Vow of Blindness


In fourth grade I heard one of the kids in the gifted program was doing a "Vow of Silence". From the first bell until the end of the school day he wouldn't talk at all, even during lunch, and instead would only nod or make hand gestures. If he had to answer a question in class he would motion the teacher over and write it on a piece of paper and the teacher would read it aloud for the rest of the class and everyone would clap and cheer dumbly for the enlightened little freak.

Even worse, his non-divorced parents cleared the scheme with the principal, and the dork got the idea from his non-alcoholic uncle who spent the summer in a monastery. I on the other hand had no responsible adults in my life. I was a latchkey kid who constantly struggled to steal attention from my teachers and classmates, which was especially hard since they had wised up to my bullshit years ago. Meanwhile this kid who was already so blessed with love was getting whispered praise and nods and smiles all around, practically right in my face (although I wasn't in the gifted program to see it). It was unfair.

So I had the idea to copy him and do my own Vow of Silence, except mine would be even better because I wouldn't tell anybody about it. Everyone would have to admit that I was much more humble and enlightened than the gifted kid because I wouldn't make a big fuss out of it. This lasted maybe half a day because nobody noticed I was being silent. They just thought I was being quiet, which is different. Everybody's quiet sometimes, it's not hard. It made me realize the whole Vow of Silence thing was lame and the kid shouldn't be celebrated for doing something so easy and unremarkable. Nobody would notice if he hadn't told them about it.

The next day I came to school, sat at my desk and shut my eyes. It didn't take 30 seconds. Someone asked if I was sleeping and I said No, I've taken a Vow of Blindness. Instantly this bit destroyed. Kids were barking. Mrs. Eldridge couldn't control them. Invocations of detention went unheard.

When one wave of laughter died and learning threatened to return I'd pull something like knocking the books and pencils off my desk in a spastic blind grope. I'd fall to the ground and flail around like a dying fish. I'd shove my gross little boy hands into a girl's hair and say What's this? Is this a dog? Is there a dog in the school? I was unstoppable.

A gang of kids guided me to the cafeteria for lunch, helpfully explaining my condition to hall monitors and lunch ladies. I was a celebrity. I heard the voices of popular kids I'd never talked to asking what's his deal. Asking if I got in trouble, asking if I would ever open my eyes again and if pretending to be blind could actually make you blind. Answering these questions was beneath me, so I let the other kids handle it. You've got to know when to delegate.

Andrea M. wanted me to touch her face because she saw a blind guy on TV do it. My first instinct was to slam my palm right into her nose, since it'd be comedy gold. But I had a crush on Andrea ever since we were square dance partners in gym. She was the first girl I ever held hands with. Plus I'd already made her cry when I let go of her hands during the spinning part of the dance and she tumbled backwards and crashed into another girl.

The touch of a face is not like the sight of a face. If you don't hold the image of that person in your mind while moving your hand across their visage the thing you touch won't be them but some alien wall of soft leather and bone. Noses are bigger and stick out farther than you'd expect. The chin and cheekbones are round and smooth like rocks from a creek. Eyebrows are islands of carpet in a sea of skin and the eyes make little movements as you brush your fingers over them. You can't help but imagine something insectoid, a larvae fighting for life beneath the thin greasy web of flesh.

I opened my eyes and when I looked at her she was no longer beautiful. It's a good thing I regained my sight at that moment, too, because my lunch was covered in spit. At recess I played red rover with the popular kids.

I got to P.E. and the gym was set up to play volleyball, which was one of my least favorite activities. So I was blind again. By this time nobody was laughing, even when the gym instructor crouched over me yelling, trying to pry open my eyes with his fat fingers. The other gym teacher, an older lady with my dad's haircut who smelled like cigarettes, told the fat-fingered teacher not to mess with my eyes because if I got hurt then it'd be a real shit show. Everybody freaked out because she said shit and gym was basically over at that point. They carried me by the arms and legs up to the principal. My body swung and my butt hit the floor a couple times but I never opened my eyes.

The next morning my mom got home from her night shift to find me still in my underwear in front of the TV. I pointed to the out of school suspension slip sitting on the table. She didn't question me but called the school and heard it from the principal. She asked why I faked having a disability and I said I didn't. She asked if there was really something wrong with me, like mentally. She asked if I was really disabled, but in the brain. I said being blind isn't a disability, it's a choice. Like a Vow of Silence.

My mom told me she didn't have time for this shit and that I was going to school tomorrow. Then she went to bed and I spent the day playing Mega Man. When I got to class the next day I heard the Vow of Silence kid got picked on by a bunch of guys trying to make him talk and that he cried like a baby when someone whacked him with a book.