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“Learning the Hard Way”

by Felix Imonti

 In memory of my wife, Yukiko.  She made my writing possible by managing so many of the trivial problems of life.

Meeting Joyce just seemed to happen.  As we were leaving the class, we were pressed closed together in the crowd of students and a conversation started.

It took a couple of weeks, before the one-minute chats moved to a coffee date and regular dating.  Neither of us had a car and were forced to remain near the campus where there were plenty of events to keep us busy.

This was the first time that I was dating.  During my high school days in Los Angeles, I was transported across the city to a school more than an hour away where there was a special department for the blind.  The distance and the grouping of blind students made socializing off campus nearly impossible. 

Although I had known for ten years that I would go blind eventually, I had made no preparations.  For all of the good it had done, I had followed Dylan Thomas who urged people facing death,

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In spite of all of my raging, I went blind over a six- or so-month period.  When I reached UCLA, I had been blind about two years and was still struggling with how to cope with my new situation.  I had not received any training and was discovering by trial and error how to travel and do everything else. 

I was prepared to challenge anything without asking help from anyone.  Gradually, though, leaning on Joyce became the easier way to travel as long as I ignored my pride.

One of my deeply ingrained attitudes was not to touch a white cane that was synonymous in my mind with a beggar’s tin cup.  She wasn’t a white cane so that I was doing a great job of deceiving myself that I was doing well while I was clinging to her.

While my self-confidence was eroding, Joyce too was noticing.  She showed her awareness by taking every opportunity to humiliate me.  She hated herself and needed to have someone lesser to degrade.  If she had been able to, she would have torn away her Asian features for blue eyes and blonde hair. 

She had no Asian friends and spoke with contempt of her parents who had a successful gardening business that was too close to the general stereotype of Japanese for her comfort.  Their home was near to the campus, but she preferred to take a position as a domestic worker to keep her distance from them and did not see how her job as a domestic worker was also a part of the stereotype.

A couple of months after we had started dating, Joyce asked me if I would keep her company to go shopping at a nearby department store.  “I’ll be quick,” she promised and I agreed to go.  Fifteen or twenty minutes later, she emerged with her packages. 

“I’ve changed my mind.  I’m going home.  Find your own way back,” and she dashed away.  She had thrown the blindness into my face.  It wasn’t the first time, but it was the most blatant that I had experienced up to that point.  The anxiety of challenging the traffic turned into fury and the determination that it would be the last time she would trample on my dignity.

Returning to the campus meant crossing two very busy streets.  She gave me the options to ask someone for help or to get killed.  I had no intension of doing either.  Fortunately, the streets were busy with pedestrians.  I chose A woman with very noisy high heels who was going in the same direction and followed her.  Near the campus, a bus spewing diesel fumes told me that the steps leading up to the campus were just to my left.

Once on the campus, I headed straight for the library.  There was another blind student who had a guide dog.  I knew nothing about guide dogs, except that Cora was enabling Alice to zip around the campus.  That afternoon, I applied to the school.

Next summer, I flew up to San Francisco and went into a month of training.  I returned home with Hal, a seventy-five-pound golden retriever.  Never again would I surrender my freedom and dignity for imaginary security.

That afternoon in front of the department store was the last time that I saw Joyce, although she did telephone months later just before I was to leave for the guide dog school.  She wanted me to obtain recorded books from a library for the blind.  The woman for who she worked as a domestic had poor vision, but did not qualify for the library service.

“I will get the books from you and Mrs. Marks will mail them back to the library.  As far as Joyce was concerned, nothing of importance had happened on that afternoon.  What was a request for a favor was presented as a demand.

“Too much trouble for nothing,” I told her.  She started to erupt, but I hung up.  It was over and it was going to stay over.

Come September and I was back on the campus zipping around.  Others told me that they had seen Joyce passing me on the campus and I was glad that she never spoke to me. For a long time, I burned when I thought of that day.  It took a few years before I realized that I owed her thanks.  Her need to humiliate me forced me to make a decision.  Will I abandon my dignity for a false security?  Working my way back to the campus, the answer was “never again.”  So now, I have to thank Joyce for her unwitting service.  It was a painful way to learn, but it was a lesson that needed to be learned.  She freed me from indecision.  While she was teaching me, I am sure that she did not teach herself to accept that face looking back at her in the mirror.

The author has published the history book Violent Justice and numerous articles in the fields of international politics and economics. After living for many years in various countries, he returned to Canada where he is focusing upon writing with a growing interest in fiction. He has published stories in Selcouth Station, Commuter Lit, Sweet Tree Review and has currently stories in the anthology Artificial Divide and in the collection Dark City Crime Magazine. The
essay A Cynic’s Song that was published in another Chicago Magazine was included in the Best American Essays of 2021. He has completed the novella The Alice Way and is working on a memoir that will encompass families from different cultures and races.

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