My brother Jim and I have been blind since birth. However, while journaling recently, I realized that there was a time I didn’t fully comprehend what it means to be totally blind.
Much of the progress on my journey toward knowing I am blind comes from family anecdotes, along with pieces of memory that have come to the forefront of my consciousness through the process of writing.
My first clear recollection: I was in kindergarten. Someone asked, “Can she see at all?” My teacher replied, “No,” to which I said, “Yes I can.” I didn’t have a clue what “see” meant, but telling me I couldn’t do something was completely unacceptable!
In retrospect, the silence that followed was either because my pronouncement fell on ears that did not hear … or because the teachers were left speechless by my naive belief that I could see.
Then there was the time (during one of those sibling arguments) that I screamed at my little brother, “You’re blind!” and laughed.
He started crying, until my mother reminded me, “So are you.”
I didn’t know what “blind” meant, but I had a good time making my little brother cry. The fact I used this as a bullying tactic tells me even then I knew “blind” wasn’t something anyone was champing at the bit to experience.
Lack of physical sight made no sense because I didn’t know what I didn’t have.
I cannot pinpoint the precise moment when the light came on, and I got it: Blind means you have eyes but they don’t work.
All this sad…angry…scared…but not from me. I loved my new Braille books, and gobbled them up like the best holiday dinner ever. The feel of a puppy’s soft fur made me giggle uncontrollably. Listening to records that played music and some that read me stories sent my imagination into faraway places of beauty and adventure.
This realization was a gradual process. I put the reality of my world together like trying to make pieces fit into a particularly challenging puzzle. Some of those pieces looked like this:
• Saying the word “blind” made Mama cry and Daddy get real serious, and told me to always talk to him (before Mama) about “being blind” (whatever that was).
• I read with my fingers, while other children did not. The books others read were funny because they didn’t have bumps. How did anybody know what was on the page if you couldn’t “feel” the words?
• I held Mama’s hand at all times while walking; not so with other kiddos. Why couldn’t I run and play without people getting all scared and upset?
• Mama got angry because “people are staring at my kid.” (What is staring?)
• Dancing in the living-room was way fun until someone told me to stop.
• “Bear” was my best friend because I could hug him real tight. (I still don’t know why I tore his eyes out.)
• Running through the gym was freeing, until I busted my front teeth slamming full force into a wall that didn’t move.
• Proudly drawing a dog the way I saw him was super cool, until no one else knew he was a dog.
Eventually, I got it. My little brother and I were not like the rest of our family; we were blind. I now understood the defiant little girl who stomped her foot, declaring “yes, I can see” had been mistaken. Still, I held on to her because she was all spirit and fire.
I know the adults in my life did the best they could with limited resources. My parents were in their early twenties, and definitely weren’t anticipating having two blind children. In a way, we all grew up together in a time when there were few resources for parents of blind children.
With age came knowledge, and I now knew the word that made people sad or angry simply meant I didn’t have the ability to see with my eyes. What I “saw” was what sighted folk called “dark.” (another super-scary word).
Growing up, my brother and I adjusted just fine to a lack of physical sight. What came later was an awareness of the straight-up terror that the word “blind” evoked in others.
As a teen, my father pointed out that I was a very angry young woman. He believed I was angry at him and my mom because I was blind. He was correct about the anger, but completely wrong about its cause.
When I look back on how I came to understand the word “blind,” I do so through the lens of a much-older woman. So yeah, I get being sad, angry, and scared, which I felt when around adults who knew this world is difficult for anyone. If you are blind, well, “it must be one hell of a rough ride.”
As for my mom and dad: Being a parent of a kid with a disability is probably much harder than being that kid.
“People might say our parents gave us ‘tough love,’” my brother Jim shared. “What they provided was, sometimes life isn’t fair. Yes, people will discriminate against you. If you come home drunk, you will get a butt whipping, and yes, you fail algebra, there are consequences.
“My dad asked me, ‘would you rather not be born?’” he continued. “Sorry, world, you got me on Sept. 25, 1963. I am so blessed that people love Linda, and I, and think we are so damn funny.”
What kind of insight has blindness given me? The same inclinations as everyone else. I’m gonna go draw a dog, dance in my living room, and pet a puppy.