Love is Blind

by Nick Brady

Chapter 1

Copyright © 2019 by Nick Brady, All rights reserved

It was a bright September day when I first noticed him. I had seen him walking along tapping the ground with his long white cane when I was on campus, but here he was sitting at a table in the boarding house where I ate lunch every day. He was a nice-looking young guy, intent on checking out the items on the table, asking the person next to him what was in the bowl and carefully scooping some onto his plate. He kept checking the amount and location with a piece of bread as he homed in on his lunch. It seemed odd that he never looked down at his plate then I recalled that he was blind. His fingers did the looking.

I had eaten here all last year when I was a freshman but this was the first time I had seen him. I figured he was new, either to the boarding house or to the school. I didn't live above the dining room although a few guys did. Most of us rented something nearby and just ate here. The others at the table were looking at him. I wondered if he was aware of their interest. There were a few blind people at Oklahoma State but he was the first I had watched eat. He was pretty good at it and didn't spill much. Practice, I guess. It was interesting.

After a few minutes, people resumed talking with each other, although not with him. It was hard to know what to say. When he finished his lunch he carefully wiped around his area with a napkin and quietly got up to leave. Unfolding his cane, he maneuvered between the chairs and found the door. He walked out and down the sidewalk, leaving a murmur of conversation behind him. Most were merely curious, a few made jokes.

The next day I noticed him again on campus. He was leaving the building next to mine just before lunch and I followed him at a little distance, watching as he carefully negotiated the streets on the way to our boarding house. I hesitated, then sat next to him. He lived in a world I knew nothing about.

I remembered as a boy that the church we attended had a blind organist. He was a wonderful musician, but the thing that was interesting about him was how confident he was getting around the church. He had everything memorized and recognized people by their voices, calling them by name when they greeted him. I had always wondered how a person with what seemed like such a profound disability could manage to function in a sighted world.

"Hi, my name is Andrew," I said. "I followed you here from class. I think our eleven o'clock classes are in adjoining buildings."

He inclined his head in my direction and responded, "I'm Ian. Nice to meet you. Do you eat here every day?"

"I do. How's the food suit you?"

"Well, it's cheap," he chuckled. "Not bad really."

"It's filling if you like potatoes. A monthly meal ticket isn't a bad deal. Breakfast lunch and supper for $100.00 a month fits my budget. Do you live here too?"

"No, I rent a room just down the street. Do you?"

"I have a room too. I guess we don't live far apart." I watched as he carefully negotiated the serving bowls and tried to make conversation. "I haven't seen you before. Are you new here?"

"Yes. I'm a freshman this year. I just graduated from OSB in Muskogee."


He lowered his voice slightly. "Oklahoma School for the Blind. You've probably never heard of it."

"Yes, I have. When I was a kid we sometimes attended a church in Muskogee who's organist taught music there. Have you ever heard of John Meldrum?"

He smiled and nodded his head. Oh yes. He's retired now, but he's sort of a legend. So, you knew Mr. Meldrum?"

"Right. He was a very talented musician and very independent. A nice man too."

Ian chuckled, "He was a little before my time but I've heard stories about him. Are you from Muskogee?"

'Well, from near there," I said. I was running out of conversation so we concentrated on lunch.

When we had finished, Ian cleaned up after himself then stood to leave. "It was very nice to meet you, Andrew. I expect that I'll see you again." Then he negotiated his way out of the room and disappeared. I followed him out and looked to see where he went. He entered a two-story house just across the street from my own. Many of the older homes in this area just off of campus had been converted into rooming houses. Often the owner lived downstairs and rented out a few rooms above.

I was curious about Ian. I had never known a blind person before except for Mr. Meldrum. I didn't know the older gentleman very well, although once introduced to me he always recognized me and called me by name. "Nice to see you," he would say.

I saw Ian on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as we left our classes for lunch and began to walk with him whenever I could. "Hey, Ian," I would call to him. Can I walk with you?"

"Of course, Andrew. How are you today? Are you ready for lunch?"

"I'm good as long as I like mashed potatoes," I laughed. "The menu is a bit limited."

"It is, but I like meatloaf so I'm fine with it. The price is right."

I was curious about him. "Do you have family in Muskogee?"

"I have two brothers, but not in Muskogee. I'm from Ardmore. I just went to school in Muskogee."

"I guess they taught you more than academics," I said, fishing a little.

"Yes, of course, there's a lot of training in adaptive things. They try to teach us how to be independent."

"Like the cane, right?"

"Yes, of course."

"Is it OK if I ask you about this kind of thing?"

Ian paused and seemed to decide I was harmless. "If you like. I'm not that sensitive. What would you like to know?"

"Like the cane. I know some people use dogs, right? Do you prefer a cane?"

He smiled. "I do. It would be nice to have a guide dog. They're wonderful companions for one thing, but living in a rooming house it's easier to use a cane, I think. And, it's one less mouth to feed."

"I'm sorry to be nosy, but what you do is interesting."

"Yes of course, but it's just what I do."

"Have you always been blind?"

"I wasn't born blind but when I was four, I suffered detached retinas and lost my sight. As a result, I have some notion of color for example, but I've had to learn most things."

"Is it hard to live with a handicap like that?"

He smiled and shook his head. "I don't regard blindness as a handicap, although occasionally it's an inconvenience." We walked another half block then he reminded me, "Here we are. Are you ready for lunch?" He was more aware of where we were than I was.

Our conversations were limited to our walks from class to lunch but he gradually seemed to become more comfortable with me. I was curious about a lot of things in his world but tried to respect his privacy. Ian became a little curious about me.

