blind•in•sight

 

¶11 Heat



With the advent of mid summer the town has been pulsing.  Tempers flaring, fists flying, alcohol and sister drugs quenching a variety of thirsts. And sultry, punishing heat everywhere. I haven't minded it though.  As long as I'm not in anybody's cross hairs, can find AC, it's entertaining and gets me out in the evenings.  Even if I just sit like a lawn ornament in front of my building I can rest assured that neighbors will pass me by, maybe even fall on top of me. That includes cocky kids on skateboards nonchalantly claiming the street and frivolous arguments among couples. Bedraggled moms drag tired toddlers home by their sweaty little hands and the fire department next door is busier than an ant farm.  And just as insular.  I can expect at least one drunken idiot working his way along the sidewalk to swerve ungracefully and approach me, try in vain to speak coherently and ultimately stumble backwards to his original position and continue on his blessedly oblivious way. Why would a person get so trashed they literally can't speak?  Doesn't that take all the fun out of it?  If you can't even find the language skills it requires to say 'I am not drunk, do you find me attractive?' and then fall on your face and don't even seem to mind .... well, why bother?  And by the way, that is not what I find attractive.  Maybe if I was in the pickle jar with you but probably not.

     

Even Neil is feeling the impact over in the serene stratosphere of upper High St.  The other day somebody rang the front door bell and when Neil graciously opened it, expecting his one o'clock client, he was greeted instead by a woman lamenting about her lack of a cell phone.  It wasn't that she'd lost her phone or that she needed to make a call and wished to borrow his.  No, she was griping to Neil about the fact that she didn't have one and that she felt entitled to have one and didn't Neil agree? The Blind Masseur doesn't generally have to deal with much riff raff  there on upper High and so he asked her a couple of different ways if she needed to borrow his phone to make a call.  'No', she said, 'but what if I did?  I'm homeless and I need a phone'.  Neil finally caught on and declared evenly 'That's ridiculous!' As he casually closed the door in her face I heard her emphatically agree 'Yes, it is!' She just didn't understand he was talking about her.  Well, I think she understood once the door closed unceremoniously in her face.  But maybe not.  She sounded pretty convinced of her constitutional rights as a disadvantaged 'Murican citizen. Ah, America - land of the recently set free and home of the brazen.


     I just read that Barnaby's is sad to announce they are closing their doors for good. That's not news. Neil announced they were closing the minute he found out they'd opened. He threw his head back and laughed merrily about Rocky Top Tavern changing hands and becoming Barnaby's, a self proclaimed 'Music Hall'. It's a hall alright.  With a door on one end and music on the other. Neil and I went there.  Once.  Next in line to take command of that hole in the wall ought to call it "On The Rocks".  That would be a more apt description from several different business perspectives. 


     Somebody tried to rob Key Bank a few weeks ago.. Thank goodness retired BPD legend 'Zippo' Frechette was there checking up on his account and could deftly apprehend the suspect. And I hope your account was in good standing. If it wasn't I hope Key Bank filled it up for you as swiftly as you helped them out. 


     Last Friday there was a riveting debacle across the street from me. Five cruisers and countless officers swooped in and ultimately escorted one unfortunate young man to the BPD digs.  What I saw lingers in my mind. I even called Neil to talk to him about it as I sat on my balcony watching the unsettling scene unfold. I woke him up.  It was after midnight and Neil generally prefers sleep over conversation by that time of night.  He listened though, asked a few questions out of curiosity then excused himself to fall back asleep.  A few moments later he called me back to ask if it was over and say 'You live in a bad part of town!'.  As if I didn't know that.  


     Here's  what I don't know.  I don't know one person who doesn't return my smile or my hello. I don't know anyone who is reluctant to exchange pleasantries with me.  I don't know one child who doesn't trust me enough to beguilingly tell me about their day or anyone too reluctant to ask me for a cigarette, ten dollars or a favor.  And I'm glad they don't mind asking because I don't mind helping out. I don't let anybody take unfair advantage of me and Neil doesn't either. I've lived in nicer places among more socio/economically advantaged people who agree with Robert Frost:  Good fences make good neighbors.  Nobody asks for anything and they don't want to be asked for anything.  They're more concerned with their property divides and hosting charities, less concerned with being charitable. 


     I don't know why somebody currently not in lockdown would think they're entitled to a cell phone or why they think Neil would commiserate and I don't know why my AC keeps going on the fritz.  But I do know that Brattleboro citizens are reacting to the recent heat wave in dramatic, if not entirely legal or self serving fashion. I know it will pass. That's how it goes. Autumn's just around the corner, the Indo Market's around the other  Those are some committed capitalists running that place.  Their commitment to the almighty dollar is rivaled only by their commitment to each other and their children's futures.  I like to help them out when I can as well.  I'd rather give them three dollars for tuna and let the Co-op fend for itself.  Neil and I were down there today checking out the price of overly ripe avocados.  $1.99 each!  Why?  Tomorrow they'll need to be thrown away so why not mark them down today and watch them fly off the shelves?  When Neil asked what they'll do with them in a day or two the reply was 'Probably put them in the compost'. But we bought one anyway and it was delicious. I am blessed, Neil is blessed too.



¶10 Trap Doors and Music Stores

Part 2, “views from the wash zone”



Something happened to me down on the second floor of my building the other day that left a bad and lasting taste in my mouth.  That's where the laundry facilities are. I try to do most of my laundry in my sink to save money and to avoid the pile up of tenants vying for one of the four washers and four dryers accommodating 70 apartments.  About once a month I treat myself to a wash 'n dry but invariably something goes wrong.  Either all my quarters get stuck in the washer or the dryer doesn't work and  I kick myself for not just doing it at home.  I went down early in the morning thinking 'the early bird gets the washing machines!'


When I arrived I saw that all four washers were full but their cycles had ended.  I looked around for a sign that might forbid me from helping a strangers clothes out of the wash, saw none, waited a few more minutes and then proceeded to zealously and expediently pull clothes from one of the washers.  I found an empty laundry basket nearby and threw the clothes inside it.  A few minutes later a laconic woman in a loud house dress sauntered in and threw me a look designed to intimidate me.  "Did you take my clothes out of the wash?  Did you do that?  You can't do that!  You can't take people's clothes out if they're not here!!  And that's not my laundry basket!"  I had taken due care with her poor-fashion-sense clothes and her indignation immediately made me feel hostile.


Who lives any kind of quality life in neon, stretch polyester slacks?  It also made me secretly happy that I had left one sock deep inside the well of the washer because I really didn't feel like reaching in one more time.  It's hard to reach down into a top loading washer from a wheelchair. Damn hard.  I have to sit on one of my armrests to do it and I'm  always surprised that I don't topple over. Surprised and delighted.  I don't shock easy but I had been shocked over how much she'd stuffed into that washer.  I made an initial counter reply.  "I looked at the list of laundry 'THOU SHALT NOTS' and didn't see that one there."  It was true, I had. She stood her ground and leveled me with an angry glare. Her hair was three different shades of blond and I couldn't take her seriously.


Part of me wanted to laugh but I contained it. However, I made a conscious decision based on how rarely I use the facilities and how badly it always seems to go and based on her pudgy face and the ugly look on it.  Quickly stuffing my clothes into the now vacant washer I ventured  "Is that where you've decided to take a stand in life today?  Really?  At the good ole wash 'n dry on the second floor?  Over the fact that I took your clothes out?  You could look at it like I did you a favor."  Her face got red and a friend of hers and neighbor of mine popped her head into the area to say 'Hi!' and the little fireplug didn't even respond.  I said 'She's mad at me for taking her clothes out."  The neighbor gave me an 'Uh oh!' look and disappeared quickly.  


