How Roller Helped Me Read

Growing old is hard, but it can also bring new joys. I always prided myself on being a relentless optimist, no matter what life threw at me. Still, when my eyes started giving up on me just after my wife died, the double blow threatened to overwhelm both my body and mind.

We all rely on our eyes, but I relied on them perhaps more than most people. I still have countless books on my shelves and more than a dozen magazine subscriptions that I refuse to cancel. My easel is up in the attic; there was a time when I healed every little worry and difficulty through the firmest and brightest brushstrokes.

Now, before I was even sixty, a darkness and blurriness took over my eyes. All the eyedrops, glasses, and eye doctors I tried couldn’t prevent that shadow from coming over me.

It wasn’t that I was blind; I was legally blind, which was somehow worse. Instead of an overwhelming blackness, I could see just enough to know what I was missing on. Every day, every hour, every second was full of images I couldn’t comprehend.

I began to sleep more and more. At least the dreams I saw were clear and vivid. Though they were disturbing, with monsters gouging my eyes out, at the very least I could see it all happening instead of guessing all the time.

Eventually, I started sleeping around fifteen hours a day, leaving just enough time to shower and eat the meals that were prepared for me, and end up falling asleep in front of the television on the couch. I had my son, his wife, and my grandchildren living with me, but I was more of a fixture in their living room than anything else.

The kids would have their own fun to pursue. What could I do for them without my eyes? I couldn’t throw a ball to any of them or help out with their homework. The portraits I used to make of them gathered dust and grew outdated. I couldn’t even think of making more. My grandkids drifted away from me and I from them.

But everything changed once my son got the brilliant idea of bringing Roller to me.

One day, I was just sitting out on the porch, feeling like the quintessential old man in a rocking chair – doing nothing but passing the last days of my life. All at once, I head the barking that was to remind me how life’s still worth living.

Roller and his trainer came to meet me and to see how I would react to having a dog lead me around. I was never too fond of dogs, especially in my blind state. It always seemed like they were this close to jumping up on me and knocking me down. If they were small ones, I would skitter around in fear of stepping on them and living with the guilt forever.

Hence, it was with some trepidation that I got up and stretched my hands out in the general direction of Roller’s breathing. He immediately got up, came to me, and leaned his head on my shoe. It was then that I was certain: this was to be yet another new chapter in my life.

Roller and I seemed to connect at first touch, but the training still took some time. While my body protested, having gotten used to a sedentary routine, my mind was overjoyed that I’d seen fit to move around. The fresh air on our basic route walks injected an energy inside me that I thought was lost forever. Plus, my lungs could breathe better and my overall health was the best it had been in a decade.

Since my eyes had started darkening, I had always avoided public places. I had almost run over a man when I was still convinced I could see fine. After that incident, I didn’t even like to venture out of the house. With Roller pulling me along and needing the exercise, though, I knew I was going to have an outdoor routine again.

In fact, Roller made me even more mobile than I ever was before I lost my eyesight. He’s guided me onto trains, buses, taxis, and even the occasional Uber. I can sit in a restaurant, go to the supermarket, and even get a bit of shopping done all on my own. When you’re disabled in any way, even the normal things in life are huge and productive achievements.

Of course, I still have my dark days, both literally and figuratively. With Roller around, though, that dark cloud of depression always seems to have a silver lining leading the way out.

Just a few months ago, I was cranky and moody, running my fingers over my books, turning the pages that I would never make sense of again. However, when Roller gently guided me to my reading chair, I realized that if I can go out and about, I can surely learn to read again!

My son had asked me to join classes for learning braille many times before Roller came to us, but I had always refused. With my newfound confidence, though, I sought out a class for myself and faithfully attended each session.

Now, my evenings are still spent on the porch in my faithful old rocking chair, but they pass quickly while I labor over simple stories eked out in braille. Being a beginner, I have to read out loud, but nobody seems to mind. Roller lays his head on his paws and listens to every single word. I may still be halting, but it’s exciting discovering the same old stories through a whole new medium.

As for my grandkids, they’ve developed a new fondness for me and Roller. When I read aloud, they also come and sit at my feet, almost mimicking Roller in their listening stances. The first time this happened, I thought they were just being nice. When it became an almost daily practice, I realized that no one was drifting away from me after all. They were just waiting for a way to become a part of my life again.


Author: Gregory Stone