"Tell me about your family," he asked.

"I'm an only child," I told him. "My parents are divorced so it's just me and my mother. Maybe that explains why I'm so curious about things."

"How is that?"

"I mean I didn't have an older brother or sister to explain things to me. I've had to figure out a lot of stuff on my own. I wish I had brothers – or a sister. I guess that would be nice too. You said you have two brothers? Older or younger?"

"Both are older. John is twenty-three and Phillip is twenty-five. I'm nineteen."

"Do you remember them? I mean, do you remember what they looked like when you could still see?" I realized that probably wasn't a cool thing to ask. "I'm sorry. That was dumb."

"That's OK. I can understand your wondering. The answer is not really. I remember that they were both a lot bigger than me. I don't really remember much from that time. How much do you remember from when you were four?"

"Hardly anything," I laughed. "I ask too many questions."

"What's your major?"

"Mechanical Engineering."

"Curiosity is a good trait for an engineer. You want to know how things work."

"I guess I do. I've always liked science. What's your major?"

"English literature with a minor in music, I hope. I'm just starting out. I'm learning a lot of things, actually."

The conversation was cut short by our arrival at the boarding house. We sat next to each other, ate, then parted. The more I knew about Ian, the more interesting he became. He was clearly an intelligent guy. The next Friday I fell in step with him and asked him another thing I was curious about.

"How do you study? Like, how do you read your assignments? How do you take notes in class? How does that work for you?"

"Oh, there are lots of ways to do that. I have a little tape recorder that I use instead of taking written notes. There are some books on tape. A few things are available in braille. I'll get a reader."

"A reader?"

"Yes. A person who will read things to me if they are not otherwise available."

"Oh." I thought about that. "I could read to you if you like."

"I would have to pay you."

"That's OK. You wouldn't have to do that."

"I would if I were to depend on you," he said flatly. "My reader would need to be compensated. If it were done as a favor it would be optional."

I thought about that. "I understand how that might work. What if I was interested in doing that? I wouldn't need much."

"That's a lot of responsibility. Are you sure you'd be interested?"

"I think so. We just live across the street from each other. It wouldn't be that big a deal."

We were in front of the boarding house and Ian stopped for a moment. "If you're serious, let me think about it."

"I could audition. Read something to see if I do it right."

Ian laughed. "I suppose we could try that. What time do you eat supper?"

"I have a five o'clock class, so I get to the boarding house about six. What about you?"

"I usually eat earlier but I can meet you at six. Then if you like, you could stop by my room and we can see how it goes."

"Sure. It's a deal. I'll see you at six, then. Ready for lunch?"

I went through the rest of my day wondering what I was getting into. I was taking sixteen hours and while that kept me busy, I had some free time. There were lots of things to do on campus but nothing that was more interesting than Ian. I was looking forward to my audition.

We met at six and he didn't have a lot to say. I wondered if he was having second thoughts. After supper, we walked down the street together and as we chatted, I watched him run the long white cane in front of him, moving it from side to side and tapping it on the sidewalk. He did it unconsciously but when we came to an intersection he would pause to listen, then find the curb and test it for an instant before stepping into the street. It looked dangerous to me, but he seemed confident.

He lived on the second floor of an old house across the street from mine. It smelled musty inside and our footsteps rang on the wooden staircase. At the top of the stairs, he turned right, fished a key out of his pocket and opened the door to a small bedroom which was much neater than mine. As soon as he stepped inside he reached over and flipped on the lights.

"You don't really need that, do you?" I chuckled.

"No, but you do. If I made you navigate a dark room, it would make you uncomfortable," he laughed. "That's another thing I learned in school."

He motioned to the chair at a small desk and sat on the bed. He got right down to business. "There's a short story by Ken Liu called 'Paper Menagerie' on the desk. Would you like to read it to me?"

I looked at the desk and found a small volume. It was the story of a boy with an American father and a Chinese mother. The story begins with the young boy crying. His mother begins folding something out of wrapping paper to distract him.

"....A little paper tiger stood on the table, the size of two fists placed together. The skin of the tiger was the pattern on the wrapping paper, white background with red candy canes and green Christmas trees.

I reached out to Mom's creation. Its tail twitched, and it pounced playfully at my finger. "Rawrr-sa," it growled, the sound somewhere between a cat and rustling newspapers.

I laughed, startled, and stroked its back with an index finger. The paper tiger vibrated under my finger, purring."

The story goes on to tell that the mother speaks little English but creates a menagerie of paper animals that come to life and become the boy's companions. Later, an older boy scornfully calls him a Chink and he decides he's ashamed to be part Chinese. He rejects his mother then when she becomes very ill he realizes his mistake although it is too late. It was a very touching story. When I finished I looked up and saw that Ian was nodding thoughtfully.

"That's really about acceptance. I'm to write a synopsis and my interpretation. Thank you." He leaned forward and pointed to the desk again. There is a volume of poetry titled, 'The Rattle Bag', and in it is a poem by William Blake that I like. It's not an assignment, but I'd like to hear you read it. It's 'The Garden of Love'.

I found it and saw with gratitude that it was short. I looked it over quickly, then took a breath and read.

"I went to the Garden of Love,
and saw what I never had seen:
A chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this chapel were shut,
And 'Thou shalt not' writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore;

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where the flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires."

I looked up to see that Ian was smiling. "You read well," he said. "Did you like that?"

"It was nice,' I said. "I don't know much about poetry but at least this has some rhymes in it. I'd have to read it again to get much out of it though."

"What did it say to you?"

