11 April 2011

blind leading the blind

I think I need new glasses. I realized my vision was slowly deteriorating when, despite wearing my glasses at the time, I found myself squinting while taking a vision test for my study abroad physical. At first, I attributed this failure to the fluorescent lighting and the fact that it was 8 a.m., but upon further reflection, I am more inclined to believe that my eyes are at fault. I mean, I could still see, but it took a lot more effort on my part than I think was necessary.

My point is, I can still see when I’m in class. Besides, since most of my classes are discussion-based seminars, it’s not like there’s anything written on the board that is crucial to my passing the class.

I’d like to take a moment of silence to thank heaven that I am neither a math nor science major.

The most pressing reason why I need new glasses is my inability to recognize people. For some reason, this campus is incredibly friendly. People smile at each other when they pass, regardless of whether or not the other person is a total stranger. I think that the combination of sunshine, fragrant orange trees, and overwhelming politeness makes not saying hi to random people weird.

The problem is, since I can’t tell who someone is until it is potentially too late, I find myself in awkward situations where my level of salutation is inappropriate.

For instance, if I can make out the hazy shape of a smiling mouth on an oncoming passerby, I will reciprocate the greeting. But, since I am still unsure of the person’s identity, I will do so with some hesitation and plenty of awkwardness. If that person happens to be a friend, he or she will tease me, asking why I’m being weird and/or cold. I apologize and blame my eyesight, then slouch off, avoiding eye contact with anyone else lest I make the same mistake. If someone recognizes me, he or she can call my name and I’ll respond. But, sometimes when people yell “okay,” I mishear it as a nickname, then even more awkwardness ensues.

However, sometimes the opposite of the aforementioned situation occurs. If I’m feeling especially brave (or stupid), I will keep my head up while walking around. If I vaguely recognize someone’s form, I will get excited. Perhaps my lack of friends in high school has left indelible marks on my psyche, but whenever I see a friend on campus, I get really excited. Despite popular opinion, I’m not completely dumb. I like to think logically about whether or not the blur in the distance could be someone I know. After studying general characteristics (approximate height and weight, hair color, manner of walking, etc.), I think about the probability that this person could be a friend of mine. Does my friend own that shirt? Does my friend carry a bag like that? Is my friend in class right now? If the answers to those question match the description of my friend, I will commit to making contact. Usually, I do so vocally with a cheery salutation.

More often than not, I’m wrong. The person walking toward me just happens to bear a striking resemblance to a friend, and there is no turning back. I usually just sport a sheepish smile or shrug then scurry off.

But that’s not even the most terrifying encounters I have when rendered blind. One on one interactions while passing by someone are tolerable. Sure, they can be embarrassing, but they could also be attributed to the friendly atmosphere that this school fosters.

But nothing strikes so much fear in my heart as meals in the dining hall. First of all, my senses are overloaded with smells and sounds, let alone sights. Also, I am usually ravenous by mealtimes, so I’m not really focused on recognizing people.

I’m not sure whether people can sense my vulnerability, but whenever I’m in the dining hall, I feel like I’m being ambushed. That guy who asked me for my number last weekend and was confused when I awkwardly declined and scuttled off? Of course he sees me. That random girl that sat next to me in a class last semester with whom I haven’t exchanged more than five words? Small talk! My friend’s ex who turned out to be a huge douche? Eye contact and mutual recognition.

I feel like I’m at a huge disadvantage here. I need to be prepared so I can defeat awkwardness once and for all.


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