“Hi, I’m Elsie,” I said to my fellow student. “Are you taking notes in braille on that gizmo?”
“Yup,” he answered. “Thanks for asking.” He extended his hand. “My name’s Frank.”
It was the first day of a two-year graduate counseling program and the beginning of a long and close relationship between Frank and me. It was also my first friendship with a blind person.
Frank early on sensed my awkwardness in not knowing how to be with him, my wanting to “do for” him. “Trust me to ask you for what I need,” he admonished. And he always did just that—although his requests were rarely more serious than “Would you please check to see if some of my lunch landed on my shirt?”
He’d been blinded in an industrial accident about ten years previously, in his middle thirties. His acceptance of, and adjustment to, blindness had been slow. But, by the time I met Frank, he had finished undergraduate college, had a firm occupational plan to counsel blind students and lived a relatively happy life.
Just before Christmas vacation Frank told me about an experimental surgery that he’d been offered. “There’s a 50/50 chance I’ll be able to see again. The only risk if the operation fails, I’ll lose the light/dark sensitivity I have now that keeps me from bumping into everything…. I’m gonna do it,” he said with confidence. “I’ll call you just as soon as I can have visitors.”
On New Year’s Day I heard Frank’s ebullient voice on the phone. “The operation was a success. I just saw my grandchildren for the first time and wept. Then I saw myself in the mirror and wept even harder! Come on as soon as you can. I can’t wait to see you.”
An hour later I knocked at his hospital room door.
“Is that my Hungarian heartthrob?” he joked. “Hop on in.” Frank stood by the door and reached for me. We hugged and then he held me at arms’ length. I was anxious about how he would react to what he saw. He studied me and touched my face the way he used to. “My goodness,” he said, “you’re even more beautiful than I thought.” We held each other and cried with joy.
Two weeks later it was all gone, including the light/dark discrimination. The operation had been only a temporary success.
I found out from his sister. “Oh, my God,” I thought, “he must be devastated.” Really scared, I dialed Frank’s number. “I just heard the news. I’m so sorry. How’re you doing?”
Frank was amazingly calm. “It’s very disappointing, and I’ll probably be stumbling around a lot. But you know what, Elsie? I’d do it all over again. I got to see my grandchildren, my old dog, my own ancient face, the birds and trees and flowers and, of course, you, my dear friend.” He smiled and kept talking. “These tired old eyes snapped photos that will last me a lifetime. I was just sitting here thinking how grateful I am that I now have pictures to attach to voices as I’m doing at this moment with yours. And how lucky I am to be able to hear. My dark world has both sound and color in it now, and I’m very satisfied! How blessed I feel!”
He was, and I felt it, too
Copyright 2018 Elsie Zala – All Rights Reserved