Tasha Chemel


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Lessons In Vulnerability

You used your own body to teach me about distance. When I was in kindergarten, we'd go to the gym, and you'd take off your shoes and spread your stocking feet. You'd ask me to practice my constant contact technique. I'd do as you asked, swinging my cane from your left foot to your right, but tentatively. I was afraid my enthusiasm would bring you bruises.

Lessons In Intimacy

The hallways of my elementary school contained tiny alcoves that seemed to serve no particular purpose. When you wanted to show me a new route, we'd squeeze into one of these little cubbies together, the Braille map balanced on your lap, until that space became too small to hold us.

Other times, you'd have me stand against a wall—squaring off, you'd call it—and you'd quiz me. "How do you get from your locker to the music room? What are the landmarks on this hallway?" Once, I lost the ability to hear your questions, because the vibrations of your voice were close enough to arch my spine.

Lessons in Boundaries

I was about to turn seven. My aide told me I could pick out a Braille book from the Seedlings catalog and she'd buy it for me as a birthday present. I asked you what you were getting me, and you SAID you usually didn't give gifts to students.

Lessons in Shared Metaphor

None of my other mobility teachers bothered to learn Braille. They would compare hallways and intersections to printed letters I had never seen.

On the last day of fifth grade, I got to decide how we would spend our final lesson before summer vacation. I chose to make a map of my cockatiel's cage, and so you came to my house with your tactile artist's palate.

Lessons In Wide Open Spaces
Drop-offs were my favorite game. You used to give me your arm, spin me around, lead me somewhere within a familiar building, then ask me to orient myself and find a destination of your choosing. If I became too overwhelmed, I could put up my hand, and you would come to my assistance. This signal was our safe word.

When I grew older, you sent me into Boston, accompanied by another blind student, with only your tape-recorded directions as a guide. You said you were always following just behind us, but I didn't always believe you. I don't remember any safe words. I do remember a silhouette of humiliation. Some of my future teachers wouldn't be nearly as scrupulous about maintaining my trust.

Lessons In Obliviousness
I never imagined that you would wear jewelry, but you did show me one necklace. It was an amber pendant, a fragment of fossil, suspended, like a secret.

One Wednesday, on our way out of the school, I was chattering endlessly, and though I reached for the door, exactly how you taught me, I didn't hold it for long enough, and I let it come crashing down on your ankle. But I didn't see what had happened, so I kept prattling on. "Shutupshutupshutup," you said. I obeyed. My apology was layered and repeated, a solid thing.

Lessons In Humility

When I was younger, it was all right for me to carry my wallet and tape recorder in a fanny pack; you told me it was more practical than a purse. But when I turned eleven, my friend Nicole said my fanny pack was ugly, so I refused to wear it on our lessons. One of Newton's largest exports is Jewish American Princesses, and I, despite my unpopularity, was turning into one of them. I don't think you liked that part of me very much.

You started taking me into town and having me complete small errands. Once, you asked me to drop off your dry-cleaning, and I balked; I did not want to touch someone else's dirty clothes.

Lessons In Empathy

On our car rides from the middle school to my home, you'd often tell me stories. There was the one about the time you took a twelve-hour train ride in India or Tibet and how you gave up your unpadded seat for someone older or weaker than you. And then there was the one about the two little boys in your grade school class who started stealing your lunch every day. You were angry, until you realized that all their mother had packed for them both was a rubbery apple and a slice of stale bread.

Lessons In Recognition

You retired from teaching at the end of eighth grade. You did give me a gift then. It was a fanny pack, but this one was black and leather and not at all what a grandmother would wear.


Tasha Chemel is a teacher, poet, and potter. She has been totally blind since birth, but identifies as transabled. She hopes that her work will open the door for other transabled people to come forward. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts