Friday, October 01, 2010


This morning, in the waiting room at the Cancer Institute I suddenly remembered the first time Lawrence and I went out for dinner. We were unlikely dinner dates thrown together by fate, mother and son hungry at suppertime. He was a teen-ager with a driver’s license. I was an ineligible driver with car keys. Everyone else in the family was—somewhere else. It was back in the days when I used to cook for him. Not surprisingly, it was I who suggested going out.
“Where would we go?” he asked. Scepticism hung heavy on the air.
“Wherever you like,” I said brightly.
“MacDonald’s,” he said.
“Anywhere except MacDonald’s,” I said. I had, after all, been thinking of going out for an actual dinner. Surely he didn’t want MacDonald’s! We could walk there.
“Oh Mother!” He gave one of those sighs that conveys everything without saying anything. “It has to be somewhere where we can order,” he said.
And now I understood what he was thinking. Considering our particular blend of disabilities, we were an impractical match for a dinner menu—a mother who would be able to read if she could only see, and a son who could see but not read. He was imagining the two of us staring blankly at a menu, neither with a clue as to what was on it. He was wondering what we’d say to the waitress, what kind of food we might get if he simply pointed at random to some item, hoping it was a burger.
Given the amount of creativity it might have taken to overcome this difficulty, I did think it probably would have been easier to stay home. But once you’ve imagined yourself out for dinner, it’s hard to let that go. So we went to Boston Pizza and managed well enough, or so we must have, because I don’t recall any memorable trauma.
These days we never go out for dinner, though we occasionally go somewhere together. Today our destination was the Cancer Institute, a stupefying jumble of scurrying professionals, snaking hallways, directional signs and forms requiring due diligence. Going out to dinner at any restaurant would have been a better choice. But this was not a menu with choices. Cancer institutes carry a lot of weight. If they tell you to go there on October 1, you go there on October 1, even if you have to go with your less-than-completely-helpful mother.
There are really two problems that arise when you cannot read. The first is that you cannot read, a condition that makes it difficult to know where to go, what to do, and what you might be giving written permission for in a busy hospital. The second problem lies in the explanation of it to others. For a blind person it’s easy enough. You show your cane and let them take it from there. If that doesn’t get you what you need, you swallow hard and say, “I’m blind. I’ll need you to read this.” Negligent as it may sometimes be, our culture, in general, is kind to the blind. But if you are not blind, and you are holding a set of car keys, and maybe you are even guiding a blind person, well, the situation isn’t quite so straightforward. Outside the professional realm, a variety of words are used to describe young men who function without the benefit of reading. They’re not fitting for a HOPE LADY Blog. I won’t mention them here. But even when nobody mentions them, they echo in the heads of those who are presented with English forms that might as well be in German or Italian for all the sense they make.
I wished I hadn’t gone with him. I wished somebody else was there in my place, somebody who could be a better help. I am a loving mother. Guided by the instinct of a protective hen, I would happily have sent him to the washroom while I whispered a request to the receptionist. “Please help my son read this form. It’s not his fault that he can’t read it.”
But he did not need the washroom, and he did not need me to explain it. I sat in the waiting room, waiting. He boldly told the lady she would have to read the form for him. He didn’t give her a reason, and she didn’t ask for one. You’d think that reading forms was the thing she was expecting to do.
Given the way things turned out, so much better than I expected, you surely can’t blame me for wondering if we should go out for lunch.

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