This is part 2 of Joe's story. There are 3 parts in all.
Aunt Theresa threw quite a bash for Bessie’s funeral. As I later learned, her style was to do things with fanfare and class. She rented a huge ballroom at a hotel in Waltham and there we all sat, 8 to a table, with full access to a buffet line that included mounds of shrimp on ice, two hot entrees, assorted cheeses and meats, and tropical fruit cut and sliced in brilliant colors that overlooked the fact that this was about Bessie’s untimely death.
I’ve never absorbed the details, although she’s told me more than once, but Aunt Theresa starting losing her sight when she was in thirties. She had 3 sons and a son-of-bitch husband at the time, but by the time she could no longer see anything but the faintest of light, she had transformed herself into a graduate student-soon-to-be-social worker. She was apparently quite a star in the world of rehabilitation, for which she is to this date quite proud and forever grateful.
We got to know eachother pretty well during the two years that Joey fell apart, moaned and rocked, and to everyone’s surprise, especially his, four or five years later found the missing pieces to life after mother. I never really liked Joey growing up, so I never expected to become a lifeline for him, and certainly not the imaginary sister he likes to call me—his clever way to let me know he expects and requires family like attention here and there. Back in those early days, and now, I have the skills to help him find programs and resources and people and possibilities, so even to this day he is my permanent volunteer client.
Which leads me back to Aunt Theresa. I like her, admire her, am in awe of how she manages her independence. She would like me to be a more available friend than I am, but I do try to be there for her in the big moments. Like the time a couple of years ago when, fresh out of rehab. for knee surgery, she phones me with a healthy cadence of terror and panic in her otherwise methodical voice.
“Help, Help”, she says. “There are little men all over my apartment. They are on the couch and at the foot of my bed. There are dozens of them. Help”.
“Theresa”, I say, “What do they look like?”
She hardly catches a breath. “They are small with top hots and big bowties. Red and blue and some are yellow. I need help”
“Theresa”, I say again. “I am going to drive over and I will talk to you on my cellphone while I drive. I am sure they will not hurt you, and I will be there in 15 minutes”.
Aunt Theresa is hallunicating. When I arrive, she is holding a fly swatter and moaning almost like Joey. “Oh my god” she says, “They are all over you. One is sitting in your lap.”
“Theresa, I will stay here tonight and keep them in the living room with me. This is probably because of your pain medication. We can go to the emergency room tonight and they will help you. But I’m sure these little guys are not harmful.”
That night, and the next, I stayed at Theresa’s until the little men with their vibrant colors faded and were gone. We laugh about this every once in a while. I have seen many people hallunciate, but this was something else, I think Theresa actually appreciated seeing the shapes and color as if she could rightly see.
Which brings me to an unrelated part of Joey’s story: my second albeit brief encounter with another sightless person. He was a friend of a friend of a friend and I met him at a piano bar in Washington DC, where I sat on a bar stool and there he was beside me. I know a pickup line when I hear one. At first I thought I would simply use my politeness skills to move away and on, but he couldn’t see the signals. Only words-direct words—would do. I am sure to this day that I told him I was not available because he was not my type, not because he was blind. I hurt his feelings and I admit I did and still do wonder how much of a risk he had taken, if at all, to put that hand on my knee.
Which brings me to another unrelated part of Joey’s story: my third, and lengthier friendship with Joanne, who was blind and by far the best magician, who could convince you she could see when she couldn’t. In restaurants, we would simply forget and she would finally say, “Guys, I’,m blind, remember. I can’t read the friggin menu.”
More than once Joanne told the story of growing up on a rural farm in Iowa and being sent to a school for the blind 100 miles away. “My parents would wave down a passing car and send me back to school with some stranger who was headed that way—can you believe it?” I couldn’t until I met Joanne’s mother, who said without a prompt at the dinner table, “Oh Joanne, we scraped our money to send you to that special school, but we could only afford the bus fare one way. We had to send you back with strangers.”
Joanne was married to Alan and together they lived comfortably in a Brookline condominium. Alan was a computer talent in the early days. He died just after he sold some rights to Nitendo. Before then, for several years Joanne and her little rug rat dog Bunnie would stop at the local corner drugstore to pick up essentials. She knew the pharmacist and cashiers as well as she knew the entire neighborhood. This was another story she told: “One day however, the owner walks up to me and says, “Joanne, I don’t want you to come in here any more.”
“Iwas floored. “What?” Why would you say that?”
I heard him sigh with a twinge of disgust. “Joanne, your goddamn dog is eating the candy bars”.
Joanne never went back to that Pharmacy, but not because the owner told her not to.