Daniel Simpson – A Girlfriend of My Own – A Blind Man’s Quest
I put the bite of warm baloney sandwich back into the lunch bag with the half-eaten apple, then put the bag back into the southeast corner of my briefcase, the one I needed for carrying my bulky Braille books to and from school. My stomach felt unsettled. A cool, high tone — the progressive substitute for a bell — had sounded. I needed to get to Room 3 before it sounded again.
It was the spring of 1967. I had recently transferred to this suburban Philadelphia public high school with my identical twin brother, Dave, after 10 years at the Overbrook School for the Blind. We tried to fit in wherever we could. We went out for wrestling, played four-hand piano and sang in talent shows. We even threw a birthday party for ourselves, inviting some of the most popular and likable people in our class. There were awkward moments, but we did O.K.
I had learned to walk with a white cane at Overbrook, but now that I had made the transition to public school, I refused to use it. Wasn’t the rule to stay to the right, anyway? I shouldn’t collide with anyone if we all followed the rules.
All the classrooms had their desks lined up in four rows of seven or eight. My desk in World Cultures was the second one down, second row from the door and the side chalkboard. I could navigate this way. I still remembered the location of my bed in the open dorm at the school for the blind, when I was 4 — second one down in the row nearest the lockers.
Linda Fulton sat in the fourth seat from the front in the next row to the left. She spoke quietly, in a voice as smooth as the surfaces of our desks. In class — and in her presence — I tried to feel confident. I spoke up. I projected cool, even though I bet everyone could see through me.
A few years earlier, Jan and Dean recorded a song called “Linda.” The minute I heard it, I knew I had to have it. But now that I knew this Linda, it had an even greater hold on me. Afternoons, when I got home from school, I played it again and again, singing along, extrapolating the slightest brush or interaction with her into something more.
I had something to say to Linda, to whom I spoke only occasionally, and then of things that had little importance. I wanted a girlfriend. I wanted one when I listened to the songs on WFIL while I got ready in the mornings and when we rode in the car and when my sister played the radio as she did the dishes and while I got ready for bed.
Once, when they let the boys and girls have gym class together during the unit on dance, I held Linda’s hand and laughed with her as we tried to polka. She smelled of shampoo with a tinge of sweat. Her hand felt wider than I had imagined, wide and soft and relaxed. Being blind in this public school made my heart go a notch faster. I could use a little softness, I thought. Relaxed would be good.
I shimmied from my row to Linda’s, trying to detect any book bags before I stepped right on them or made a fool of myself, tripping. I tried touching the edges of desks with the back of my hand as I shuffled backward, trying to look as normal as possible, not like a blind kid who needed to touch things.
“Hey, Dan, where are you going?”
“Right here,” I said. “I was hoping to talk to you for a minute.”
“Ah —” My blood swished through my ears.
“Mr. Simpson, sit down, please. We’re going to start.” Mr. Coecher unpacked his briefcase and rustled some papers.
“In a few minutes,” he said, “we’re going to the auditorium for the presentation of awards, so we’ll just spend 15 minutes or so on India.”
“Can I walk up to the awards with you?” I whispered, angling back toward my desk. She didn’t answer, but when I took my time packing up before we lined up to go, she stationed herself next to me and offered her hand.
Some people guide more naturally than others. They instinctively slow down at the beginning of a flight of stairs. They don’t throw their arms out in front of your chest like some truck just cut them off and they’re afraid you’ll go flying through the windshield. I liked the ease with which she leaned into a right turn, away from my body, the way she gently crowded me to the left. I liked that the stairs were narrow enough that we had to press side against side to make room for traffic coming the other way. I didn’t like how little time I had to ask my question:
“Linda, I like you. I just like you. I mean, you seem nice.”
This wasn’t going the way I meant it to go.
“I was wondering if you’d go out with me, sometime.”
After the sentence ran its way out of my mouth, it was like a fleet of skywriting planes had passed and I could hear the sound of surf again — the surf of everyone else talking and walking.
Linda let the surf roar for what seemed a long time.
“I like you, too,” she said, “but not in that way. You seem like a great guy but …”
For the awards ceremony, Linda sat to my right. Once we got to our seats, I had no reason, no excuse, to keep holding her hand. For a little while, she let our arms touch. Then, she moved hers from the arm rest to her lap. I won a couple of awards, but they didn’t mean that much. Something more important had just happened. I had walked with a sighted girl and asked for a date. She had turned me down with gentleness and honesty — maybe just like she would have turned down any other guy.