It was a beautiful, sunny Texas day in November. I admit I didn’t much notice that, though, because I was late to class. I was nearly finished with the first semester of my junior year at UNT, and I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I wasn’t known for being the relaxed type back then.
OK, Mel, I thought. You can do this. Instead of taking my usual, longer route to class, I decided to cut through center campus. Despite my efforts to draw inner peace from the misting fountains by the library mall, my shoulders were tense with the presence of what seemed to be nearly a quarter of our student body populating the area, with no reason to convene aside from the gorgeous weather.
A group of girls was headed my way. We were sharing a relatively narrow path, so there wasn’t much time for me to slink off to the side and let them through.
One of them tripped on my cane. Hard.
Neither she nor her friends checked to see if I was OK; they just apologized, still giggling, and skittered away.
I was slack-jawed and spellbound. I wanted to scream at them for abandoning me, but no words came. This was a rarity for me, since back then I was affectionately known amongst my friends for being the blind girl with sidewalk rage.
So much for getting to class. How was I even going to get home? I knew my way around flawlessly, but without the security of a functional cane, my steps were halted and completely devoid of confidence amidst this sea of people. Not to mention that there were two street crossings between points A and B. And what could be done about my cane? How long would it take me to get a new one? Why had it never occurred to me to have a backup on hand? Suddenly I’d gone from being completely independent to completely helpless. I wanted to despise that girl for being able to navigate the campus with what seemed to be the utmost ease. I wanted to despise her for lacking the decency to rectify what I knew had been an accident at first but, now that she’d left me to my own devices, was starting to feel more like an act of carelessness. This was a matter of survival, however, and although I was devastated, I knew I hadn’t the time for that way of thinking.
Picking up the pieces of my cane, and what little I could of my dignity, I made my way to the nearest wall, then sat with my back to it and my knees drawn protectively against my chest. In tears, I called a mentor with the disabilities office and left her a desperate voicemail asking if she could send someone to walk me home. As I pressed “End,” I heard someone approach me.
“Are you OK?” asked a female voice that, though soft, held its own over the ambient noise of the crowd.
“Someone tripped over my cane and broke it,” I sobbed, wondering if my words were even intelligible and hating how weak I sounded and felt. “I know where I am, but I don’t think I can get home safely.”
“Can I help you?” she offered, then added with some urgency, “And can I please give you a hug?”
I pocketed my cell, picked up the remains of my cane once more and stood, however shakily. Feeling more than a little embarrassed by the situation, I was glad to hide my face in her willing shoulder for a moment.
“I’m Cortni, by the way,” she said, smiling as we broke contact.
“I’m Mel,” I replied through a lump in my throat, wiping the tears from my cheeks and trying desperately to keep fresh ones at bay. “Thank you. I had no idea what to do.”
“Where do you live, Mel?”
“Maple. We’re not far, actually.”
“Not at all! I go to Wesley a lot, and it’s pretty much right next door.”
Cortni came to my side and offered her elbow, like she’d done it a thousand times, and together, we headed south toward my dorm, chatting all the way. I wasn’t sure why all this had happened, exactly, but my gratitude for the love and kindness of a stranger, now a friend, overrode my momentary self-pity. Cortni and I had little contact after that, but I’ll never forget what she did for me.
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