Friday, 22 June 2012

THE CURSE OF ISOLATION.

Did you know how to cross a busy street when you were thirteen years old? Did you know how to take a bus or dial a phone number to find out the correct time? Did you know how to push a shopping cart into a row of shopping carts? Believe it or not, being isolated in Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind left me in that pitiful state of ignorance. The school staff did everything for us and supervisors planned out each day's activities.

In my Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School memoir, I related just how frightened I was of crossing a busy street. Below is an account of that humiliating afternoon when fully-sighted folks misunderstood my reluctance to run an errand.

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I spent one of the last weekends during June with a day student named Tommy. I had befriended him a few years previously. Regrettably, my stay was not entirely pleasant. I sat in the backyard with Tommy, enjoying the hazy afternoon sunlight, when his older sister walked up to us. "Can you go to the store for me and pick up some thread? I'm all out of this colour."

I found myself on the horns of a dilemma. Because Jericho's staff escorted us everywhere in groups, I never learned how to navigate through city streets. Fort Saskatchewan was a small town with no busy intersections. Consequently, my mobility skills were far behind those of a sighted thirteen-year- old.

As I was afraid to admit my fear of crossing the congested street near her house, I asked, "Why can't you get it yourself?" "Cause I'm busy, that's why," she snapped.

Then she changed tactics. "You've got some sight, don't you?" When I agreed she said, "Since Tommy is blind and Mom is out, you'll have to go for me."

"You've got better sight. I don't understand why you can't go yourself."

"Alright, I'll go but you'll be in trouble when Mom comes home. I'll make sure she never invites you here again," Tommy's sister threatened as she stormed into the house. A minute later, she slammed the front door and strode to the store.

After Tommy's mother arrived home, his sister told her what happened. "You did a selfish thing today you know," she accused. "A true gentleman would have done that errand."

Silence seemed the most prudent course for me to take. I felt too proud to admit my fear of the traffic and too angry to think properly. I also failed to figure out why her daughter, who was blessed with perfect sight, expected me to run her errand.

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Deliverance from Jericho abounds with vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. Please feel free to click on the link to my books or contact me directly for more information about them.