By Pam Bostwick
Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.
"There's the sign," my mom said. "'State School for the Deaf and Blind.' We're here." I could see well enough to make out the large red building looming before me. As a twelve-year-old kid, I felt nervous coming to a new place to live, only going home on weekends. Why did I have to come here?
Until a year ago, I thought of myself as being like other kids. I hadn't noticed I held the book closer to my face than they did to read. At the beginning of sixth grade, I found out I was different.
I walked home from school alone on that dreadful day. Tears stung my eyes as my teacher's words raced through my mind.
"You can't be class president. You're blind."
I looked down at my feet dragging through the gravel and at my blue coat sleeve as I wiped my eyes. "Why does he think I'm blind?" I wondered.
My partial sight had never kept me from doing what other kids did. I watched TV, skipped rocks on the pond, and played tag with my friends.
After the election, I felt as if I didn't measure up to the sighted students. I wasn't good enough to compete in their world. My identity shattered because being partially sighted seemed to mean I wasn't capable. To top it off, teachers in public school decided I needed extra tutoring. That was why I was headed to the school for the blind.
Reluctantly, I entered the girls' dormitory.
The dorm mother greeted me. "Hello, Pam! Rachael, Elaine!" she called down the hall. "Come meet your new roommate."
I didn't see the girls until they came into my close range of vision.
"Hi," I spoke hesitantly.
I didn't realize both of them were totally blind until they each felt for one of my hands. They both talked at once. "We've been excited to meet you and make a new friend. Come let us show you our room." I had a glimmer of hope as I said goodbye to my parents. Maybe I would finally find acceptance here.
Having been around sighted people, I was surprised that I could see more than most of the girls in the dorm. At times, I assisted them and aided them with their homework, guiding them places and describing to them the colors of their surroundings and the big items I could see. I told them about the full green trees, brilliant sunrises, fluffy white clouds, cute outfits others wore, and decorations on walls. This gave me a sense of fulfillment and joy. In return, they gave me love and support.
At age fourteen, in my third year at the school, another dorm mother, Mrs. Benton, pulled me aside. "Since you're lucky enough to see better than the others, and want to be so helpful, you can be in charge of the table at meals and serve the girls." Her sarcasm was lost to me.
"Sure, I'm glad to help," I said with enthusiasm.
I enjoyed this job until she used it against me.
One night, in the dining hall after dinner, the girls at my table started clearing the food. Lindy, a totally blind teen, picked up a brimming bowl of fruit and juice to take to the cleanup tray.
"That's too full," I warned her. "Take something else."
She grabbed it anyway. I smiled at her determination. When Lindy spilled it all over the floor, Mrs. Benton ordered, "Pam, clean it up!"
"I'll be glad to help her," I offered.
"Lindy is blind and you can see," Mrs. Benton argued.
"So what if Lindy is blind?" I exclaimed. "She's still able to help clean up her own mess."
Mrs. Benton's voice escalated into a scream.
"You - will - clean - it - up!"
While I picked up pits with squishy fruit and mopped the sticky floor, she kept yelling at me. My cheeks burned as the house parents and all the dorm students, including my boyfriend, listened in awkward silence. Lindy didn't say a word.
I left the dining hall as soon as I could. The cold air hit my hot face. I saw Rachael following me.
"Pam, are you alright?"
A lump filled my throat and I couldn't speak.
"Let's walk," Rachael suggested. She took my arm.
Finally I said, "Why did she do that, Rach? I don't mind cleaning up some of the mess because I'm in charge at dinner, but Lindy's not helpless. I was embarrassed."
"I know. I'm sorry." She squeezed my shoulder. "Pam, sometimes life seems unfair and people don't always understand." I was amazed that Rachael sounded wise beyond her sixteen years. "Don't let Mrs. Benton get you down," she continued. "You've got too much going for you for that."
"What do I have going for me?" I heard self-pity in my voice, but at the time I didn't care. "I don't know who I am anymore. I don't get a fair chance with the sighted kids since I can't see well enough," I complained. "Now that I'm here, I'm being persecuted because I can see too much."
"It has to be hard for you. Remember that TV advertisement you described to me; the one about the girl who is partially sighted, like you, reading a large print book? The caption said, 'Help the hurt that doesn't show.' You must feel misunderstood."
"My dad says it's like I'm in the middle. That's exactly how I feel. I'm glad I can see some things though. It can't be easy for you, Rach, not seeing at all."
"I have never been able to see, so I don't miss it. People can shut their eyes and comprehend total blindness easier than partial sight." She paused. "So what if you're in-between? You're perfect as my friend." She sighed. "You're not the only one picked on by Mrs. Benton. She doesn't feel sorry for me either even though I can't see. It doesn't matter how much sight we have or don't have. I think she rails on us because we're independent."
I thought about her words. "You're right. It makes no difference if I see less than some people and more than others. That's who I am."
"You're a fun-loving person and that's what counts. Besides, who would read to all of us if you couldn't see?"
I grinned. "Thanks, Rach."
At that moment, my boyfriend Mitch ran up to us.
"Hey, Pam I'm mad at the old bag for humiliating you like that." He took my hand. "It'll work out. I've got a funny way to get even," he said conspiratorially.
The next night, Mitch and I were talking on a two-way radio. Mrs. Benton heard his voice and burst into my room.
"You know boys are not allowed in the girls' dormitory," she hollered.
She frantically ran around the room looking under beds and behind closet doors. I stifled a giggle when she peered out the window and glanced down at the ground. She never did find the boy, but we all had a good laugh. The joke was on her and I felt better. Through all these experiences, I began to understand that I am okay, in-between as I am.