the color, so that would have helped me figure it out. But when I got home, you can bet the last thing I gave a shit about was whether my T-shirt was green or blue, so I put the damn thing away somewhere, and now I don’t know where it is.
Correction: I threw it somewhere. Possibly against a wall. Hard. So not only is it lost, but it’s probably also broken.
I beat both my parents to the kitchen this morning, so I decide to make myself some breakfast. I make myself a bowl of Frosted Flakes again, only this time I check the path from the counter to the table, to make sure nothing is in my way before I plow forward with my cereal bowl. Although I have a feeling after I punched a hole in the wall, they’re going to be extra careful about that.
I wonder if they fixed the hole in the wall yet. Probably not.
Just as I’m digging into my cereal, heavy footsteps enter the kitchen. Must be my father. Still, I appreciate when I hear his voice say, “Good morning, Colin.”
“Hey, Dad,” I say.
“Do you want me to make you some coffee?”
“No, I’m good.”
A chair scrapes against the floor, then creaks as my father settles down into the seat beside me. I tense up, tightening my grip on my spoon. Dad and I used to be close, but every conversation I’ve had with him since I’ve been home has been awkward.
“So your mom says you’re going to the library today,” Dad says.
I nod. “Yep.”
“She said you’re going to try to learn braille better.”
I know he’s trying his best to engage me in conversation, but I don’t feel like it. I’m not excited about going to the library to read some dumb braille book meant for a child, and I sure as hell don’t want to talk about it.
“Yep,” I say again.
“Well, I think that’s great,” Dad says. “And maybe you can also look into taking some college classes.”
My father thinks I should go back to school. Reeducation or some shit like that. Obviously, a military career isn’t in the cards for me, at least not one involving combat, so I should be thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life. Besides walking back and forth from the corner store.
“Good morning, Colin.” It’s my mother’s voice now. When did she come in here? I didn’t even hear her footsteps. How did I miss that? “Are you ready to go soon?”
“Uh huh.” Apparently, all I can manage this morning is grunts and one syllable words.
“Colin…,” she says. I can tell she wants to say something to me, but she’s not sure if she should say it. She’s afraid of upsetting me.
“Nothing. Never mind.”
“Well, honey…” She pauses again. “There’s just… there are a lot of Frosted Flakes spilled on the counter.”
I suck in a breath. “Oh. Great. Thanks for letting me know.”
“I’m sorry, I just… thought you should have the feedback.”
I’ve only finished about half my cereal, but I push back my chair and stand up. “I’ll clean it up.”
“No, don’t be silly. I’ll clean it up.”
“You don’t think I can clean up some fucking Frosted Flakes on my own?”
I see the fuzzy outline of what I think is my mother standing by the counter. It’s so dark, it’s hard to know if it’s her or just an illusion of what I think might be her. The outline isn’t moving. She’s probably trying to decide if she should call me out on swearing—if it’s worth risking another hole in the wall of the kitchen.
“Get ready to go,” she finally says. “I’ll take care of the kitchen—you finish your cereal and go get your shoes on.”
But I’ve lost my appetite. “I’ll go wait in the living room,” I mutter.
Nobody tries to stop me.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m sitting on the living room sofa, listening to music piping from my phone. I’d rather watch some TV, but I don’t enjoy it when I can’t see the picture. My eyes are shut when I hear footsteps approaching me.
I open my eyes and roll my head in the direction of the voice. I see nothing—my mother isn’t close enough to make her out. If she moves, I might be able to see her better. My vision is better when objects or people are moving—I’m like a T rex.
“Do you still want to go to the library, sweetie?”
I don’t. I never did. “Yeah, okay.”
Considering I barely ate breakfast, Ma nags me until I agree to put a cereal bar in the shoulder bag that I take with me whenever I go out. It’s got my cane folded up inside, as well as a pair of tinted glasses. My eyes themselves apparently look okay, but my buddy Dan informed me I look weird when I’m staring off into nothing. I didn’t think I was vain, but I wear the glasses outside, so I must be. The tint on the lenses is just enough to hide my eyes without significantly affecting my ability to see shadowy images.