Now here's the best part of the story and I still can't make sense of it.  The dryers were all full although they too had run their course. This woman yanked the dry clothes that didn't belong to her out of a dryer and threw them haphazardly on a nearby counter so that she could dry her own clothes.  I thought "I am really seeing this?  Is she doing the exact same thing she's so pissed off at me about WHILE standing there giving me a hard time? Holy shit - she is!  And look!  She's just throwing their shit on the counter, not using half the care and concern I used with all her wretched clothes. Well, except that one sock."  But I didn't say a thing.  I just sat there watching her, hoping she'd look up and make eye contact and show some sign of intelligent life, some sign that she was aware of how blatantly hypocritical she was being.  Maybe even laugh at how ridiculous she was.  But she didn't.  


It would have detracted from her righteous indignation, diffused it and she was too wedded to her pettiness to give it up. I was too stunned to speak.  That is highly unusual behavior for me but I couldn't believe she possessed so much audacity and so little insight or respect.  So little respect for me, for herself and for the owner of those clothes (all decent cotton threads in less putrid colors) strewn all over the dirty counter. I came back upstairs to my apartment shaking my head and marveling over how I'd bit my tongue.  It's difficult.  I have so many callouses there already.  It's hard for my teeth to find secure purchase anymore. But mostly it made me wonder.  About people.

 

It left me wondering about the concept of self pity, why we have that propensity, how and when we choose to indulge ourselves and about human behavior. It's hard to choose what we're going to feel or what we're going to think but we make a conscious decision when we decide on an action.  It left me wondering how people can be so self involved and show such an abiding lack of concern for others.  The impact our behavior has on others is far reaching.  It echoes down the corridors of our days and shapes them.  It supplies fodder for wistful dreams or frightening nightmares. It made me wonder about myself and my own less than courteous reaction to her petulance but I didn't lose any sleep over it.  I felt a little bad about the sock that I ended up throwing in the trash can when it came out with my sheets and skirts but not terribly.  That's just what socks do at the laundry mat. Abandon ship, each other and disappear.  


It made me wonder why I ever do my clothes down there and when I came home with wet bedding that I had to hang over my heater it made me wonder if they ever service those goddamn machines.  But most of all it made me grateful to people who practice being positive and who choose to express and exhibit that positivity within their  relationships and their communities. You can make a person's day or put a sizable dent in it simply by choosing whether to smile or frown at them.  So the next time you're feeling powerless in your life consider how much power you have to effect the life of someone else based simply on how you choose to behave when you encounter them.


That thought might bring a smile to your own face and make you feel a little bit lighter. It might not put a spring in your step but that's not our job. Neither of us has a spring in our step. I have no step at all and Neil's are tentative to avoid walking off the face of cliffs or into oncoming traffic. Neil's job is to soothe your weary muscles with his skilled hands and look handsome doing it.  


It is also his job to pal around with me.  It's a volunteer position but he still considers it 'work' and is currently looking into writing me off as a tax exemption for next year.  Apparently he was not on the ball with his federal and state codes this year and April 15th snuck up on him. I don't really have gainful employment but I keep myself busy. I'm currently waiting for Neil to finish raking the leaves in his backyard and I intend to follow him around with an empty yogurt container collecting crawlers for our debut at Whetstone Brook.  Neil and I hope you are able to realize the blessings in your own lives and give them their due. What you focus on inside yourself is what people will see when they encounter you and that is what they will focus on too.  Neil is blessed, I am blessed.  You are blessed too.




¶9 Trap Doors and Music Stores

Part 1, “Unstrung”



    Neil and I like to make the most out of our days and what constitutes a good day is often fairly simple. There's a genuine beauty in that simplicity. Health, occasional sunshine, nobody we know dies, tragedy avoids us for another day and massage appointments are on the calendar so Neil can keep his business and himself bustling.  We prefer to focus on the 'haves' in our lives and not the 'have nots.'  Well, Neil's better at it than myself but I at least pay good sound lip service to the idea and my heart's in the right place.  Sometimes I get a bit maudlin but that's generally hormonal and like most females, I like to milk it.  Just hand me some sweets, make soothing sounds and don't fan the flames or start any brush fires.  That's the price of admission to the park.  Well, one of them.  There are many fees, taxes, surcharges and penalties.  But that's neither here nor there and I prefer to focus on the three weeks out of any month when I'm more accommodating and less mercurial.  Neil doesn't have the luxury of taking a regularly scheduled week off from personal and social decorum.  Secretly I covet the time I don't hold myself to high personal standards and feel a twinge of sympathy for good men such as Neil who have no secret trap door in life.  


    But I have to say with all sincerity that Neil, who has plenty of sound reasons to flounder and get mired down in the quicksand of self pity, does not.  Nor does he generally sweat the big stuff.  If he gets his boxers in a twist or lathers up and froths at the mouth it's usually over 'ill timed' service at a local restaurant or rude cashiers.  There's a certain music store in town, they have a certain monopoly and they certainly act like it.  Their name reminds me of what grows on local trees, has five points, turns red, orange and yellow and drifts nonchalantly down to the ground when the fall wind blows.  You also find fat night crawlers under them when they're wet. The clerks at said establishment annoyed the piss out of Neil after trusting them with his guitar.  It was hard enough to find a day when they were willing to take on a simple string changing.  When we called to get their hours of operation I asked if we could bring it right down.  There was an awkward silence before the guy said 'Well, we're trying to watch a couple videos right now so..?" Neil and I wondered what videos they might be watching down there in a back room.  Classic guitar porn?  Acoustic?  Electric?  Huh, not our style so we decided not to scurry down and join them.  


    We waited and had a friend bring it down the next day. We didn't hear back from them although they said 'We'll call when it's done". A few days later, with no call, we walked down to pick it up but when we approached the counter the response we got was "We don't have your guitar." We assured him that they did.  We watched the guy do a few bewildered laps around the store looking both hither and yon.  I noted curiously that he didn't see it where I did, parked up against a wall with other guitars stacked in front of it.  Nicer guitars.  Neil stiffened up.  He knew it was there.  I cleared my throat.  It's not that I had anything stuck there or was about to choke. It's a warning sound, code for 'Pay attention, I'm getting ready to say something I don't want you to miss.  It's going to teach you something I think you need to learn."  Neil's really familiar with it. "I see it.  Over there. Yes, it's over there. RIGHT THERE".


    He found it was indeed RIGHT THERE and since he previously thought he didn't even have the guitar it goes without saying that the old, haggard strings hadn't been touched. Any fool could see that.  There was a tag hanging from the neck that had Neil's number and the direction to do the one thing they'd neglected to do besides notice they had it in their store.  The clerk looked at the tag quizzically and flipped it over a couple times reading it intently.  "Well" he said "Looks like we didn't get that done for you".  Neil's right knee started jittering, a sure sign that his patience was being tested though not by me I noted gleefully.  He told Neil that he'd get that done for him within the next couple hours. The front door opened and another clerk came around the counter carrying his lunch.  When he heard we'd just been told the strings were going to be re-strung on that old guitar he'd been ignoring and that we could expect a call in a couple hours he interjected and raised his objections based on the fact that he had other shit to do, plenty of it, only so much time you know, to do all that shit crap work. Basically he told us just how low on his list of priorities Neil's battered guitar was and how he'd try to get to it in the next couple days, The guy who'd promised to change the strings was busying himself behind the cash register, randomly opening and closing the drawer and showing a profound, almost delighted interest in it's contents each time it popped open.  


    However, he did not pop open his mouth.  He was waving his white flag high. Now both knees were jittering and I felt a heavy hand fall on my shoulder.  If was time to go.  When we left Neil was muttering under his breath and picked up steam on the way back up High St.  When he was still cursing them an hour later I remarked that he doesn't let big stuff like cancer, blindness, great loss, grim mortality or such get under his skin but something like a disgruntled wanna-be-musician-turned-cashier can flatten his mood . He replied 'There's nothing I can do about the other stuff.  That guy was disrespectful. And what about the other guy? Where was he?"  "Oh, he was playing with his cash register, very busy with the old cash register. Like he'd just discovered it!" I said. "How hard is it to change a set of strings and how many days does it take?  Ten minutes of his time but he's standing there being an asshole, justifying being one, telling me how hard his job is and how much he's gotta do before he can get to my guitar.  That guitar's been there for three days and they didn't even realize it was still sitting in a corner!  I don't need that.'  


