Not If I See You First
A door squeaks open to my right. “This room’s empty.”
Once we’re inside, the door clicks shut.
“We’re alone? You’re sure?”
“Yes. Are you afraid of something? Or someone?”
Fear, no. Dread, yes. The thought of this P.E. teacher standing at the fence watching me run this morning is bad enough, and if word got out …
“Who told you?”
“No one. I live nearby, on Manzanita. Have you been running there for long?”
“Years. Please don’t … wait, have you told anyone?”
“Please don’t!” Dread leapfrogs right over fear and lands square on near panic. Running in Gunther Field is a major ingredient in my sanity soup. If people find out and come to gawk, or worse, come in so I can’t even be sure the field’s empty … I’d have no way of knowing they were there. Like this morning. I’d have to stop.
“Is someone bothering you?”
“It’s just … private. And I’m not blind to the fact that it’s a freak show. I don’t want an audience. Please don’t tell anyone.”
“Okay, I won’t.”
“Why didn’t you say anything this morning?”
“You’d have had no reason to believe I’m a teacher instead of some random stranger talking to you with no one else around. I didn’t want you to feel unsafe.”
“I can handle strangers—I do it all the time. But I can’t see you so if you don’t say anything, I don’t know you’re there and it’s like spying on me.”
AKA Rule Number Nine.
“Isn’t that true of anyone walking by?”
“It’s different with people I know, or who know me.”
“I see,” he says, but I don’t think he does.
“It’s okay, you didn’t know. Just don’t tell anyone. Not even all my friends know.”
“It’s not a freak show. The only way anyone could tell you can’t see is that big blindfold flying out behind you like a banner. It’s quite a sight.”
“You’re a very confident runner. Have you ever had a guide dog?”
“Nope. Never needed one, not for what I do mostly. Maybe later when I graduate high school and need to get around in more strange and busy places on my own.”
“Do you mind if I ask who taught you how to run?”
I’m feeling better knowing the cat’s still in the bag, but this irks me.
“Why would someone need to teach me how to run?”
“Well, there’s running and there’s running. You look like you’ve had training.”
“Oh. My dad used to run. He taught me some things. How to breathe and stuff.”
“Have you ever thought about trying out for track?”
I laugh. “No. You understand why I run at six in the morning in Gunther Field, right? It’s big, it’s empty, it’s square. No lanes to stay in? No people around?”
“Plenty of runners have some degree of visual impairment. If you don’t mind me asking, how much can you see?”
“Um … I can’t see anything.”
“I understand, but I mean, you still see some light, right, but just can’t focus?”
I don’t like talking about this but decide to cut him some slack.
“Nope. All black. A car wreck tore my optic nerves. My eyes are fine, only … lights out.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed—”
“It’s all right. Most blind people can see a little. You were just betting the odds.”
“No, I mean, I thought you had light sensitivity issues because … why else would you wear blindfolds?”
I laugh. “These are just clothes. Like wearing a hat. A fashion statement no one can copy because if they did, they wouldn’t be able to see.”
He doesn’t laugh, which is sad, but then I hear a smile in his voice when he says, “I was just curious. Actually, in Paralympics all visually impaired runners wear blacked-out goggles so those who can see a little don’t have an advantage.”
“That’s … terrible.” I laugh.
“Anyway, they all have guide runners. If you wanted to run track, we could work something out.”
“No thanks,” I say, and to give it some finality I reach for the door but I find only air. I step toward it slowly, waving my arm.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
I snort and my hand finds the doorknob. “Did I look afraid?”
“Not when you were running. You did a minute ago, when you thought people might watch you do it.”
Ah, well, that’s something else entirely.