Car, Empty," © 2002 by Dave Beckerman
of the most difficult problems my parents
had to face was what to do with me during the summer, when school
was out and I had few friends to play with. My mother heard of a
place called Camp Solitude, in Lake Placid, New York, for musically
talented kids and she enrolled me. Although I was the only blind
camper, I loved it there and returned for five consecutive summers.
I felt a part of things and made some good friends.
When I was sixteen, some
friends I had made at camp decided to come into Manhattan from New
Jersey, where they lived, and invited me to join them. I was just
learning how to travel with a white cane, and knew only a few routes,
but I took the subway to 57th Street and met my friends in front
of Carnegie Hall with no trouble.
Our little group included
me, Rebecca and Frances, who were sisters, and Douglas. We were
all about the same age, and it was wonderful for me to be a part
of this group. I was supposedly "going steady" with Rebecca, and
Douglas was with Frances, although he liked another girl named Marcia,
who would not give him the time of day. In truth, I liked Rebecca
as a friend, but felt a deep attraction to Douglas. He was a huggy
guy, and whenever we hugged I got an instant hard-on, a response
Rebecca never elicited in me. I was afraid to talk about this with
anyone, and the idea of being gay never really crossed my mind.
I just knew that I was much more attracted to Douglas than to Rebecca.
Often, Douglas would
tell me how sad he felt because Marcia wasn't interested in him;
he was an emotional guy and would cry. We would hug and I would
try to console him, all the time trying to control my feelings.
Of course he never knew the effect he had on me.
Despite these confusing
emotions, I felt comfortable with all three of them. Rebecca had
even learned some basic Braille, and would write me notes. The best
part was that I did not feel different with these kids: I felt accepted
and at ease. I was able to forget about being blind and just enjoy
When we got ready to
set off that day, Rebecca suggested that I could put my folding
cane in her pocketbook if I liked, which seemed an excellent idea,
since without the cane I could walk with a friend on each side.
I walked with Rebecca on my left, and would alternate between having
Frances or Douglas on my right. I was quite demanding, and during
our walk I would suddenly say, "I want to walk with Douglas NOW!"
and he would go to my right side.
Having someone on each
side made for wonderful walking. We even ran a bit, and Frances tried
to teach me to skip, which was a disaster: I wound up falling and
pulling Frances and Rebeccane down with me, but it was all in fun, and
I was the happiest kid in the world.
We walked around Manhattan,
ate in a diner of sorts, and decided to take the subway downtown
to explore Greenwich Village. I was supposed to go back to Rebeccanene's
house in New Jersey that night, so I didn't have to check in with
At the subway station,
waiting for the train, Douglas called Rebeccanene to come look at something
while I stayed put. I was accustomed to being left when sighted
people wanted to look at things, so I wasn't at all upset, but then
I heard the train arrive and depart, and nobody came back to me.
I called out the names
of my friends: "Rebeccanene, Douglas, Frances! Are you there?" No answer.
I stood stock still, trying to listen. I heard throngs of people,
and trains pulling in and out, but nobody approached me. I must
have been mistaken, I thought to myself. The train I heard must
have been across the platform, on the other side. My friends were
probably just looking at something. Why was I such a worrier? They
would be right back.
I tried to relax as I
listened to the throngs of people coming and going, the trains pulling
in and out all around me. But still nobody came. I called out again,
"Rebeccane? Douglas? Frances?" No answer. I realized then that I was alonealone
on a double-edged subway platform without my cane.
I cannot express in words
the terror that seized me. To understand how I felt, you need to
have an idea of how a white cane is used. First, you learn to swing
the cane from left to right in an arc. As you swing left, you step
with your right foot, and vice versa. At each step, you tap the
cane from side to side to establish a regular rhythm, a technique
called two-point touch. You lift the cane slightly as you swing
it from left to right, and the tip touches the ground only when
the arc is completed on either side.
There is one exception
to this technique, and only one: when you are on a subway platform.
There, you slide the cane so that the tip never leaves the ground.
This is because subway platforms, especially those with tracks on
both sides, called double-edged or island platforms, are as dangerous
for a blind person as walking a tightrope would be for someone sighted.
