One of Many Gwen Stories
Gwen and I became friends when I was about 8 years old and she 10. It was one of those occasions when my mother “voluntold” me I was to befriend her. I had never met her but our parents knew one another. I was dropped off at her house to have dinner and spend the night. All I knew about her was that she was blind, lived in Lansing during the school year to go to the School For The Blind and was home for the summer. My mother always called her “Poor Gwen.”
I was a dutiful daughter, didn’t question my parents, and went off feeling like I was being fed to the lions. First of all, I didn’t know how or why she was blind and really thought I might “catch” it. Then, during the course of the night, she removed her glass eyes because they were causing irritation. I silently was freaked out and scared and afraid to look at her.
That was our beginning and the friendship lasted until she died at the age of 71. This is one of our stories, one that took years to finish.
Gwen was independent, confident, smart and determined. Over the years there had been many things she’d wanted to do or learn that were “beyond her.” She did not accept that and usually thought that I should be able to teach, show, let or help her do those things. We did quite a few of them below the radar of our parents, occasionally putting us at risk. For one thing, my dad would have killed me and banned Gwen.
When we were 16 and 18 Gwen decided she should drive. I could teach her. “You can sit right next to me and tell me when to stop and go and turn, when to speed up, what’s in the way…You can keep your hand near the steering wheel and your foot near the pedals if you’re nervous. Of course I can do this.”
I was sure this was not happening! We couldn’t do it. Gwen stayed angry for several days and occasionally brought it up for a year or two. She was sad and disappointed in me. Our friendship survived and went through college, marriages, families, careers, accomplishments and losses, sickness and health. She stopped asking so many questions, even laughing at me the night before her wedding when I cautiously asked her if she had any questions about sex or anything. She was now the “Older Sister.”
We were senior citizens on vacation together with our husbands and going out boating on a beautiful summer day. Talking, wind blowing our hair, laughing. And I remembered.
“Gwen, do you want to drive?”
She took over the seat, steering wheel, throttle, and boat. We flew over the lake, full throttle, executing turns, going forward and backward, laughing the whole time. She reluctantly gave up the steering wheel when we docked. She’d been roaring around for an hour.
Truthfully, it was a weekday and there were very few other boats out, it was relatively calm, and the lake was large. But she did it: felt the control, success, power, speed, response to her direction.
And she remembered too. “I told you I could do it! It took you this long to let me.”