However absurd it seemed to be learning to read three letter words at the age of twenty six, Vera had managed to provide to me a direction for forward motion. What choice did I have? It was either sink back into that paralyzing depression or move ahead, however slowly.
I immersed myself in learning Braille. I worked on it several hours a day and soon was able to read many more words. After I had learned about half the alphabet, the book presented some short sentences to read. I was so slow at this that I sometimes forgot the first part of the sentence by the time I got to the end. Vera assured me that the speed would come as long as I kept practicing.
A few days after Vera’s first visit my mother was pulling some muffins out of the oven.
“You know what?” she asked, sounding startled. “What?” Daddy and I responded at the same time. “This muffin tin looks just like a big Braille cell.”
I pictured the muffin tin in my head. “You know, you’re right,” I exclaimed. I mulled over this interesting fact but didn’t see its significance until Jane came over for our next book reading session. I showed Jane the muffin tin.
She thought for a minute and then said, “You know, I think we could use this to help you learn Braille.”
Puzzled, I said, “What do you mean?”
Jane asked if we had some tennis balls. Getting the idea, I dug up six tennis balls that were hiding in my abandoned sports bag. Jane took the muffin tin, the balls, and me back to my bedroom. We spread out on the floor.
Jane said, “Do you have the Braille alphabet somewhere that I can look at?”
“Yes,” I showed Jane the books that Vera had brought on her first visit. “It’s in one of these books.” After a few minutes she found it.
She said, “Okay, I’ll place the balls in the muffin tin and you feel them and tell me what letter they represent.”
And so we played a sort of Braille flash card game. It worked great and it was fun. I progressed rapidly through the entire alphabet.
During Vera’s third visit I had a surprise for her.
“Hi, it’s good to see you,” I said as she tapped her cane to her usual chair. “I’ve learned the whole alphabet!”
“Well, that’s most impressive,” she replied. She seemed delighted with my progress. “Now it’s time to learn the numbers.” Eagerly, I picked up my book asking if that was the next lesson.
“Yes, it’s the next lesson. And after that you’ll learn punctuation.”
“And after that, I’ll be done?” I asked. I had noticed how close to the end of the book I was getting and assumed I had almost finished learning the Braille code.
Vera chuckled, “Oh no, after that we move on to book two.”
“Book two?” I deflated slightly.
“Yes, you see, Braille has over two hundred contractions in addition to the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation.”
“Okay,” I said gamely, “Let’s go.” Oddly, I wasn’t distressed by the prospect of learning more of the Braille code. Learning Braille had become a comfortable task. I looked forward to each day when I knew I would sit down with my Braille book and spend several hours working through the new characters. Working on Braille was an activity in which I found real purpose. My days began to take on some structure. I began to shed those feelings of hopelessness and pointlessness.