I used to know a blind kid. He was around seven when I knew him; his name was something very adult sounding, Steven, which made me wonder what it must have been like to be called ‘Baby Steven’. His family had moved into the neighborhood and there wasn’t much for him to do.
The neighborhood kids had hung out with him once or twice a person and then within two or three months they had all moved on; the blindness testing the patience of most any seven year old. Childhood is a visceral experience full of bright colors and loud noises, and Steven fell shy of the other kids expectations; often relegated to a lonely corner of a sandbox while the other children played on the swing sets or pretended eachother with their fingers pointed as guns. You could tell by Steven’s face, should you have been watching, that this all registered with him, that they were having fun without him, and that he was ostracized, not out of any ill will from the children, but simply by circumstance.
My mom suggested that I play with him. I was thirteen and twice the size and age of Steven. What I first noticed was that he did look at you when you talked, something I found pretty uncanny. He wanted to go to the park, and he wanted to ride the train that circled the park, in Los Gatos. He’d heard a lot about trains. He had a toy one he played with constantly, a wooden one with wooden wheels. His fingers raced through every side and corner of the damn thing and it appeared worn from his constant use.
He wore sunglasses that June day and had extremely sharp nails, gripping my hand tightly as we walked over to the train.
“Oh boy,” he said over and over, “Oh boy. Oh boy.”
“Are you excited?” I said.
“You bet! I love trains,” he said.
He sat on the train and it took a little while for the conductor person to realize he was blind, shrugging at me and nodding his way through a one-sided “Blind kid? Your brother? No? Still wanna ride? Well OK then” kind of conversation. Steven rocked back and forth in anticipation, gripping the front of the little cart we were sitting in the way one would grab that of a traveled loved one, muttering to himself about ‘Trains!’ and giggling slightly with a giddy nervousness. The conductor pulled the whistle, whooow-whooo, and Steven made the sound back. And we were off. He was still smiling as we walked back to his parents car, still laughing about how much fun it was on the drive home, and still thankful for it that night when I got a phone call from him, his mother saying that he’d requested a phone call to say thank you, and all he did was laugh about much fun it was.
I don’t remember much else about Steven after that. His parents moved away, something about a job offer somewhere. But he was a riot, and despite his condition he taught me a lesson that day in appreciation. Sometimes when you’re in your mid-to-late 20’s you forget what ‘joy’ actually is after having your soul raked through the sands of societal indifference, working for a paycheck, and layers of insecurity brought on by a myriad of reasons. You forget all about sand pits, skateboards, and summer, and what it feels like to ride at the front of the train. You forget to appreciate the comfort of simply not knowing, not through naivety, but through untangling your own knot to appreciate the simpler things. To some, their knots are their comfort. And that’s a good thing.
To others, it’s not.