Image of a woman's hands with planet earth hovering above them.

For All The World To See

What would you do if you could see? The question is posed by a stranger on the train, a shop assistant, colleague, potential employer, acquaintance, friend, or society in general, like a spider meticulously threading its web of power and liberty around a fly, innately illustrating yet again to me just who has the upper hand in this situation. I can almost see the expectation hanging in the air between us as I take a deep breath and gather my wits about me like a protective cloak, knowing this could get ugly. Of course, I am expected to reward such obtrusive attention with a walk along the moral high ground, with its gracious answers and honey sweet nectar. Never mind the encroachment, intimacy, invasion or intrusion on my very being, let alone the offensiveness or impossible nature of the question.

The fact is, everyone does disability differently. There are as many means, ways and work-arounds for people with disability as there are types of shoes in the world. Even within clusters of conditions, there are stark and often contradictory differences. The nature of my condition and how I cope with it, regardless of whether it’s the same as someone else’s, is no guarantee, let alone an accurate yardstick for how the next person will experience the symptoms, side effects or the universe in general. Sure, there are commonalities, but these are not concrete besser blocks that make up a construct that can be nicely framed, boxed, branded and brandished. The puzzle is not easily solved the way many insist, nor can it be filed away in a quiet cabinet of convenience for the edification of an ablest objective to access when and how it pleases.

However, trying to explain the complexities, contradictions, counter arguments, and concerns to others who wish for me to see, be it out of a deep sense of their own fear of not seeing, or bless their cotton socks good intentions, laced with an inference of my not being good enough as I am, is fraught with difficulty. Each of us is on the opposite side of an unbridgeable gap, with me trying to defend my validity without sight, and them insisting I adopt their ideas, projected identity of me and the life I must live in return.

People seem to think if they tell you how it should be often enough, it will become so. But what they don’t realise is, by their very questions, they are implying there is something wrong with me, rather than the systems, structures, and stories society has in place. They are accusations of burdensome, bothersome, brokenness, and less than, delivered under layers of pity, demand, innocent curiosity, casual inquiry or sincere helpfulness. However, just because someone is sincere about anything, especially their rendering regarding disability, doesn’t make it true, right, or even possible.

Sometimes people say to me that it’s okay I cannot see, because if I could, there would be nothing but ugliness and nastiness. I often wonder what they mean by that. How would such boundless and abstract concepts look in visible form? Language can be interpreted in so many different ways. My collection of books, with their intricate narratives and explicitness, can only provide so much, and I’m left wondering if my imaginings, based on the words of others, are enough to feed my curiosity and nourish my understanding.

Do they really think I don’t notice the cruelty and crimes we commit toward one another on a daily basis because I cannot see? Do they really think something must have a physical shape or expression to be real? Surely they do not put all their eggs in such a one dimensional basket. Surely they realise that some things cannot be covered with clothing or paint like a hollow porcelain doll. Surely they realise some things reveal themselves in the silences, and in the saying of what they are not, rather than in the confined lettering of what they are. Surely they realise some things, if not most things, simply don’t need the light from a sunny day to reveal their nature. Surely they realise I participate in all these games and ruses alongside them, both for the pleasure, and the pain, just as they do. It’s anything to fit in and feel as though I’m a part of something beyond the grinding of my own reports on how the world ought to be. Because isn’t that all that anybody wants – a sense of belonging? I am not immune to the choices and consequences of using white noise and rattles.

Considering these are often the same people who one sentence before were telling me how much better I would be if I could indeed see, I have to wonder what they want. So which is it? Will I be better, or will I be worse? It seems to me that people often want it both ways. Oh, it’s a shame you can’t see, but oh, you’re so lucky because… Really, really? I want to say in response. Lucky? Is that what we’re calling it? And for what? To make you feel better, or is it for me? What institutional construct are you perpetuating without even realising, and how do I explain what you have done? How do I explain the hidden damage you are causing, the accidental hairline fractures, chipped edges, and the blatant push-back from your hidden bias, privilege of power, cultural dominance, active ignorance, arrogance and often unfairness of your word or deed? How do I explain it in a way you can understand that doesn’t hurt either of us? How do I explain when I’ve never been given the competencies or modelling to do so, yet am expected to already have and know?

