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August 4th, 2006

05:20 pm
Carroll Center, Part I

I really wanted to do updates from the Carroll Center, but it just didn’t work out. There wasn’t any internet access in the dorm. They had internet in the main building, but it was only open during regular business hours, Monday through Friday. I could have been a bitch and hogged up a computer every day, but computers were limited and there were people who were actually doing homework and other serious stuff. It didn’t seem right for me to take up a machine so I could screw around. But when I go back in the fall, I promise to not be so nice.

So, it turned out that the State was sending another person to the Carroll Center at the same time as me, so I had some company on the plane. Luckily, my traveling companion didn’t end up being a total nut job. His name was Steve. He’s about my age and is a pretty funny guy. He had a good sense of humor and put up with my smart-assery extremely well, so that makes him OK in my book.

The trip was interesting. I had been kind of nervous about dealing with airports and cabs and such without having sighted help with me. But it ended up not being as traumatic as I expected. I had spent a lot of time stressing myself about it, but when the time came, I was totally calm and at ease. My “inner Klingon” took over and I was completely fearless. It was cool. I guess I should explain this “Inner Klingon” crap. (WARNING” lengthy Star Trek nerd analysis ahead.)

After the second eye surgery when I realized that I was going to have a significant and permanent vision loss, I spent a couple of months at home working my way through the grieving process. I’m not gonna lie. I was really depressed. I cried, I slept a lot, I cried some more and I watched Star Trek reruns on Spike TV all day. They show 2 episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and 3 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s awesome. I am a total DS9 freak. It was far and away the best Star Trek spinoff. TNG was more commercially successful and I enjoy it too, but I am DS9’s bitch. I love it. Best. Spin-off. Ever!

So while I was going through this moping phase, there happened to be a string of a lot of Klingon-centric episodes from the last 2 or 3 seasons of DS9. I had never been a fan of the Klingons before and I had actually always dreaded the Klingon-centric episodes. All the talk about honor and “it is a good day to die” stuff used to get on my nerves. I found the Klingons blood-thirst and bravado to be boring. But during my mope-fest, I was suddenly fascinated by them and couldn’t get enough of them. It was strange. I found myself wishing I had the courage of a Klingon warrior. They were fearless in battle, no matter the odds and their courage and passion during battle got them through everything. I know, it’s TV and the underdog always wins, but still I was very taken with the Klingon storylines and started finding things that I could relate to..

I was especially interested in General Martok, a one-eyed warrior who is commander of the Klingon forces in the war with the Dominion and ultimately becomes the leader of the Klingon High Counsel. There is a story arc about him where he is rescued from a Dominion prison where he had been held for two years. (It really doesn’t matter if you have no idea what I’m talking about. Just plow on. There is a point. I promise.) Anyway, Worf busts Martok out of prison and takes him back to DS9. He takes command of a Klingon battle cruiser, but his ordeal in prison and the seemingly overpowering strength of the Dominion forces leaves Martok feeling that the war is hopeless and not worth fighting, (Kind of how I was feeling about being blind. Is this starting to make any sense yet?) Martok keeps his ship from becoming involved in battles with the Dominion and his crew starts to doubt his courage. To make a long and nerdy story short, Worf calls Martok out for being a coward, Martok pulls himself together and he reverts back to the fearless, hell-raising, fighting machine that a true Klingon warrior should be. He takes his ship into battle against 3 Dominion ships and returns victorious. After confronting his demons, Martok is all business and is pivotal in helping the Federation defeat the Dominion.

So that’s where this notion of my “inner Klingon” started to come together. There is a scene on DS9 where Martok says something to the effect of “The toughest enemy to face is one’s own fear.” I realized that a lot of my depression and moping around the house was linked to fear. There were also some feelings of loss that I was dealing with, but fear was the biggest factor in my refusal to take any action to help myself. I was afraid of not being able to do things and having to start from scratch and learn everything over again. It was overwhelming and it seemed like there was just too much to take on. Then I saw the Martok story arc and I began to re-evaluate my situation and decided to put up a fight.

This is the exact moment when I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started to look at my options. I found out about the Carroll Center, got the admissions process underway, started working with a mobility instructor and most importantly, went back to work. Instead of telling myself that I couldn’t do my job anymore, I found a way to do it. I learned to touch type, got some adaptive software for my computer and did the best I could. I was slow an inefficient, but at least I was giving it my best. I wasn’t avoiding the battle anymore.

