Braille Monitor April 2006
A Breakfast Moment
by Mark Taylor
From the Editor:
Mark Taylor has lived in California for twenty years, though he was born in
Kentucky. He owns a small business, is a professional musician, and serves as
a city commissioner in Redondo Beach. He also sits on the city’s Handicap Appeals
Though the following article is written as fiction, Mr. Taylor says that everything but the ending is autobiographical fact. He has told the story through the years but decided that the time had come to put it on paper. Sadly, his story is not unique, but perhaps it may help other families understand the impact of thoughtless cruelty on a blind child. Here it is:
“No, Mama!” the teary-eyed seven-year-old boy cries as his mother’s closed fist jets through the air towards him. “No!” She strikes his face hard, and he crashes backward into the wall.
“I’m sick of you,” she yells at the half-dazed child lying on the floor. “I’m so tired of having to watch you all the time because you can’t see. Why did you have to be born blind? What did I do to deserve this?”
She walks over to him. Sensing her approach, he instinctively raises his hands to defend against another blow. With desperation in his voice, her child pleads, “But I can see, Mama, just not as good as everybody else—I really can.”
His words make her stop,
unclench her fists, and think about what she is doing. She looks down at her
baby boy and sees fear—the fear she has caused—reflected in his face. She kneels
down, gently pulls him up towards her, and holds him. They cry together. She
says, sobbing, “I know you can see a little, but it’s not enough. You keep bumping
into things, hurting yourself, and breaking stuff. I get so tired. Sometimes
I wish you had never been born. At least then you wouldn’t suffer so, and I
wouldn’t have to see you suffer.”
Still crying, the boy pulls back from her saying, “But Mama, I’m not suffering. My eyes don’t hurt unless you hit me. I’m sorry I knocked over the coffee table again. I won’t do it anymore.”
Hello, God. I am sorry for not talking to you lately, but I’ve been so sad. I guess you already know I made Mama mad today when I knocked over a plant in the living room. I didn’t mean to do it. She keeps it so dark in there, and she’s always moving things around. I try to remember where everything is, but sometimes I forget when I’m running. I can see, though, I really can. I just can’t see as well as my brother and everybody else.
Please forgive me for making Mama mad today. Forgive her for hitting me. She doesn’t want to be so mean; she’s just mad at me for being blind. But I’m not really blind; I can see—just not as good as—well, you know.
I’ve been sad, God, because lately the kids in the neighborhood have been picking on me. You know, they throw rocks and hit me in the head, then they run just far enough away so I can’t see them. It’s not fair, God; it’s so not fair. Why can’t I see like everybody else, Lord? They say in church that you love everyone, but if that’s true, why don’t you let me see good? Don’t you love me like you love everyone else?
My brother runs away with the other kids, and when I ask him to tell me who threw the rocks, he won’t. I know it’s wrong to hate anybody, but sometimes I really hate my mother and my brother. She likes him better than me. She tells me that all the time. If I could see better, I would run away from this place.
She says it’s my fault that my father left. She says he blames her for giving birth to a “blind mutant.” What’s a blind mutant, Lord? Oh well, I guess it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, I guess I’m it. She says that I ruined her life and the life of my brother. Please forgive me for doing that, Lord, please. I didn’t mean to be born blind.
I wish my grandmother was still here. Why did you take her away? Is she happy now? If you don’t understand everything I’m saying, just ask her to explain it to you. She really understands. She knows I can see, but just not as well as everybody else. Tell her I said “hey.”
Tomorrow my aunts and cousins are coming to visit for a couple of days. I don’t like it when they’re here. Everybody always treats me like I’m stupid just because I can’t see well. I’ll be glad when they leave.
I love you, Lord. Goodnight.
“Okay,” his mother says, seating herself at the breakfast table, “everybody dig in.”
The boy, his mother, his
ten-year-old brother, his mother’s two sisters, and his four cousins are sitting
at a mahogany table in their cozy, low-ceilinged kitchen. He and the other five
children are wearing superhero pajamas. The three women wear simple dresses.
His mother’s older sister, whom he thinks of as “Big Aunt” because of her huge, mushy tummy, asks, “Who wants eggs?”
“I do,” he says eagerly lifting his plate towards her voice.
“Put that plate down, Boy,” his mother commands impatiently. “The last thing I need is to have to clean up something you knock over.” His cousins giggle. He immediately lowers his plate to the table, his appetite and enthusiasm for both the meal and his relatives draining away.
His mother’s younger sister, whom he thinks of as “Snooty Aunt” because of her incessant bragging about her husband and two little girls, her house, her gardener, her car, her jewelry, her clothes, her looks, her friends, her regularity, and anything else she can lay claim to says to him, “Just wait. We’ll get to you. Sit there and be still.”