The only reason I am lucky with this is that I have made it so. The only reason I am lucky is that yes, I had to work twice as hard, sometimes more, for half the result, or even less. The only reason I am lucky is that I have a support network which is out of this world. The only reason I am lucky is that, thank God, my personality won’t have it any other way. I am lucky because the alternative is too terrifying to contemplate. I am lucky because there is no such thing as luck. I’m simply doing the best I can with what I have, and let me assure you, that isn’t usually very much. And no, sometimes my best isn’t good enough. Sometimes my best isn’t even my best, but it’s all I have. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I fight. Sometimes I don’t even try. And sometimes, just sometimes, I totally rock this thing.

I use my senses in a different way, but only because I have to. The way you don’t get a choice of what you see, is the same way I don’t get a choice about what I don’t see. You cannot make that electric light pole disappear from your vision just as I cannot make it appear in front of mine. There’s no twist, turn or trick that can change the law of sight. Your brain cannot unregister the details it has already subconsciously registered, and no amount of meditation, make believe or magic medication is going to make my brain absorb that same information in the way that you do. It is as simple and as complicated as that.

Yes, my ears do tend to pick up more, but that’s only because I use the information they feed me, as opposed to ignoring it in favour of a pretty colour, sharp outline, or carefully choreographed sign the way you might. My touch is more sensitive, but that only comes with practice, and the necessity of interpreting my environment through its non-verbal textures and interesting shapes, which is as eagerly available to you as it is to me. My smell is more honed, but how else is a girl to sniff out that illusive cup of coffee, fabulous new bag shop, butcher shop, bar, pharmacy, hairdressing salon, or any number of logistical, everyday nightmares sighted people take for granted. None of these strategies are particularly clever or innovative. They are the mere bare bones I utilise in my arsenal for living. Good God, imagine how dull my life would be without such amusements and alternatives to expand my horizons and advance my knowledge.

Let me explain. I have a congenital eye condition that not only has me well within the bounds of legal blindness, but has been considered inoperable for as long as I can remember. Over the years, my vision quietly deteriorated into darkness without my permission or comprehension, leaving a trail of questions, confusion, and chaos in its wake. So in one oh so desperately desperate effort, just under two years ago, I sought a new ophthalmologist, hoping against hope that they could indeed give me back the blue sky I had long since lost.

Corrective eye surgery for me had always been a lofty, unobtainable ideal, of which I wasn’t sure I wanted, but simultaneously, and in complete contradiction, I also had to have, because in my mind, life was not worth living without it. But for generations, even with all the medical know-how, it just hadn’t been possible. I had always maintained that to intervene in my vision would depend on the risk verses reward ratio. One person’s risk is not necessarily the same as another, and I am fairly risk averse. I like the idea of it, but rarely will I take the step without knowledge. I like to calculate and speculate on the most likely set of outcomes first, and only when I’m reasonably certain I can predict or prepare for the possible playing out of scenarios will I commit.

My mantra had always been to make do, and make the best of it. Why would I roll the unevenly weighted die with my most precious and prized resource, besides the swiftness and inquisitiveness of my mind, and health and supple strength of my body? Why gamble on my faulty, very limited and lacklustre vision, with its blurs of colour, shadowy shapes and smeary outlines, with absolutely no detail what so ever, when in relative terms, I could still function with what I deemed to be a degree of independence?

What it now turns out to be was a whole host of denial and avoidance of the extent of my vision loss. Somewhat unbeknownst to me, I steadfastly refused to look, yet simultaneously clawed at a cliff I could not keep a hold of. My life had slowly been shrinking, shrivelling and dissolving, like dead leaves fallen from a once great and beautiful tree back into the earth, without my admittance. In other words, when I had what I termed as functional vision, even if according to the medical definition it was not, I wasn’t prepared to gamble with said commodity unless there was an iron clad guarantee of something greater in return. I wanted to be sure the scales of light and depth would fall in my favour. As unreasonable as it was to ask, I wanted the advantage to be the reverse of what it had been for a lifetime.

