Hi, all, Daniel-of-2015 here.
I have a couple of loose ends to clean up and explain.
First, yes, Charlie did spend much of my third year more or less ignoring me. He wasn't socially snubbing me, but the vast majority of our interaction had always been academic, and when he decided not to give me any new assignments (I was still working on older assignments, like trail work), there wasn't very much left. I didn't understand what had changed--he said "keep up the good work," but at the time I thought that was some kind of throw-away line, polite code for "stop bothering me."
Of course, when Charlie wanted someone to stop bothering him, he seldom resorted to code.
What I didn't realize was that I was in fact doing good and important work. That spring and summer I spent what little free time I had looking up plants in my guidebooks, drawing detailed pictures of the flowers whose identities I could not find, and sitting staring into the grass for minutes at a time to find out what exactly an ant or a spider was up to. In short, I was doing exactly the sorts of things Charlie would have told me to do, so I didn't need Charlie to tell me to do it, if that makes sense.
I wasn't doing any of it diligently or well, which was part of why I assumed it couldn't be important. I wasn't trying to make it important. What I didn't realize at the time is that any reasonably motivated person can be diligent on any given subject, but farting around for no clear reason in that subject is only ever an act of love. The important work I was doing that spring and summer was to prove, without at all meaning to do it, that some of what Charlie had been trying to teach me had stuck.
Second, I want to talk about how and why Ebony and I broke up. Or, rather, I don't want to talk about it, but I'm going to do it anyway because she asked me to.She says there are too many stories about blind people being noble and inspiring and it is de-humanizing--because humans are not always noble or inspiring. I don't normally tell stories that show my friends--or anyone else--in a negative light, but Ebony is my friend (again), so I am honoring her request.
It happened a few weeks after Beltane, right after I'd returned from the Island. It was the first really warm evening of the year, and we were walking around campus after dinner, just talking. The sun went down as we walked and night fell and we just kept walking around and around the loop of road in the middle of campus. We'd just passed the Mansion again when she announced she could feel a cold sore coming on--apparently they itch, and if you put on medicated ointment right when the itch starts you can prevent the eruption. Anyway, she stopped walking and asked me to get her makeup kit, where she keeps the ointment, out of her handbag.
Ebony had gotten into the habit of asking me to do things for her that she could have done for herself, if she thought I could do it easier. It was part of what she meant by being a "bad blind person," that she wasn't constantly trying to prove she could do anything a sighted person could. Why should she? She thought of herself as sighted--and still does, of course. The funny thing was she didn't realize eyes aren't that much help for searching a handbag, especially not outdoors at night. I didn't say anything, though. I didn't want to make her even more self-conscious than she normally was.
So I reached into her bag and almost immediately my fingers found the smooth vinyl of her makeup kit, but also something hard and cold and narrow--a metal bracelet. Rather then letting both objects go and having to re-locate the kit, I pulled both out of her bag, gave her the kit, and I was about to put the bracelet back when I noticed it was bumpy--the thing had Braille on it.
And something about that just seemed wrong to me. I had a bad feeling. I could read a little Braille by that point, but only visually--I don't have the tactile acuity to read it by touch. So I used the flashlight I kept on my belt to have a look.And I could recognize enough of the letters to figure out what it said:
"Which do you think is more transgressive," Ebony asked me, "for a blind woman to put on makeup well, or for her to put it on badly?"
"Why do you have another woman's bracelet in your bag?" I asked. And I swear I am not the suspicious type, but the way my question shocked her gave me my answer.
"Oh!" she said, in a tone of voice as if she'd been caught at something, "I didn't think that was still in there!"
I should explain that I already knew she was bisexual, and that she had spent a couple of nights off campus recently. A lot of people on campus were openly bi, and nobody cared, but spending a night elsewhere was unusual and people talked.
"Why?" I asked her, and she didn't answer. "Is it because I won't put out?"
The phrase sounded alien and stilted as I said it--it was nothing anyone at school would have said. Sex within the school culture simply wasn't like that, except that occasionally it probably was. I meant the phrase as a dig.
And indeed I had not "put out." She had not asked directly and we had not discussed the matter, but whenever things seemed to be heading in that direction I'd always found an excuse to distance myself. I was afraid, not of sex itself exactly, but I'd never done it before and I was afraid I'd be really bad at it. Ebony was a lot older than me, obviously experienced, and I didn't want to disappoint her. Anyway. I knew she was starting to notice my reluctance and that it was starting to cause tension between us.
"No, that's not it," she stammered. "It's that...I mean....oh, Daniel, you're just too careful about everything. You're too nice."
What was I supposed to do with that? Some of my friends, mostly from off campus, when I told them they seemed to think the worst thing was that she'd cheated on me with a woman. I wasn't surprised by their reaction, I might have thought the same at one time, but I honestly couldn't see the logic behind it. Was the idea that if my girlfriend liked girls that I must somehow be a girl also? And that would be an insult why? No, what bothered me was that she said I was too nice. I mean, was I supposed to be mean? How can a good thing about me be the thing that gets me betrayed?
I had to get out of there, so I gave her back her bag and made sure she hadn't gotten disoriented in our walking around.
"You're too damn nice!" she half yelled at me and I fled.
In retrospect, I think our relationship was doomed to be short-term, but at the time I didn't know that. I was thinking of her in fairly serious terms--we had talked about spending the spring holiday together--it would have been Passover at her mother's house, or Easter with my parents. The logistics didn't work out, but we were about to introduce each other to our parents.
We were that close to becoming a serious couple.
I stopped talking to her for some months. I was humiliated and angry and I had no idea how to deal with either feeling. I'm not good at being angry with people I care about, especially not women. I'm too afraid of hurting them. She continued her relationship with the woman but I don't think the two ever became close except in a physical sense and it ended badly some months later. That is a story I know but will not tell. It is not mine. Eventually, we rebuilt our friendship--we were talking again before she graduated that year.
I don't talk about my love-life in the regular narrative, so what you're going to see is that sometime in May, Ebony will largely disappear from the story. She will reappear in the Fall.
Now you know why.