Copyright C.J.Lindsay 2020
The darkness didn’t come all at once, like someone turning out a light, it came slowly and softly, like a shower of black snow. I thought that this would allow me time to prepare for coping with a world of darkness, a world so small it would only be as deep as the reach of my arm, but I was mistaken. I had no idea how broad and deep my world would become.
Faces lost all expression, of course, but they became a combination of geometry and geography. ‘Seeing’ with my hands turned noses into oddly shaped triangles, ears into gelatinous ovals and chins into little bums hanging off the bottom of a face. Eye sockets were nothing but black holes, but the wrinkles around them formed little deltas that I found had nothing to do with age and everything to do with how crowded the years had been. Cheeks were like an archaeological dig, revealing the cumulative leathery effect of a blissful childhood spent in the sun and surf, or the scars left by acne, hinting at a wallflower’s youth hovering around the edges of romance.
Makeup was an annoyance, just something to collect under my fingernails, but eyebrows were marvellously revealing. Men’s were bushy and unkempt, no set of tweezers had ever been anywhere near them, and the older the man the more stray hairs there were, but women of all ages were another story; they were often a smooth void of skin from hairline to eyelid.
Relationships became closer more quickly as introductions became more intimate. When a stranger surrenders their face for tactile examination it is nothing like a handshake. There is no distance between us. I have felt their summer sweat, their breath in my palm, touched their lips with my fingertips knowing their lover is the only other person to have done the same. I now knew this face in a way that nobody else did, or ever would. And still it was isolating, because they didn’t reciprocate. They still saw me the old way, from a distance. Once, only once, I tried to guide an acquaintance's hand to my cheek, only to feel them recoil and say, “I don’t need to do that’, and then dissemble in embarrassment for having called attention to my ‘disability’. It wasn’t the faux pas that made me cry, it was the distance, and the realisation that they didn’t want to know me the way I knew them, they weren’t ready to reach out, and I had no way of showing them how.
It was then I saw the need for humour, to disarm the sighted. At first I was bitter and the humour was cruel. I would sweep my cane into shins and cause a panic by wandering towards the sound of traffic. Then, with the same bitterness I moved on to irony, saying ‘That’s a nice top, the colour really suits you’ or ‘I like the sound of your shoes’. My favourite was to get people’s names wrong, then explain the mistake by saying they smelt like the other person’s dog. But it was hollow, after all, I couldn’t see the horror on their faces. But after I learned that the darkness outside didn’t have to be matched on the inside, things became much more fun. A Canadian friend of mine swears this is a true story that happened to her back home, but I made it my own by turning it into a pantomime with unwitting costars. At pedestrian crossings, when the ‘bip bip bip’ sounded I would put on my best Texan accent and say, ‘What’s that sound?’
Some kind person would respond, ‘that’s the signal to say the lights have changed’ and recognising the accent they would continue, ‘Don’t you have that in Texas?’
‘No ma’am” I would say, deadpan, ‘in Texas, we don’t let the blind drive’. I never saw the looks on their faces, but I could hear the snorts that went with their smirks, and that was enough.
It’s true what they say, the other senses do become more acute when you can’t rely on your eyes anymore. The birds in the backyard noisily greeting the sunrise used to annoy me, now they delight me to the point that I have made a point of differentiating the species by names I had never previously cared to know. Smelling my father’s aftershave before he even enters the room allows me to pretend to have superpowers by greeting him before he turns the doorknob. But it is touch through holding hands that matters most. Not because it keeps my shins away from coffee tables, after all, I stumbled when I saw. Hand holding is the purest form of communication. My mother’s hand always tightens around mine when we visit her mother, and my father’s does the same pretty much anytime we leave the house. Her tension is visceral, his concern all encompassing. It is reciprocal, our feelings are as open as each of our palms. My parents are finally catching on, and I didn’t even have to show them how.