That was up until I realised there was no difference between when I closed and opened my eyes. It wasn’t a defined darkness, the way it is when you can see. It was a nothingness, which has no real word to encapsulate the greyish endlessness of its form. All I can call it is sightless. Even the black found behind eyelids is something, whereas this was a colourless, edgeless, indescribability in its place. There was no faulty, very limited and lacklustre vision, with its blurs of colour, shadowy shapes and smeary outlines with absolutely no detail what so ever. Where had it gone? When had it gone? Surely I knew the difference between day and night. Or did I? The truth was, I didn’t actually know, but I was prepared to convince myself that I did, no matter what kind of confusion and calamity it cost.

My brain was having trouble keeping up with the reality of my vision loss, so it diligently and loyally kept expertly filling the gaps with its colouring pencils of assumption, cellular memory, half-truths, sketchy mental maps, rehearsals, and stories of being fine. Everything was fine. All I needed was rest, time, eat nothing but capsicum, bathe my eyes in apple cider vinegar, try harder, squint tighter, bend them, bully, beg or break them, fill them with tears, will, wish or want it to be different, and think happier thoughts. But when had been the last time I’d seen the round, silver disc of the moon against the night, the brilliant sun against the stark, jagged branches of a tree, or the flat ground under my feet? The truth was, I couldn’t remember.

As it was, I couldn’t even remember if I’d ever seen my daughter. I remembered the bright pink of her baby blanket, but had my mind just placed it there for comfort? Had I unwittingly stitched my image of her together from babies and baby paraphernalia I’d known in the past? That last thought alone cut like a knife sharpened for that very purpose, hitting my core with a thunk. The implication and reverberation through my world was almost too much for me to swallow. It snatched my breath away like a fire indiscriminately consuming everything in its path, without regard for the changed landscape of grieving black ash it would leave behind. I felt like a traitor with that realisation. What kind of mother was I, making up the face of my beautiful child from the faces of other people’s children? Who does that? I was a monster. I was a horrible, lying, treacherous thief, prowling my memory to make up the present.

To Share Or Not To Share?

In terms of my network of blind and low vision friends, I’ve been too afraid to really talk about it. I’ve deftly glossed over it with my pastry brush of positivity, making its surface shiny and gleaming, like I would if I’m basting a dozen sticky buns with sugar syrup before putting them in the oven to bake. But I’ve been careful not to go into the process of it all; the why, the wherefore, the when, what and how, and other such details too intricately, be it the rhythm of medical appointments gradually increasing in intensity, like a bass drum beating time with the anticipation of my surgery, and then slowly decreasing again to match the triumphant aftermath since; the brutality of the ordeal I kept hidden behind a charade of vague comments and illusion, or the sheer, unadulterated joy of greeting the dark blue ocean as it kissed my eyes for the first time in who knows how many years.

It is only now, with the feather softness of distance for comfort and confidence, that I regret not being more open about the situation, as it unfolded like a tablecloth being spread for a feast. It is hindsight that shows me we could have all had a hand in its embroidery, with each of us stitching a thread of colour through the weave as we worried, waited, wondered and wished the outcome.

However, my judgement was clouded by my many fears, hopes, anxieties and overwhelmingly aching, breaking desperation about the decision in the first place. And now I have the unexpected and unanticipated complexity of the results to tangle my words, thoughts and feelings into inarticulate knots of guilt and glee, of which I’m still too afraid to fully voice. However, I wish I had trusted them more to support me through the turbulence and transformation. Whereas now, I don’t feel as though I have the right to talk about it from this lofty vantage point of completion, because what will they say? The truth is, I should have included them more fully, but my fright and fragility did not allow for such indulgence.

I’ve never had many friends. So the truth is, I don’t always know what to do or how to treat the ones I have with the respect, dignity and love they deserve. At the time, I was convinced it might open a can of wriggly, squiggly, wormy questions I hadn’t been ready to answer, such as the potential of such a radical option, the risks, the rewards, or the actual surgery. Because rather like those gruesome, urban myth birthing stories people like to tell you when you’re pregnant with your first child, I knew I wouldn’t have been able to stomach any well-guided, misguided, or otherwise misinformed horror about what I would, could or should expect, let alone what happened to them, a friend, so-and-so’s third cousin twice removed, a stranger they once heard about, or someone in an article they read. I had enough of my own brimstone stricken imaginings, translucent butterfly promises and plea-bargaining to contend with.