He's right.  Common courtesy goes a long way.  Everybody who's living a life has their share of ups and downs.  Some people act as if they have a monopoly on more than local storefront.  They think they have a monopoly on despair, on mortality, on being disillusioned and on the general burdens in life.  I'm puzzled by that.  When we turn to each other in the places we meet it would be just lovely to be met with a smile and something different than "I work so hard, way too hard, hear my cry" or "My knee hurts me a little today and now I must make you suffer by listening to me drone on and on about it.  Yes, you over there in the wheelchair, listen to me."  or "I had a mole removed last week and biopsied. Those things can be cancerous on remote occasion.  I am a tragic figure waiting to find out the results." Then they look at you sideways as if to say  "What do you think of that? If you really stretch your imagination like warm taffy - and yes, I'm asking you to - I might have cancer."  It is hard not to say 'Oh, you absolutely will die someday. In fact you may die tonight. From a vast array of things. Possibly from eating too many bags of those potato chips your holding. You will almost certainly not die from that mole you no longer have though. So turn around and let me kick you in the ass and help you find your way out of the elevator." 



¶8 Gold-plated tuna & access to sidewalks, banks...



    Well spring has sprung and Neil and I have sprung back into action.  Winter didn't get the best of us or get us down too much.  We still managed to get out for walks into town but they were pretty rudimentary.  Quick trips to Dotties's for coffee, to the Co-op for Neil's Garden Burgers, some avocados on sale for slightly less than 24K gold and the opportunity to wonder why Chicken of the Sea costs almost as much as fresh fillets. Sometimes I while away the entire rest of the day just a wondering.


     I took a real liking to a cup of hot chocolate adorned with several fathoms of whipped cream at The Works and Neil loves his Honey Bear smoothie so we often park ourselves at a table in between errands and remark on how nice it is to get out.  Neil often remarks on how they managed to put either too much ice in his smoothie, not enough ice in his smoothie or, on the sparsest of occasions, just the right amount of ice.  And you better know I'm just sitting there with bated breath waiting to find out.  If all's well he lets me know by playfully blowing the paper from his straw in my face and telling me how delicious it is. They should call it a 'Three Bear' smoothie and I'll call Neil Goldilocks.  Tenderly and affectionately of course. "Everything okay over there Goldilocks? Cause we don't want any trouble in The Works.  You know these good people behind the counter are getting way, way over paid to be here and the least they can do is make you a perfect smoothie.  They should get up early in the morning just to practice crushing your ice with their bare fingers and, the fact is, I don't know why they don't!" This would be spoken with liberal mock disdain. He often orders some juicy chicken sandwich as well and rarely files any complaints in that regard. Of course generally his mouth is too full.  As for myself, I have packed on a few obligatory winter pounds and am trying desperately not to succumb to cheese danishes and one of those 'I have no complaints to file' chicken sandwiches.  I often sit there and pick at a fruit salad which is a complete diet discrepancy next to my whipped cream with a little hot chocolate underneath it.  I always feel the need to sullenly wonder aloud why I haven't lost any weight.  Neil's always right there to tell me exactly why not in between halves of his awesome sandwich and reminders about how hard he works out as opposed to me who never even stands once on any given day.


     Sometimes one or the other of us needs to pick something up at Hotel Pharmacy and so we cut across the street to pick up our monthlies.  Hotel is a truly great store, a solid old brick establishment with a spectacular New York Met's gallery inside and an ode to the late Frank Giamartino whom I miss each and every time I enter.  He had a way of making you feel like he'd been waiting all day just to see you walk into his pharmacy and that you were the only woman on the planet.  He wasn't and I wasn't but I sure did appreciate the game.  Frank loved sports across the board and that included the timeless sport of flirting expertly with fine looking women such as myself. Hotel Pharmacy boasts a beautiful brick ramp to accommodate wheelchairs.  It's a marvelous structure, that ramp is, replete with wrought iron rail and such a slow incline that it has to double back on itself to get a wheelchair up to the front door.  Once up to the front door, however, all consideration for the handicapped comes to an abrupt halt.  That monstrosity is a museum piece, fashioned out of wood from the ark of the covenant or the cross of Christ's last stand. Boldly beaded steel frames bullet proof, thick glass and weighs more than Neil's ego. Anybody truly disabled or badly in need of their drugs wouldn't stand a chance of gaining entry if they didn't have an enormous, buff man in tow such as I usually do.  I yawn it open, yell 'Incoming! Door to the right!' to Neil and he braces all his weight against it while I slip through the open crack and yank him inside too before the vacuum locked door seals itself shut like some kind of vault.  At his point he feels inordinately proud of himself for putting all those muscles to practical use and gain instead of just looking good and I can feel the push of air against the back of my head as his chest puffs out with the pride of a good, sound accomplishment. About now he flips me over on my back in an impromptu wheelie that catches little old ladies off guard and causes the breath to catch in their collective throats.  'It's okay, we're in a pharmacy - there's medical people here if they need help' he quips in my ear if I relay their shocked looks to him.  "C'mon, get in line! I've got a massage at 1:00 and we've still got to get that door open again". 


     At this point he'll often make it a point of checking the time. It seems he's always in a hurry whenever we have to wait anywhere at all and exasperated by the constraints on his time even if his schedule is completely flat lined and likewise as open as the prairies of yesteryear. Even if we're just waiting to cross the street.  All that patience I give him boatloads of credit for possessing in most life circumstances is woefully absent when confronted by slow service of any sort.  If he had a watch and was capable of checking it he'd always be tapping it in an attention getting manner, sighing profusely while knitting his brow and looking down sideways at what would be his classic timepiece.  But he's just got that damn phone that robotically declares the time in a loud monotone and that ill affords a person the ability to express their disgust. It takes ten minutes just to open it and press the right combination of buttons and then it loudly and equally robotically alerts you to the fact that it's going to tell you the time before it actually does. It doesn't encourage or leave room for Neil's creative expressions of disdain like a solid gold Rolex wrapped around his meaty wrist and the ability to see it would. 


     Kitty cornered with Hotel Pharmacy is People's United Bank and sometimes we go over to make deposits.  Neil generally has a bunch of checks folded up in his pocket from happy clients and he'll wave them around in his fat fist asking me to total them and help fill out a deposit slip.  He's usually still feeling feisty which is good because the bank has a front door that rivals only Hotel Pharmacy's and we need to muster our strength and harness all the will power at our command to gain entry.  This one shuts fast.  There's nothing polite about it.  After all, it is a bank and all doors surrounding it seem to be ready for lock down in case anybody's up to felonious no good. Once safely inside and not crushed we are confronted by five steps that lead to the lobby.  At the top of the five steps is an automatic door, one of the few in town mind you. That does us absolutely no good since I don't have a climbing wheelchair. It always opens as soon as we've crossed the threshold, it is automatic after all and the whooshing sound it makes as it effortlessly opens calls my attention and eyes to it.  I always feel as if it's mindfully taunting me.  So easy to open all you gotta do is walk through the door and it accommodates you but if you can't walk up those five steps then it might as well be a brick wall.  At the foot of the steps is an elevator that seems to have been installed as an afterthought and I call the elevator.for us.  This extremely narrow and confining elevator is slow as death to get to us, as if it had to crawl on it's short little elevator hands and knees  clear across the county to do our bidding. It takes forever to crawl upwards the exact distance of the five steps next to it.  Once we gain entry into the lobby we do our banking and then have to call the elevator back from the northern most corner of Windham County to take us back down, inch by slow inch, the distance of five steps.  This allow us to wrestle again the steel trap of a door that spits us back out onto the sidewalk.  Oh yeah ... the sidewalks.  The next time you're out and about check out our sidewalks.  They're daunting if you're blind or in a wheelchair and doubly so if you're part of a pair that's one of each. Especially when they're covered with piles of snow and chunks of ice and so severely damaged by weather that I need to play wheelchair hop scotch just to get us from point A to point B.  


