by Deon Lyons
This will probably be my last written lesson recap, as my orientation and mobility program is winding down. It has been a long, hard, and grueling 20 or so months since I first held a cane, and I have learned a lot. I have learned how to deal with different dilemmas, and have been taught the skills necessary to take on the world and be an independent traveler. I have been praised, as well as reprimanded, when the time was right. I have learned how to take my fears, worries and nightmares and turn them into a tremendous opportunity for growth and maturity. I have been blessed to have been given the opportunity to turn the frightened, vulnerable person from those dark days in early summer 2010 into a capable, independent individual who just happens to be blind.
This lesson was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It also gave me some excellent learning opportunities. It was one of the best cane-travel days I'd ever had.
Several weeks ago, Rosemary, my O&M instructor, told me of the lesson that she had in mind. She left it up to me to come up with a plan, and to carry out the lesson on my own.
The objective was to plan a trip from my home to the Apple store, located in the Maine Mall in South Portland, where I was to meet up with Rosemary. At first, I cringed at the thought. After several days of thinking about the task, I thought about the promise I made myself: that I would not walk away from any challenge, no matter how much I wanted to.
Trying to lay out the lesson in my head was rather confusing at first. I tried to figure it out in one fell swoop, without being able to jot down notes or map out the lesson on a piece of paper. It was quite trying at times.
The first thing I needed to do was to learn the schedules of the three different buses that I needed to use. The first bus, the KVCAP bus from Waterville, was fairly familiar to me, as I had taken that particular route a couple times in the past few months. I determined that the best time would be the 8:30 bus, which would put me at the Concord Coach terminal in Augusta around 9:15 that morning.
After calling the Concord terminal, I was able to plan the second leg of the lesson, which would have me on a bus departing from Augusta at 10:15, and arriving at the Portland terminal around 11:25. This part of the lesson had me a little worried, as I failed to fully prepare for the transition from the Concord Portland terminal out to the Portland city bus stop, which was the starting point of the last leg of the trip. I also had to do some last-minute preparations for when I arrived at the Maine Mall.
I did not follow each step of the planning in an orderly fashion. I ended up zigzagging from one step to another. I was a little upset that I let my planning get disoriented, but it all worked out in the end. In the future, I should be able to better sort out the planning, and make sure that each step is done in order.
After getting a ride from my wife to the Concourse in Waterville, I hopped onto the 8:30 KVCAP bus to Augusta with no problems. There was one other gentleman waiting for the same bus, and we struck up a nice conversation.
I informed the bus driver that I was going to the Concord Coach terminal, and asked her whether the drop-off point was in front of the doors. She told me that she would be able to drop me off directly in front of the terminal entrance. She did, and I entered the building with no difficulty. As I walked through the terminal, the head clerk asked me if I needed help, and directed me to the counter, where I purchased a ticket for the 10:15 bus to Portland. I asked him if it would be possible to have some assistance when I arrived in Portland. He told me that he would call the Portland terminal to let them know, and also let the bus driver know. I settled into a seat in the terminal to wait for the bus.
The next hour was filled with sounds of travelers arriving at the terminal. It got rather loud and busy inside the terminal. I always get excited in situations such as this – always have – and without the visual input to explain what was going on, I felt a little uneasy with all of the commotion around me. But the anxiety that I felt was very small compared to what it would have been just a few short months ago.
The bus departure was announced over the loudspeaker. I could hear where the passengers were leaving the terminal to catch the Portland bus, so I got up and started walking toward the doors. The head clerk approached me and told me he would be happy to help me get out through the doors and onto the bus. I told him I would appreciate the help, and was told to wait in the lobby, as he had to go out first and help the driver load the bags into the storage compartments of the bus.
I took a few more steps toward the doors, as I could see the light coming through them. As I approached them, a passenger asked me if I would like some help outside. I accepted his offer. The bus driver came up to me and introduced himself, and then offered his assistance. Once again, I accepted the offer, and soon found myself in the front seat, immediately behind the driver. I sat down and took a deep breath, and felt relaxed, as I had an hour to go before I arrived in Portland.
The bus pulled into Portland on time, and as soon as I exited the bus, a Portland terminal employee approached me, introduced himself, and said he would be able to help me out to the Portland Metro bus stop. I felt like I had cheated somehow – it seemed too easy. Having him guide me all the way out to the bus stop was very helpful, and I think I shook his hand 11 times as I thanked him.
As I stood at the stop, I felt a sense of accomplishment and a burst of pride. I felt like I was a million miles from home. It felt exhilarating, and scary, and unbelievably electrifying. I had been in Portland so many times in the past, but this was the first time I had felt like I was really "in" Portland. I felt a little overwhelmed with all of the sounds and smells. As I stood there, I realized that at that particular time, I was experiencing the end results of all of the hard work I had done in all of my lessons. I was being handed something new, and for the most part, I knew exactly what to do. It felt good, and new, and strangely appropriate.