I also thought their hope for me would be too cumbersome. And what if it didn’t work? Then I would feel like I was letting them all down. I wasn’t sure I could cope with that on top of my own disappointment, because not only did I want this to work for myself, but I wanted it to work for everyone else. Medically speaking, this could be one small step on the road to being able to restore sight, and that’s a big responsibility for anyone, let alone being a case study, either for or against the procedure.

On the same token, as much as I love a happy story, I was worried that one or two of them would find it confronting, and see it as something hurtful, or as a betrayal of sorts, especially if they were in a shitty place of their own. Because shitty places can do that. Shitty places can strip the happiness in spite of ourselves. So I kept silent, hoarding my bag of secrets, sifting them for meaning, and finding nothing but ambivalent trinkets of should I, shouldn’t I among my treasures, and wishing I had the courage to share them the way I would a box of Swiss chocolate or bottle of vintage wine.

I had thought the stakes too high for me to place them under the public looking glass, where I would be open to lateral violence hurled by toxic strangers within the wider blind and low vision community, who wanted nothing more than to find fleeting, fake power in the disempowering of others, let alone have my situation become fodder for trolls and trollops to feed upon. Of course, I knew my friends would have formed a barrier between me and the menacing stones of others, but would it have been protection enough for my frayed nerves and huddled body, perpetually curled in the corner of the lounge? What I needed most in order to survive, both before and after, was a quiet space and copious cups of tea brought to me as I burrowed beneath a comfortable blanket to keep me company.

I couldn’t tell anyone who was sighted, partly because they tend to over simplify things, and put such unrealistic expectations on these types of situations, based on their own unconscious and very valid fears of what blindness is, and isn’t. I didn’t have the energy or willingness to explain that no, no, this wasn’t going to be a black and white miracle in their terms, even if it did work. And no, no, it wasn’t going to make them any more comfortable, because as much as they wanted it, it wasn’t going to make me the same as them in the way that they needed – in other words, totally sighted.

I was already feeling small enough without the added pressure, intentional or not, mostly because my hope, and the hope of my husband, family, and close friends was proving heavy enough. I never knew that hope could be like that. I knew it as something with sharp edges that could cut a girl if she let it. I knew it as an itch I couldn’t scratch. But mostly, I always associated it with the lightness, brightness, and cheekiness of the star in Pandora’s chest. But this? Oh my goodness. This kind of hope was a lead feeling weighing on my being. So in order to feel somewhat protected against the elements, I cocooned myself wordlessly, and hoped it would be enough to keep me warm and safe in the meantime.

A Whole New World

I may not have the type of vision a sighted person would consider valuable, or even appreciate, but the difference between what I had eighteen months ago and what I have now is comparable to winning the lottery. There can be no comparison against the before and after date stamped across my world, accept that there is. For with every sunrise, every poker dot which turns out to be a flower, every figure in the mirror who appears as I brush my teeth, every shadow I play with on the pavement, every blur of colour that is my brave girl running toward me, every headache, every spark of light flashing in my head, I am clicking the counters to measure the string of difference. Do I see more or do I see less? Has there always been a white line to walk along across the tennis court in the park? Where did that grey tree trunk come from? Why aren’t sapphires and emeralds as interchangeable in real life as they are in my head? How long do I have until my vision finds another way to fail me?

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with the kaleidoscope of colour dancing and shifting across my eyes. At other times, I’m frustrated and ashamed because it doesn’t feel like enough. It’s given me so much, yet so much feels just out of reach. I’m continually flawed and awed at what sighted people can access. Oh, what privilege, what ease, what effortlessness it must be, I think when they describe the number plate way over there, the headland three kilometres away, the contours of the mountains in the distance, or read a newspaper headline from across the room. What do you mean our daughter is sounding out shop signs that are across the road, I ask my husband. It wouldn’t even occur to me they were there. The same goes for an eagle overhead, a whale with her calf in the bay, the splendor of the dessert cart, or any number of what I term visual decadents.