I’ve also got Grade 2 Braille For Dummies. I flipped through it last night, and it’s got all the commonly used abbreviations, so I can look them up when I find one I’ve forgotten. I’d like to say I feel excited or optimistic about any of this, but I don’t.
I’m about halfway through the book I’m reading to the children this week when I see them.
That woman who brought her son to my storytime last week, whose son was afraid of me. She asked me after there was another storytime done by someone else (i.e. someone not as frightening as I am. when I told her no, she seemed nonplussed. And now she's standing in the corner of the room, just barely visible to me from the wooden chair where I’m sitting. And she’s holding up her phone in a way that makes me think she might be filming something.
Oh my God, is she filming me?
That’s illegal. You can’t film someone in Massachusetts without their permission. So if she’s filming me, she’s doing it illegally. If I weren’t reading to the children, I’d march right over there and ask her exactly what she thinks she’s doing.
Then I notice she isn’t alone. There are two other women next to her, who are clearly with her. They’re all wearing identical yoga pants and one of them is holding an infant. The one with the infant whispers something to the woman and points in my direction.
And that's when it hits me like a freight truck. I know this woman. I went to school with her for years. Her name is....
Dawn. Dawn Fisher.
A memory of Dawn comes back to me. It was her ninth birthday. She asks our teacher, Mrs. Kaminsky, if she can hand out party invitations to the class. Mrs. Kaminsky looks through the invitations, flipping through the cards made out in Dawn’s precise handwriting. You can’t hand these out unless you invite the whole class, the teacher says in a low voice. You can’t leave out one person and invite everyone else.
And then Dawn’s petulant voice, not even trying to keep the other kids from hearing: I don’t want to invite her! Nobody likes her! Nobody will come if she’s there!
There was eventually an invitation to Dawn’s ninth birthday party, extended to me with obvious reluctance. She even made sure to inform me, It’s not going to be that fun for you. I’m not sure if that was true, but I never found out because I threw out the invitation before my parents could see it.
“Miss Sophie?” It’s Ava C, raising her hand.
I clear my throat, desperately trying to ignore the woman who may or may not be illegally filming me. “Yes, Ava C?”
“Why did you stop reading?”
I get so flustered, I nearly drop the book. “Sorry, I just got a little distracted.”
“Distrack by what?” a towheaded little boy named Brian wants to know.
“Just…” I wave my hand at the air. “Nothing. Never mind.”
A cute little girl named Maia with her hair in cornrows raises her hand. “Miss Sophie, how come you weren’t reading to us on the other day?”
“Well, Miss Carrie wanted a turn.”
Maia crinkles her nose. “Miss Carrie is a meanie.”
I secretly agree, but I know better than to say that. Instead, I raise the book in the air again. “I’m here now. So let’s finish this book.”
By the time I make it to the last page, Dawn and her friends have disappeared, but I’m thoroughly frazzled. I feel like I’m going to throw up. But instead, I grab my purse and head downstairs to the adult section, where I’m supposed to be working the rest of the day. I’m always supposed to be on the Children’s Floor on Tuesdays, but Carrie informed me I’d be working downstairs today. When I tried to quiz her on why, she shrugged and murmured an evasive comment about staffing numbers.
It’s the midmorning, which is a notoriously slow time in the library. It’s a great time for us librarians to get some reading done or possibly catch up on Fruit Ninja. It’s possible Carrie was being honest about staffing though, because when I get downstairs, there’s absolutely nobody manning the desk. Worse, there’s a couple waiting there.
I better take care of this. The last thing I need is more complaints lodged against me.
When I get closer, I notice that the couple is more likely a mother and her adult son, based on the fact that he’s only around thirty and she’s at least in her sixties. The man is wearing purple-tinted glasses and I notice he’s holding a white cane with a small ball at the tip in his left hand. He must be blind.
When you look the way I do, people will not infrequently make comments along the lines of, “Maybe you should date a blind man.” Sometimes they say it to be cruel, like back when I was in grade school. Other times, they are genuinely well-meaning. They think they’re being helpful. “You’re so nice, Soph. I bet a blind guy would really love you.”
