To Ashley Sundquist—this time I can use your real last name
Vice Principal Larry Johnston extends his hand.
To clarify: I don’t see this. I hear the swish of his shirtsleeve.
“Nice to meet you, William.”
The fabric sound plays again—the hand retracting.
“I’m sorry, I guess you can’t do that now, can you? You probably want to feel my face?”
He grabs my arm and smacks my palm against his cheek, knocking me off balance so I have to step into the musk of his aftershave.
“Where do you normally start? Eyes? Nose? Mouth?”
He shifts my fingers across the front of his face with each suggestion. His skin is rough and pockmarked, like the outside of an orange.
“No, actually, I don’t do that,” I say, pulling my hand away. “I identify people based on their voices.”
“And… also…” I add. I can’t resist.
“Yes?” he asks, all eager to please.
“Well, I don’t usually touch faces, but I am gifted with a heightened sense of smell that allows me to recognize a person’s pheromones, which are concentrated just below the ear, so if you wouldn’t mind…?”
I touch my pointer finger to my nose.
His excitement drops. “Oh… you want to… smell… my ear?”
“Pheromones are like faces to me. Only if it’s not too much trouble, sir.”
“Oh, no, no trouble at all. I just… No trouble, certainly I would like to accommodate you.”
He steps close enough that I can feel the heat of his body, which is a signal that (a) he is falling for it—sighted people always do, the suckers—and (b) I’ve taken the joke far enough. I don’t actually want my nose anywhere near his old-guy earwax, after all.
“Mr. Johnston, I’m kidding.” I hold a hand up to stop him. It sinks deep into fat rolls, presumably around his midsection. I hope. “A joke, sir. I don’t want to smell your ear.”
When I pull my hand away, I wonder if it leaves a visible handprint or even fingerprints in his squishy flesh. I’ve heard that happens when you press an open palm against a soft surface like sand, dough, or wet paint.
“Oh, right, yes.” He lets out a forced chuckle that sounds like a wheezy smoker’s cough. “A joke. Yes. Very funny.”
Mr. Johnston’s voice is deep and grizzly. If you listen carefully, you learn that a particular set of vocal cords produces audio vibrations unlike any other in the world. Voices are the fingerprints of sound.
“Shall we head to your first class?” he asks.
He grabs my arm from behind and starts to push me out of the front office. I’m sure he thinks it’s helpful to lead me like that, but I instinctively swap our positions so I am holding his arm instead.
“I’d prefer we walk like this,” I say. Now I’m in control. I can let go at any time.
“Yes, all right, that’s fine,” he says.
I’ve spent most of my sixteen years around other blind and visually impaired people, so this is the first time I’ve actually had to execute a Hines Break in real life. Fortunately, Mrs. Chin made me practice so many times I could do it automatically with Mr. Johnston. The main purpose of this little arm reversal is that it puts me in charge. To put it in dating terms, I can now be the dumper rather than the dumpee.
I’ve heard the horror stories: Blind people standing on street corners waiting for a crosswalk light to change, only to have a well-meaning but annoying stranger come up from behind, grab their arm, and say (overly loud, of course, because they always assume we are all deaf, too) “LET ME HELP YOU!” and shove them across a street they were not intending to cross. And then the stranger lets go and disappears into the void (“YOU’RE WELCOME!”), leaving the blind person stranded on an unknown street corner.
I feel the floor change from the carpet of Mr. Johnston’s office to the hard tile of the hallway as I follow him through the doorway.
“Can we start at the front door?” I ask. “That’s where I’ll be coming in each morning, I assume.”
“Isn’t that where you came in today?” he asks.
“Yes, but my mom took me from there to your office.”
“Well, then, simply imagine that instead of turning into the office, you walked in this direction toward the stairwell, and you’ll be on your way to first period.”
He starts to walk, presumably toward said stairwell. But I stand still, gripping his arm tightly so he is forced to stop. (Behold the mighty power of the Hines Break!)
“It doesn’t work like that. I can’t…” I drift off.