My basic rule of thumb is that if it isn’t already a part of my mental map, then it doesn’t exist. Alternatively, if I can’t immediately hear it, smell it, taste it, or reach it, then it also doesn’t exist, unless I consciously summon it in my mind. However, there are so many things that vie and jostle for my attention, most of them related to my immediate surroundings and the logistics of managing it, that I don’t have time to indulge in such wandering and wondering of thought the way a sighted person does. Navigating from one location to another takes enormous concentration, and I can’t afford to falter. Most everything in my daily occupation is a multi-sensory affair, set of compromises, work-arounds and necessary adaptations in order to make up some ground on my not having the commodity of vision.

I thought that gaining some semblance of sight back would solve so many problems, and maybe I could go back to faking my ability to see the way I did when I was younger. How lovely it would be to walk down the street without my mobility cane. How lovely it would be for people not to immediately be aware of my disability. How lovely it would be to pretend I fit in. Oh, I don’t see so well, I would say with a dismissive wave of my hand, but don’t worry, it’s okay. Of course you don’t have to do anything, I can manage, thank you for asking. No, no, it isn’t that bad. It’s nothing you can’t vaguely or viscerally relate to via your grandma, a friend, or a colleague you once knew. What, you cannot see? they would say, shock and surprise in their voice. I had no idea, they would exclaim, with each of us knowing that it was too late to back pedal, because the dynamic of equality had already been directed, and the equity already established. Oh, what freedom, what energy, and what fun I would have.

However, it is none of those things. I still need a mobility cane to walk down the street, orientation and mobility training to new places, braille menus, adaptive technologies, and accessible information, infra-structure and attitudes in all their guises.

That said, my newfound vision is utterly amazing. There are no words to express my gratitude, delight and humility regarding the entire process. There are no words to encompass the expansiveness of my appreciation and feelings of relief, relish and reward. However, it hasn’t brought me the things I thought it would. I have the yellowness of the train doors against the grey of the carriage, but not the seats or people sitting upon them inside. I have the edge of the green grass against the white of the pavement, but not the line of a table or chair. I have the stripes of a zebra crossing as I skip over them, but not the bulk of an electric car sitting idle beside it. I have an idea of where I left my red wine, but cannot always find it. I have an imagining of how this dress looks, but cannot truly be sure it flatters my curves. I have an inkling of what a horse, dog, cat or fish looks like, but I can’t seem to keep those images firmly in place within my head. I have to think in order to conjure their cartoon-like faces I use to identify them.

Once upon a time, I would indulgently flick through all the things I would and could do in my Rolodex of if only I could differentiate a building from the road, a tree from the ground, and one colour from another. I would pretend how differently my life would turn, the person I would be and the places I would go. I somewhat foolishly, yet understandably, banked my ambition on a mirage of leafy palms and fresh drinking water, the way anyone would without a point of reference, only to find mud between my fingers. I hadn’t expected to secretly require more detail than I possess. I hadn’t expected to end most days on the verge of a migraine. I hadn’t expected to forget what things are. I hadn’t expected to see so much. In fact, I hadn’t expected anything.

In the rosy coloured glass corner of my mind, I thought that having sight would mean having energy, but I’d forgotten what having sight was like. I’d forgotten the exhaustion of fragments and flickers that skip and dip across my universe like fireflies in the night, and my not having the capacity to catch them, with their movement never stopping, no matter how much I beg or broker for them to stand still, even for a second, so I can get my bearings or see them more clearly. It is a world of unrelenting modernist abstract, asymmetrical patterns and visual bric-a-brac of which I cannot keep up with. Often I find myself seeking out the uninterrupted arc of a clear blue sky for respite from the onslaught of cluttery, spluttery flotsam and jetsam assaulting my brain.

I am shocked at what I can see, and what I cannot. Sometimes I forget to look, as I’m so used to living without sight, that it’s a physical, mental and emotional effort to actively learn to use it. I need to touch things as I see them in order to translate the pictures into something I can actually comprehend.

