I grew up near a large Italian family. I’m pretty sure they had even more children than we did, but they had an unfortunate genetic weakness making all of their kids some variation of blind. It seemed sad to me that they would never be mesmerized watching the ripples in the river, the vultures circling on invisible air currents, or so many other things that occupied most of my existence. I remember holding my breath as the mother led dinner preparation, but everyone cut up vegetables while maintaining their fingers. To tell the truth, I usually bled a lot more in the kitchen than they did. They seemed like a pretty happy family, and the kids walked around The Glen every evening after supper with their hands glued together in a long string of cheerful paper dolls.
I asked them once how they managed to get around without running into trees or getting lost. The oldest boy told me everything has a cushion of air around it. If you pay attention, you can stop before getting hit in the face. I found that fascinating, and since I had nothing else to do, decided to experiment. I folded up a washcloth for thickness and wrapped a bandanna over it, tying the whole thing around my head, covering my eyes so completely I couldn’t see any light through the fabric. I put on my shoes and tied them. Tying shoes becomes a very different experience when you can’t see.
I fumbled my way to the front door and adventured into a very different world. The birds sang louder, probably warning every other living creature to stay out of my way. I felt with my feet for the steps down the porch and steered in the general direction of where the road ought to be. When I hit the crunch of gravel on the edges, I picked a direction and started walking. It wasn’t too hard to stay on the road because it felt different to my feet than the grassy weeds on the sides. A car came by, and I did the obligatory wave. I’m sure whoever was driving waved back and probably laughed at me. Didn’t matter. I was determined to make it around The Glen without dying or cheating.
The road in The Glen is a 1-mile squared circle, or maybe a rounded square. All I had to do is keep track of the corners to know how far I had gone. I felt a little embarrassed when I passed the blind family’s house, but it wasn’t like they were going to see me, and I persevered. It felt like a lot further than usual when I couldn’t see my destination. The sun was hot and my stomach was reminding me about suppertime, but I made it home, made it up the porch steps, and slumped in the chair where my adventure had begun.
I was trying to untie the knot in the bandanna when Dad asked me to explain. I told him about my inspiration and experiment, and he laughed and said it was great. It would be even better if I kept the bandanna on for 24-hours. Uhhh, “But Dad, I’m tired!” Too bad. He thought I should “See it through” to get the full experience. “I won’t be able to wash dishes.” When I got excused from dishes that night, I might’ve considered staying blindfolded for a week or two. I tentatively ate dinner and cursed peas for rolling around so much.
24-hours included going to sleep blind. I was disoriented when I woke up, but it didn’t take too long to remember my predicament. I dressed and escaped to the river. The blind boy was right. There is a cushion of air around everything. I wandered across the field with my hands out and felt the grasses. When I got to the other side of the field, I felt the trees. I backed up repeatedly to figure out the maximum distance I could feel the air. I laid on my back and listened to a mouse rustling through the weeds.
When Dad came home from work, I was liberated. The world was unbearably bright, and I had to shield myself until I adjusted to normal living. I’m not sure if Dad was inspired or sadistic in this story, maybe both, but the experience was important to me. First lesson was to hide my experiments from Dad, but I also learned the power of my own underestimated senses. I feel things more acutely with my hands. I don’t have to look at my feet when I’m walking through the woods. I understand the birds. I appreciate the roundness of peas, and maybe most importantly, I appreciate being able to be mesmerized by all things visual.