I am willing to acknowledge that this whole Klingon thing and its relationship to my own life is pretty dorkified and probably sounds nuts. But, I don’t care. This is honestly what went through my head and is what got me off the couch. I’m no expert on the grieving process and adjustment to blindness, but I would guess that everyone has some little trigger that gets them going and turns the tide from total misery into hope and motivation. This just happened to be my trigger. It’s what I needed at the time and it worked for me. And I still use that trigger when I am faced with a challenge that causes my doubts and fears to resurface. For me, adjusting to blindness has been a constant series of challenges and problems that bring about varying levels of fear and anxiety. My first instinct is to give up and go take a nap. For the first couple of months, that’s what I did. But now, whenever I start to feel like this, I think about Martok. Then my blood starts to burn with the fire of a Klingon warrior and I find the courage and resolve that I need to tackle the challenge. For whatever reason, it keeps me going. And, really, I’m fine. I don’t need to be committed. Therapy, perhaps. But I’m not as nuts as this Klingon crap sounds. I know it’s just a TV show and I’m not going to go to a Star Trek convention and stand up in front of a room full of Trekkers and tell a weepy story about how Star Trek saved my life. (Yes, I actually saw that happen back in the day when I went to conventions.) I’m just saying, it kind of kick started my brain back into rationality. Rationality is good.

Wow, I really got myself off track there, eh? And I have totally outed myself as a ginormous nerd. Any lingering doubts that there may have been about my nerdish leanings have been completely obliterated. Oy. I never intended for that Klingon analysis to become public and I’m not really comfortable with leaving it in the final draft. But I think I will go ahead and leave it in. I think it will be good for me to get that out in the open even though I feel I am going to hear a lot of crap about it. Be warned. If you give me crap about this, I will have my inner Klingon kick your ass.

So we made it to Boston without too much trouble. It’s uncomfortable having to rely on assistance from strangers. We had airport employees help us change planes and find luggage and that kind of stuff. I was conflicted about it. I felt kind of helpless and stupid. But there wasn’t any way around it so I decided to go with the flow and convinced myself that it wasn’t a big deal and that everyone in the airport wasn’t staring at the freak show that Steve and I were creating. Plus, the assistance does have its share of upside. I barely touched my luggage because it was being toted around for me. I was the first person on the plane and got to take the prime space in the overhead compartment. And best of all, I got whisked to the front of the huge line at security. So you see, blindness does have its perks.

The only area where I couldn’t get over feeling stupid was having to ask for assistance finding bathrooms. In fact, I felt so stupid about it that I didn’t ask while we were in Dallas. So of course I was about to pee on myself about half way between Dallas and Boston. There was no way I was going to be able to hold it so my inner Klingon went into battle mode. I tied my headphone wire around the arm of my chair so I could identify my seat on the way back then I got up and groped my way to the back of the plane. I kept bouncing off people but I didn’t let myself worry about it. That’s what they get for letting their fat asses spill over into the aisle, right? I came across a flight attendant at the back of the plane who pointed me to the right door. It took me forever to figure out how to flush the toilet. I was so frustrated because flushing a toilet is something that I used to do without thinking about it. But here I was spending several minutes trying to figure it out. Everything is a struggle now and it really pisses me off. Anyway, I finally found the button by accident when I was looking for the trash can for my paper towel. The button is right next to the trash can rather than being somewhere logical, like next to the toilet. Go figure. With that ordeal out of the way I made my way back to my seat which I found with ease thanks to my headphone trick. I was so relieved to be back in my seat. I still can’t get over how stressful the simplest tasks can be now. I really hope I can learn to deal with stuff without stressing myself out so much.

It seems silly but, I was totally exhillerated by that little trip to the bathroom. I was entirely too pleased with myself. This is a disturbing trend I have noticed about myself as I adjust. I get so excited over doing things that used to be everyday routine tasks. But I took on a little challenge and succeeded. It’s the little successes that give me the confidence to take on bigger things. It’s amazing how much confidence I got from something as simple as going to the bathroom. It felt great. It turned out to be a good thing for me since it kind of set the tone for my stay at the Carroll Center.

We had a really awesome cab driver who took us to the Carroll Center. He was very chatty and asked a lot of questions about Carroll. Somehow he got off into talking about fishing. I wish I had been paying more attention but I was distracted by all the scenery blurring by and by the driver’s cool Boston accent. I totally felt like a slack-jawed yokel who was visiting the big city for the first time.