I read it again silently then ventured a guess. "It starts out like the garden is a nice place. He played there as a kid. Then it got locked up with a big 'Thou shalt not' sign and it turned into a graveyard."

"That's pretty good," Ian nodded. Blake was a very spiritual person but thought organized religion was too condemning. Adam and Eve were free to love each other, then religion told them it was sinful. Blake might have approved of free love."

"Yeah? I might like Blake."

"I like him a lot. I like poetry, I like the sound of it."

"Sound is important to you, isn't it?"

"Sound is my way of seeing. I judge a lot of things by sound. I get an impression of people by the sound of their voices, the way they speak," Ian explained. "You have a nice voice. For me, that's the same as saying you're nice looking."

It struck me that he had paid me a compliment. "Thanks. Maybe it's just as well that you can't see me. I'm pretty ordinary."

Ian nodded then smiled quickly as if he had said more than he intended. "Are you serious about being a reader for me?"

I decided I wanted to do this. "I would. I hope we can work something out."

"About all I could pay you is ten dollars an hour. Would that be OK?"

"Sure, that's fine. When would you need me, for how long?"

"It depends on what I have to read. If it's recorded or available in Braille I won't need a reader, but if not, then you could read it to me. I imagine an hour or two a couple of nights a week. You could come by here after supper and get it out of the way so you would have the rest of the evening free for whatever you like."

"That should work. We'll see each at supper anyway."

"Well, I suppose you need to be getting along," Ian said, releasing me from any other obligation on my time.

"I'm not in a hurry," I said. "What do you do when you aren't in class or studying? What do you like to do?"

Ian relaxed a little and shrugged his shoulders. "I lead a pretty boring life. I listen to a lot of music. I'm trying to teach myself to play guitar. Just hang around mostly."

"Do you know many people here? Have you made any friends?"

"Not really. This is the start of my freshman year. I haven't had the chance to meet many people. Well, there's Stuart."

"Who's Stuart?"

"Ah. Stuart. He's a contact that the OSB people gave me - another blind guy who's a senior here. He's maybe in his forties and has a dog. We've just talked on the phone but he seems like a nice guy. He said to call him if I had a problem. Sort of a resource, I suppose."

"Do you ever go out, like to a movie or something?" I immediately realized that he probably wasn't big on movies. "Sorry. That might have come off wrong."

"Not at all," he laughed. "When I was in high school some of us used to walk to a movie in the mall. I can enjoy the dialogue and the music. I enjoy TV if there is someone who can tell me what's going on."

"You can do pretty much anything."

"Pretty much. What do you like to do?" Ian leaned back on his elbows and looked in my general direction.

"I like music although I don't play anything except the radio. I don't have a TV but once in a while I go to a movie, maybe stop by at the Campus Tavern for a beer on the way home from class. Nothing exciting."

"Beer is good," he raised his head a little. "No girlfriend?"

"Not really. I have friends who are girls but no girlfriend. No time and no money for that sort of thing."

"Me neither. I considered being a womanizer in high school but it didn't work out," he joked. "I don't know anybody here."

He was a fit-looking guy - small and slender with nice features although his eyes tended to go in all directions. Sometimes he just looked down. There was a lot more to this guy than I first realized. I watched him while he talked. He was relaxed now and not so businesslike. I imagined that he might have to be on his guard sometimes. He was sharp, but being blind could leave him vulnerable. Best to play it safe.

"What do you like?" he asked again.

"Like about what?" I hadn't been paying attention.

"What kind of music do you like? I think you drifted off there for a minute."

"Oh, right, sorry. Most anything. I'm not much into rap or hip-hop but I'm pretty much OK with most music if it's done well. Probably I like the older classic rock as well as anything. I'm easy."

"Name a favorite band."

"I don't know. Coldplay? Dire Straits? I like a lot of things, mostly old stuff. What about you?"

"Why Dire Straits?"

I thought a minute. "I like the way the bass line and drums work together. Their lyrics are clever, too."

He nodded approvingly. "You really listen to the music or just like it in the background?"

"It depends. If I'm listening for pleasure I try to catch the words and understand them. If I'm trying to study, I listen to something easy on Pandora so I can ignore it if I want."

"Yeah, Pandora's good. You can customize the playlists."

The conversation lagged and I decided that I might be overstaying my welcome. "I need to go. I guess I'll see you tomorrow, OK?"

"The boarding house serves meals on the weekend," Ian reminded me.

"You want to meet for lunch?"

"Sure. I love mashed potatoes."

I smiled. "We could do something tomorrow after lunch if you don't have anything else going."

"Let me check my schedule," he laughed. "Nope, nothing there for tomorrow. What's the plan?"

"I don't know. Drive out to the lake, whatever."

"You have a car?"

"Yeah. It's a clunker, but it runs."

"OK then. We could do that. See you tomorrow?" Ian stood up as if to say I was free to go.

"Right. See you tomorrow. Let me know when you want to do some reading." I waved goodbye as I walked out of his room. When he didn't wave back, I felt silly.

Ian was sitting just inside the door to our boarding house when I walked in. I turned to him and he spoke first.

"Hi, Andrew. I beat you here."

I laughed and asked, "How did you know it was me?"

He stood without answering, "I'm hungry. Are you ready to eat?"

"Yeah, sure. I'm ready." I walked to the long table and found a pair of seats. "Here you go." I stopped and sat down.

Ian stopped behind me, turned, touched the back of the chair and pulled it out to sit next to me. He folded his cane to put it out of the way, put his hands on the table to locate the plate and cutlery then sniffed the air. "Oh, we're having chicken and dumplings I think, and green beans. Smells good."

