Welcome back to the journey that we have agreed to take together. I have been waiting for you and maybe you have been waiting for me to guide you in the next steps. Of course, I am happy to do so, as this is currently my entire purpose. While I am particularly interested in gender, race and sex, we will undoubtedly also find what we are not looking for. And who can know what that may be. Let us begin and try to find out.
Our first blind date will be with Jesse. Only he, of all those that we shall meet, has not been blind since birth, but instead lost his sight in his mid-thirties. He is for us a bridge between the two worlds. As his sight began to fade, Jesse carefully walked and walked again up and down all the streets of his city, creating a mental map that he hoped would guide him when his eyes no longer could. It was an intelligent, but poignant strategy and it served him for many years until the streets began to change and were occupied by newer buildings and shops. His universe had shrunk and had finally transformed. But he kept on and, with the help of sighted friends, learned the new landmarks as best he could. I too am beginning to navigate a new world, one where sight does not assist me either. I want to investigate the absence of sight to learn more about its presence. Ultimately I am after the blindness of the sighted.
Jesse and I speak on the telephone where our sensory skills are equal. Soon that will change, as we make a date to meet at a particular café that we both know. It is on his mental map and he has his morning latte and croissant there every day. “Meet me on Monday morning at the Café Med.” As Monday morning comes and I am preparing for our meeting, I begin to choose what I will wear. A business suit or something more casual? Heels or sneakers. Jewelry and, if so, what kind? Each choice matters in the sighted world, including, as we have recently seen in the beleagured American congress, sleeves or no sleeves on a blouse or dress.
It actually takes me a few minutes to realize that all these customary issues that women and men who are sighted are surrounded by every waking minute will have no meaning at all to Jesse. He will have no idea what I am wearing or what I am trying to signal visually. I could show up in sweats, but I do not, mainly because it would compromise in my own mind my sense of professionalism. I am a captive of my own sight. It is a code that all sighted members of society learn and even I, who have railed against it, often conform. A while later, I drive to the area of the café and park my car. I want to be a bit early, so I can spot Jesse as he will not be able to find me unless I approach him. As I enter the room, I glance around to see if Jesse has arrived. I look at each man in the room, holding has gaze just long enough to see if he has one. This is something I would never do as a woman, as directly looking a man in the eye might be taken as an invitation. Along with my attire, I have learned something about how to use my eyes. But I am here to learn about blindness at the same time. I order my customary espresso and take a seat where I have full view of the entrance. A blind man with a dog enters. Could this be Jesse? But he told me that he used a cane, not a dog. There can be more than one blind man in this café, can’t there?
In a few more minutes, a blind man enters with a cane. He steps up to the counter and places his customary order. He does not search me out in any way, but expects me to approach him, which I do. Later Jesse and other men will tell me that they sometimes feel their masculinity compromised by this necessary passivity. But I am getting ahead of myself. Jesse is of medium height with the thinning hair of middle age. He is dressed casually, all in brown and his skin is a pinkish yellow, a color we name white only when it is on skin. I approach him and announce my presence. He holds his hand out to me in a gesture that I have not seen before, a kind of l-shaped gesture with his upper arm touching his own side. I realice that he wants to shake hands and does not know the distance between us, so can not extend his hand across it with confidence.
He is warm and friendly, takes my arm (a gesture that would be premature in a sighted world) and asks me to lead him to a table, which I do. We arrange ourselves and our drinks. I ask him if it is o.k. if I tape our conversation. He agrees and I place my recorder at one corner of the table, afraid that Jesse might knock it over since he cannot see it. In my nervousness, however, I immediately do so myself.
Continues on the 10th of December.
Read also the First part