Last week, I reviewed Mobility Matters by Amy Bovaird. This week, I am pleased to introduce a guest post by Ms. Bovaird, in which she takes a trip down memory lane to describe how night blindness led her into a very unique situation.
With a quick wave to my housemate, I stepped out of the car. Early commuters sat on the bench under the flickering streetlights with the transit map behind them. Someone pointed and the bus lumbered into view. They fell into line just as the door opened. Hoisting my teaching bag over my shoulder, I showed the driver my pass and took a seat. Ingram Park Mall became smaller and disappeared altogether as the bus turned toward Loop 410. I settled in for the ride. My stop was last—Lackland Air Force Base.
This time of day no one said much but come afternoon, Spanglish—a mixture of Spanish and English typical of the southwest—would flow.
We arrived at the main gate before the sun did. A handful of servicemen got off the bus, all dressed in uniform. As a civilian teaching English to the international military, I wore typical teaching attire – with a conservative bent out of respect for differing roles women play in other cultures.
To make it to the international teaching wing at the west end of base, it normally took about twenty minutes at the clip I moved—not too bad considering the darkness, my biggest obstacle. . My route included passing headquarters, then the Air Force basic training compound with early morning recruits out with their squadron, and finally over to the Defense Language Institute. I looked down so the glare from the streetlights wouldn’t throw me off. What would happen if I got turned around? Fortunately, it hadn’t happened yet.
I was going over that morning’s first lesson in my head when the voice of a training instructor—the TI—blasted through the calm. The airmen’s cadence immediately echoed in the still morning. Accustomed to the recruits’ early morning regimes, I shouldn’t have been startled. As a training base, Lackland served as the funnel for every single recruit joining the Air Force. They did basic training in San Antonio and then headed out to their specified training bases.
Traipsing to the Language Lab and back to our classrooms, teachers and students watched trainees go through intricate marching drills, starting in the pre-dawn hours and lasting all day. I sometimes stopped where I was on the sidewalk to watch them pass by. Once I even saw a straggling mismatch of incoming airman before they received their uniforms or had their hair cut. The TI shouted his training cadence so loudly, it came through the open classroom windows. Noticing the profanity, we shut the windows—but not before my military students guffawed. I guess there are some military universals shared around the world.
That morning I didn’t have time to dwell or admire anyone. The cadence increased in volume. I turned my head to the left, expecting to see them come from their barracks—as they usually did. No group from that direction. Where were they? The voices I respected so much suddenly sounded … loud. Scary. Threatening. Close. My stomach clenched. My breath came in pants. I froze. I had to move. Somewhere. I turned the corner and immediately realized I’d made a big mistake. There was no sidewalk. Before I could cross the road, they were upon me!
I was engulfed within the group, entangled in the arms and feet of their cadence. Amazingly, no one tripped or slowed down. I felt like a fly being swatted from airman to airman. When they shouted “Right, right!” I landed left, left. Somehow I got caught in the ninety degree precise turns of their steps and was assaulted by swift moving knees.
Then I wisened up, changed directions and tried to match my steps with theirs. In short, I had to fit in. So I swung my arms and picked up a few words from the drill sergeant. Every now and again, my voice joined theirs. As I paraded down the street along with the new trainees, it seemed that I was a part of that mismatched group from a week’s earlier.
In step, we turned once. A second quick turn. I inched my way to the outside of the formation until finally, freed myself! A few of the less disciplined men at the back turned to stare at me. They doubled over with laughter. One skinny man saluted. Then the column moved forward and out of my view.
For a moment, I stood where I was—too shocked to do anything. The event replayed in my mind. How had that TI missed me? Or had he? Maybe the rule was, don’t stop stay in step unless the TI gave the word.
Pull yourself together. Where was I? Turned around, for sure. A couple of minutes later, I found the nearest crossroads but it was still too dark to read the sign. Finally the sun came up, enabling me to figure out how to reach the language part of the training base.
In the parking lot of my building, a student dressed in his country’s uniform called out, “Good morning, mom!”
Other privates echoed his greeting. I wasn’t his mother or any of their mothers for that matter. Nervy for someone of that rank. Did I look that old or were they merely homesick?
It didn’t hit me until I turned the knob of my classroom door that the students had actually greeted me with the respectful, “Ma’am.”
Neither “Mom” nor “Ma’am” suited me as I crossed the training base and got stuck in that pre-dawn marching cadence on my walk across base. Recently diagnosed and just thirty, had anyone mentioned a cane to me then, I wouldn’t have taken them seriously. At that stage, finding my way in the dark seemed more of a humorous quirk than any big concession or change to my life.
Amy Bovaird taught English as a Second Language in Latin America, South East Asia and the Middle East. Today she’s a vision-impaired author, educator and inspirational speaker. In her memoir, Mobility Matters, she steps out of denial and into faith as she chronicles her progress in cane training with a completely blind instructor. She’s currently penning her new memoir, Cane Confessions: The Lighter Side to Mobility.