     Neil and I remain undaunted however.  You'll find we're out most days and willing to do whatever it takes in order to remain a driving force in our community.  When you encounter us please stop and say hello. Reach out your hand to Neil and introduce yourself to us.  If he pulls out his phone to check the time don't take it personally.  He's a busy man with a busy practice and there are sandwiches to be eaten, frothy drinks to be enjoyed and heavy doors to wrangle open but we will always, always make time for you.  Keep happy, remain blessed and healthy. Neil and I will too.


¶7 Green Grass and High Tides Forever.



I want a word with the guy who has it all. I want to have a little sit down with him.  I want to pinch him and see if he's real and see if he hollers when I hurt him, see if he bleeds like I do.  I keep hearing about him, have never met him myself and have a few questions for him.  I've met a lot of people who have a passing acquaintance with him but few who call him friend.  He's elusive, nameless, mentioned often in conversations but only known, it seems to me, for how much he has and not for who he actually is.  He's certainly not known for what he's lost, what he never had or what he hoped to find himself with.  He must be the guy on the other side of the fence where the grass is greener. 


 Those bucolic, pristine pastures are deceptive from the spectator side of the fence and treacherous when you sacrifice your side for his and put your feet on its' hallowed ground. I've heard that beneath all that lush greenery lies a bog so deep and so murky that when it has a person in it's grasp it will suck the air out of your lungs and make you cry for release.  I've heard once you cross the fence into that greener pasture that you leave behind all that came before and blindly accept that which lies ahead. I've seen people hunger for that side of the fence, seen them sacrifice much for it's illusions and seen a few vault over it salivating, never to be heard from again. 


It took me a long time to realize that the grass on my side of the fence can be just as green, just as beautiful and lush as his as long as I nurture and cherish each blade I have.  It's my grass and it has no equal.  It's Kentucky Blue Grass.  I ordered it from Agway and I've had no problems with it except some people thinking it's greener than it actually is and that it provides me with more than it actually does.  It's just grass.  It's fertile and full of nourishment because I've been feeding and tending to it my whole life.  It's got some fine manure mixed in, much bullshit which makes it look greener than it actually is.  Mixed in with the bullshit are some dead bodies, lost opportunities, good and not so good decisions, lots of memories too, of my sweet youth, my bitter disappointments and the faces of those I love.  Some I've buried there, I had to. Some enjoy reasonable good health or are steadfast and remain by my side. 

 I've met a few people and noticed several others who don't covet the other guy or his grass and those people often have so very little in terms of grass or green or nourishment for their pasture.  Sometimes their homes are made with the grass and sometimes people mow down their grass but they simply enjoy what remains or smoke it.  Sometimes they make a wreath with it and give it to their neighbor for no apparent reason.  Generally this is done after smoking some of the grass but it's still a kindness and doesn't distract from the gesture itself.


 I'm convinced that the 'grass on the other side of the fence' is astro turf.  In fact, I'm positive.  It's pretty to look at but decidedly uncomfortable when you lie down on it at night to gaze at the heavens or to slumber.  You can't put it between your thumbs and whistle a fine tune and you can't bury your face in it and appreciate it's fullness or it's robust earthiness.  You can't sow nor reap much from it except some envious stares from the other side of the fence and passing nods to both it and you in conversations from people who think it's real and who think you have something they don't. 


 Nobody has it all.  Everytime I've thought I met the one who had it all I call to him and he invariably looks over his shoulder to see A.  Who the hell I'm talking to and B.  To finally meet for himself .,,, the guy who has it all, Do you have your health or at least the facade of it?  Do you have people who love you and whom you love?  Do you have shelter, food and a gargantuan TV?  If you answered yes then quickly run to your bathroom mirror and take a good,long look.,  You just met the guy who has it all whether he knows it or not,  I've had a few skirmishes online lately and in person too with people I've found snarling and sneering at 'the guy who has it all'.  When I've tried to point at the phantom of that particular opera I'm met with defensiveness and righteousness. Some people are committed to believing they have little in their lives when compared to others or wedded to the idea  that some people have it all.  We all lose in life. We lose at Paper, Scissors, Rock (somebody's gotta), we lose friends and family, we lose at love and we all lose things. I lost a pair of earrings the other day and it pissed me off, It might be down there in my grass.  The loss of one thing does not diminish the gift of what remains or remark on much except that now I need to cut the grass to find my earrings.  


We all eventually lose our health and our very lives.  What more could a person ask for than what we hold in our figurative hands? If you can read these words, comprehend and appreciate them and if you know love, friendship, can draw breath without the aid of mechanical equipment and enjoy a full belly then you need to know that you are living the dream. You are standing on the right side of the fence. May your focus remain there, may you never waver in your appreciation of what you have or hunger for more than you need,  May you continue to be blessed and to recognize those immense blessings.  Life is beautiful, lush and yours to do with what you will while you have it.  Trust me.  I am blessed.  Neil is blessed too.


¶6 Jacobs's Ladder and the Rungs of Hope.



A disability by definition implies an impotence where there once was power, a loss of strength and ability.  When you become disabled after a period of relative ability you must bear the weight of that loss and you must adapt to a life that accommodates it.  As if losing strength, abilities and power isn't enough you must also come to terms with the reactions of other people who may not know how to deal with your loss. Or they may consider your disability a loss for themselves and want to run  from both the idea and the person.  Our world does not accommodate it's disabled people well.  That's no secret.  


What may be a secret though is how many different ways there are to lose strength, power and abilities.  One way is through a life lived.  We lose our strengths and abilities over the course of our lives and though the losses are cumulative they are insidious.  They happen steadily but slowly over time and so we don't notice most of them or we expect them. We see them happen to our parents or our friends or the generations who have gone before and we make room for their eventuality in our lives.  We prepare ourselves for the ones we know will cripple us, the ones we see coming, either loss of loved ones, loss of income, loss of physical abilities too.  But we don't spend too much time thinking and planning for a loss of hope or how we'll deal with it.


There is no retirement fund for your hope to rest in and await you down the road, no bank account you can funnel hope into for a rainy day. And hope is the toughest and most debilitating thing to lose. And when we lose hope and most of us do at some point we turn to each other, to the people who have been walking with us through life.  We are each other's strength.  The power of two or three together is so much greater than the power of one alone.  Our combined abilities are what enable us to do things like travel through space, wage war on diseases, form choirs with combined voices that sound like angels.  There is no loss more crippling to the body and to the spirit than a loss of hope and there is no ladder to pull yourself up out of the muck and the mire of hopelessness without the lending of strength, love and concern from the people around us.

 

When I was forced to succumb to a wheelchair I thought 'It's okay.  I am still me.  I am still alive and aware and all that is changed is how I get myself from one place to another."  I was not giving it enough weight.  I lost the ability to feel the grass under my feet.  I lost the ability and the pleasure of walking into the woods, of sinking into the water's edge.  I lost the ability and reward of re-building the dam in my brook every spring.  And I lost the ability to walk a few miles down the road to blow off either steam or excess energy or just for the sake of walking.  As I tried adapting to the confines of a wheelchair I spent more time looking up, at the sky, the stars, the smoke pouring out of my chimney because when I was on crutches I was always having to look down to make sure my crutch tips were steady and secure on the terrain.  Now I could look up though, as much as I desired and that was an interesting change.  For awhile it provided me with much food for thought, a new vantage point.  But even as I was looking up, as I was thanking the stars I saw up there for all that I had, even as I kept my eyes to a distant future I began to feel a great sense of loss.  The sensation came with the ebb and flow of people in my life and the way they responded to me and my disability.  As I adapted to a life RESTRAINED  with as much passivity as I could muster I watched my partner, my parents and my family accept my new losses with a mirror image of my own passivity.  The medical community was passive too.  My doctor didn't know much about my condition and wasn't inclined to educate herself.  I once brought a book into her about Post Polio Syndrome.  When I handed it to her, beseeching her to read it at her leisure she brushed by me and said 'Laura, I don't have time to read a book.'  She was more inclined to prescribe me pain medication to soothe what ailed me and me being me, well I was inclined to become highly addicted to what she prescribed.  


