Life can be scary when you can’t see the bad guys

an empty sidewalk at dusk, a brick wall to one side and trees on the otherEarlier this year I wrote a post about an ongoing Martial Arts Self-Defense course offered by Easterseals Massachusetts. Now I’m thinking more seriously about taking a course like that.

Let me explain. My Seeing Eye dog Whitney will be ten years old soon. She sleeps more than she used to, she walks slower when leading me through Chicago, and every once in a while she loses focus. She was leading me home from downtown Chicago recently when I sensed her veering ever so slightly off the sidewalk. Not toward the street, but in the other direction.

The sounds of silverware and people chatting and laughing was a big clue. Aha! We’re in an outdoor plaza. Whitney must have smelled some good food and couldn’t resist.

I stopped a moment to get my bearings, and when a man came up and asked if I needed some help, I said yes. “I got off-kilter there for a second,” I told him, pointing in the direction I thought was south. “Am I still on the sidewalk heading south?” He said I was, so I picked up Whitney’s harness and gave her a command. “Whitney, forward!” I said, and she pulled me forward.

But the man followed me.

”Where are you going?” he asked. “Do you live alone?” He told me he was single, kept following me, telling me how strong he is, how tall, how good looking, how much he could help me. When Whitney stopped at the next red light, the pedestrians waiting alongside us were a comfort, but I couldn’t stay there forever.

When the light turned green, I focused on Whitney as she guided me across the street. ”You made it,” the man said. Oh, no. He was still there. He was still following us. I tried to stay calm, but inside I was panicking. C’mon Whitney, this is real. You’ve gotta get us home. I encouraged her to hurry along, but instead of continuing forward, she veered again, this time leading me to a door.

“That’s the bank,” the man following me said. “You don’t want the bank.” He was right. I did not want the bank. I’d never ever been to that bank. I didn’t even know there was a bank there. I just wanted to get home.

Just as I was about to scold Whitney for her mistake, a blessed thought occurred to me. “Oh, yes,” I said, loud enough for the man to hear me. “The bank. Good girl, Whitney!” I opened the door and left the man behind.

Inside, I stood in the middle of the lobby catching my breath and listening intently to the door I’d come through. I didn’t hear it open again. The man must not have followed in after me.

Did Whitney know what she was doing, leading me to that door when she did? I think yes. Her age may be affecting her physical work as a guide, but mentally she still knows ways to keep us safe. The lobby was small, and it didn’t take too long for a guy working there to notice the blind woman with the Seeing Eye dog there. “May I help you?” I had no idea what bank I was in, but I figured I didn’t have an account there, so I told him so and explained. “Some guy out there was following me, and…” I gave him the whole story. He asked if I wanted to sit down. “No,” I said. “I just want to shake that guy off my trail and get home.”

As it happened, this guy was a bank executive. He was off for a business meeting in a fancy building just south of there, the same direction I was going. “I’ll walk you,” he said. “Just give me a minute to gather my stuff.”

The exec told me his name, gave me his card, and walked Whitney and me two or three blocks in that direction. He looked behind us along the way, assuring me no one was following us any more. When he had to head in for his meeting, I felt confident Whitney would get me the rest of the way. She did, and I’ve never been so happy to put my key in the door and be back home.

A day or two later I heard from a young friend who is blind and had a run in with an Uber driver. Sheer coincidence, or is something going on out there? Her ride started out fine, she said. “We talked about technology, blindness, school, all the normal small talk conversations I have with drivers. And then…”

The driver askd my young friend if she was seeing anyone; whether or not she had any dating experience, being blind and all; would she consider going out with him. When they got to her destination, the driver suggested that maybe he could take her to a motel sometime.

“I flew out of that car like it was on fire!” she told me. Once inside, she reported the driver and spoke to the Uber critical safety response line.

I’ll end here with another coincidence that I think is more than a coincidence. I just heard about a self-defense course for people who are blind or have visual impairments is starting today in Chicago. “If you feel vulnerable when traveling with your white cane or guide dog, consider taking the 1Touch Beginner course. This course teaches self-defense moves designed specifically for people with vision loss. You will feel more secure knowing what to do if someone were to move aggressively towards you. It also helps with those overly helpful do-gooders who mean well, but may get you into more trouble than not.” Sign me up!


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