Due to the noise level,
the distorted acoustics, and the crush of people, you must walk
very slowly, and make certain that the tip of the cane does not
leave the ground. Because it's difficult to walk in a straight line,
you have to worry about the platform on both sides of you.
When I walked subway
platforms, I used to put the cane over one edge and trail that edge;
I'm sure this looked dangerous, but it enabled me to worry about
only one edge and kept me walking straighter. Now here I was, on
a subway platform, totally alone, with no cane.
I began to yell for help
and a woman came over to me. "What's wrong?" she asked. "My friends
left me and I don't have my cane!" I managed to say. "What's wrong
with you?" she asked. "I can't see," I answered. (My mother forbade
me from using the word blind, but I figured that the dark glasses
I wore were enough of a clue.) "I need to call my mother; please
help me." "There's a phone upstairs," said the woman. "But I can't
see," I shouted.
"I think he's crazy,"
another woman said. "We better get away from him." I realized that
my terror had driven me to flail about with my arms, feeling for
a pole, reaching for anything solid, but by doing this I had gotten
totally disoriented, lost all sense of where the platform edge was.
Everything echoed. It all sounded loud and confusing. I felt like
I was going to pass out.
Calling on the orientation
skills I had developed, I made clicking sounds to see if I could
locate a pole. If only I could grab a pole, I'd be safeI wouldn't
risk falling onto the tracks. As I clicked, I could hear solid objects,
but I could not tell if they were on my side of the platform. I
was getting more and more turned around. By the time I stopped trying
to orient myself, I was more lost than ever, without the slightest
idea where the edge was in relation to where I was standing.
My fear grew, and I resigned
myself to the inevitable: I would never get off that platform, or,
at the very least, I would wind up falling onto the tracks and being
crushed by a subway train. This had happened to a blind instructor
at the Lighthouse, and people were still talking about it months
afterwards. He was a good cane user, but he did not survive. And
there was the blind woman named Mary Lou who had fallen onto the
tracks and had lost both legs. Now it would be my turn.
I felt someone touch
me and a man asked, in a kind voice, "Can I help?" I tried to answer,
but I was so upset that I could not talk. Instead I started to cry.
At last I managed to say that I could not see and my friends had
left me. The man asked if I was blind, and I said that I wasn't
supposed to say that word, but that I was. He asked what he could
do for me, and I asked him to take me to a phone booth.
Just then, a train pulled
in and suddenly my friends were hugging me and apologizing. Each
one thought the other was watching out for me. "Oh, thank God you're
OK!" said Rebeccane. "Now we can go visit Greenwich Village."
I stood stock still,
trying to regain my composure. It was obvious to me that they hadn't
taken this whole thing very seriously. They had forgotten me, but
now they were back, and all was fine with the world. Well, all wasn't
fine with my world. "I don't want to go with you guys any more,"
I said. "I want to go home." They tried to convince me to stay with
them, but I was too upset.
"Give me back my cane!"
I demanded, practically shouting at Rebecca, "and put me on the
Rebeccane gave me my cane,
and my carry-on bag, and they waited with me until the subway came.
I got on, sat down, and the doors closed. When the train reached
Sheepshead Bay, I laboriously used my cane until someone showed
me the Down stairs. Once on the street, I knew where the bus was
and took it to within two blocks of my home.
"What are you doing here?"
my mother asked. "I thought you were going to stay in New Jersey?"
"I decided to come home,"
was all I said.
I did a great deal of
thinking that night. I knew I would never fully trust sighted people
again. I decided that no matter what the circumstances, I would
always keep my cane with me and always carry enough money to take
Although my friends called
me a few times, I brushed them off, and never went out with them
again. To this day I cannot understand how they forgot me. I cannot
fathom how they failed to comprehend my terror. It was then that
I began to sense the chasm that exists between what I experience
as a blind person and what sighted people understood about me. I
realized that I could never totally relax with sighted people. I
could never let my guard down because I had to "watch out for myself"
If these friends who
knew me and supposedly liked me could have forgotten me, then nothing
was sure. Thirty-six years later I still remember the terror I felt
Feinstein and Harley live in Brooklyn,
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