A blind man needed help finding a bottle of Pepsi he had dropped at the train station. He petitioned me for help, and in a simple gesture of social kindness, I put down my book to assist him. When I returned the soda, he struck up a conversation with me. Things lead to things, and soon we were discussing history books he’d been listening to on audio tape and diving into his favorite royal figureheads at length.
He asked for the time, and I gave it to him. Appearing worried, he then asked for help finding the station window to speak with an attendant. I had never helped a blind man walk before. I suppose there’s a first time for everything.
I took his tattooed arm in mine, helped him to his feet (which took a moment as he was a bit heavy-set and clumsy), then lead him slowly through the station. As we made our way, he commented, “You have long hair.”
“I love long hair.”
“Thank you. How did you know I have long hair?”
“My fingertips brushed it when you took my arm. It’s very soft.”
Suddenly, I felt uncomfortable.
Are blind men supposed to make you feel uncomfortable?
Maybe I was overreacting …
I grit my teeth and dismissed my initial reaction.
“You have a beautiful voice. Musical. I can’t stop listening to it. I knew when we started talking that you were a friendly, beautiful person. If I could liken you to someone in history, you would be Marie Antoinette.”
“Didn’t she have her head chopped off?”
“Yes, but she was a woman who lived within her means, and the people loved her. She was always kind to others.”
“I see … Thank you.”
Although he was complimenting me and making small-talk, I couldn’t stop that feeling of discomfort from slowly creeping over me. And when he asked me to lead him outside for a minute so he could “get some air”, I knew I wasn’t enjoying myself. What was originally meant to be a polite and swift gesture had quickly morphed into a sort of obligated dance in attempting to be polite to someone physically handicapped while still maintaining what distance I could from a man who was obviously hitting on me.
“Are you wearing perfume?”
“Yes, I am.”
He pulled out a pack of cigarettes after I had lead him outside. I watched him smoke from a safe distance, not wanting the stench of cigarettes on me. I couldn’t just leave him there. How would he get back into the station?
His conversation turned dark. Tormented stories of how he couldn’t find a girlfriend, how women had left him, how he was all alone, how he didn’t have anybody, how he really wanted someone to be around. I did my best to reassure him. I threw positives and upsides and silver linings his way. But I guess there’s no cheering someone whose sight has been robbed from them by a gunshot wound to the head.
I guess he’d been to prison before.
I guess that’s where he got his tattoos.
I felt very uncomfortable.
“You’re at the butt,” I pointed out.
“Oh!” He tossed the cigarette he’d been dragging on to the ground. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Don’t burn yourself.”
When an announcement blared over the speaker that my train was now boarding, perhaps I sounded too eager to get him on his way and back to a handicapped bench back in the station because he could not stop apologizing profusely for the dark turn our conversation had taken. I reassured him, again, that all was well, not wanting a sad person to continue feeling sad, and not wanting to have had a part in making him feel that way. I pitied him in a sense, but …
There was just no polite way of excusing myself from conversation with him. With a normal person — a seeing person — visual cues can sort of clue a person in to when you’re not feeling enthralled by conversation or quite up to chit chat. But with this man, it was not the same. I couldn’t just excuse myself. And if I could have, I didn’t know how to approach the subject verbally without offending him or possibly sending him into a weeping puddle of tears, yet another woman to add to the pile of those who he claims have rejected him.
After depositing him in his seat and bidding him goodbye (he tried to get my number, but I made some sort of excuse like, “I actually don’t use a cellphone, I’m sorry, you can Google me?”), I found myself rushing off as quickly as possible to make my train, feeling more and more relieved with each step of my getaway.
I didn’t know what to feel.
I just knew, after boarding my train and sinking into my seat, that I was glad I could see, and glad to be away from someone who, although blind, made me feel trapped.