I began a long descent into addiction and despair.  Hopelessness became my disability and it was crippling, a formidable opponent.   Eventually I lost all the things I owned and loved, I lost the people in my world too and I almost lost my liberty.  I lost myself. Hopelessness is pernicious. It kills everything in it's path. It is absolutely deadly.  When I was confronted with the truth of my life and the fact that I had allowed hope to wan from it, I was confronted with the ultimate 'Do You Dare' question. " Do you dare to hope, Laura? Do you dare to scrape yourself off the pavement and pull yourself back up again one more time?  Have you lost that ability as well?" In the rubble and ruin of my life I cast about for a reason to hope. I had a son who had faith in me and who lent me his strength and his love and his immense hope.  He was the first rung of my ladder and so he helped shape and define it.  My first rung was strong and true. It had an awesome love, feverish.  Titanium love. And it demanded that I listen, that I use it to construct a way out.  And so my son, Jeremiah, helped me with his love and with his mercy.  I don't think any one person can ever fully comprehend or fully appreciate the enormous power their love and presence brings.  I'm sure my son does not understand what a gift he gave me.

 

Neil's sudden loss of vision at the age of 28 tested the foundations of his relationships.  Most of his friends did not know how to adjust and so they walked away from him in his hour of need.  Neil's personality type, his age and passions, his gender too were dealt a blow of enormous proportions and significance.  How many 28 year old men fixed on dominating whatever particular yard of surf, turf, terrain or lovely female in front of them know how to move to the left and suddenly tolerate a complete loss of vision?  You can't accuse men of that age and mindset of being wise yet.  They haven't encountered the bones in life that demand wisdom. That's a remark on human development and less a remark on maturity or male bonds.  I wish to be kind and reserve judgement.  I believe people are inherently good and loving.  Neil's ladder of hope was built by Neil and by Neil's immediate family.  No mother should ever have to watch her strong, young son struck blind and brought to his knees.  It's an abomination. It's an absolute insult and offense to the maternal heart.


Neil's mother is remarkable in her loyalty, concern and awesome, formidable love for her son.  I have paid witness to her strength and grace in Neil's life and I see where he gets it from.  I watch from a distance the art and dance she's crafting and that she's intent on perfecting.  The art of being supportive yet unobtrusive and respectful, the dance of hope shining through clouds of pain and loss. Hers and his. The constructs of our close relationships are sometimes what saves us.  Neil's mother, Alison and my son, Jeremiah.  One mother behind her son, one son behind his mother. Their tremendous love and capacities were the materials that formed the first and most important rungs on our ladders of hope. They helped lift us out of despair. They saved us in our hours of darkness and we are forever in their debt.  We are blessed: We are blessed with love.  And we are most certainly blessed  with the people, the pillars, those who lend us their grace, their hope, their remarkable courage and their strength.  It's the season of hope.  Look not to the stars or to the stores but look to your left, to your right and to your heart. Always have the backs of those who stand beside you.


¶5 The Art of Living, The Gift of Giving.



In the building Neil and I previously lived in there was an obvious entrance from the sidewalk but it boasted two steps and that prohibited me from entering. Neil cleared it no problem but I was mandated to use the back of the building,  a medieval system of two five foot wide garage doors which met in the middle of a steep pitched descent.  The doors were complete with weights and pulleys and swung wide and fast.  Almost impossible to use if you're in a wheelchair but I used my own old fashioned system of bungee cords and expletives to deal with them. 


Directly below the marriage of the doors was a long grate meant to trap the rainwater from entering the bowels of the building.  The grate was old and gnarled and several times a month it would reach out and grab the small front wheels of my chair effectively throwing and slamming me down onto the concrete.  Every time it did I thought to myself 'I'm gonna get me a horse instead of this goddamn chair and when I do my pretty pony is gonna kick the SHIT out of this grate'.  The SHIT. 


One such time I was barreling into the garage and true to form the grate reached out and tried to murder me.  It sent me tumbling headlong to the concrete along with the cold, dirty water trying to get into the building.  I was only halfway down into the garage but managed to snake my arm out and grab my chair before it went barreling down without me.  I sat there, wet, muddy, bloody and pissed off.  My dress was torn, my tights in shreds on my now very dirty legs and my spirit let out a long sigh of absolute disgust.  As I sat there holding my chair by two fingers I tried to figure out how not to cry with indignation and frustration and during those few moments a woman came zipping through the external parking lot on her trusty ten speed.  She was deftly swooping and cutting between parked cars, dressed in spandex, her head speared by a cool, racing helmet.  "Hey!' I shouted up, "Can you help me down here?"  Without missing a beat she shouted down to me, "Not right now!  I can't! ..  I'm busy!"  and continued on her merry way.  I was speechless.  Usually I'm pretty quick on my proverbial feet but that was not a response to aid that I ever would have considered receiving from an otherwise sane looking individual.  Only too late did I raise my bloody right index finger high into the air and shout "So sorry!  Let me know when it WOULD be a good time for you and I'll try to be more considerate of your schedule!"  Damn it, I thought, come back here so you can hear what a great quip I have for your ridiculous self but she was long gone.  Within a few moments I gave up the idea of help and let go of my chair.  It went clattering down the remaining fifteen  feet into the garage and came to rest in a very mocking manner.  I crawled my way to it and pulled myself into it, wobbled to my apartment, stripped, threw out my clothes and took a hot bath.  I turned my music to the highest decibel my feeble speakers would allow and within minutes my neighbors were pleading for mercy but for the first time I ignored their knocks, their requests and let the awesome restorative powers of rhythmic sound and mindless rhyme soothe my wounded pride and spirit.  'One good turn deserves another' I thought. 


Although it wasn't any one of them who had wounded me, I still allowed myself to be totally irreverent and disrespectful.  Nobody's perfect, I thought, least of all me and this is a perfect moment to showcase some of my own imperfections.  Take a note or a picture, send a letter to the landlord, I don't care which but leave me the hell alone and go zippidy doo da down the two front steps if you don't like what you hear.  It was to be another month before I finally was introduced to Neil and when I told him about my encounter in the garage he threw his head back and laughed uproariously and with equal irreverence.  I fell in love with him for that and for a hundred other reasons like it.  That's one of the things that makes us such a good pair.  We can easily, so very easily find humor in the cauldron of our darker moments and in the face of our adversities.  What would we be without the ability to laugh at ourselves and the ridiculous responses some people have to the simple call for a moment of mercy?  Mercy, mercy me.  Things and people are surely not what we'd always want them to be.  My plea for this season of thankfulness and giving?  It's simple.  Have and give mercy.  It's affordable and if it's returned or exchanged it generally is returned or exchanged from one person to another, not one wallet or store to another. 


I've been trying for over a month to get my doctor to fax a prescription for a new wheelchair to a medical supply company up north.  Each time she says 'It's done!' I   call Yankee Medical and hear  "We haven't received any fax from your doctor".   Come to find out she's been sending multiple faxes to an office that's been closed for several years.  Yesterday I heard something fall from my chair.  When I looked down on the floor I found a serious looking bolt that had broken cleanly in half.  'Oh shit" I thought.  I looked all over the chair to find where it fell from but couldn't find the appropriate empty round hole. I stopped looking.  Ignorance is gonna have to be my bliss.   The process to get a new wheelchair is long and always arduous to begin with.  State insurance is distrustful by nature, penny wise and pound foolish.  I always receive a new chair just in the nick of time and that's if I'm fortunate.  But if my doctor in her never ending wisdom continuously fails to send up a white flag on my behalf then I am going to be in some serious trouble.  I left yet another no nonsense message on her answering machine but so far that hasn't done me much good except to clear my system of some anxiety, frustration and fear.  Hell, I had to go to her office twice just to get her to understand that a faxed prescription was necessary and to hear her lie to me that 'It's done, Laura.  I did it for you now pay me through the nose for my awesome faxing skills!" 