I would never admit this out loud, but… well, I’ve thought it too. I wonder if the only chance to be with a guy who is really attracted to me is if he can’t see. But it’s a stupid thought, if only because an extremely large percentage of the men who are visually impaired are also the same age as my grandfather.
This guy isn’t though. He’s young. And also? Just being real here? He’s hot. This guy is really, really hot. He’s tall but not too tall—maybe six feet—with reddish brown hair that’s cut very short, but is still just barely long enough to be adorably tousled. The reddish brown stubble on his chin gives him a rugged look that is augmented by a sexy scar just below his hairline. And on top of that, he’s built. His navy blue New England Patriots T-shirt can’t conceal some impressive muscles in his arms and chest. Tom Brady’s got nothing on this guy. I also notice a green US Army tattoo peeking out from under his shirt sleeve.
God, he’s sexy. And I have to admit, there’s something comforting in knowing he won’t look up at me and have that same pitying expression everyone else does when they first lay eyes on me.
Wow, I’m becoming a regular cliché.
I slip behind the desk, working to catch my breath from racing downstairs. The older woman looks up from her phone and the smile on her face falters when she catches sight of me. When someone I’ve never met before lays eyes on me for the very first time, there are three stages they go through, the first two of which are nearly universal:
1) Shock as they register my appearance.
2) Aversion of the eyes. I can’t say whether this is because they find it distasteful to look at me, or else they don’t want to look because they feel it could be perceived as staring.
The third stage varies from person to person. Some people manage to get over their initial reaction and are able to look at me just like anyone else. Others look in my general direction, but avoid eye contact. And still others will look right at me with an expression of abject pity.
I don’t need anyone’s pity, thank you very much.
The woman averts her eyes, mired in Stage Two. She is looking at my computer so she doesn’t have to look at me. The man, unsurprisingly, doesn’t react at all, and only looks relieved when my chair creaks to signify my presence.
“Can I help you?” I ask them.
“Yes, I think so,” the woman says. Her eyes dart around, desperate to find a target other than my face. They settle on the poster behind my head, which recommends our monthly book club. “We reserved a book that was supposed to be ordered from another library.”
“Okay,” I say as I boot up the computer. “And is that for you or for him?”
Before the woman can answer, the cute guy sneers at me and says, “It’s for him.”
Wow, I can’t believe I did that. If I were capable of blushing, my face would have been bright red. “I’m sorry,” I mumble.
The woman smacks him in the arm and shakes her head. Yes, she’s definitely his mother. “Colin,” she murmurs. “Please.”
He just shrugs, his expression unreadable behind those tinted glasses. I don’t blame him for being angry. I just condescended him, and he didn’t like it. I of all people should have known better.
“The reserved book is under Colin Kelly,” the woman informs me. She’s looking straight at me now. Good for her.
I check in the bookcase of reserved titles under the letter “K.” I locate a single, thin hardcover book with raised dots on the cover. We don’t carry braille books at our library, but it looks like we were able to have it sent over from another library. I look at the cover and see a picture of a lion, which seems a little unnecessary. The book can’t be more than a couple dozen pages long, with thick, braille-imprinted pages inside. I suspect the book is more appropriate for a child than for a grown man.
I hold out the book in Colin’s direction, but he doesn’t react. I realize a second too late what I’ve done, but his mother rescues me from more embarrassment by taking the book out of my hands.
“Thank you, dear,” she says.
“Sophie,” I say, offering my best attempt at a smile. “If there’s anything he… I mean, either of you need, let me know.”
I watch as his mother takes his arm and leads him over to an empty table, where he carefully sits down. I’m trying not to stare, but at the same time, it’s not like he’d know. I can hear the irritation in his voice as he speaks with his mother, and the only words I can make out is him snapping at her, “I’m fine, Ma. Go look at books!”
His mother seems reluctant to leave, but she finally does. But instead of browsing through the shelves, she approaches me at the desk. I hold my breath, wondering what she’s going to say to me.
