Mopsy and Jameyanne, seen from the back, walk around cars on the sidewalk on a cobblestone street in Santa Maria degli Angeli, Italy

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Hello! I’m Mopsy, Jameyanne’s four-legged, tail-wagging, guiding partner. You may have heard of me, and now my sidekick (that’s how I like to think of Jameyanne) has graceously allowed me to write some blog posts about myself. In general, I’m planning to talk about what I’m up to in life, and what I’ve been up to before, since you have a lot of catching up to do, and of course fun things like bounding through snow and why I love tug-of-war and throwing my bones at people’s shins. Today, I want to talk about sidewalks.

 

I’ve been thinking about sidewalks a lot this week. Mostly, it’s because my sidekick found her book of Shel Silverstein poems and read the one whose title I borrowed for this post. In the poem, the place where the sidewalk ends is like a liminal space (my sidekick talked about these a lot when we were in college, and I pay attention to everything). There is the sidewalk, which I guess symbolizes society, modernity, urban life, what is known about the world. And there is no sidewalk, which would symbolize the opposite, the wilderness, the country, a time before modernity, and of course, the unknown. And then there’s the moment where the sidewalk ends, which is what we’re talking about in the poem, that magical in between space where the world of sidewalks and sidewalk-lovers everywhere changes.

 

Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about this poem, because I have a much more straightforward view of sidewalks. So does my sidekick, I think, especially since she decided she wasn’t going to pursue this English major stuff (I mean, we took some great classes, but I for one am glad we’re going into a more concrete field).

 

Before we went to Italy, the sidewalk meant safety. People walked on the sidewalks, and they didn’t have to be afraid of the cars, because the cars had their own place to drive (the road!).

 

Then my sidekick insisted we go to Italy, and hey, I know Italian and I like adventure, so I didn’t object. But we arrived in Italy, and very quickly (like the third day, when my sidekick was hit by a car on the sidewalk—I pulled her back so it wasn’t so bad, but it was scary and I was very upset with myself) we had to reconsider what sidewalks meant. Which is to say, did they really mean safety? The answer, we soon learned, was not so much. At best, cars parked on the sidewalk, or backed up over the sidewalk to get from a parking lot into the street (this was what happened with the car that hit us). At worst, cars actually pulled up on the sidewalk and used it as an extra lane. I don’t know what they were thinking. It’s my job to make sure we get where we’re going safely. (It’s her job to actually know where we’re going and how to get there. That’s why she’s my sidekick.) I don’t need to know why a car is chasing me down the sidewalk (but, really? Must you? You have the whole street!). I just need to know that hey! There’s a car chasing us down the sidewalk! Let’s walk faster shall we!

 

It is sort of a fundamental fact of orientation and mobility (this thing that people who are blind do with teachers so they can learn where they are) that the best route is always the route with the most sidewalks. In Italy, it was the opposite. It was safer for us to take streets that didn’t have sidewalks, because it turned out everyone already knew this rule and all the people and dogs were taking those streets, so the cars were paying more attention.

 

We survived our year in Italy (obviously, or I wouldn’t be talking to you), and my sidekick and I came back to America, where sidewalks are sacred ground once more. There’s a reason I keep kissing them. But our ideas about sidewalks and roads are fundamentally different now. So when a car pulls up too fast to parallel park beside the sidewalk where we’re walking, maybe I push my sidekick into a hedge. Better the hedge than squished, right? And my sidekick jumped too, so it isn’t just me. And maybe when I hear a car behind me I turn my head a lot until it passes to watch it, just to make sure it’s still where it belongs in the road and not coming after us. It snowed last week. Good bounding snow too, I might add, and sometimes I do bound when I’m wearing my harness. I know I shouldn’t but it makes my sidekick laugh. But anyway, it snowed, and when we had to go out into the street because they just decided not to shovel the last ten feet of the sidewalk, maybe, no (who I am kidding?), we were definitely very twitchy about walking out into the street.

 

But on the whole, we’ve been doing very well. I’ve been doing very well, especially. I know my sidekick was worried that I wouldn’t be okay after Italy, that it would be too much stress and I would be too anxious when we got back home. But I’m okay, and she’s okay. More than okay. We survived! And I did awesome! After that first stupid car hit us, I didn’t let another car come close (and believe me, they tried). They pulled out in front of us and then said “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you.” To which my sidekick responded, “Well, I’m blind, so you should look where you’re going.” This one time, a bus drove right up the wheelchair ramp onto the sidewalk. That time, I dragged my sidekick behind a tree and hoped very much that the tree would hold when the bus hit it. But the bus stopped and said, you guessed it, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you there. You can cross now.” To which my sidekick responded, “No, no, you go. I’m staying here.” We both had hiccups for the rest of the day.

 

But now we’re home, and we’re working on not being so jumpy, and we’re getting ready for the next adventure. My sidekick says it will probably be in Boston or New York, and those both sound like wonderful fun to me: busy enough that it’s good work for me, the work I was built for, but the cars stay where they’re supposed to. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Last week, I know my sidekick talked about being brave, and now it’s my turn. For us, the place where the sidewalk ends is not a magical in between. For me, now, it is a place where we have to step away from safety and trust the guys behind the wheels of those giant killing machines. We try to avoid it, but when we have to, I’m getting better at doing it without being unreasonably scared. Now, I do it with my head up and just the right amount of fear. Still, I only trust these guys so far, which is I think how it should be (they are a lot bigger than me, after all), and that’s the way it’s going to stay.

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