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These are the disadvantages to being married to a blind man: always having to be the designated driver, feeling helpless because his cane skills do not stop him from slicing his forehead open on sharp-cornered parking signs, having PMS-induced death glares be ineffective. These are the advantages: I pick my nose unnoticed, I walk around without pants and without accompanying cellulite shame, I can watch "The Real Housewives" on mute with closed captioning and he doesn't even know.
When acquaintances ask how we met, I resist the urge to say, “On a blind date, of course!” This is too tongue-in-cheek for everyday consumption, and is not entirely true. The true story is that I saw him, thought he was hot, and asked a friend to set us up. But for him, it was definitely a blind date -- he agreed to go out with me, knowing only that we shared a mutual friend.
Nervous for the upcoming date, I confided in a friend. She asked me how he would know if I was attractive.
I was suddenly scared -- do I tell him what I look like or do I let him find out? Do I tell him I am overweight, or do I let him find out through touch? Will he recoil in disgust when he touches my too-fleshy upper arm for the first time?
I didn’t describe myself to him. I don’t know when he noticed the characteristics of my body. I do remember that there was a palpable, crackling attraction on our first date. We both vividly remember the first suggestions of this chemistry -- we sat next to each other in a beer bar, and our forearms touched so very slightly. I can still conjure that first, electrical feel of the hairs on my arm grazing his.
We moved onto dinner, and I noted that he couldn’t use chopsticks. He was on his best first date behavior and assured me he was willing to learn. Months later, after we had moved in together, he gave up learning to use chopsticks after one measly attempt.
Sharing our first apartment was one of the most intense challenges I have ever experienced. I understand that when boyfriends and girlfriends move in together there is inevitable arguing and cohabitation-related communication breakdowns. But we had additional challenges. Like when my boyfriend asked where the paper towels were, and I couldn't remember, so I burst into tears at the perceived responsibility of it all. Or when I succumbed to a full-blown panic attack as I watched my loved one continue to hit his shins on our new coffee table -- again and again -- because he “had to learn the room."
Like any relationship participant, I learned and grew. I became accustomed to replacing items where I had found them, especially cleaning products and butter dishes. I found myself directing his movements: “Watch out for the table.” “Shampoo’s on the left."
I found out there was a fine line between instinctive helpfulness and smothering. “Let me guide you to the men’s room,” was an awkward eye-opener. What I love most about Jay is his independence and masculinity. Yes, it sucks to watch your blind boyfriend find a public restroom through trial and error (I don’t even want to know how he identifies an empty urinal once inside), but you’ve got to let him do it. Of course, we didn’t come to this realization and compromise until after almost a full year of talking through it. And more talking. So much talking.
The challenges of being in love with a blind man, and the subsequent need for constant verbal communication, came to a head one late spring day in San Francisco. We were feeling adventurous and (uncharacteristically for me) athletic. We decided to rent a tandem bike at Chrissy Field and bicycle across the Golden Gate Bridge. Though both of us had lived in the City by the Bay for nearly a decade, we had never done this.
We rented the tandem and helmets, signed personal injury waiver forms (ha!), and proceeded onto the Bridge. Now, let me tell you something about biking across the GG Bridge. It is not for the faint of heart. I have walked the Bridge many times. Walking is easy and fun -- cold wind in your hair, tons of tourists, a gorgeous view of the San Francisco skyline. However, bicycling across is a treacherous death journey.
The west side of the bridge, the one that faces out to the infinite-seeming Pacific Ocean, is for bicycles only. Hardcore bike commuters and far-more-in-shape-than-me riders whizzed by us.
Tandem bicycling requires the front rider to steer while both riders sync their cycle movements. To state the obvious, I was the front rider. We yelled instructions and check-ins to each other across the noisy wind, me over my shoulder and him leaning forward as far as he could without toppling us. I kept needing to stop and rest. I was terrified by the vehicle traffic on my right and I was mortified by the steady stream of better bicyclists passing us. We turned around halfway. I was proud that we lived.
Time passed, we lived together and loved together, and we learned to communicate and continue to learn to do so. Basically, we never stop talking. Yet there have been dark times. It's heartbreaking to watch my partner be gawked at as he makes his way down a sidewalk. (Why is it that people’s first instinct is to clam up when they see a blind guy tap-tap-tapping his way down a street? Here’s a tip, people: Say something. Then, he’ll know you’re there and he won’t whack your knees with his cane as he passes.) It's infuriating to redirect a waitress’s question, “Do you know what he wants to eat?” and intolerable when a bank teller asks me if he can sign his own name.
I have had my own misgivings, too. Ugly ones, rooted in my own self-esteem issues. I worried about what people thought of us, the look of us. Do my friends secretly think that I’m so ugly I have to be with a man who can’t see me? For years, I sat on the fence of ambivalence, not sure if I could marry someone who, if we had children together, wouldn’t be able to drive me home from the hospital after giving birth. These are my inner thoughts, though, the demons of insecurity that plague me.
I have come to realize that I would have these thoughts regardless. Blind boyfriend or not, I would have wondered if this relationship was right. But eventually, as time passed, I knew that he was the one, that we could do this. We were married in the late summer. We celebrated our nuptials by taking a tandem-bicycle ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. We completed the entire round trip that time.