After work, I went for a walk with a blind colleague. I drove as he directed me to a nature trail. He said he had once ridden his bike on it. I was learning all sorts of obvious things, like that the visually impaired could also ride bikes.
It was early autumn. There were a few leaves on the ground. He slid his cane along the path. I warned him of the changes in terrain: the wooden footbridge, a swamp. I noticed flowers I’d never seen grow near my apartment complex. I felt a bud of guilt at the center of my joy. We hadn’t previously spent time together outside of work, but we were both looking for something to do between the school day and parent-teacher conferences. I was preserving my stores of sociability and didn’t feel like talking much. I admired the scenery instead.
My biggest fear on these trails is that I’ll come across teenagers smoking weed, he said, breaking the silence. I asked why that frightened him. He said he wouldn’t want to have to get them in trouble. We were both teachers of teenagers, so it seemed an odd statement. You wouldn’t have to do anything, I said. He ignored my comment. I was used to my students ignoring me, so I didn’t take it too personally.
I’d rather come across a man with a gun, he said. I made some confused exclamation. Then, at least, I’d know what to do, he clarified. I wondered if the real reason was that he couldn’t see the gun but he could smell the marijuana. Maybe it wasn’t that he would know what to do with a man with a gun, but that he wouldn’t know about the gun at all. I said nothing, though. I felt uncomfortable acknowledging his blindness. And it occurred to me that I’m more at ease, myself, confronting what I cannot see.
At the end of the trail was a small lake. He asked me the direction of the water flow. I described the ripples. He took a selfie and posted it to Twitter, Snapchat. I stood outside the frame.
He asked if the leaves had turned yet. I identified small patches of orange. Mostly it’s still green, I said. That’s what I thought, he answered.
Shannon McLeod is the author of the essay chapbook Pathetic. Her writing has appeared in Necessary Fiction, Hobart, Joyland, and Cheap Pop, among other publications. She teaches high school English in Charlottesville, Virginia. You can find Shannon on twitter @OcqueocSAM or on her website at www.shannon-mcleod.com.