Future Reflections Winter/Spring, Vol. 14 No. 1
Editor's Note: Ken Volonte has been a member of the NFB Writer's Division since its inception. He lives and works in Stockton, California, as a marriage and family therapist.
It's amazing how vitalized a high school reunion can make you feel. You get to see people you don't care about any more and have nothing in common with, that you didn't have anything in common with even when you were in class. The reunion committee couldn't locate any of your friends; but luckily for me, I didn't have that problem because I was friends with everybody.
Apart from the fun of reminiscing, reunions can stir up old memories. That's what happened to me last Saturday night at my 25th reunion. After dinner, I was approached by Ronda Crell. I never much talked to her when we were in school. I think we only had one class together in four years, but we went back as far as kindergarten, so we talked for a good long time.
Since we had known each other for so long in school, we kept asking each other what we remembered. Our questions probed for specific feelings. This was different than nostalgia. We were trying to recreate our lives as children and superimpose an adult perspective on them. Our conversation was serious and intense, and I suddenly remembered with great detail how it was that I came to know the difference and meaning of my blindnessþto really know it. As parents, we sometimes forget that it's easier to learn something from someone your own age.
When I was five, I had Miss Elsy in the afternoon for kindergarten. She always made sure that I was included in all of the activities. One day I brought a Braille book to school that was given to me by a lady from the Variety Club. She came to see me and talk to my mom about ways to teach me skills I would need in school. Anyway, Miss Elsy explained to the class that this book would be how I would read when I was a big boy in the first grade; and she read the story. Miss Elsy was always doing things like that, making sure that my classmates knew that I was going to learn just the same as they were.
One day it was time to test our ability to follow directions. We were all given books and told to do various things. þPut an X on the baby,þ said Miss Elsy. Of course, I put an imaginary X on an imaginary baby. I followed all of the directions and felt like I was really hot stuff. þThat stinks.þ It was Bruce Odelson. I hated him. He was all the time bothering me.
At recess, Bruce started throwing sawdust at my eyes and calling me names. I ran as fast as I could to get away from him, but he just kept coming and throwing sawdust. Somebody took my hand, and we both ran. It was Francine Peticlere. She ran with me while Ronda yelled at Bruce.
When we were off by ourselves, Francine asked me if I knew why Bruce was picking on me. I said that I didn't. "It's because you're blind." I knew that. Dr. Wesmith told me. "Do you know what that means?"
"Sure I know. It means I'm blind."
"Hold up some fingers." She said this slowly, like she was thinking out loud. "Don't tell me how many."
This was fun.
"You're holding up three fingers," said Francine. "Now I'll hold up some fingers. Don't feel my hands." (My reaching for her hand was automatic.)
"You're holding up four fingers," I said.
"When you told me how many fingers I was holding up, did you guess or did you know?" asked Francine.
I admitted that I had guessed.
"That's the difference. I knew."
So there it was. Francine didn't say this out of meanness. That's just how it was. At first, I felt inferior. Then I got used to the idea and felt special. Now I'm back to feeling that my blindness is just how it is. It took a little girl to explain this to me, a friend with the heart and mind to care enough to explain a difference more real than grownups could face. Even Dr. Wesmith couldn't tell me about my blindness in a way that I could understand. And the experts-so long as I could do the tests and was happy-didn't have to think about my blindness and what it meant to me at all.
It's always important for kids to know why things are happening to them. Without my friend Francine's demonstration, I might have wondered for a long time, "What's wrong with me?"