WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

Hero lies at my feet while I shred papers, everything at your hospital from important documents to the daily prayer bulletin.   He barely looks around until someone enters my kingdom.  Then, in a manner unlike most seeing-eye dogs, he greets them ecstatically like an overgrown puppy dog.   He slobbers and drools and is occasionally obedient. We first became partners five years ago.  He's my third guide dog and we're a great team.

You think I can't read what you hand me to shred because I am blind. That's why you decided this was the ideal position for me.  I spent eighteen years in the radiology darkroom developing film, bringing pictures to light.  Now you hand me things to destroy.  Papers from your desk and files, things marked confidential in electric pink envelopes, emails both official and personal. I've shredded numerous soiled copies of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.  Pregnancy tests.  HIV screens.  Health department citations.  Motel receipts under aliases.  Fluttery little slips labeled While You Were Out, so-and-so called.  You don't know it, but my fingers decipher them all.

When you enter the room I can tell by the vibrations of your feet if you are carrying papers of interest.  I smell the perspiration in your palms.  Your breath has this certain corrupted odor.  Something like cabbage or brussel sprouts.

"Hey, Charlie, how's it going?" you greet me.   Hero doesn't rise to welcome you, another tip-off.   You leave the documents in a big bin for me to feed to the grinder, a metal beast with a taste for paper.  From those five words you speak, I know a lot.  Whether you've had a rough night fighting with your wife, or the other lady - the ever so young one you think no one knows about.  Or if you had another bad meal from another Chinese carryout.  Or if you lost money over the weekend playing slots.  Or if you are preparing a round of layoffs.

Ordinary sighted people are often kind but ignorant.  They think I am disconnected, cut off from the events swirling in the air around me.  They don't know that Hero is a special dog.  When he curls up on the floor his eyes close, but mine open.  I become powerful.  I hold the papers in my hands but fleetingly.  That's all the time I need to absorb their content.  Each color has a specific feel.  Sometimes a paper is so hot it leaves blisters on my skin.

I sort quickly.  Into the machine goes everything mundane.  Even the swimsuit issues, although for a small moment I can't resist running my fingers over the partly naked bodies of the models.  It's a small thrill.

The rest of the papers I salvage.  I'm saving them in a 3-hole binder, neatly punched, ready to present to you.  When I walk into your office, my demands won't be negotiable. You will meet them all.