On a crisp weekday morning, I wander happily into the warmth of the campus Starbucks, craving a cappuccino. As I near the counter, I notice that only one customer waits at the register—a tall, middle-aged or elderly man. Unsure whether he has already ordered and paid for his drink, I hang back, waiting for a familiar cashier to call me forward.
“Hi, Emily, what can I get for you?” one of the regulars calls to me. I step forward, drawing my burgundy wallet out of my purse.
To my left, the customer waits on his cup of black coffee. Making me aware of his position, he says, “You get along pretty well.”
Unsure whether he is addressing me, I ignore his comment. I order my cappuccino and fish for my debit card. When I have accepted the card and receipt from the cashier, I replace the card in my wallet and fold the receipt. As I zip my wallet closed, the man repeats, “You get along pretty well.”
“Yes,” he insists. “If I hadn’t seen the cane, I wouldn’t know you were visually-impaired.”
I smile, thinking quickly. I want to seem gracious but disinterested. “Thank you.”
He continues, “I had two visually-impaired students last year, and they weren’t nearly as skilled as you.”
“Oh,” I continue to stare ahead, at a loss for words. What can I say to this man? I don’t know his two blind students. How can I accept his compliment and agree that his students are inferior to me?
Three days later, Crystal, Derek, and I enter another Starbucks.
“Hey, it’s Miss Independent!” exclaims the cheerful cashier as I step up to the counter. I chuckle awkwardly, trying to sound disinterested. I hope to order my drink without incurring more praise.
“Hi, can I have a tall hot chocolate?”
“Sure thing,” she replies, punching buttons on the cash register. I slide my burgundy wallet out of my bag, unzip it, and feel for my debit card. It’s easy to find; it’s the only card in the first pocket with upraised numbers. When I hand it to her, she rewards me by saying, “Wow, that is just so impressive…always self-sufficient. I’m going to start calling you Miss Self-Sufficient!”
This is a familiar exchange: I have bought coffee from her four times, and, each time, she praises my ability to conduct my transaction independently.
Again, I deliver a half-hearted half-laugh. I don’t really know what to say.
“Yeah I am really Superwoman, able to pay for multiple coffees in a single swipe!”
“Well, you know, it takes a lot of work—I have to put money in the account and then find the right card…I guess I have to earn the money first…”
“Thank you, ma’am—it’s so reassuring to know that your poor opinion of blind people leads you to doubt my ability to manage this simple transaction with ease.”
I write all of these things because I can’t say them. As irritating as I find her comments (and the low standards they indicate), I don’t want to make her feel stupid. I don’t want to shame her for her ignorance.
Keeping all this in mind, I don’t know what to say. What can you say?
I follow Derek to the small round table, and he adds an extra chair for Crystal. She stands at the counter and pays for her drink. Either my ears are deceiving me, or I imagine that I hear the phrase “self sufficient” in Crystal’s conversation with the cashier. When she joins us at the table, Crystal confirms this.
“She told me it it just warmed her heart to see you being so independent,” she says, grinning. “She said you came in looking so nice and doing everything for yourself. She was really impressed.”
Impressed? Really? I am wearing a light brown sweater with short sleeves and a square neckline with a pair of dark jeans. My hair is twisted back in a big clip, because that style takes 2 minutes to achieve. I am wearing no makeup, no stylish accessories, and no designer products. Yes, I dress myself and I match.
So, watch out, coffee drinkers! You never know when this whirling dervish of a blind girl will appear at a Starbucks near you! You’ll be sitting there, sipping your iced, half-caff caramel macchiato, and, suddenly—totally out of the blue—a blind woman will appear, cane flying, cape swirling, and…order a coffee. She’ll order a coffee. And maybe a croissant. Her clothes will be without stains, her dark hair will be pulled into a bun or a clip (as if some sighted person did it), and her back will be straight. She’ll speak in a clear, articulate voice (she knows English?!) and she’ll handle her debit card or folded paper money with relative ease.
You’ll be so impressed with her. You’ll want to check your calendar—is it Leap Day already? You’ll wonder if she’s part of that 2012 Mayan apocalypse thing; surely competent blind women don’t come around that often! Eventually, after watching her collect her drink and settle into a comfortable chair, you’ll settle back into your own seat and sigh. You’ll stop trying to do the math. Miracles like this don’t come around every day, so you want to enjoy this. You can’t figure her out, and you don’t need to. She’s just too wonderful for words!