But I digress from my plea for mercy.  Mercy is not a right.  Neither is it a privilege.  It's a courtesy and it's a call we send out to each other in times of need, both real need and perceived need.  Listen up, pay attention and heed the call.  It will never cost you as much as you think and if it does, well, you decide what you're willing to give.  I still consider myself blessed and Neil does too.  Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.  Thanks for your readership.  We are both grateful for it.




¶4 The Vicissitudes of the Year.



November, if I recall, is a month given to thankfulness.  I see we're already slipping into the second week of it so I better start practicing.  As I look back over my shoulder at the year in repose I see a significant amount of changes.  When I met Neil we both lived in an apartment building on lower High St.  We were both experiencing personal crisis of confidence, our illusions and dreams dashed on the rocks of our separate shores.  In each other we encountered eagerness, friendliness, compassion and curiosity and an excitement for our new unfolding lives.  We were fast and immediate friends. We both love to have fun, insist on having fun and have somehow have a shared gift for having inordinate amounts of fun together.  Over the course of the year I've witnessed Neil purchase a house and turn it into a home.  He hung his glorious shingle on the front porch, incorporated his new Blind Masseur massage therapy practice into it and is enjoying the fruit and peace of his labors.  He's quickly gotten the hang of his new environment with his usual unflagging enthusiasm, warmth and humor. 


Today we climbed Union Hill twice and rather victoriously made our way back to his home after I was almost slammed out of my wheelchair by missing concrete in the sidewalk. Both my reflexes and Neil's have gotten sharper over the course of the year and our experience of it.  I yanked myself back at the same time that Neil's arm shot around the side of the chair to grab me before I kissed the sidewalk.  "Jesus!' You're reflexes are sharp!  You actually would have stopped me if I hadn't stopped myself!", I declared.  "Like a cat', he replied even measurably, 'I'm like a cat'.  Well, that sent me into gales of laughter and made me remember the last time the sidewalk threw me. It was early summer coming down High St to Main.  I was hanging off the front end of my wheelchair drawing circles in the dusty sidewalk with my fingers while I tried to figure out how to get back up and Neil was hanging onto the back of the chair pleading with me to explain. 'Laura, what just happened?"  "Laura, where are you??" Brattleboro's sidewalks are an exercise in planning and avoiding.  I pretty much plan to avoid them whenever I can.  But when Neil is with me I can't afford to be so careless or carefree or whichever you prefer to call it.  Since Neil values his life, his liberty and health and my own as well. He insists that we stay on the sidewalks when at all possible.  They are replete with cracks and crevices, mind numbing depths and precipices akin to the great walls of K2 and I'm not kidding you.  A man could lose his dog in one of those sinkholes we call sidewalks and I've lost a fair amount of pocket change and lipstick as a result of tirelessly trying to skate across them.  But I don't want to lose Neil.  I don't carry enough rope or water on me to throw down to him while I call the first responders to the scene of his first descent.  I don't really want to test the bounds of his vast store of equanimity and calm.  If I did though, any one of these sidewalks would be a good place to watch him plummet from the depths of.


I've moved over the course of the year as well.  I have a new apartment in a building that houses many of Brattleboro's elderly and handicapped.  One of the requirements for tenancy seems to be the ability or luck to have lived just long enough to expire at any given moment and people do.  It's a revolving door of new neighbors but they're a sketchy bunch, at least the ones who live here for other reasons such as possessing lengthy criminal records or being unfamiliar with more than two dollars to their name.  And those two dollars generally need to go for a bottle or a joint.  I think of it like a hostel and treat it as such.  My place is where I hang my hat to find sleep and where I get dressed in the morning so it's mostly about a bed and tons of clothes all thrown about in no particular order.  I like it.  I like living however the hell I want although I have an abiding disgust for my own disinterest in housecleaning.  After a long standing addiction to prescription medications I am finally free of those chains and my head feels almost too clear.  I can see things like the back of my hand now and things like my future and I'm usually cheerful if not dogged by the past and the losses my addictions cost me.  It's hard to bear sometimes, the full weight of my losses, but I'm doing it.  I miss the house I owned and lost, I miss being part of a family.  I miss my children and the security that a long term relationship gave me. 


I know one day I will wake up and realize that instead of feeling monumental loss I will instead begin to see the gains I've made too.  They step into my field of vision with more frequency and clarity every day.  Neil gives his losses their due and respect but he doesn't stop to turn them over in his minds eye and ruminate on them.  He doesn't focus on what his life lacks or what he lost.  He culls the best moments of any given day to reflect happily on before he falls asleep at night and inspires me to do the same. I'm very lucky to have such a wonderful and loving friend.  Neil's enduring companionship has helped heal my heart and my gratitude is great.  I am blessed.  Neil is blessed too and so are all of you.  The sidewalks though, they are blessed with nothing but gaps and lost pocket change yet somehow they still provide some measure of safety and fodder for fun and laughter.



¶3 Church Bells Chime and Cheap Beer



As the year begins its final descent into the past and prepares to take its place in the catacombs of time I watch with the usual wonder and awe and fierce respect. Mother nature and father time come together to put another child to rest. They deftly strip the trees of their leaves like fine linens from a soft feather bed, give themselves an extra hour one day a year to pack up the toys and joys of their own youth and paint the sky gray as a final remark on it all. As parents they are all business but if you look closely you'll find they mourn too. They weave their grief into beauty and majesty which I consider the hallmark of strength and resilience. I give myself a pat on the back and a thank you to the gods that be for my own strengths and abilities. I don't have anything I wish to complain about. I could write about the inherent difficulties of winter or bitch about the fact that Frankies Pizza has three steps that make it impossible for me to gain entrance without some serious time invested in learning to levitate. But I don't want to. I want to say that pizza is greasy, salty and fattening and I'll tell you that McNeil's has those steps that impede me

too but Kipling doesn't and cheap beer tastes the same everywhere so no angst there. It's more about the company you keep and much less about where you keep it. Since I generally do my stepping out with Neil and since I know no finer companion, as long as I can continue to breathe without the aid of mechanical equipment and as long as I have access to a place to

relieve my bladder of all that cheap beer I'm quite content with the places we can go and less concerned with what's off limits. Anyway, that's why God made dark alleys. Note the one small glitch. The little girls room is accessible only with the aid of a pole vault or personal sized cannon which I generally don't carry on my person and Neil prefers to travel light too.


Like myself of the old days, when my legs did more than look curvy and cute, Neil prefers to sit at the bar which makes me feel like an ankle nipper and a little kid but I'm used to feeling that way. Last time we bellied up to the bar I put my foot down in a manner of speaking and he promised we'd park ourselves at a table in the future. He either forgets I'm way down there or can't quite comprehend it and when he turns to talk to me he literally talks right over my head and into the ear of the person to my left if anybody's sitting there to enjoy his caustic wit and hilarious observations or field questions like 'Where's my drink?' or 'Why did you play this ridiculous song? and play along. But mostly it looks like he has an invisible friend that he's enjoying talking to and verbally jousting with although not getting the better of, mind you. And that really strikes me as funny so I sit there with my periscope up and drink my Bud light or Coors light or whatever they give me and occasionally grab his calf to remind him where I am and to give myself something to do by canoodling with his lower leg.


People often ask me what's hard about shopping at the Brattleboro Food Co-op or want to know what places of business are NOT accessible. They want to know about the inequity and unfairness of my life, of my disability. I always consider their questions and answer them coherently but only half heartedly. I've been living my life this way for a long time and if I focused on all the difficulties I have by comparison to those with good working legs I'd be less inclined to want to haul my ass out of bed on any given day. And the fact is, we all have our unique difficulties and obstacles. Nobody skates through life without hardship and gut wrenching losses. Nobody. What I consider the most difficult aspects of my life have absolutely nothing to do with where I can or cannot go or how I get myself there. My sorrows, my

struggles too are born and reside in my heart and at the end of any given day that is where they remain. And at the end of any given day, at the end of every day in fact, after I've shut my eyes and while I wait for sleep I surround my thoughts with an image of each person I love and rally their faces and warm expressions around me and I feel comforted.


