“My name is Iris. I was named after this ancient and beautiful Greek goddess representing a rainbow. Like all rainbows, I’m pretty sure I’m gay, though it’s a bit early to tell, says my mother. I am ten.” Or I could say “My name is Iris. I live inside your eye. I can see all you see. I am part goddess and all-powerful.” Or, I could say, “My name is Iris. Like the blue flower of the same name, I bring a message of hope.”
– Mom, which one do you like best?
– What is this for?
– The girl guides.
– Go with the last one.
– It’s kind of lame.
– Which one would you choose?
– The first one.
– Did I ever say it was too early to tell if you were gay?
– Come on, mom, play with me.
– I still vote for the last one. You’re going to creep them out with number 2 and freak them out with number 1.
– But will they remember number 3?
– Sweetie, there is no way anybody can forget you.
Hmm, did I mention I am blind? I usually stand out, even if I wanted to blend in. So, anyway, here we are at my first day of girl guides in this new town. I am wearing my uniform and wielding my cane, feeling confident. Mom drove me and reads in a corner, ready to assist if need be. It’s mostly for the comfort of the lady in charge. You have to take care of the sighted. They tend to be afraid of us blind people.
– Girls, we have a new recruit. Her name is Iris like the Greek goddess of the mythology represented by a rainbow. Iris is also the name of the blue flower we studied this summer. Iris, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Uh oh, she took out #1 and #3. I am forced to go with #2. I take a deep breath, aiming for a creepy voice. “My name is Iris. I am 11. I was born blind and I’m okay with it. I may need a little help at the start, but I adapt pretty well. Could each of you introduce yourself so I can remember your voice? Maybe tell me a little bit about yourself? I am new at girl guides, but I am sure I will like it.” Lame, lame, lame. All my courage left me. Still, I am standing tall and waiting. I feel a little hand settle into mine.
– I am Mindy, says a small voice. I am nine and I’ve never had a blind friend. Welcome to our troupe.
– I am Carol, I’m 11 like you. I’m new in town and hope to make friends. This is my third time with this troupe. They’re okay.
Shouts of protests. “We’re awesome!” I think I’m going to fit in just swell. My smile broadens as I relax.
– I am Jaya. I am named after the Hindu goddess for Victory. Mindy is my sister.
I nod, impressed. These girls rock.
– I am Jackie! I am Robin! Welcome! Welcome!
They are swarming me, in a friendly way. I can feel their smiles and enthusiasm.
– Can you tell us how you use your cane? What is it like to be blind?
They weren’t told what not to ask!
The troupe leader steps in. “Girls! Give her a bit of room!”
They hush, and retreat, except for Mindy, still holding my hand. Here goes with my spiel.
“First, if you see someone with a white cane and cool shades, it’s okay to come to them and introduce yourself. Don’t touch them (I squeeze Mindy’s hand) if you don’t want to startle them. Most blind people see shadows at best. Our eyes are hypersensitive to light. That’s why we wear sunglasses. You may want to help. If that is the case, ask the person if you may help them in some way. “Mindy, you want to try?”
She lets go of my hand and walks a few steps back. “Hello, my name is Mindy. May I help you?”
– Hi Mindy. My name is Iris. I need help crossing this busy street.
The room is silent. I have everybody’s attention.
– Now, let me take your arm and you can walk with me across. I will follow along.
We walk across the make-believe intersection. Mindy is mindful. “Watch your step,” she whispers. I wield my cane in front of me and take an exaggerated step up. We’ve made it to the sidewalk. Applause. We bow.
– Do you want to learn how I use my cane?
I’m on fire. I am surrounded by friendly people and I feel safe.
– Yes, they reply.
– You hold it lightly. The cane is like a divining rod. To find water, yes? Except, in our case, we’re looking for our way around. Then you sweep in front of you, tapping the ground lightly where your foot will land. You’re trying to determine if there is anything on the ground, a hole, a bump, an object. “Mindy, do you want to be the blind person and I will guide you?” Silence. “If you nod, I can’t see you. You have to speak up and say what you want.” “Yes, I would like to try.” I steel myself as I take off my glasses and hand over my cane. I feel naked without my attributes.
The door opens and something shifts in the room. “Hi Marsha,” comes Jackie’s sunny voice. Nobody else greets her. The troupe leader whispers to her. “We’re getting a lesson from Iris, the new troupe member, on how to properly help a blind person cross a busy intersection. You can introduce yourself after the demonstration.”
Mindy announces she’s ready.
– Before we start, you and I are not the same height, so the cane will not work as well for you. If any of you skis, you’ll know that the salesperson will fit you with poles according to your height. It’s the same idea. Now, close your eyes and spin around. Now, Stop!
I say, loudly, “Hello, my name is Iris. May I help you?”
– Hi, my name is Mindy. I want to go to the pharmacy next to the bank. I’m afraid I got lost.
– She’s facing the wall, shouts Marsha.
Time for a bit of tough love. I open my eyes which show a filmy white, quite repulsive to sighted people, I am told.
– Hey, Marsha. I’m Iris. I’m blind. Your comment doesn’t help. I’m going to tell you guys about echolocation. Please y’all, get up and face a wall. Now, Mindy, say your name out loud.
– Now do a half-turn so your back is to the wall. Say your name again.
– Everybody else do the same thing, one by one.
They do. I hear next the now-familiar voices, Jaya, which her slight accent, Jackie, energetic and sunny, Marsha, sulky, Carol, cautious, Robin, playful.
– Did you notice a difference?
Carol volunteers, “The sound is a bit deeper when it bounces off the wall.”
– Yes, exactly, Carol. You can figure out where obstacles are by listening how the sound travels. Research it on YouTube. Now, I will offer my arm to Mindy and we’ll cross the street.
We walk a few meters. I had automatically counted my steps previously, so I call out “curb” at the appropriate time. We step up and “land” on the sidewalk to scattered applause as this is no longer a new event. Mindy hands me back my glasses and cane. It feels warm and a bit moist to the touch. Her vibes are still in it, tentative and light. I feel better.
The troupe leader chimes in. “Thank you, Iris and Mindy. Marsha, do you want to say a few words about yourself?”
– Hi Iris. I’m Marsha. Me and Jackie are the oldest members of the troupe. We go to Sunnyview High. You’re new here?
– Hi Marsha. I’m new at girl guides.
I stop there. She is not my friend and I’m tired of being in the spotlight.
The troupe leader senses the awkwardness and moves right along. “All right, let’s all sing the Guide Marching Song and then one of you can explain to Iris what guiding is about.”
On our way home, I’m quiet. Mom doesn’t press. She knows I will talk when I’m ready. I let her take my hand in hers. It settles me. “She stole your intro. I was shocked when she mentioned the goddess.” Mom chuckles. “I was proud of you. You turned on a dime.”
She does this all the time because she knows I can’t resist. “What does that mean?”
“You turn quickly, as if your foot were on a coin.”
– Ahhhh. I ponder this for a while. “I’ll find a way to use it. Thanks. How is your book?”
– It’s fabulous! We’ve got another victim from a blow to the head. I don’t think a blow to the head would be enough to kill me. I have a thick head.
– The sisters were nice.
– Yes, I liked them both.
– Do you think a blow of the cane to Marsha’s head…
– Don’t go there.