As I waited for the 11:35 bus to the mall, a girl came up to the bus stop. I could hear her drop her heavy suitcase, and immediately asked her if she was taking the bus out to the mall. She said that she had been on the bus from Augusta with me, and that she was taking the bus out to the airport, and wasn't sure if it was the same bus that I was waiting for. The bus stop apparently had a placard on the inside wall that contains the routes and numbers of the bus line, and as she studied the information, she told me that we were waiting for the same bus. I smiled as another piece of the puzzle fell into place.
She told me that she was heading home to New Mexico, and had just finished her year at Colby College. I told her that I lived nearby Waterville. She seemed a little preoccupied, so I ended the conversation. As she told me that she needed to go back to the terminal to get some change, the bells from a nearby railroad track sounded. Once again I was hit with just how far from home I was, and how vulnerable I felt. This feeling didn't last long, as the sound of the approaching bus grew closer.
The bus pulled up to the stop, and the doors opened, with the driver shouting out to me, asking me if I was going to the mall. I smiled and hollered yes. As I approached the bus, he informed me that there was about a foot gap between the curb and the bus entrance. I thanked him as I climbed aboard. As I handed him the fare, he informed me that there were seats open on the left. I quickly made my way to an open seat. Just as I sat down, I felt a large bag plopping onto the seat to my right. It was the girl I had been chatting with at the bus stop. I smiled, sat back, and took another deep breath.
The bus ride to the mall was full of all types of audible excitement. The sounds of the air brakes, the city traffic, car horns, sirens, and the sounds of the passengers in the bus, it all sounded wonderfully busy to me. It sounded like I was heading to the mall, and as I smiled again, the loudspeaker bellowed, "Macy's, Maine Mall, next stop."
The bus stopped, and as I got up and moved toward the front, the driver asked me if I needed help exiting. I politely told him that I didn't. He again told me that there was about a foot gap between the bottom step and the sidewalk. I thanked him again as I navigated down the steps and out onto the sidewalk in front of Macy's.
I took several steps until I found the wall of the store. I turned and reached into my pocket for my digital recorder and my cell phone. I had recorded all the information that I would need for the trip, and quickly found the mall security phone number, which I called. I told the officer on the other end that I had arrived at the Macy's stop of the Metro route, and that I needed assistance to get into the mall and to the Apple store. After ending the call, I leaned onto my cane, and wondered if Rosemary was nearby, watching and waiting.
A few minutes later I heard the faint sound of keys jingling, and wondered if it was one of the security officers approaching. It was, and as I took his arm, I smiled again. The last piece of the puzzle took its place. I was on my way into the mall, and to the Apple store.
As we arrived at the store, he asked me if there was someone I was supposed to meet, and what they looked like. As soon as I described Rosemary, I heard her voice behind me. At that point, I started celebrating in my mind. The confetti and balloons started falling, and as the master of ceremonies congratulated me, I took another deep breath. I had made it. I had successfully thought out, planned, and carried out my last mobility lesson, the hardest, most gratifying lesson of all.
I thanked the officer, shook his hand, and turned my attention to Rosemary. She asked if I was hungry, and I told her I was. We made our way to the mall's food court, with her guiding me along the way.
We ordered sandwiches and found seats, and as we sat there and ate, I couldn't keep from wandering back through the past few hours. I tried to stay focused on our discussion, but I found myself thinking about making my way to Portland. I felt great, and as I took a deep breath, I was able to take in all of the sounds of the mall. I had grown up nearby, and had been in the mall a hundred times during my youth. I knew where I was, and how I got there, and it felt wonderful!
We talked and ate our sandwiches, and then made our way back to the Apple store, where we got information on some of the apps that are available for their products. I also got the chance to play a little with a new iPad. The store was alive with the sounds of technology.
As we left the store, and headed outside to Rosemary's car, I actually got a small sad feeling that the lesson was finished. I realized that we still had an hour and a half ride back to Waterville, but the lesson felt like it had come to an end.
The ride home was full of discussion about the lesson, the past year and a half, and all of the things that blended in between. Rosemary told me several times how proud of me she was, and how confident I looked as I stepped off the bus at the mall. After hearing this from her and from others, it is starting to sink in. The scared little boy is starting to look and feel like a competent, capable man. I need to remember where that boy has been, and all that he has felt, been scared of, and overcome. I can never let myself forget how far I have come, and will hopefully never lose focus on how much farther I still have to go.
I realize that every time I leave home, I will embark on a new mobility lesson. All of the variables of the day will continue to come cascading in on my world. I also realize that I am no longer fearful of the unknown. I am ready, willing and able to tackle the rest of my life, one mobility lesson at a time.
I can never properly express my thanks to the division for these learning opportunities, and for having such a wonderful instructor as Rosemary placed in my path. I am where I am today because of her devotion, steadfast drive, determination, and wonderfully natural guiding instincts. I am blessed to have been given the chance to work with her, and have grown quite fond of the comfortable feeling of knowing that she has always been just a few steps behind me, ready to teach, praise, and steer me straight.