I listen to the church bells chime the given time and pay close attention to any discrepancies between chimes which always leaves me wondering if the chiming is an act of mechanics or if there is a real person ringing those beautiful bells. I like to think there is. I fall asleep with the people I love in my vision, full of gratitude that they are sleeping under the same dark sky. The sound of the church bells marking, in their exalted manner, the passage of time, is not simply the marking of a new hour. It's a tribute to what has passed and of what may come to pass if we remain lucky enough to be alive. When the bells peal, when I see the trinity of my three remarkable sons in my mind's eye, joined by Neil and a few other odds and ends, I derive great comfort from the fact that I am here at all. I am blessed. Neil feels blessed too. Our blessings are rich, remarkable, imbued with hope, beauty and bounty, ever expanding, ever new.



2 ‘Yugen’



Since the debut of our first column I've had several people request a column from Neil's point of view.  They're curious about him, wonder what it's like to be Neil, to be young and have to accommodate blindness. I'll leave that up to Neil and future columns.  In the meantime I'll tell you, as best I can, what it's like to be Neil's friend. 


You cannot measure a man until he has fallen from some dizzying height.  The measure is in neither the rise nor the fall but in the rising itself where you will find, or not find, grace.  Neil Taylor has grace in spades.

 

 Neil's dizzying fall was from 20/20  vision into complete and sudden blindness.  Can you stand to imagine that?  Close your eyes and close them thinking you will never be able to open them again. Oh, close them being only 28 years old. Close them being an accomplished and committed athlete and close them brimming with an effusive passion and desire to explore the world, to climb mountains, to bike relentlessly, to ski, to surf and swim, to play Lacrosse, to run like the wind, to make love, to admire art, to see your parents love for you reflected in their faces.  And to do all of this and more with a ferocious appetite for the beauty the world holds in store. Are they closed yet?

 

 If you're like me you can't open them back up fast enough.  A few months ago Neil was standing out on the balcony of my sixth floor apartment enjoying the feel of the warm, new, spring sunshine on his face.  His hands held the railing in front of him, his long legs moving to some internal beat, his feet splayed like anchors.  Neil's face is so often found in repose, tilted to what light shines from above, a beatific smile, sometimes wistful and lacking in any pretense graces his face. A smile that reveals little yet reveals so very much.  He was quiet which is not so unusual. He's a very self contained man. Out of what seemed like the blue he turned to me and said "Laura, it's been four years since I went blind. Can you imagine closing your eyes and never opening them again?  Close your eyes and don't open them for four years." And then two questions in quick succession.  "Can you do that?  Can you imagine that?"  In a wave of some kind of release and relief from the power of his thoughts he laughed boisterously and shook his head, the same smile still secure on his face. A fleeting look of guilt and self awareness crossed it.  He didn't mean to startle me with the sudden thought of blindness.  I trembled nonetheless.

 

I don't know what that smile represents.  I don't know why it so often claims his face.  I do know that he has never seen it for himself.  He does not know how beautiful and captivating it is nor does he know how revealing it is of the man behind it. There is a quiet peacefulness I find resides deep within Neil.  I relax in his company and something about him makes me feel comforted in spirit and mind. His stature and his impressive physical form make me feel secure as well. He lends his internal strength effortlessly and without thought. And he has a tremendous amount of it. I've yet to see his strength tested. I often say this to my friends - "There is nothing I would not try or do if I could do it with Neil".  That is no small statement. I'm kind of a wuss, often trapped in a ubiquitous cloud of free floating anxiety. Neil is one of the most self possessed people I know.  He has an enormous presence, supremely magnetic, one of those larger than life personalities. How does he contain himself and all that he is behind those dark shades which I have come to think of as his calling card?  I can't answer that question but I can tell you that Neil is probably the most tenacious person I could ever hope to meet. He's extremely bright, both a linear and an abstract thinker, passionate and remarkably open. He has a thirst for knowledge in general, is blessed with an affinity and love for language, and he takes great delight in learning.  Neil and I each come up with a new word a day, research it and incorporate it into our ever blossoming vocabularies.  I keep a running list of our words, their definitions and an example sentence for each. When I'm really 'on' I write a long, rambling fictional account for our own wicked entertainment and amusement, a tale that uses most of our new words. I sometimes call Neil 'Magniloquent Man', magniloquent being one of his favorite new words and because it absolutely applies.  He often punctuates his speech with Espanol as well.  As in 'Hasta',  'Vayase' or 'Sal en sequida, muchacha! Go on home now' or just 'Lluego'.as he closes his door '. And  he's drop dead funny.  Sardonic, quick as hell, theatrical, a no-holds-barred and take-no-prisoners sense of humor.

 

I have never seen him come up against a brick wall.  Not yet.  Yes, there are brick walls in front of him.  There are plenty of those.  But Neil has an ability to intuit them before he slams up against them.  He senses them ahead, looming large, either in his direct path or in his life and equally intuitively he gracefully swerves and sweeps around them.  Often the alternate path is long, it is arduous, even formidable and it requires immense amounts of patience and effort, but that is not what Neil focuses on.  Quietly yet like a dog with a bone he works his way toward the goal with a remarkable, a truly remarkable, success rate.  

 

What defines a person? That's an enormous question. That's a philosophical question and one that deserves much conversation and thought.  What defines Neil Taylor?  The obvious, Blindness with a capital B, most certainly does but Neil is no ordinary man and so by extension he is no ordinary blind man.  Neil is to me what you just read. And Neil is The Blind Masseur.  Check out his website theblindmasseur.com.  Read his story, the way Neil sees it and do yourself a favor while you're there. Fill out an intake form.  I am blessed.  Neil is blessed too.



¶1 Gone Fishing


It would be an immense pleasure if our local waterways were accessible for those inclined to enjoy perching on the riverbank, propping our fishing poles in the water and drowning a few worms.  Especially for those who can't walk and certainly for myself who can't walk and who is chief sled dog for Neil whom I have already reduced to his knees once or twice by way of a low hanging garage door and a like wise inclined tree branch.  I hate to see a grown man cry and worse still, I hate to have no excuse good enough for causing it.  But that's fodder for another day. 


I'd been dying to do some fishing now that I live so close to the Whetstone brook and the Connecticut river.  I'd heard the Brookies were practically throwing and filleting themselves on the local fishermen.  Granted, these are some hooligans and shady characters I consort with now and again and not above lying to me about everything.  But i give 'em the benefit of the doubt, time and time again, and I love the idea of self filleting Brookies.  So I called Neil up one late spring morning and said 'Hey big fella, lets go do some fishing!'  I'd recently posted a plea for tackle and poles on Facebook.  Main St. artist and good friend, William Hayes, had been kind enough to reach his long arm into the darker recesses of his closet where he seldom ventures and give me some of his old tackle before he hot footed it to Nova Scotia to while away the summer months.  


Ah, the life of an accomplished artist.  Neil was game. No matter how disastrous our adventures may be he is always up for something new and different. The man has an insatiable, robust lust for life that is downright infectious and supports my own gluttonous appetite.   I stuck a few poles in the bag that hangs from the back of my chair, grabbed the trout worms out of the fridge and saddled up William's tackle bag.  It was packed full of brightly feathered lures. Neil was in a dandy mood which is nothing new but it always makes me happy to see him so chipper and I couldn't wait to see the excitement on his face when the trout started throwing themselves at him.  He wouldn't know what hit him.  Literally.  He would not see it coming and I expected to be thoroughly entertained when it happened. I had my Nikon in the holster and at the ready.  When the first trout slapped him across the face with it's slippery tail I was going to snap my shutter and preserve the moment. Neil has an adorable throaty tenor but he also has an interesting falsetto, especially when provoked. 


