by Michael Baillif
From the Editor: The following story appeared in Remember to Feed the Kittens, the sixteenth in our paperback series called the Kernel Books. It begins with President Maurer's introduction:
Michael Baillif is a past president of the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind. In his college years he received help through our scholarship program. Today he is a successful lawyer specializing in corporate taxes. He is employed by a major New York City law firm--which, by the way, sought out Michael's services because of his growing professional reputation in his specialty.
In his story, "A Roof With A View," Michael, who is still a young man, looks back to a time when he was an even younger man--fifteen to be exact. Fifteen and in love. At one level it is a delightful, lighthearted story. At another it expresses the poignant yearning of a young man who is blind for physical independence and spiritual self-sufficiency. Here is what he has to say:
I was fifteen years old when I fell in love for the first time. The condition of being fifteen years old and in love presents a variety of imperatives that cannot be ignored. Deep, heartfelt sighs, long solitary walks, and interminable conversations with friends all about "her" are among the rituals that must be observed.
I had become blind the year before and had not yet received meaningful training in the alternative skills needed to succeed as a blind person. Indeed I had never even met another blind person to whom I could look as a role model. Nevertheless, I was functioning reasonably well as a teenager in love.
One balmy summer evening I took it into my head that I should write some poetry and that the only place suitable for such a solemn and spiritual undertaking was on the roof of my house. This determination presented a challenge that was both frightening and exhilarating. The problem was straightforward: how to get onto the roof in the first instance and then, once there, how to get down again without suffering bodily harm.
Other issues presented themselves as well. I could not ask for help or advice in reaching my goal. In addition, my ascent to the roof had to be done in secret, thus avoiding the need for bothersome explanations. That's how it is when you're fifteen years old and in love.
As a result the simple expedient of dragging a ladder up to one end of the house and leaning it against the roof was out of the question. Instead more creativity was required. After much thought and exploration, I hit on the solution.
A trellis reaching to within a few feet of the roof ran along one corner of the house. I formulated a scheme whereby I would sneak a chair out of the kitchen and position it behind the trellis. I could stand on the chair and then jump up to catch the top of the trellis, on which there was a six-inch platform. From that precarious perch I could turn and pull myself up onto the roof.
I was satisfied that this approach allowed reasonable odds of achieving the rooftop. Nevertheless, still more logistical issues needed to be considered. First, the roof was a shingled A-frame roof that rose sharply from the eaves to the apex. The footing was uncertain, and there were a number of obstacles such as vents, antennae wires, and a chimney, all presenting hazards to the unwary.
Moreover, there was the question of how to get back down in some way other than a headlong crash. The trellis was only a few feet long; and, if I veered only slightly in either the ascent or descent from the pinnacle of the roof, I could miss it altogether and end up stranded.
I decided that these problems could best be solved through the use of a telescoping cane. It could be carried in my backpack as I climbed up the trellis and then taken out for use once I reached the roof. The cane would help me locate obstacles on the roof; and, when it came time for my return to terra firma, I could swing the cane over the edge of the roof until it located the trellis.
Generally I incorporated the cane into my day-to-day life as little as possible because it was a symbol of blindness with which I was not yet comfortable. Nevertheless, in this case I had a goal, and the cane was the tool that would allow me to achieve it.
After formulating my plans and drawing inspiration from one last thought of my beloved, I put the scheme into action. I sneaked the chair out of the kitchen without detection, and, but for a few perilous moments when I nearly tumbled helter-skelter over the opposite end of the trellis, I attained the roof.
Then, according to plan, I pulled out my cane and climbed cautiously to the roof's apex. There, taking care not to roll backwards down the other side of the roof, I found a comfortable and reasonably secure place from which to enjoy the evening and compose my poetry.
From the height of the rooftop and from my perspective as a fifteen-year-old, I surveyed the world and liked what I saw. I was in love; and, feeling the urge to climb the roof and write poetry, I had done so despite the fear and uncertainty that had been ever-present throughout the adventure.
Later I would need the guidance and support of my friends in the National Federation of the Blind to develop and mold this inherent desire for physical independence and spiritual self-sufficiency that yearned to come forth. But climbing the roof represented the first tentative steps along the path that would bring me into contact with these friends who I did not even know existed but whom I so desperately needed.
I wrote poetry late into that summer evening and would have labored longer except that the batteries in the tape recorder into which I was dictating my verses began to run low. Had I known then how to use a slate and stylus to write Braille, I might have stayed on the rooftop until sunrise.
After dictating some final lines into the dying tape recorder, I pulled out my cane and started the painstaking descent down the roof toward the trellis. Upon reaching the edge of the roof, I swung my cane over the side and held my breath; it touched nothing but air. I moved a few feet in one direction along the edge of the roof--still nothing! I then went back in the other direction and, to my vast relief, located the trellis with my cane. From there I completed my return to earth without incident.
At the time I was convinced that I carried off my entire adventure without my parents' notice. Although this may have been the case, as I now better understand the extent of my parents' wisdom, I suspect that they knew all along but simply kept their own counsel.
The last I heard, the object of my romantic attentions was somewhere in Australia, married to a fellow named "Mr. Wright." To this day, however, I can feel the touch of the warm evening breeze and hear the far-off sound of crickets and feel again the surge of triumph and satisfaction that I experienced that long ago summer night when I sat atop a roof composing poetry just like any other fifteen-year-old in love.