The country-style kitchen is bathed in morning sunlight from the windows on either side of the table. At one end stands a vintage refrigerator and a large single sink. At the other end of the room stands a much-used four-burner gas stove beside a tall, glass-paneled china cabinet. The room is filled with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
Big Aunt begins ladling out mounds of hot scrambled eggs to his cousins, who to his and his brother’s disappointment are all girls. One of his cousins says, “Can someone pass the bacon?”
The plate of bacon begins its journey around the table. As it moves from person to person, its delicious cargo is reduced by two and three pieces at a time. As it approaches him, he raises his hand uncertainly to take a piece, but noticing this, his mother raises the plate and passes it to his brother instead. His mother says to his aunts, “He’s always trying to do things he can’t see well enough to do, and he’s always knocking things over.”
His youngest cousin, who is four, says to her mother, “That’s because he’s blinder than a bat, right, Mommy?”
Everyone, including the
adults, laughs. Well, not everyone; the embarrassed and hurt little boy doesn’t
laugh; no, he doesn’t laugh at all.
“There,” his mother says, setting his plate of bacon and eggs down in front of him. “Now try not to make a mess.” He picks up his fork and knife and slowly begins to eat his breakfast.
“Anyway,” Snooty Aunt says to his mother while putting a bite in her mouth, “you can see why I married a good, hardworking, educated man.” His mother lowers her head in shame.
“It’s not her fault,” Big
Aunt chimes in, “she always did make dumb choices and pick losers, even when
we were kids. Remember?”
Everyone is eating now, and except for the voice of each speaker, the boy hears only the sounds of utensils scraping against the thick, long-used plates. “Yeah,” Snooty Aunt replies. “Remember that time when she tried to cheat on the reading test in school? She copied the answers from the dumbest girl in class.” His cousins and brother laugh.
His four-year-old cousin
asks innocently, “Mommy, when are we going to the zoo so I can see what a black
sheep looks like?”
Big Aunt looks at her sharply and snaps, “Be quiet.”
“But Mommy,” the little one says, confused, “you said she’s the black sheep of the family, didn’t you?”
Six junior-size hands reach out to pick up six jelly jars of orange juice and tip them back towards six open mouths. After returning his glass to the table, his brother says, “Hey, where’s the toast?”
The rest of the children echo in unison, “Hey yeah.”
Seizing the opportunity
to remove herself from her sisters’ little stroll down memory lane, his mother
quickly walks over to begin dropping slices of bread into the toaster. Looking
back at her older son, she says, “Get the jelly out of the refrigerator,” and
Returning to the breakfast table, his mother sets a plate of hot toast beside two jars of jelly. Sitting back down next to him, she says, “Who wants strawberry jelly on their toast?” It’s my favorite.”
Big Aunt answers, “I’ll take the grape. I can’t stand that strawberry stuff you buy.” His cousins declare in humorous staccato, “Me too.”
Snooty Aunt says to his mother, “You never did have good taste in anything. Do you really like that strawberry stuff? Here, let me do that.” She takes the knife his mother was about to use, opens the jar of grape jelly, and begins spreading it on a slice of toast.
He can feel his mother’s embarrassment and uneasiness returning. She wants to say something in her own defense, but as always when dealing with her sisters, she does not. Snooty Aunt looks at his brother and says, “Ok, it’s your turn, my handsome, young nephew.
Which one do you want: the strawberry or the grape?”
His brother responds without hesitation, “The grape please. I don’t like the strawberry either.”
Finally, after taking care of everyone else, she looks at him and says triumphantly, “Ok, let’s see which one our little blind man will choose. Which one would you like? There are two jars of jelly in front of you. One is strawberry, and the other is grape. So which one will it be?”
Like everyone else but his mother, he hates strawberry jelly. Like everyone else he wants grape jelly. Unlike anyone else at the table, however, this belittled, berated and unwanted seven-year-old, visually impaired child can feel his mother’s pain; in that moment, that one incredible breakfast moment, he feels sorry for her and loves her.
After a pause he says with
absolute confidence, “I want the strawberry jelly. I can’t stand that grape
stuff. It’s disgusting. Once it even made me sick at my tummy. My mom knows
what’s best, and she and I always eat the best, and the best is strawberry,
not grape.” Snooty Aunt’s mouth falls open. His mother, for almost the first
time since his birth, takes his hand and doesn’t let go.
No one else ever understood what happened in that moment, that breakfast moment, as he came to think of it—no one but him and his mother. Even now, when he sits in his soft leather executive chair at the headquarters of the company he built, he finds himself thinking about it from time to time. No matter how many years go by, he remembers that breakfast moment and asks himself why, after all the cruel things she’d done to him when he’d needed her the most, he had sided with her.
“Because that’s the way love goes,” he whispers.
“Sir?” his executive secretary asks as she guides him through a dimly lighted five-star hotel lobby on the way to a meeting with his board of directors. “What did you say?”
“Oh nothing,” he says with a sigh, “I was just thinking about something that happened many years ago.”