Not being a very good girl scout, I hadn't pre-planned the trip. I'd assumed once we reached the union of the brook and the river there would be a smooth path for us to meander down. Maybe an old folding chair left behind for Neil to rest uncomfortably on.  You know what they say about assumptions. We made it over the double set of train tracks. I stopped to genuflect perfunctorily once safely across and banged a left through the parking lot of the vacant diner before the Hinsdale bridge.  The path was not smooth but the grass had been packed down by the indigent dudes who sleep there under hefty cinch sack blankets. Those are some of the hooligans who'd boasted about eager Brookies.  Neil is fond of saying 'Never trust somebody who has nothing left to lose'. Good advice but I digress. The river was blocked by a six foot wrought iron fence  which was there, no doubt, to protect us from falling in.  We sat  on the concrete abutment beneath the fence and Neil fidgeted impatiently while I strung our poles. I fashioned a lure on one and knotted a worm on the other then gave Neil the wormed pole and wove it through the rails.  This was no way that Neil remembered fishing.  'Laura, what are we doing? Why is my pole braided through a fence?' he asked, his voice marked with bemusement and exasperation.  "Neil, we're fishing!' I replied impatiently, hoping he'd settle down.  I tried to explain the difficulty of getting down to the actual water and tried to explain the iron fence and obvious need to weave the pole through it so that his worm could go for a swim. He shook his head and mumbled something about my ineptness, my mystifying lack of obvious intelligence or some other insult to my character.  I waved my hand, effectively dismissing his observations,  offered him some water and gum and he shut up. 


After I  tossed my line in the water  we sat there  for a short while in comfortable silence.  I took a few surreptitious pictures of him with my Nikon and put my arm companionably around his shoulder.  He immediately shrugged it off and told me to pay attention to my pole.  The Brookies were not throwing themselves in our laps.  In fact, no fish were biting and within a few minutes it was raining.  Always thinking ahead, Neil had checked the weather before we left and brought his rain coat.  He hadn't bothered to inform me though. We sat there another few minutes and then packed up and headed home.  Neil's mood improved the closer we got to his home and the further away we got from the painful concrete abutment. On the way back he boisterously sang Rocky Raccoon to me in it's entirety and with much gusto  I must say it was the high point of my day. We weaved our way up High St. with Neil alternately singing and crowing his delight and myself laughing heartily and joining in on the chorus. Soon his front porch was in sight.  He let go of the handles on my wheelchair and started to step around me to jog up his front steps and make his escape.


Unfortunately I had not been very careful when I stuck the poles back in my bag  and one of those brightly feathered, shiny lures was swaying in the breeze behind me.  Well Neil caught it right in the meat of his left forearm.  There's at least three barbed hooks dangling from those brightly festooned lures and all three of them reached out and grabbed Neil's arm.  Of course Neil acted with instinct and yanked his arm back which only secured those hooks more deeply. He couldn't figure out what was rapaciously sinking it's teeth into his arm. "What the HELL ARE YOU DOING to me, LAURA!?' he fairly shrieked in that high falsetto he reserves for such emergencies and such indignities.  Damned if I couldn't quite figure out how to tell him.  The lure was adorned with so many feathers I couldn't see around it from my chair and the sun kept bouncing off the lure and confusing me while he was jerking around at the end of my line.  And he wouldn't hold still, hopping from one foot to another, barking his surprise and his pain. I finally grabbed his arm to have a 'look see' but I only managed to pull the line more taut and cause my dear friend more confusion, more pain and a higher register in his profanity laced voice.  Just when i was figuring I'd have to find my cell and call 911 a woman came strolling down the sidewalk adjacent to Neil's house and waved a casual hello to us.  I waved an equally casual one back to her, shot Neil a look of reproach which was lost on him and asked her if I could trouble her for a moment. 


She walked over and her bemused smile turned to horror when she beheld the fine catch on display at the end of my pole. Definitely one for the record books but this was no time to take measurements.  I was trying to explain to her that not only was the man mortally hooked but he was also absolutely blind and couldn't fathom what was happening to his arm. I'm pretty sure he thought those were my teeth in his arm.  I felt queasy watching the hooks dig deeper into his arm in tandem with his jerking  movements. I turned my head with relief while she worked her magic back there.  I covertly covered my ears as well.  My God, that man can make such a ruckus when provoked.   I didn't catch that kind woman's name although i sure caught hell from Neil.  A month or so later we were heading out of his house on another fine adventure and I heard a vaguely familiar voice venture to ask 'No fishing poles today?'  I turned around to smile and say 'No, not today. We can't find a very accessible spot around here.' but Neil must have come down with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or something because instantly his falsetto kicked in, he cradled his left forearm with his right hand and suspiciously asked me 'Who is that, Laura and what did she say?' He distracted me just long enough to miss the opportunity to exchange pleasantries with her.  But I could swear she picked up speed when she saw us because she was long gone when I finally turned around and we haven't seen her since. 


We haven't been back to try our angling skills again.  Neil put his foot down and said he wasn't going back until I found a better spot.  To date, I have yet to find that sweet spot.  We have the Whetstone weaving it's way through the lower part of Brattleboro, The murky Connecticut maintains it's promise of self sacrificing brookies and lazy Bass.  And my favorite fisherman and number one son, Mitch Mullen, who fairly lives in his shanty on the Retreat Meadows during the winter months, wrangled himself a state record Pike last year.  With such an abundance of angling hot spots, a wealth of hearty anglers such as myself and Neil Taylor, it is an exercise in futility finding a place where we can easily and safely enjoy an evening at the water's edge.  Perhaps the collective consciousness of my fellow sportsmen and tax paying citizens will put this idea on their short list and carve out a place where we can kick back and contentedly wait for the Brookies to self fillet and the wily Pike to bite.  If so, Neil and I will be ready with our tackle box full of brightly festooned lures and I will dreamily fade away to the lull of Neil's honey suckle tenor singing "Rocky Racoon' in it's entirety and with much gusto.  I am blessed.  Neil is blessed too.

You probably have seen me in your daily travels within the hub of Brattleboro.  I am good looking and always dressed to kill.   I spend my mornings  climbing Union Hill several times from the confines of my wheelchair.  I get a lot of shout outs.... 'You go, girl!', 'You are AMAZING!' as well as the occasional cute guy who waits politely at the top of the hill to remark on my fitness and my smile and to ask me my name.  I also receive the odd 'Get the hell out of the road!' which is usually from the mouthpiece of a young male who ought to be at work somewhere but instead is mindlessly driving around looking for hard working people in wheelchairs to bark at and take their distress at a life not lived out on.  These shout outs and awesome strokes to my ego often are the impetus to climb Union two more times.  Seven in one day is my personal best and I sure do wish that the man in the shiny new Beemer who stopped his car up top and leaned patiently against it waiting for me to crest that hill on my third climb would come back around one more time so I could give him my phone number.

 My name is Laura Momaney and I am a fifty one year old Dummerston native.  I contracted Polio at the tender and vulnerable age of six weeks.  No, not six months.  Six weeks.  I am a walking (wheeling) medical marvel.  I stay away from the term 'miracle'.  We are all miracles whether we walk or not.  

I have a best friend whose name is Neil Taylor.  He is also known as The Blind Masseur.  Neil is 33.  He abruptly and completely lost his vision four years ago as the result of emergency surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor.  Neil has spent the last four years designing a new life for himself, one that accommodates his blindness.  Once a teacher at the Greenwood School, Neil is  now a massage therapist and just opened his new place of business on upper High St.  We are often seen together. We walk in tandem.  Neil likes to stroll behind and hold on loosely to my wheelchair when we are out on our jaunts.  It allows him more freedom than his cane which requires every footstep to be an exercise in cognition and planning.  We both bear the burden of severe physical disabilities but are also both blessed with fortitude, humor, intellect, creativity, good looks and Neil is, in my estimation, the embodiment of grace, unparalleled grit, tenacity and goodwill. We have a great deal to say about accessibility, about life on the fringes, about relationships and about what defines a person and I hope you will enjoy reading my column about our musings. Neil is The Blind Masseur.  Check out his website

theblindmasseur.com

Laura Momaney

Neil Taylor