We’re Getting There
It was the first time I had flown without a dog in twenty-five years. Everything was different. First, no one seemed to believe I was really blind. I was using the collapsible cane I had kept in my office for ten years. When collapsed nobody seemed to know I had it with me.
Possibly the most hilarious, and frustrating, moment had been when I arrived at the terminal in Newark. It’s quite impossible to get lost in a jet way so I navigated from the airplane to the terminal on my own. Once there I stopped. I employed my usual technique of looking around with raised eyebrows to indicate I hadn’t a clue what to do or where to go next. Finally someone approached and asked if I needed help.
“Yes, I need to get to baggage claim.”
“Okay, go right over there, see the sign?”
Stifling the reply I really wanted to give I said, “No, I don’t see the sign. I’m blind.”
In due course someone approached and took my arm. “If you don’t mind I’d prefer to take your arm.” And we set off.
Then things started happening and they happened fast. Seeing Eye is a bit like a family to me after all these years and it felt, in truth, a little like coming home. Lea was there when I trained with Sadie in 1985. Pauline and Angela work in admissions with Pauline being director. Joan has been training dogs and instructing students for almost thirty years.
“Hi Sue, it’s Lea.”
“Oh Lea, it’s so good to see you!” We hugged, I tipped the skycap, and Lea asked about my luggage.
“The Seeing Eye luggage tag is on a large black suitcase with an orange handle wrap. There’s also a small blue duffle bag with a Veterans Affairs logo. It says Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System on it.”
“Okay, I see the black one.” Lea stepped forward and hauled the suitcase off the conveyer belt. “And here’s the duffle bag. Does the suitcase have wheels?”
“Yes,” I replied. “There’s a retractable sort of leash, here…” Stepping forward I showed Lea the handle snapped to the side of the suitcase.
“How are you Lea?” I asked.
“Oh I’m fine. Or as fine as I can be on the day class starts!” I was having trouble handling everything. I juggled the duffle bag and cane and finally gave up.
“Hang on, I give up on this darn cane!” Collapsing the cane I tucked it under my arm, took Lea’s arm again and we continued.
Glancing at the app on her phone Lea said, “We need to go to International arrivals and pick up a guy coming in from Canada. Then we’ll get you in the van and on to the school.”
As we approached the van Lea said, “I believe a friend of yours is waiting for you.”
“Really? Who is it, Jo?”
“Yep, she came in about half an hour ago.”
The ride to the school was lively as Jo and I caught up. We had been in class together twenty-six years before. Everyone else in the van introduced themselves and the ride was over in no time.
Then things started happening.
Joan met me at the van, helped me retrieve my luggage and get things organized. Angela approached, hugged me, and handed over my room key on a lanyard. Pauline Hugged me and welcomed me back.
“Welcome back. It’s great to meet you,” said Joan as we walked down the hall. Your room is on the second floor and your next door neighbor is Jo.”
“Oh great, that will be super.” When we arrived at my room – the last one on the right – Joan oriented me to the room and said she needed to go help another student who was at the school for the first time. “Then I’ll be back and we’ll get to work.”
As the door closed I took a deep breath. Thinking I might as well start unpacking I moved to the bed to get started. After locating each luggage item I discovered a small gift bag on the pillow. Curious, I opened the bag and discovered chocolate. “Works for me,” I muttered, as I unwrapped a piece at random, put it in my mouth and opened my suitcase.
The knock came as I was hanging my wool slacks in the armoire. “Ready?” asked Joan. And we were off.
Later, in the dining room, Joan directed me to a seat at the head of the table. All Joan’s students sat at the same table and we began getting to know one another. Back in my room after dinner I found myself quite exhausted. “Better get used to it,” I told myself.