There were not as many guys at the table on Saturday as during the week. I asked Ian, "Can I help you with this?" I wondered if I was offending his independence.

He chuckled and said softly, "I can manage by myself, but if you serve my plate it's not as messy. Tell me where things are like on a clock."

I filled his plate with what he had correctly guessed was on the table. "Chicken and dumplings at 12 o'clock, green beans at 4 and cornbread at 8," I said quietly.

He located his glass of ice tea, used the cornbread as a probe to locate things and slid them onto his fork. "Is there dessert?" he asked when we were finished.

I looked around and saw small dishes of cake on a side table. "Just a minute. I'll get us some."

When I returned and set the plate in front of him, he took a deep breath and smiled. "Oh good. Chocolate is my favorite."

When we were finished, he carefully wiped around his plate with a paper napkin, then wiped his face and laid the napkin on his plate. "That was pretty good. Sort of like Sunday dinner on Saturday. Are we ready to go?"

We walked outside and down the street to where my car was parked.

"Where are we going," Ian asked.

"I thought we could run out to Lake Carl Blackwell. Have you ever been out there?"

"No. Is it far?"

"It's about 8 miles west of town. We can be there in 10 or 15 minutes. It's a decent size lake. You can camp there, go fishing, swimming, whatever."

"That sounds like fun."

"Do you like to fish? Can you swim? Have you ever been camping?" I was curious.

"Ian laughed. "I can swim. They had a pool at the school, but I've never been camping unless you count sleeping in a cabin once."

"Well, that would count. I was in Scouts and we camped quite a bit."

"Really? Like in a tent? That would be an adventure."

"I have a little two-man tent and a few camping things in my room. I was thinking about going out some weekend."

Ian smiled but didn't say anything.

"They have a swimming beach out at the lake," I recalled. "It's hot today. Would you like to go for a swim?

"A swim might be nice," Ian agreed. "I don't have a swimsuit. Would gym shorts be OK?"

"Sure. Let me get you across the street to your house."

I took him by the arm and he stopped me. "Let me take your arm. That works better for me."

Ian put his hand lightly in the crook of my elbow and we walked across the street as far as his front door. "I'm good from here," he said. "I'll be back in a minute."

I sat down on the front steps and waited for him. He didn't take long. "I think I'm ready." He was carrying a white pair of gym shorts and a towel.

We went back across the street. "Here's my old car," I said and led him to where I was parked. "It's an old Chevrolet. Nothing flashy, but it's dependable and gets me around. Have a seat and I'll get my suit." He found the door handle and waited while I dashed up to my room. In a few minutes, we were driving to the lake.

I hesitated, then asked, "You're the first blind guy I've really known. I know you can do most everything on your own, but I'd be happy to help you if it makes things easier for you."

Ian laughed. "I have to be independent if I'm going to manage, but sometimes it is helpful to have a friend. If you don't mind my taking your arm when we're walking together, it does make it faster."

"Of course. I'm learning a lot from you. Maybe I should just let you ask for help if you need it."

"OK. I'll try not to be too stubborn." He hesitated, "Tell me what it's like around here. I mean, is it flat, hilly? Are there a lot of trees?"

"It's rolling hills. Central Oklahoma is pretty flat. A few wooded areas, but not much else."

"Where have you been?" Ian asked. "Have you traveled much?"

"Not a lot. When I was in the Scouts, we went to some places in Arkansas that were nice. What about you?"

"Not so much. Back and forth to Ardmore, mostly. My father was always working. We did some little day trips when I was in the school, but nothing exciting."

I turned on the car radio and we listened to some music on the short drive to the lake. I pulled up to the swimming beach and shut off the motor. "Here we are," I told him.

The car windows were down to give some relief from the heat and there was a soft breeze blowing. Ian leaned his head back and took a deep breath. "I can smell the lake," he said.

"I don't really smell anything. What does it smell like?"

"Muddy. A few dead fish not far away. I smell exhaust fumes from the boats out on the lake."

I looked out at the water and saw a couple of outboard motor boats carrying fishermen around. "You're right. I hadn't noticed them until you said that. You're very aware of what's around you."

"I am. There are more senses than sight. I see with hearing and smell," he said. "And touch."

I thought about that. "How would you know what a person looks like? Does that make any sense? What do you think I look like?"

Ian tipped his head back. "You're taller than me. I'm five foot six. You're about five eleven. I'm guessing you're white by your speech pattern and a native Oklahoman by your accent." Ian chuckled softly. "I go a lot by a person's voice. I told you that you have a nice voice. You seem relaxed by which I gather that you are comfortable with yourself. I imagine that you are slender and fit. I know that you are a clean person because you often smell like soap."

"That's amazing. You don't miss much, do you? Is there anything you don't know about me?"

"I go a lot by what I pick up about a person's character. I know that you're a considerate person. You've been very kind to me."

"You didn't mention touch."

"No, but I do know that when you took my arm you were gentle. When I took your arm I could tell that you were muscular. That's why I assumed you to be fit. That and your breathing is even. I think you've done some sports."

"I was a swimmer in high school," I laughed. "I guess when I think about what a person looks like, I think about how tall they are and stuff like that, but the first thing I do is look at is their face - their eyes especially. The expression on their face tells me a lot about them. That's different for you."

"But I hear the tone of their voice, whether they are tense or relaxed. If they speak loudly or softly. The way they say things. Those are expressions too."

"Yes, but you can't see my face. Maybe that's not really important."

Ian chuckled. "It does matter, I suppose. I remember..." He paused and smiled.

"Remember what?"

