Every blind person has an awkward story that never would have happened if they could see. I have a few of these stories, but one stands out more than the others. This incident occurred before I started using a mobility cane, which made the situation excruciatingly awkward since the other person involved didn’t know I was blind. Imagine, for example, that you’re holding a drink and talking with a friend when suddenly a person walks directly into you, spilling your drink. Now imagine that same scenario, but this time the person running into you is holding a mobility cane. My cane lets people know that I don’t see well, which is ironically, the very reason I refused to carry one for so long. Awareness is what I now appreciate most about using my cane—and using one could have prevented many awkward encounters.
This story takes place on my honeymoon in Aruba. My wife and I chose to take a snorkeling excursion (although I would’ve preferred the Jeep tour, but I figured I’d let my wife choose since we were only 24 hours into marriage).
Early in the morning, we grabbed our snorkel gear and followed the crowd to board our boat. We made three different stops, and yes, I yelled “SHARK!” at the first one. In what felt like a few minutes, we had completed our trip and were exiting the boat to return our gear. My wife dropped off our gear as I waited at the front to look for a souvenir shirt. What could go wrong?
The shop was dimly lit and crowded. As I looked through a rack of shirts, touching the material of each one, I thought to myself, “Man, these shirts feel good.” At the end of the rack, I felt the shirt on the mannequin and said out loud, “Wow! This one feels reeeeally good!” while I rubbed the material between my fingers. That’s when the “mannequin” yelled, “Get off me, you little FREAK!” I jolted back as panic set in. The mannequin whose shirt I was touching wasn’t a mannequin at all… It was a man, standing at the end of the row of t-shirts. My mouth opened to offer some kind of excuse, but nothing came out. My wife showed up seconds later, and the look of horror on my face prompted her to say, “What did you do, Mark…was it bad?” She stared at me, her eyes wide. When I told her what happened, she responded, “Do you know how creepy that is? Even if it had been a mannequin, it’s weird!” I guess she had a point.
Not all my stories are funny. And to be honest, this story wasn’t funny at first. Going through life blind is embarrassing at times—there’s no way around it. The hurdle for me was that I was embarrassed to be blind. Who knows what that man thought I was doing, but if I had been willing to use a cane, he would’ve known why I mistook him for a mannequin.
In my experience, blindness tests you physically, but it tests you even more so mentally. If you don’t find a method to combat the daily mind tricks, blindness will win every time. As for me, laughter happens to be my weapon of choice.