Saturday, February 14, 2009

Putting On: Why do I DO That?

or, Machinations of an Immature Mind

I have forgotten my glasses, and knitting without them makes me see double after awhile. So I sit there knitting with my eyes closed. It isn’t difficult at all; knitting is tactile anyway, and the pattern is simple knit-and-purl.

After a few moments, a woman crosses the waiting room and sits beside me. “That’s a beautiful scarf you’re knitting,” she says.

“Why, thank you.”

“Um, I notice, well, that you – knit with your eyes closed. It’s really astonishing what people can do who – can’t see.”

“Oh, I can see,” I say. It’s only after the words are out I realize my blunder, because now what excuse do I have for knitting with my eyes closed? Showing off? I forgot my glasses and knitting without them makes me cross-eyed? That’s the truth, but it sounds so lame. “I have my sight, God be thanked," I say, "but it’s just – well, I’m not quite used to it yet, and sometimes it’s just easier to do things the way I always did before.”

Oh! That’s wonderful! How long have you been able to see?”

“Oh, it’s going on a year now,” I lie. “But you know, it takes some getting used to. I mean, when I first recovered from the operation, I could see everything, but I didn’t know what anything was. I could look at a triangle, for example, but I had to feel it first to recognize it as a triangle. Just because I knew what it felt like didn’t mean I knew what it looked like. And the same with everything else. Soft, for instance. I couldn’t tell a thing was soft just by looking at it. Still can’t, always.”

“Yes, that makes sense. I remember the man in the Bible who was born blind, and when he got his sight and people asked him what he saw, he said, men like trees, walking around.”

“That’s it. It takes a while to correlate sight and touch. Sight and sound, too. Once…”

Okay, so this didn’t really happen. It was a 15-second figment of my imagination while I was knitting at home with my eyes momentarily shut. But a few years ago, I would have put this one into action! It’s called amusing yourself at someone else’s expense. You rationalize it by saying it isn’t really at anyone else’s expense, because what harm have you done him? Unless of course you are stupid enough to ‘fess up afterward, like the time at the end of the evening when you admitted you hadn’t grown up in the circus after all, had never tamed a single lion. (Your dad hadn’t trained seals, either, and your mom, far from walking tightropes, was scared of heights.) Or the time you showed up at the fraternity party in a borrowed mink, with coats-of-arms sewn onto your white gloves (white gloves at a frat party!), talking in a phony accent, and had yourself introduced around as “Duchess Karolina Theodora vom Hausen Mecklenburg”, and that guy broke off his engagement to date you and tracked you down and uncovered your true identity. But you’ve learned your lesson by now; you would never be dumb enough to confess the lie again, nor ever give out enough information to let yourself be tracked down. You do that and people do get their feelings hurt. But you don't do that now. So where’s the problem? (It doesn’t occur to you that you’ve mentally demoted the person to the status of a toy.)

I inherit it! That’s my excuse. I’m reminded of a time we visited our grandparents’ house. The man next door came to get advice from Mom, because we had owned our poodle a long time, and he had only had his a few months. He was very worried about her. “She never barks,” he said. “She seems okay otherwise, but she just never, ever barks, and we don’t understand. Do you have any idea what’s wrong?”

“Well, Martin,” said Mother, looking very serious, “how old was Fou-fou when you brought her home?”

“Seven weeks.”

“Then that’s the problem. You took her away from her mother too early. You see, that period right in between 8 and 10 weeks, that’s when the mother dog teaches her puppies how to bark. And your puppy missed that crucial time. So I doubt she will ever bark. If I were you, though, I wouldn't worry about it.”

He departed, thanking Mom profusely, and about half an hour later, Grandma called to her from another room. “Barbara, what on earth did you tell Martin Harris?”

“I told him he adopted his puppy before she had learned to bark.”

“Well, you’d better get over here and have a look out the window.”

So Mom went and looked. And there was Mr. Harris in his yard, on all fours, facing his dog and barking at her!

You see? I inherited it. These things just sort of slip out of our mouths before we quite know it and and then we're in the soup.

Lord, have mercy!

P.S. The fraternity brother did get back with his betrothed, and married her.