"When I was about six, my mother took me to a big shopping mall and we stopped to have my picture taken with Santa. I knew who Santa was of course. He was the guy who brought my presents, so I was very excited. I wanted to know if he had a beard and started to check him out when my mother stopped me. "Hands!" she said. Which meant that I was not to put my hands on his face. Santa assured her that he didn't mind at all so I was given permission. I reached up and carefully felt of his face, his cap, and his beard. I was excited to realize that he had a real beard which meant that he must have been the real Santa. He was really nice about it."

I tried to picture the exchange between little Ian and the real Santa. "That's a nice story," I said.

"I got what I wanted for Christmas too," he laughed.

"I wouldn't mind if..." I wanted to say it was OK with me if Ian wanted to touch my face, but felt awkward about it.

Maybe Ian knew what was coming because he sat up and asked, "Do you want to walk around a little? Maybe go down to the lake?"

"Right, sure." I got out and walked around to the passenger side to open the door. "The swimming beach is right here if you want to get wet."

"That might be nice. Can we change here?"

I opened the back door, took out my swim trunks and handed the gym shorts to him. I stepped back, slipped off my jeans and underwear then tossed them into the back seat. I started to turn my back but realized that wasn't necessary. Ian stood with his back to the car, undressed quickly and pulled on his gym shorts. His shirt covered the front of him but I got a quick flash of what was underneath.

Now that our bottom halves were covered we both took off our shirts and started for the beach. Ian knew which way to turn but hesitated and held out his hand. I offered my arm and we headed down the grassy incline towards the water. I looked over at Ian's bare torso and was surprised to see that he was slender but very muscular.

"You look fit,"

"I was on the wrestling team," Ian said. "That's one of the few sports that doesn't require sight. In fact, being accustomed to going by sound and touch might be an advantage."

"I never thought about that," I admitted. "Here's the water. The bottom is gravel and not that even. You might want to leave your shoes on and keep hold of my arm."

Ian smiled and bravely stepped out into the water. "Oh, it's warm. I was hoping it was cooler."

"It will be farther out from the bank. The sun warms it up where it's shallow."

"Sure. That makes sense."

We walked out until the water was waist deep then squatted down and stuck our heads under water. Ian brought his head up and sputtered, "You're right. It's cooler on the bottom. That feels nice. This is fun!"

"Have you gone swimming in a lake before?"

"No. Just in a swimming pool. What's around me?"

"The other side of the lake is quite a way off, but there's a dock about 50 yards over to our left. Want to swim over to it?"

"I've never swum in open water before. Will you swim with me?"

"Sure. I'll be right next to you. Will that work?"

"You swim straight for the dock and I can hear you off to my side. Just don't run off and leave me."

"I won't," I laughed and splashed off for the dock. Ian fell in beside me as I tried to set a steady pace. He was a good swimmer and had no trouble keeping up with me. When we got close to the dock, I slowed down and yelled, "Here we are." I put out my hand and tapped him on the shoulder when we were a few feet away, then took his hand and put it on the side of the dock.

I vaulted myself up on top then leaned over to take his hands and tugged him up to sit next to me. "You're a good swimmer," I told him.

"Thanks. That was a new experience!"

I looked at Ian. His muscular body was wet and shining, his eyes were dancing from side to side and he had a huge grin on his face. He looked very different from the cautious person I met a few weeks earlier. "Did you enjoy that?"

"Yes!" he laughed. "That felt so free! No ropes, no concrete wall, Thanks for letting me swim with you."

"My pleasure." I felt a wave of affection for Ian. It was nice to see him so elated. We stretched out of our backs and let the sun dry us. "College is going to be a different world for you, isn't it?"

"I think so. You know, I'm grateful to the Blind School. They looked after me and taught me everything I know from the time I was five years old until I graduated. But I wasn't really free there. To be sure, I was safe. But there were a lot of restrictions on where we could go, what we could do, even what opinions we were to have. It's not a Christian school exactly, but a lot of the volunteers were from fundamentalist churches and they had very specific ideas about what was right and what was wrong."

"They were pretty conservative?"

"Oh yes. Lots of 'thou shalt nots' It feels good to be free of that – free to do new things, make new friends, have new ideas. Free to swim in open water," he laughed again. "It feels great."

"You make it sound like you were a prisoner."

"No, no. Not like that. There were no locks. I guess I could have left if I wanted to, but where would I go? I shouldn't talk like this. I made some friends there and they taught me a lot, but I was ready for a change."

I reached out my hand and laid it on his arm. "I'm glad you came here. I think you could say we are friends."

Ian sat up and turned to sit facing me. He was not exactly looking right at me, but he squared away in my direction. "Yes, you my first friend here, and maybe the best friend I've ever had. I do appreciate you, Andrew."

I sat up and moved closer to him, then I took his hands and brought them to my face. He looked surprised, then began to very gently run his hands over my face, tracing the outlines of my eyes and nose and lips. He placed his hands on both sides of my head determining its shape and the placement of my ears. He ran his hands under my chin and down over my chest, then across my shoulders and down my arms, finally taking my hands in his. "You are very beautiful," he said softly.

I wasn't sure what to say. "So are you. You're really a great looking guy. I guess you know that."

Ian put his hands in his lap. "No, I don't think anybody ever told me that. But then, when all your friends are blind, that's not surprising. Do you really think so?"

"Yeah, I do. You're a very nice looking guy. At least that's my opinion."

Ian lowered his head. "Thanks. That's nice of you to say."

"I'm not just saying that to be nice, Ian."

It got quiet. "Should we be getting back?" he asked.

"Sure. Jump in and we'll swim to shore."

