I heard the mutters from the tranquil front room, “That’s his van,” and “he’s here!” A moment later, a knocking echoed through the apartment. I started toward the door, but someone said, “Oh no Sam, I’ll get it for you.”
I gratefully plopped down on my favorite arm chair, waiting for the hurricane that would surely come with the arrival of Buck Winshire and his crazy stories. I rolled my eyes as he stepped into the room booming, “Ho, ho, ho! Happy New Year’s!”
I waited as he got acquainted with any friends of mine who hadn’t had the displeasure of his acquaintance. But I knew Buck had come for me.
A rough kiss on my cheek was the first sign that he was done irritating my friends, and was ready to get down to what he had really come for.
“The answer is still no, Buck,” I sighed.
“C’mon Sam! You and I are getting to that age where life ties us down and won’t let us go. Don’t you want to have an adventure?”
“Buck, I don’t think I physically can go on an adventure.”
“But just think! You could be like that guy who climbed Mount Everest and was blind!”
“Yeah, and he didn’t get to see the view,” I spat.
“Oh you know he felt it. He has the most wonderful grin on his face in the photographs.”
“I’m perfectly happy here.”
“Here? In this gray, nothing-home? With a dog and some dust? Can you honestly tell me that this is what you want to do with your life?”
“I’m still trying to figure that out, Buck! Not everyone knows what they want from life!”
“That’s why I want you to explore the world with me. You can discover yourself along the way, maybe—just maybe!—you’ll find a love for exploring!” His voice quivered with excitement.
“No. I can’t. It’s not going to happen.”
I could tell Buck was unhappy from his silence.
“I just don’t think I can,” I said quietly.
Buck sighed, but said in a cheerful tone, “I get it. I have to leave on another trip that I might not be coming back from for a while. I might miss your next new year’s party, but that’s okay! I know you know my best stories by heart,” he nudged me playfully, “I’m sure you’ll do them justice.”
“Of course I will! What kind of new year’s party would it be without Bucky here to liven things up?”
“That’s the spirit! I knew I could count on you. Now if you’ll excuse my abrupt leave, I have a train to catch. But wait! One more thing before I go.” I heard a rustling, and soon a package was placed on my lap. “Don’t open it here! Someone might see! Wait until everyone’s gone home.”
I gave him a half-grin and stood up to shake his hand, but instead Buck pulled me into a rough hug.
He murmured something against my shoulder, and barely a second later, he was gone.
After the clock struck midnight, the guests started filtering out until it was just me. I went to sit down in my chair again, and realized I had forgotten about the gift Buck had given me.
Gift unwrapping is a more suspenseful and exciting event for the blind. It took me until I had all the paper off to realize what the present was. It was a book. A book. Not a braille one, one of paper and ink. The cover was deeply embossed at the top and took me only a moment to decipher the indents in the cover as “photos.” Not only did Buck get me a book as a gift, he got me a picture book. No one can really describe photos the way they are truly meant to be seen. I wondered bitterly if he bought his mute friends voice recognition software, or his deaf friends Mozart CDs. I crammed his book into a cluttered drawer.
Buck is going to hear about this the next time he shows his sorry head in this place. I didn’t doubt that Buck would be back: Buck always came back.
I received a postcard from him a few weeks later with a note on the back that simply read:
Having wonderful adventures.
I swear the sun shines brighter
the farther you get away from home.
And I’m pretty far.
Several years later, I had found a new job in a different part of the country. As a friend helped me pack up, she came across a curious book. “Who’s this guy?” she asked.
“There’s a book here, with pictures of a guy in lots of places, like at the top of a mountain, or in a forest, or a desert. And…” she gasped, “who is this guy?”
“What? What is it? Let me hold the book.” She passed the book into my hands, and I felt the cover. It took a moment for me to register that this was the book Buck had given me so many years ago. But I remembered it somehow. It occurred to me that I never got to yell at Buck for getting me such a dumb present, but then that I hadn’t seen him in years. I suddenly became very sad. “It’s an old friend,” I told her.
“Do you know what he has in all these photos?”
“A stupid grin?”
“No Sam! In every single photo, in all these different places, he’s holding up a picture of you!”
After a few minutes of nothing but me clutching the book to my chest, my friend excused herself to raid a little lunch from my kitchen. I ran my hands over each page, smooth, until the last one. The texture of the paper felt different, and the paper was thicker. Then, at the bottom of the page, in braille, was a little message that read:
“You climbed these mountains.”