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  • Writer's pictureShannon Reyenga

A Town This Size

In a town of this size there's no place to hide vision loss. In a smokey bar.. in the backseat of your car.. in your own little house, someone's sure to find you out...

It took 10 minutes into my second day of cane training for my neighbor to come out onto the cul-de-sac and ask how we were doing. This was not surprising. I was honestly surprised it didn’t happen sooner because of the town we live in.

A neighbor watching me cane train with my "cheap set of eyes" could have me as nervous as a long-tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But, I wasn’t phased. This is also because of the town I live in.

The retinas in my "cheap set of eyes" look like the one on the left. Many thanks to Christian Hamel and Mikael Häggström for providing these photos for redistribution and editing via Wikipedia Commons.

My husband and I live in the eleventh largest town in Arkansas. It is quite southern here. Sweet tea is not hard to come by and I get asked at least once a week what church I attend. Here, I also learned that not only is “y’all” a word, but “y’all’s” is also a word.

Between 80–90% of residents in Arkansas describe themselves as southerners. My town is no different. It seems like most people I meet subscribe to the ideals of southern hospitality, especially my neighbors. Southern Living magazine suggests a motto of the South is “what’s the hurry?’ This is because southerners “love company and, admittedly, talking, conversations with loved ones and guests are never rushed.” When I walk in the neighborhood, I can’t get very far without someone stopping me and asking how my day is going or asking about my dog. Even the mailman does this - I know our mailman well enough now that I know what breed of dog his daughter has.

My direct neighbors take it one step further. When I go out walking, they often invite me onto their porch to sit on a favorite chair and drink ice water. We talk about decorating our homes, restaurants in town and our families. Then, after a lengthy goodbye, my neighbor’s wife will bake us a chocolate cake to bring over in the evening and the whole process starts over again.

When you live in a small area with friendly talkative southern people, it becomes very difficult to go anywhere without seeing someone you know personally or by association. John Prine says it best in the song “A Town This Size

“In a town this size There's no place to hide Everywhere you go You meet someone you know You can't steal a kiss In a place like this How the rumors do fly In a town this size”

In a town of this size there is no place to hide cane training or my diagnosis.

I, admittedly, haven’t told everyone about my vision loss. The drama of announcing to someone I’m deaf and going blind has been a little difficult to do with acquaintances. No amount of homemade chocolate cake can make the diagnosis less scary sounding. But the secret has slowly been coming out.

It started soon after we moved here, when I found out one of my new opthamologists was the father of my husband’s friend. We ran into his friend after I booked an appointment at the clinic. I was sure he could smell the Retinitis Pigmentosa on me.

When I stopped driving, I started trying to take Uber and Lyft everywhere. There are no sidewalks in my area and no bus stops. Streetlights and stop signs are few and far between and drivers speed on the nearest arterial. It’s not the best place to live with vision loss.

To make things worse, Uber and Lyft only recently started operating in my town. There are about 12 drivers in the entire city. Most of these drivers have other jobs and take Sundays off. About three - to - five drivers are on the road on a regular afternoon. But, I can’t reliably catch a ride quickly or on a schedule. There is no way to schedule rides in advance on the apps because of the shortage of drivers.

I quickly realized to get around I had to start befriending the Uber drivers. I began collecting their phone numbers to use if I needed a ride for an important appointment. I also knew I had to start asking acquaintances for rides. That was scary. I felt if someone was going to do this favor for me, I needed to share why I don’t drive in this city that is clearly designed for automobile travel.

I started explaining why I need a ride by saying “I don’t drive” then it morphed into “I can’t drive” then it morphed into “I’m losing my vision.”

For a town with shitty infrastructure, the people here sure are great. I don’t know if it’s the southern hospitality or just generousity, but usually when I ask for a ride people are really receptive of it.

Well I reckon’ it won’t be too bad when more people I know see me walking with a cane. Hopefully, they just see me out there and say “she’s got gumption!”

.. And I do have gumption! Seeing my neighbor while I was cane training finally gave me the confidence to ask him for a ride for the first time. He's going to drive me and my dog, Colfax, to the vet tomorrow. Even though the appointment is early in the morning he was happy to help. I'll have to find a way to return the favor - perhaps a nice bottle of home brewed beer will help.

As more people see me with the cane my fear of asking for help is subsiding. So far mostly neighbors have seen me, and one of the partners of my husband's radiology group. There have been no awkward resulting stares just pleasant conversations about my neighbor's great cooking, how cute Colfax is, and to ask them if I ever need a ride somewhere.

It seems the cane is not only giving me my independence back, but also enabling more people to offer help when I need it.


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