I slipped down into the water and waited for Ian to join me. I tapped him on the shoulder and started swimming slowly. When he caught up with me I increased my pace and we swam side by side until the water was shallow enough to stand up. He took my arm and we walked up to the car.

"Here's your towel," I said and we dried off. This time he turned away from me to first pull on his T-shirt, then drop his wet shorts, put on his pants and sit down in the car. I dressed and climbed behind the wheel. "I'm sorry if what I said was out of line."

"No. Not out of line. I said what I meant and so did you. It's just that... It's hard to say. When you're blind, it's easy for people to think they can take advantage of you. The safe thing to do is to keep people at arm's length. I'm beginning to feel close to you and that seems awkward. I'm not used to feeling that way."

"I'm really sorry, Ian. I didn't mean to make you feel awkward."

"No, it's nothing you did. It's my problem. Maybe I'm not as tough as I like to think I am. I get by pretty well, but to be honest, a lot of times I'm scared. I've come from a very sheltered environment to a big college campus and I'm on my own for the first time. It's a big change, Andrew. Then you come along and make things easier for me. I meant it when I said I appreciate you."

"So what's the problem? I think you're interesting. I've never known anybody like you. It's amazing what you can do. Besides that, you're smart and funny. I like you. You're a neat guy. Don't push me away."

Ian clasped his hands together in his lap and rocked back and forth a little. "You're not just being nice to me because you feel sorry for me?"

"No! Because I don't feel sorry for you. I like you, admire you even, but I certainly don't pity you. If I can help you with something, I'm happy to do it, but it's not because I feel sorry for you. I want to help you because, well, because I like you – because we're friends. Why is that so hard to understand?"

"But I can't do anything for you. I can pay you to read to me, but I can't repay your kindness."

I put my hand on his shoulder. "Ian. Friendship isn't a business arrangement. There's no price tag on friendship. Look, I'm not that nice a guy. We wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't like you."

Ian put his hand on top of mine. "Thank you," he said. "I think I'm ready to go back if that's alright with you."

I squeezed his shoulder and took my hand away to start the engine and pull out of the park area. We drove back to Stillwater in silence.

When we got back to town Ian suggested, "It's getting to be time for supper. Would you like a pizza?"

"I could eat. Want to go to the Campus Hideaway?"

"Sure. I've heard it was good."

When we pulled up in front of the popular pizza place, Ian got out of the car, I nudged him with my elbow and we went inside to find a booth. We sat across from each other and a young guy brought us a menu and took our drink order. "What do you like?" I asked.

"I like any kind of pizza. Do you have a favorite?"

"I don't know. Italian sausage with extra cheese?"

"That sounds great. Are they pretty big?"

"They're about standard size but they're thick. Unless you're really hungry I think we could just split a medium."

"Sure. That would be enough for me. I'm not a big eater," Ian said.

When our drinks arrived I gave the guy our order and we settled back to wait.

Ian leaned forward and put his hands flat on the table. "I should apologize for getting so emotional. I don't usually do that."

"You were just being honest and there's nothing wrong with that. I need to know where you're coming from, Ian. I won't know unless you tell me."

"Well, if we're going to be friends I have to quit being so touchy. I have to start trusting you."

"It's time to change the subject. Do you have anything for me to read?"

"I do, actually. We could do it tomorrow afternoon or after supper on Monday. Whatever works for you."

"I have some math to do tomorrow but I can knock that out in the morning. The boarding house doesn't feed us on Sunday. You want to get together for lunch?"

"I think I'll pass on lunch. I plan to go to church in the morning and they always have stuff to eat after the service."

"OK. How about I come over to your place about two?"

"Sure. That will be perfect."

Our pizza came and we focused on that until it was gone. After we finished, our waiter brought the check and Ian asked for it. "I'm getting this," he said firmly.

"We could split it," I suggested.

"We could split the gas we used going out to the lake too. I want to pay for the pizza."

I sat back and smiled. "Thanks for the pizza."

I drove Ian back home, let him out in front of his house and watched him make his way inside. It had been an interesting day.

When I went to Ian's room on Sunday afternoon his door was open and he had earphones hooked up to his tape recorder and was pecking away on a little machine. I rapped on his door and he raised up to ask, "Andrew?"

"Hi. What have you got there?"

"This is my Braille machine. I use it to summarize my audio tapes from class."

"Cool. How does this work?"

"Braille writing is a set of six raised dots that stand for various letters and numbers – some are like shorthand. I can read Braille about as quickly as you can read print."

I ran my finger across the page to feel the dots. "Is it hard to learn how to do this?"

"About as hard as it was for you to learn how to read printed letters. There's a simpler version that you start out with in grade school, then you keep adding to it."

"You have lots of tools, I guess." I was impressed.

Ian was back in business mode so I read a short story to him. He asked a couple of questions and we were done. Over the next few weeks I read to him several nights a week after supper, then he would relax and we talked and joked around. We started spending more time together, going over to the Student Union to hang out and watch TV. I whispered a few things to him but he got most of it on his own.

One day he told me he was going to meet Stuart before supper. We're going to meet at the Campus Tavern for a beer," he said.

"Is this your first time to talk to Stuart?"

"The first time to meet in person. I've talked to him on the phone a few times. He seems like a nice guy. Would you like to join us?"

"Sure. They're pretty casual about checking for ID's. They've never carded me."

"We can let Stuart order the beer," he chuckled. "Want to drop by so we can walk over there together?"

I fetched Ian about five. "You pass right by the tavern on your way to the boarding house," I told him.

"I think I know where it is. I can smell the beer and cigarette smoke when I pass by."

Ian brought his cane but took my arm to make better time. When we walked in there were several guys sitting around and a heavy-set man wearing dark glasses sitting in a booth. "I bet that's him," I told Ian.

