Claire was the first person I had ever met who was blind.
Although I had never met them, I knew that her parents were God-fearing conservatives. I knew this because the first day I actually got to know her, she was wearing a high collared, light blue dress that went past the knees with a floral print, sort of like what you would imagine the first settlers of the West (with a matronly air) would wear. Her hair was in bob/mushroom cut and for being 18 years of age, it was a look that my grandmother would think “nice” and my mother would think “horribly antiquated.”
It was fascinating to see her world. Her reading assignments were read and taped by part-time student workers. The government provided her with free books in Braille so that she could read all she wanted. She also had a Braille typewriter so that she could type out notes. Her exams were administered orally and she even taught me the proper way a blind person was supposed to hold onto a person: a soft grip on the tricep.
She was standing there on the ramp down to the cafeteria. It was her first day eating there and she did not know her way around. I went up to her to ask if she was going down to eat. A quick brush at the tear on her face told me she had been standing there for some time now.
She smiled and grasped my arm as I led her through the cafeteria.
There were several girls on the hall that all rallied together to eat with her and so began our friendship. We walked Claire about campus. We described movies to her in the theater. We exchanged stories about ourselves.
She joined the choir and met a boy named Alex. He was a big and bear-like guy and encouraged Claire to sing whenever we ate in the patio. Claire’s roommate told us that she was beginning to have feelings for Alex.
It was when she dropped the bomb, however, that everyone turned away.
She was telling us about her little town, which was located near the border. She giggled as she described how the people who mowed lawns spoke. She mimicked the accent and talked about how lazy they were and how they were all Mexican because they were illegal immigrants.
I shook my head and realized that growing up, her parents were probably the only seeing people around her, all the time.
That lunchtime, when Claire’s outstretched hand would have normally found a person who would move close so that she could latch on, she stood there with a smile on her face, happy to have friends, and all of us standing around looking at one another, not wanting to take her.
It was later when Claire was heartbroken: Alex had turned his affections towards another girl.
I still wonder to this day whether it was the fact that he ended up going out with another girl or the fact that “Alex” was short for “Alejandro,” born of Mexican parents in the city of Los Angeles.