by Janet Di Nola Parmerter
For independent blind people and those with low vision, using a white cane has numerous advantages. However, before being trained to use mine, I experienced many tragic yet humorous situations which I called “comical sagas of my fear of white canes.” Thankfully, I smartened up enough to realize I needed proper mobility training, and now, I always use the white cane, or my proverbial “white knight in shining armor!”
Nevertheless, the introduction to a humorous article I wrote some years ago, called, “There Are Two Sides to Every Ski Button Story,” explains my past reasons for not wanting to use a white cane.
But, in the past, after finally agreeing to mobility training, incredibly, or perhaps I should say stupidly, I still refused to use the cane. Thus, over and over again, when my caring and persistent friend Kim saw me, she repeatedly asked, “Janet, where is your cane?” Kim had not been intentionally trying to shame me, but her continuous question virtually embarrassed me into realizing how foolish I had been acting.
Unfortunately, with this issue, it took a few bad experiences to fully convince me to constantly use my cane. Why? Because I kept thinking, “That didn’t happen just because I didn’t have a cane. Next time, I’ll do that better and it will work out.” At that time, I didn’t know the saying, “Only a fool does the same thing over and over and expects a different outcome.”
From youth, my Italian grandparents always told me, “Hai una testa dura!” Which literally translates into, “You have a hard head!” More or less that idiomatic phrase means someone is a very determined, tenacious, and yes, stubborn person. Not that having a “hard head” is limited to Italians, but I know one stubborn Italian from New Jersey, who, after he slid off a roof onto his head, boasted with pride, “The sidewalk cracked, but not my head!”
Speaking of roofs, a prior article I wrote after falling through one was initially titled, “Determination to Bathe.” Fittingly, THAT article summed up my strong-minded, persistent, and perhaps a tad stubborn personality. With three plaster casts on both legs and one arm, against the doctor’s advice, I tried to invent new ways to wash, while TRYING to keep all three casts dry. Humph! Maybe I really am a “testa dura!” (Dr. Hammerschlag, my orthopedic surgeon, certainly thought so.)
In any case, some Italians would say being a testa dura makes us strong and others would say it makes us stubborn. Yet, looking back on the humorous situations in my life, I can testify from experience, sometimes it simply makes us look dumb. If Dr. Hammerschlag were asked for a second opinion, I’m sure he would agree with that diagnosis.
Now, I do not go anywhere without my trusty white cane. However, before I learned that lesson, I experienced the following “ship shaped or ship shocked” situation. While Keith and I were on our two-week European honeymoon, my cane issues created another uncomfortable, yet humorous situation. Was it the fear of looking vulnerable? Was it vanity, or just plain stupidity? Whatever I was thinking at the time, I still had trepidation about using a white cane.
In 2000, my new husband and I left Venice via an Italian cruise liner, on our way to the gorgeous Greek islands. That first moonlit night on deck, with the speed of the ship and the cool June breeze, it was a bit chilly. Keith, my ever-considerate husband, offered to return to the cabin and bring me back a woolen shawl to wrap around my thin summer evening gown. Yes, he is definitely sweet and considerate, but, since I also wanted to change into more comfortable dancing shoes, I suggested he wait for me on deck. After a quick shoe switch, I touched up my make-up, dabbed on more French perfume, reapplied my ruby red lipstick, and took off to dance the night away with my new hubby.
When I returned to the deck, I found Keith with folded arms leaning on the ship rail. In deep thought, he was pensively staring out to sea. Deviously, I snuck up behind him, slipped my arm past his bent elbow, laid my head on his shoulder and in a sultry voice said, “So, what do you want to do now?”
Gently, in a warm tender manner, he slid his hand over mine and slowly whispered, “I not know, what YOU want do?”
Hearing this deep voice with a foreign accent, I immediately jerked my hand and arm away from him, whipped up my head toward his face, and stared up at the grin of a wide-eyed smiling stranger.
In a second, with a blood-curdling scream, simultaneously I pulled my body away from him as though I had been struck by an electric shock. The scream was so loud, people thought someone fell into the Adriatic Sea. While people rushed to look overboard, I pulled away from this shocked stranger and yelled, “You’re not my husband! You’re not my husband!” With a wide smirk, he stroked my arm and in broken English snickered, “No, I not husband!”
With my embarrassed red face, I backed away from him with arms wildly flailing side to side like a woman who was ready to be bad, but just repented and changed her mind. I stammered, “I’m sorry, um, I’m so sorry! I’m on my, um, honeymoon, and I thought you were my husband! I’m sorry, um, I’m married, and I mean I just got married! Oh, REALLY, I’m so sorry! Um, oh my, what I am trying to say is this is my honeymoon and, umm, anyway, ciao!” In a split second I whirled around and fled like Cinderella when the clock struck midnight.
Embarrassed and annoyed, I left, muttering, “If I only had my white cane, there would be nothing to explain! Without a word, Mr. X would have immediately understood the entire awkward situation, and I would not have been stammering like a babbling idiot!” Still angry with myself, I thought, “What is wrong with me? If I only used my cane, everything would have been fine.”
Frantically looking side to side, I nervously tightened my shawl, wondering if Keith had seen me snuggle up to this want-to-be more than friendly foreigner. What a relief when I found Keith on the other side of the ship, facing the opposite direction, oblivious to everything. Drink in hand, he was peacefully sitting at a table.
Keith was ready to relax and enjoy the quiet music and evening ambiance, so we slid two lounge chairs together and stretched out. Well, at least I tried to relax, but, since that was the first evening of a seven-day cruise, my thoughts caused me some apprehension about the possibility of facing Mr. X aboard ship. In my mind I rationalized, “Why should I worry, I have no idea what he even looks like.” Within a few minutes, I talked myself into a calm state of serenity.
Feeling a bit more at ease, I sat back on the deck lounge chair and from a fluted glass, sipped a refreshing prosecco and peach bellini. Seconds later, my anxiety waned, and I totally convinced myself to be unconcerned about the earlier shocking ship shenanigans.
Putting our lounge chairs into reclined positions, we silently gazed up at the stars and held hands like two school children. With Vivaldi playing in the background, and a second bellini, it proved to be a stunning end to a disconcerting beginning. Soon, I relaxed, closed my eyes and enjoyed the cool sea air fanning across my cheeks.
As much as I tried to control my thoughts, slowly, they drifted back to the humiliating event earlier in the evening. Over and over, my confused stammering comments raced around my mind and “You’re not my husband, I just got married, I’m on my honeymoon.” “You’re not my husband!” “You’re not my husband!” kept screaming through my brain.
All these uncontrolled thoughts put me into the overpriced expensive Italian shoes of Mr. X. Now, what was he thinking? What could he have possibly thought of me? What could he have … oh no! Immediately, I opened my eyes, sat up, and came to the realization of what he probably imagined. Oh, I’m sure of it! He knew I just got married, and yes, he knew I was on my honeymoon, and yes, he probably felt very sorry for what he undoubtedly thought was that “pitiful drunk American, still on a bender because she doesn’t even know who she married or what her new husband looks like!”