"Stuart?" Ian asked.

"Yes. You must be Ian," he said.

"Nice to meet you, Stuart. I've brought my friend Andrew."

We sat down opposite Stuart and I noticed a large black dog lying under the table.

"Who's this guy?" I asked.

"That's Brutus," Stuart laughed. "Don't step on him."

The barman asked us what we wanted and Stuart told him "Three draw beers." They arrived on the table with no questions asked. "So how are things going for you, Ian?"

"Very well, thank you. Andrew and I eat at the same boarding house and he has been reading for me."

"Good. It's not always easy to find a good reader."

"Andrew reads very well and he's been helpful in a lot of ways," Ian said. "I'm lucky to have his friendship."

Stuart smiled. "No doubt. Are you adapting to college life?"

"So far, so good. It's a lot different than OSB. Actually, I'm enjoying it."

We chatted and joked while we drank our beer. At one point I looked down at Brutus lying peacefully under the table. "Does your dog like beer?" I asked.

"Oh no," Stuart replied. "He doesn't drink. He's driving." Stuart was fun.

After a second beer, Ian and I excused ourselves saying that we didn't want to be late for supper. Stuart remained and ordered another.

As we walked to supper, I asked Ian, "Will he be OK?"

"Oh sure. Brutus will get him home. I guess that's one of the advantages of a guide dog. Stuart has Brutus and I have you."

I laughed. "Do I qualify as a guide dog?"

"No. You're a lot better than Brutus. He doesn't have a Chevy."

Toward the end of October we had some nice fall weather. The days were warm and sunny and the nights were cool and crisp. It was my favorite camping weather. I asked Ian one evening, "What would you think about going camping this weekend?"

"I've never done that. It sounds exciting. How would that work?"

"I've got a pop-up tent and a few camping things. We could go out Saturday and come back Sunday. What do you think?"

"Would we make a campfire and cook out there?

"That's the idea. Would you be up for that?"

"Certainly. I won't even need a flashlight. What can I bring to this party?"

"I've got everything we need. Bring a coat in case it gets chilly at night. We can split the cost of groceries if you like."

"I would insist on that. Oh yes. I would love to go camping!"

I picked Ian up on Saturday morning and we drove over to the little market just off campus where I stocked us with enough food to feed us for the weekend and a carton of Coors. The perishables and the beer went into my cooler and the rest we left in grocery bags. My tent and some gear were in the trunk.

I drove us out to the lake and we found a campsite near the water. Ian helped me thread the tent poles through the nylon sleeves of the tent and it went up quickly with a minimum of fuss. I tossed several blankets and a big sleeping bag inside and we were ready.

The sun was warm and the sky was clear. "There are a lot of hiking trails in the park. Are you feeling adventurous?"

"This whole trip is an adventure," Ian laughed. "You lead and I will follow."

I put a bottle of water and two Snickers bars in my rucksack and we were off. The trail led us past the lake and into a wooded area. Ian left his cane behind and bravely took my arm. The path was not paved but fairly smooth.

"It cooler in here," Ian said. "I can tell that there are a lot of trees around us. Do you hear the birds? Oh! That's a crow." He was interested in the smells, the sounds of leaves rustling under our feet, the texture of the tree trunks. He was aware of more than I was. We took our time as we made a short loop back to our campsite.

"Are you hungry?" I asked when we returned. "I hope you like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That's what's for lunch." We sat in front of my little tent and enjoyed the sandwiches and the soft breeze that came off of the lake.

"This is nice," Ian said quietly.

I looked off to a small dock that was connected to the shore by a walkway. "When was the last time you went fishing?" I asked.

"Never. All of this is new to me."

"I have a couple of fishing poles in the car. Would you like to try your luck?" Ian's smile said he would.

I gathered up my meager fishing gear and we made our way to the dock with Ian on my arm. I had picked up a small container of night crawlers from the market and threaded the hooks on both poles with the wiggling worms, placing a lead weight just above the hook. Ian touched the baited hook and nodded his head. He understood.

We sat on the edge of the dock and I dropped my line into the water letting the line sink to the bottom. After explaining the Zebco reel to Ian, he did the same thing. "You'll know it's on the bottom because the line will go slack. Can you tell when that happens?"

"Yes. I can feel it if I let the line pass through my fingers."

"When the line goes slack you want to reel it in a little so the hook is hanging just above the bottom," I said. "Hold the line lightly and if something bothers the worm you should be able to feel it."

We sat quietly and focused on our lines. If I were by myself I would probably put a float on the line and watch for its movement, but knew that Ian could best see with his fingers.

"Oh! Something is there. I can feel it," Ian said with surprise.

"The fish is checking out the worm. Wait until he runs with it."

"It's stopped now," Ian said. "What do I do?"

"He may have sucked the worm off the hook," I laughed. "Pull it up and let's check it."

Ian reeled in his line to find a bare hook on the end. "I can do this," he said and managed to impale another worm then dropped it back to the bottom.

I was so interested in watching Ian that I neglected my own pole. He was leaning forward, communicating with the worm through his sensitive fingers. "He's back. I can feel him playing with my hook." Suddenly he jerked on the line and shouted, "I think I got him! What do I do?"

"Reel him in. Turn that crank before he gets away."

Ian did as I suggested and the line began to move from side to side as he reeled it in. Then it broke the surface with a splash. I leaned out and grabbed the line, quickly tossing it behind us. "Lord, look at that! You got a nice bass. I figured it was a catfish."

"Is that good? I don't know much about fish."

