Not seeing something, not seeing an indication of
something, does not lead automatically to the conclusion
that there is nothing.
Hans Blix, The Guardian, June 2003
Unbeknownst to my family, my physician, or the motor vehicle
branch, by the age of seventeen, I was going blind behind the wheel of my
father's 1982 Pontiac Acadian. Feel free to shudder. Other soon-to-be-blind
people are on the road today enjoying a similar story, only they've still got
some damage to do. Maybe you'll meet one of them at an intersection.
Driving beckoned me the moment I turned sixteen, but my parents thought I'd benefit first from a driver's education course. Or two. Maybe three. I was that hopeless. Not much of what I learned remains in my brain, but I do remember my teacher, a greasy-haired man who insisted I call him Buddy.
For several months, Buddy picked me up once a week in his school's red Ford Taurus. The car was equipped with an extra brake on the passenger side. Buddy liked to punch it through the floor when frightened. Pocked and battered, the car's condition suggested the nifty Siamese brake did little more than relieve the pressure in Buddy's jaw. Nobody could say he was impatient with his students, though, and nobody could say he looked at the world from his car with anything other than safety on his mind. Oh, and ass. A large helping of ass weighed on his mind, too.
When he wasn't advising how to make a generous turn, Buddy gazed out the passenger window, as if avoiding eye contact with his job. Who wouldn't? It probably offered relief from spotting all the gory mishaps I could have steered us into. Some afternoons I could tell that the man was a sack of adrenaline and nerves. As he spoke he'd manically smear his hair across the bald spots on his head. His thoughts flip-flopped at dizzying speeds, all given voice, jumping from death to sex and back again, shaped by a stream of consciousness Freud would have enjoyed fishing in. The sidewalks and parking lots we passed provided his material.
"Holy mother of god! Did you see that honey in the elastic jeans? Slow down. The one going into SAAN's back there? What a butt. Jesus that was close! You gotta shoulder check, watch your blind spot. What an a-ass! It makes mejust pull to the right a bit so you don't ride the yellow line. That's right, a little more, don't be afraid of your side of the road. How does she get into those pants? What about blood flow, eh? Signal first! They're like paint."
Sometimes I couldn't tell if Buddy was testing me in his own perverse way. Did his questions measure my awareness? Did the asses tell him if I noticed anything other than the car in front of me? Good drivers, he'd declare, observe everything around them. Everything. To underline his point, he'd give an extra wipe of his hair. Sometimes I nodded and muttered something affirmative. I tried to demonstrate that I'd spared some of my abundant driverly attention for the ass-scape. "Yes, a very different butt from that one back on Fraser Highway, Buddy, quite different." None of this made me a more attentive driver in the end.
Buddy's final report was unambiguous. He recommended another course before I bothered failing the driver's test. It took a lot of practice with my father until my parents felt everybody was safe. Somehow I passed my first road test with only a few demerits, which was unfortunate.
Because of all this I came a year late to driving. My license, however, which I earned shortly before my seventeenth birthday, came a year earlier than my diagnosis with RP. The math is still chilling. I drove for thirteen danger-filled months, practically blind and legally reckless, unaware of what I was missing. And I mean barely missing.
From Cockeyed: A Memoir by Ryan Knighton, pages 22-35. Copyright Ryan Knighton. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Public Affairs.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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