When we got to the dorm, a dorm supervisor showed me to my room. The first thing that jumped out at me is that she didn’t offer me her arm when she was showing me to my room. She gave verbal directions but left me to work out the stairs and other obstacles on my own. It was a message right from the bat that this place was all about encouraging independence. I fell in love with the place almost instantly.

I spent some time in my room unpacking and getting settled. I was in a double room, but fortunately, I had the room to myself. I staked a claim to the better side of the room and got settled. Once it became clear to me that I would not be getting a roommate for the entire stay, I spread out and made myself at home. The room felt just like my old room in Lottie Jane Mabee Hall at TU. I had a little flashback moment every time I went into the room. It was about the same size, had the same institutional furniture and it even smelled like my room at TU. It wasn’t glamorous, but it felt very comfortable to me.

In fact the whole campus kind of reminded me of TU, I guess because the buildings were so old and had lots of character. The property at one time was part of a large estate. The original buildings were built in the 1800’s. The dorm was originally a house built as a wedding gift to the estate owner’s son. It has been renovated some, but it still has many of the original fixtures and has an old feel to it. There are wood floors in the common areas and a big main staircase with elaborate wood banisters. There are also weird hidden staircases and lots of interesting nooks and crannies. It’s a great building.

The main building was originally the horse barn and carriage house. It has been renovated to suit the needs of the Carroll Center with offices and class areas and such, but again, many of the original features were kept in tact. There are horse stalls on one end of the first floor which are used as cubicles for some of the instructors and as meeting rooms. One of the stalls houses all the computers and another has a sliding door that has been added to create a small classroom. The original iron rings that were used to tie down the horses are still there and there are plaques with the horses’ names above each stall. The cafeteria was originally the horse birthing room. It is all really cool and interesting. It was an enjoyable place to stay.

After unpacking, I headed downstairs to find out about dinner. There were some other people hanging around. They had all been at Carroll for a while and the first thing I heard was some grumbling about the night’s dinner. They all opted to order something for delivery. I should have taken the hint, but I was to busy adjusting to my surroundings to try and figure out the delivery options. I took the food provided by the Carroll Center. It was a chicken breast in some sort of mystery sauce. There was also a side of noodles and some vegetables. The chicken was OK. The sauce was unidentifiable, but the chicken was pretty moist. The noodles were strange. They were just plain noodles that had been boiled in water and nothing more. No seasoning. No sauce. Nothing. I scraped the mystery sauce from the chicken into the noodles but it really didn’t help. The veggies were bland too. The dining experience was not off to a spectacular start.

Some of the non-newbies assured me that the food was better during the week. The problem was that for weekend meals, the cafeteria made up stuff on Friday that the dorm supervisors could heat up on the weekends. That meant that they didn’t get too elaborate because it had to be easy to reheat and serve. This assessment of the food turned out to be true. It wasn’t bad when it was fresh and served in the cafeteria. In fact, for institutional food, it was great. They made some really good soups. I really enjoyed the beef stew. It was fantastic. The chili was nice too. So, much to my relief, I did not starve.

I slept pretty well the first night. I woke up at 4:30 to find myself curled up in a little ball and freezing my ass off. It got down into the fifties that night. Not a big deal, but my window wouldn’t close all the way and I didn’t think to ask for a blanket. I put my jacket over my legs and went back to sleep. I got a blanket the next day but I never needed it.

That first night was the coolest of my stay. It got really hot and I went from hunting down blankets to being very thankful that there was a floor fan in my room. I quickly discovered that there was no air conditioning in the dorm. It got pretty miserable. I would have died without the fan. There were a couple of nights where I just couldn’t stop sweating and therefore couldn’t sleep. I started taking cold showers before going to bed. My understanding of the air conditioner situation was that it wasn’t a big priority since it only got hot enough to need it a few weeks a year, Seems nuts to me, but I guess if I lived there and was used to it, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But I wasn’t used to it. I’m an Okie. It’s hot here and we have air conditioning everywhere. Clearly I have been spoiled because everyone who was from the area seemed to think the lack of air conditioning was normal. Freaks.

And now I’m going to have to take a break. This is turning out to be much longer than I ever imagined. This is page 5 of a single spaced Word document and I’ve barely scratched the surface about my experience. I’ve got 4 more pages already that I’ll include in part 2. I just decided y’all would rather read part of the story now instead of waiting on me to finish the whole thing. So, I apologize for the abrupt interruption in my saga, but check back soon for part 2 where I’ll talk about my classes, instructors and some of the people I met. It shouldn’t be much of a delay since a good chunk of the rest of the story is already written.