"That's the best. It's a big one too. Would you like fish for supper?" I laughed.

Ian was very excited. "I did it! I caught a fish!"

"You sure did. Not bad for your first try."

"Now what do we do?"

We moved back to shore with our treasure and I took a sharp knife out of my fishing bag. "We need to clean this sucker." I sliced off the head, slit it down the belly, pulled out the entrails then flipped it from side to side and scaled it with the back of my knife. Ian closely followed the process with his hands.

"Be careful," I warned him. "This knife is sharp."

Ian inspected the finished product. "That's a big one. Can you cook it out here?"

"Oh sure, that's not a problem. There's enough for two. I hope you like fish."

"I love fish. We won't have to worry about it being fresh enough!"

"It's getting close to supper time and I need to build a fire. Have you had enough fishing for one day?"

"I suppose, but I'd like to do it again. How will you build a fire?"

"We need to scrounge up some firewood. There is plenty of deadwood under the trees. Let me take a look."

"I can help," Ian insisted.

He took my arm and I led him to a place where some dead limbs had fallen. "We should be able to break up enough for a decent fire," I suggested. Ian gamely felt his way around the fallen limbs and managed to break off a small armload of sticks the size of his thumb. With a few larger pieces we had enough for a decent cooking fire.

There was a fire pit at our campsite where I placed a bundle of dry grass in the center then stacked sticks around the sides to form a tepee of wood for the fire. "Once we get it going I can add the larger pieces. We'll let it burn down to make a bed of coals."

"I think I understand," Ian said. "But I'll let you light it."

When our fire was burning well, I added more wood and got the fish ready. I washed it carefully, then sprinkled it with salt and pepper and wrapped it in foil. "When the coals are ready I'll lay this on top to cook."

"Won't it burn?"

"Not if it's wrapped tight. It will steam in its own juices."

Ian was fascinated with all this. I could tell it was his first experience and was pleased to be a part of this. I opened a can of baked beans and placed it next to the fish to heat. "We have fish, beans and I brought a loaf of bread. Will that be enough?"

"I'm sure it will. You're a good cook, Andrew."

"I learned to do this in Scouts. You can cook as well on a campfire as in a kitchen if you know how."

I opened a couple of beers and we sat down to wait for our supper. "Are you having fun?" I asked.

Ian sat with his arms around his knees. "Oh yes. I never dreamed camping could be so much fun. I always wanted to do something like this."

"Do you think you could do this by yourself?"

"Probably not, but if we do it again I can be more helpful."

"I'm sure we can camp again. You make it fun for me. You're good company, Ian."

He smiled and said, "It's beginning to smell good. Will it be ready soon?"

"It won't take long. I'll get out the bread and by then it should be ready. I have some tin plates for us to eat from."

I carefully unwrapped the fish, releasing a delicious odor, stirred the beans and lifted the steamed fish from the bones, putting half on each plate. With the bread it made a very nice meal washed down with another cold beer.

"Oh! This is wonderful," Ian exclaimed.

"Thanks for the fish. You're the one who caught it," I reminded him.

Ian smiled and wiped the plate with the last of his bread. "This has been a day of new experiences."

"For me too. Is there anything you can't do?"

Ian smiled. "Not with a little help. Thanks, Andrew."

I threw the rest of the wood we had gathered onto the fire and we finished the beer while we watched it burn away in the growing darkness. The temperature began to drop when the sun went down and we were getting cold. I slipped into the tent and brought out one of the blankets.

"Let me sit next to you, Ian. I have something to keep us warm." We sat side by side with the blanket wrapped around us and simply enjoyed the quiet. I put my arm around his shoulder and held him close. "Are you warm enough?" I asked.

"Yes. You make a good heater," he chuckled.

After the nice supper and a last beer, I was mellow. I felt a strong attraction for Ian and wondered if he felt the same. I assumed that Ian would be offended if he knew this and was determined to respect his boundaries. Nevertheless, his closeness was arousing. We sat for some time watching the fire die to embers.

"It's nice to sit like this," I said softly.

"Yes, it is," Ian replied and laid his head on my shoulder. "I've had a wonderful day." After a bit, he added, "I think I'm falling asleep. Should we get into the tent?"

I stood and we went to roll out the sleeping bag. It was an old Coleman double bag that I used when I was a boy. It was ample for two and we would be warmer together. Once the tent was zipped up it was snug inside and we undressed for bed, stripping down to shorts and a T-shirt. "I hope you don't mind the double bag," I said. "It's all I have with me but it should be roomy enough."

"It'll be fine," Ian replied. "I don't mind at all."

We wiggled into the bag and I tried to move over so that Ian had plenty of room but we were touching in places. I could feel the warmth of his skin. He seemed to be comfortable with the arrangement.

I thought he had gone to sleep when he said softly, "I've enjoyed being with you today, Andrew. I've never had a friend like you. I will always remember this day."

"I can say the same. You've made me see a lot of things differently. You're aware of so much. I'm learning from you."

"That's a nice thing to say. I suppose we can learn from each other."

"You catch on to things very quickly," I hesitated. "I really like you a lot, Ian. I'm so glad we can do things together."

Ian turned on his side and our legs touched. "I like you too. I've never felt this way about anybody. I guess I never had a friend like you before."

I dared to run the back of my hand over his T-shirt to feel his strong body beneath. "I guess it's mutual then."

Ian gently laid his hand on my shoulder. "I'm a little cold. Do you suppose you could hold me?"

I pulled him close and felt his warmth against the length of me. I was aware that he was strong and that his hair smelt nice. I was beginning to be aware of a lot of things.

Ian was right. It was a day to remember.

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