“Sophie?” she says in a low voice.
“I’m Arlene Kelly.” She holds out her hand to me hesitantly, as if she’s not sure if she wants me to reciprocate. She appears relieved when I present an entirely normal hand for her to shake. “Listen, are you… going to be here for a while?”
She smiles apologetically. “I was wondering if you might… if you could just keep an eye on my son over there. He… I mean, I’m sure he’ll be fine, but if I’m out of earshot and he needs anything…”
“Sure, no problem,” I agree.
I don’t know Colin Kelly, but I’m fairly sure he’d be absolutely furious if he heard this conversation. But fortunately, he doesn’t seem to be paying attention to us. He’s removed his tinted glasses and he’s got the lion book opened on the table in front of him. He’s also pulled a second book from his shoulder bag, and he’s got that open as well.
Mrs. Kelly reluctantly wanders off, casting one final glance in the direction of her son. The truth of the matter is even if she hadn’t asked me to watch Colin, I would almost certainly be doing so. It’s hard for me to keep my eyes off him, so it’s nice to have an excuse.
My friend Natalie always jokes around with me that I “need to get laid.” For Natalie, who is not a model but certainly in no way objectionable in her appearance, getting laid is easy. For me, it isn’t nearly as easy. They say that a man can tell within thirty seconds of meeting a woman if he wants to have sex with her, so I’d say within thirty seconds, my fate is sealed.
I’m not a virgin. At one dark party in my last year of college where there was far too much alcohol, I started making out with a guy named Vince, who had straight black hair plastered to his skull and a slight overbite. I knew him from our shared Art History class, and one thing just let to another. He followed me back to my dorm room as we groped hungrily at each other, and we quickly made our way to my bed. He was very drunk. I was not drunk.
I wonder what it would be like to kiss Colin Kelly.
Speaking of the devil, Colin doesn’t look particularly happy. He’s got one finger on the lion book, and he’s flipping through the other book with impatient fingers. He’s clearly frustrated. It’s obvious blindness is a new condition for him, and braille is very challenging to learn. I rise from my seat and approach his table.
When I get to Colin’s table, I stand there for a moment, summoning the courage to speak to him after the way he snapped at me earlier. Also, he smells nice. I’d heard stories about blind men letting their hygiene go to hell, but Colin smells very clean. Like Dove soap.
“Um, hi,” I say.
Colin lifts his eyes. They’re green—nice eyes, but unfocused. He’s not looking in my direction or at anything in particular.
“Hi,” I say again.
“Are…” His reddish-brown eyebrows bunch together. “Are you talking to me?”
“Yes.” I nod vigorously until I realize he can’t see me doing it. “My name is Sophie. I’m the librarian you talked to when you came in.”
“Oh.” He frowns. “So… what? Did my mother tell you to come over and check on me?”
“Well,” I say slowly, “she said to just… you know, keep an eye on you. In case you needed anything.”
“Right.” He shakes his head. “Well, I don’t need anything. So… you can go away.”
This is the moment when I probably should go away, as he suggested, but his lack of vision has made me braver than normal. Instead, I say, “Would it be okay if I sat for a moment?”
He shrugs. “Sure, lady. Knock yourself out.”
I slide into the chair across from him, and I notice his gaze drops to where my head is. I wonder if he has any vision at all or if he’s just estimating where he thinks my head would be.
“Are you trying to learn braille?” I ask him.
He lets out a long sigh. “Yes. ‘Trying.’ It’s wicked hard.”
I notice the way he doesn’t entirely pronounce the “r” in “hard.” It’s not very prominent, but he’s definitely got the Boston accent. It’s cute. I wonder if he was born here in Dorchester.
“Listen,” I say, “we’ve got almost every book in the library on Audiobook. If you tell me what you want, I can get it for you.”
I see the look on Colin’s face.
“Audiobooks?” His voice is dripping with sarcasm. “You’ve got audiobooks? Well, jeepers, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. And here I am, learning braille like a dumbass when all along there was something called Audiobooks.” He slaps the lion book with his hand. “Thank you, kind librarian, for opening up this whole new world for me. How can I ever repay you?”
