What Getting Out of a 'Ketchup Jam' Taught Me About Blindness


I waited in the bustling line at the café, passing an equally long line of fancy pastries. This place was famous for their homemade pastries. My friend was already at a table, with coffee. The pastries all looked different, but with my blurry eyes, it was hard to make out how, much less read the names, and most importantly, the price. I was starving and wanted all of them. But every quarter mattered.

How much can I ask without pissing the barista off, or the other starving, cranky people behind me? I remembered seeing jam on the counter once, when I was messing with their condiments. Brilliant! I could buy a whole baguette for cheap and slather it all with jam! I asked, “Do you guys bake your baguettes too?”

“Yeah, we do!”

“Cool! And could you guys cut the bread long-ways?” I asked, worried she’d get irritated.

“Sure! Do you want it heated up?”

“Why not?” I hadn’t even considered it. Emboldened, I asked, “Is the jam homemade?”

“Yes it is! It’s right there on the counter.” Wow, people in the Bay pay a fortune for fancy toast! And I bet theirs isn’t even homemade! I forked out jam by the tons on one half of the baguette. Bet y’all didn’t know you could make toast out here! Although, what else can you do with jam? I imagined ordering it. And I would like it with extra, extra jam. Just keep it coming. Put it on the card. I’ll let you know when to stop. I moved onto the other half, scooping from a bright red jar. No single jam can satisfy a man of such unwavering indulgence. I splattered bright red jam on the naked baguette. Oh, the carnage!

I was ready to devour when a smell of ketchup filled my nostrils. Why does this jam smell like ketchup? Looking closer, I realized my toast had a sloppy layer of ketchup on it. In case anyone was watching, I played it cool. I tried it. Maybe it’ll be like a big old French fry. It was not. It was just a mouthful of ketchup. My toast feast had been cut tragically in half and the smell of raspberry jam and ketchup was so weird.

I looked for a bussing station or the trash, but no luck. I prayed my friend wouldn’t notice. But as soon as I sat, she asked, “Did you put ketchup on your toast? Is that a thing?”

“Oh… I just thought it was jam.”

“Why don’t you return it?”

“It’s cool,” I said, changing the subject. But I hadn’t even thought of that. Can you even do that? I used to never return things. Somewhere inside, many blind people feel we’re already a huge burden on the service industry, and lucky to have anything. So how could I be so ungrateful and return something? But slowly, I’ve gained the audacity. It started with things that were clearly defective. Sorry, there’s a lot of hair in my burrito. Then, messed up orders. Sorry, I asked for waffles, not pancakes. Each step with new fears of judgy responses. Recently I graduated to returning bed sheets, simply because they weren’t quite the color I had expected. But this was a whole other level.

Excuse me? I put ketchup on your bread. Could I get a new piece? So, you want us to give you a new piece because you put ketchup on it? Yes. Not even people who like ketchup on their bread would want this much ketchup. Or even: I put a gross thing on your delicious bread. Can I have a new piece? …or a Danish? So this is your fault, but we should take responsibility? But in these awful scenarios, I never imagined saying anything about being partially blind. Or saying the ketchup and jam could be more clearly marked. It’s like I subconsciously feel being blind is my fault.

Leaving, I got up to put my plate away. This time, after feverish scanning, I found the bussing station, relieved to no longer be The Ketchup on Toast Guy. “Uh,” my friend said, “you know you just threw that plate in the trash bin.”

“Oops,” I said, embarrassed again, but I left the plate in the trash. That’s the risk you take when you don’t mark your ketchups, jams, and bussing station, isn’t it?

Illustration by Kaitlyn Liang Kraybill-Voth.


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