Post date: Dec 5, 2020 6:23:13 AM

Little Surprises

by Alaena Hope

I have loved to draw since I was a child. It started with a great enthusiasm for coloring books, the more pictures of dinosaurs in them the better, and I would haul around a little plastic suitcase of crayons and coloring books so that I could set up shop anywhere I went. Later, I graduated to actually drawing for myself—from horses with toothpick-straight legs to dragons.

My love for art didn’t change when I was diagnosed very young with a degenerating eye condition. I lost all of my central vision somewhere between junior high and high school where I took a few art classes as electives and met one teacher who installed in me a love for watercolors and one who gave me a great loathing for color wheels. For me, these classes became a sort of stress outlet—a time when I could just sit back and not think about anything but my work. So naturally I signed up for a course in practice of art during my second semester in college.

The problem started when the first day of class drew closer and I realized that taking this class wouldn’t be quite the same as taking art classes in high school. The reason? I would be using a cane. I had learned how in high school and found that overall it helps clear up a lot of possible misunderstandings—such as ‘Why aren’t you looking at me while I’m talking to you?’ and ‘Why are you asking me? Read it yourself’—but it also meant that more often than not people who saw me assumed I couldn’t see at all.

And I was going to an art class with “visual thinking” in the subtitle.

I had no idea why I cared—I still don’t—after all, I never had before, but suddenly I did care, and it made my stomach flip.

I told my sister I was nervous. She told me I was being ridiculous, but she did agree to walk to class with me on the first day. She was, however, curious as to why I was so anxious, especially since I hadn’t been nervous about any of my other classes.

As I couldn’t really pinpoint the exact source of the nervous tightness that rose in my chest whenever I thought about showing up on the first day of class, I settled for telling her about some of my more mundane fears.

First of all, I said, I was deathly afraid that, should the class be asked to draw from life, I might have to draw people not wearing anything. The scariest part, I said, was the thought that the teacher might make me take a closer look to compensate for my sight. I would simply die of embarrassment—or wish I could at any rate.

Thankfully this particular fear was never realized.

My second fear was that I would walk into class and be asked if I had come to the wrong room.

My sister left me at the doors to the class building, and I ventured in alone. All the way to class, I counseled myself to breathe evenly and focus on making sure I got to the correct room. Up the elevator and down the hall, count the doors across from the windows, and there it was. There were two people standing outside the door with papers to hand to the students as they went in. One was the graduate student instructor, and the other was her assistant.

I wasn’t sure at first, but, as I came up to them, my certainty grew. My GSI was sitting in a wheelchair. The sudden sense of relief that flooded through me was both welcome and shocking.

Here was someone who wouldn’t place an expectation on my head for good or ill, I thought, and maybe I really had been worried for nothing.

I found out later that she was quadriplegic, and she drew holding pencils and brushes with her mouth. I cannot presume to know how she felt when she started her artistic career, but I imagine that it couldn’t have been easy. I know for sure though that just seeing her there on that first day took away my anxiety. I suppose sometimes it really is just fate.

No one can know what the future holds, but, if I had chickened out and not taken the class, I might never have learned of the whole world of artists out there who might once have shared my fears and whom I hope to be one of one day. Maybe I’ll even get to pass on the courage they gave to me.

Author's Note: To see some of my artwork, feel free to visit my FAA gallery.

(Originally published with Stories that Lift in 2009)