“I’m just trying to help,” I mumble.
He snorts again.
“Fine.” I rise to my feet. “If you need anything, I’ll be at the desk over there.”
And now I realize I’m pointing. As if that would help him.
“Over there,” he repeats. “Got it.”
I make my way back over to the desk. I could be upset that Colin was such a jerk to me, but I’m not. This is a good thing. Next time someone makes an idiotic comment to me about how I should date a blind guy, I’ve got a perfect answer: I tried to talk to a blind guy and he was the biggest jerk I ever met.
I was an asshole to the librarian.
I felt bad about it as I was doing it. Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I was sorry. But “asshole” seems to be my default lately, and I couldn’t seem to turn it off. On top of that, I slammed my forehead into the side of the door when I was coming into the library because my mother let it go when I thought she was still holding it. Either hold the door or don’t, Ma—don’t let the damn thing go right in my face! She apologized to me a hundred times, probably scared I’d throw a chair across the room.
I didn’t. I have some self-control, for Christ’s sake.
The librarian had a really sweet voice. She sounded young and cute. As she spoke, I developed a mental picture of her. I imagined she’s short. A little chubby with a cute, round face. Short blond hair that curls along her chin. And even though my sense of smell isn’t what it used to be, she has this nice, flowery smell.
In the months since I got home, my libido has been at zero. I’ve jacked off a few times, but more out of a sense of habit or because I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t enjoy it—not much, anyway. Most women my age talk to me with a patronizing edge in their voices that lets me know flirting with them would be stupid.
But when I heard that librarian speaking and smelled that hint of flowers, I felt the first tug of something more. Something inside me I thought was dead. You know, that feeling you get when you meet a hot girl and you want to be close to her and flirt with her and make her laugh. I hadn’t felt it in so long, I’d almost forgotten how good it feels.
And then she called me “he” while I was standing right in front of her.
I hate it when people refer to me as “he.” Like I’m a child. Or something less than a person. And when a cute, pretty librarian calls me that, it’s a painful reminder about how everyone else in the world sees me. A year ago, a girl like that would have been flirting with me. I would have been trying to get her number. Now I’m “he.” Is the book for him? Is he trying to read? Good for him!
I’ll probably never get laid again.
Then I tried to read the braille book, and it was hard. It was beyond hard. This was a book meant for a grade-school student—facts about lions and why lions are cool. And I had to go back to my reference book nearly every other word. I got knocked unconscious twice while on my tours of duty, once by an IED and once by the RPG blast that did this to me, and I’ve bashed my head about a dozen times since I’ve been home. I wonder if it’s starting to affect my brain. Maybe I’m getting dumb on top of everything else.
So when that librarian Sophie sat down beside me and started talking about Audiobooks, I just lost it.
On the plus side, I didn’t break anything.
After an hour or so of struggling to read the lion book, I’ve gotten through a grand total of two pages. It’s pathetic. I’m ready to leave. I’ll bring the book home and work on it there, where there are few distractions.
Now where the hell is my mother?
She has checked on me twice since she’s been here. The last time was about fifteen minutes ago. Presumably, she’s nearby, but I don’t know where. She’s probably somewhere I could find her easily if I could see, but since I can’t hear her voice, she’s essentially lost to me.
I consider my options. I could ask Sophie, that librarian I was a jerk to, to find her for me. She’s not near me, but I suspect if I call her name, she’ll come over. Alternately, I could wait for my mother to check on me again. Lastly, I could call or text her on my cell phone. My cell phone is set up to respond to all my voice commands so that I don’t have to press any keys—it even reads my text messages and emails to me.
The last option makes the most sense. It’s easy and I don’t have to involve another person. But at the same time, I want to call Sophie over. The name “Sophie” is on the tip of my tongue—if I say it, I’ll get to talk to her again. I’ll get to hear her voice again. Smell her flowery soap or shampoo or whatever it was.
It’s my mother’s voice. Well, that solves that problem.
“Are you ready to leave, sweetie?”
I nod. “Yeah, let’s go.”
To be continued.....