My relationship with Dan began on the phone. We met in a poetry workshop and had the first four-hour installment of what we now refer to as The Conversation a week later. We talked about our writing lives, described our failed marriages, read to each other and discussed disability. As different as blindness is from cerebral palsy, we both felt understood as we told how having a disability affected each of us and informed our lives.
The dialogue continued to be rich and intimate. There was something idyllic in getting to know each other this way. I felt very attracted to Dan; he would read me poems in his sweet soothing voice and I’d just melt. But it was The Conversation, the sharing of our inner lives, that made what started as a sparkly, promising friendship quickly develop into more.
A few friends were skeptical.
“I’m afraid you’re being seduced,” one girlfriend warned.
“Ah, the honeymoon phase,” another said, rolling her eyes.
A friend from work expressed concerns about me getting involved with a blind man.
“What if you got sick?” she asked, “and he had to bring you two medications from the pharmacy. How would he tell them apart?”
“He’d ask the pharmacist to put them in different sized bottles.”
“You’d trust him to remember which was which?”
I was undaunted. “He has an amazing mind,” I said.
It was true that our long-distance relationship allowed us to stay in a free-floating “honeymoon phase” for a good while. We talked late at night, after we’d each finished our workdays and I’d put Ethan to bed. We read poetry together and dreamed aloud. As for disability, we described to each other how we felt moving about the world in our bodies, telling of incidents when we were mistreated or misunderstood and times when people did well by us. We shared how we felt in high school when fitting in seemed so important. What interested us were our emotional lives rather than the logistics of getting by day to day.
Then one night, Dan asked, “So, what can’t you do without help?”
The question surprised me. “Stand on a ladder to change a bulb in a ceiling fixture.”
“I can do that for you,” he said, “as long as you tell me where it is.”
It was our first flirtation with being in the practical world together as a couple. I liked it. As enthralling as the honeymoon phase was, here was a picture of us in one another’s lives. Our bond was deepening.
When we visited one another in those early months, we ignored things like stacks of mail and dirty dishes in favor of immersing ourselves in conversation, playing music for each other and relishing in our new physical relationship. Little by little, though, we’ve let those mundane tasks filter into our time together. Now, when I’m at Dan’s, we read his poetry books but also read the mail and pay bills. When he visits me, I play him my new music discoveries but he changes those light bulbs and helps Ethan with his homework too. Still, that dreaminess we shared in the beginning is very much a part of who we are. It’s even caused us to miss several trains. We missed one because Dan needed to hear a song by John Meyer in its entirety and another because I found I couldn’t have blackberries for breakfast without stopping to recite Galway Kinnell’s poem “Blackberry Eating.” It’s a good balance. We do what needs to be done in the real world. We just don’t live there.
But, of course, the truth is we do. Just this past week, a large halogen light burned out in my kitchen. Ordinarily, I’d have assumed the bulb needed changing, which would mean I’d need to call a handyman to come take the cover off since I don’t even know what the bulb looks like. But it had gone out twice before and self corrected when the kids upstairs happened to be bouncing around right above it. So, I waited a few days to see if it would pop on again, using the under-the-counter lights and quickly learning that mood lighting is not easy to cook by.
On Sunday morning, Dan and I decided to make frittatas for breakfast. While I sautéed peppers in the dim room, I asked Dan if he would feel around up there to see if there was something loose in the fixture that made it so temperamental.
I admired the long legs of my six-foot lover as he stood on the stool I use for reaching things on the top shelves of my cabinets.
“Thanks, Honey,” I said, drifting toward memories of making love the night before.
I was adding tomatoes to the pan when the glass rained down. It was everywhere, in large jagged chunks and nearly invisible specks that glinted like mica.
“Shit!” I cried while Dan simultaneously said, “I’m so sorry.”
I called out to Ethan, who was in the next room, to stay where he was. Dan went into the bedroom and grabbed a pair of boots for me to put on my bare feet.
Feeling overwhelmed, I took a deep breath before picking up the biggest pieces and tossing them into the trash. That accomplished, I got out the broom.
“Careful, you’re about to step in my pile,” I warned Dan.
He moved back and apologized again. I assured him it wasn’t his fault. After all, it was my great idea to have him fiddle with the fixture.
As I swept, a loop of worries ran through my mind. The room was too dark. I was sure to miss millions of powdery insidious specks. Ethan was always running around the house barefoot. What if a tiny shard got under his skin? Couldn’t something like that eventually cause internal bleeding?
Finally, I finished sweeping. “I got everything I could see,” I sighed. It felt like the room was booby trapped.
“My turn,” Dan announced.
With that, he got on his hands and knees and began feeling the floor.
“This is how I have to do it when I’m home alone,” he told me as he worked.
I thought of Dan’s immaculate house. After he felt every inch of the floor, he ran the vacuum. I washed the pan out and began chopping a fresh pepper for our eggs. I thought of my coworker who had worried that a blind man wouldn’t be able to take care of me.
“We’re awfully good at taking care of each other,” I said.
“We sure are.” Vacuuming done, Dan kissed the top of my head. “Oh, I love this song.” He reached over to turn the radio up and then pulled me into the dim light, where we slow danced on a very clean floor.