The a-frame of my husband’s legs as he strides across the living room fascinates me. Sometimes I like to sit in the middle of the floor and invent excuses for him to go back and forth past me so I can watch the swish swish swish triangle triangle triangle as he paces. I like to lie on my belly on the kitchen floor tickling the reflection of the fluorescent light cast upon our ugly tiles with my fingers, then move my head to create a shadow before removing it again, as my eyes chase the trick darting beneath my nose. But like a pot of gold, I can never quite catch the glimmer properly.

I like to invite my sisters-in-law for tea, so I can test my vision against their kindness. Each time I wonder if I will be able to tell who is who by sight alone, and each time I have to giggle at my not knowing until they speak. I still can’t believe that bananas and lemons are not the same colour yellow. It takes discipline not to stop at every plant residing on our garden path to examine it with my eyes, scoop up the contents of a florist shop, pat every puppy, or pick up every piece of fruit in the fruit bowl and compare it with another in a bid to quash my curiosity, and almost morbid fascination with what looking entails.

I know I will never catch a tennis ball, unless it’s by accident. I will never read the eye chart, unless I climb up on the ophthalmologist’s desk to examine it on the wall, and even then, it will only ever be a lucky guess. I will never sign my name on the dotted line neatly without someone else’s intervention. I will never read a novel unless it is in text to speech electronic form. I will never recognise my best friend while walking down the street, even if she does tell me exactly where she’ll be and what she is wearing. I will never see just how pretty my daughter’s blue eyes are, let alone how they mirror those of my husband. I will never be good at jigsaw puzzles, colouring within the lines, or purposely creating a perfectly executed smokey eye. I will never see my toes unless I bring them to my nose. I will still need help picking a nail polish colour, and even then, I won’t truly understand its vibrancy or effect. And I still won’t ever neatly ice a cake the way I can in my culinary fantasies.

However, what I have is so much more than I ever dared to hope, ask or want. How many others can say they’ve gotten their vision back? Normally people are adapting to vision loss, so there isn’t really a precedent for learning the light. I play totem tennis, draw circles on the chalk board, practice rolling a brightly coloured marble around a pizza pan, try to watch television, hold my head up, use flash cards, watch the clothes blowing on the washing line, string streamers, stare at clouds, and read the contrasting hands on a big analogue clock, all as a way to train my eyes to work. But still I’m so often confused and bewildered by the imagery that my unpracticed brain has to sift through, and in theory is supposed to be able to decipher, but cannot. I don’t know if it’s ever going to get easier, or become more natural and automatic.

What I do know is that I am extraordinary blessed to be in this situation. However, regardless of my situation, or the situation of anyone else who is blind or has low vision, what would you do if you could see is not an appropriate question. In fact, posing it is actually obscene, predatory and unacceptable. Therefore, for each of us concerned with the interaction, regardless of the accident, oblivion or innocence of your intent, please save the cause for embarrassment and awkwardness by keeping your need to know to yourself. Because no, that kind of negation of the norms and social contract does not move us forward as a couple, as a community, or as a greater conscious collective.

Equity is not lavishing me with costly queries to quench your thirsty curiosity, nor is it going to miraculously change the inferred worthlessness of my not seeing into something more palatable to your invisible ideals. What it does is shames and blames me for my blindness, declaring with its thinly veiled recriminations that I am not capable, valid or viable enough to have a stake in this conversation, let alone anything larger or more conducive to the world. So regardless of how empathetic or sympathetic you think you are being by posing it in the first place, please don’t. Don’t do it without considering how you would feel if the question were flipped on its head, and you were the one being commanded to dance for a silver coin of supposed good will and secret entertainment.

What Would You Do If You Could See?

If I were to answer such a ridiculous question, it would go something like this. I would read every street sign, chalky special, restaurant menu, shopping centre touch screen inventory, and silent hotel swipe card thing. I would read every sticky post note on people’s computer monitor and every newspaper headline over someone’s shoulder. I would devour every ingredient on the back of a grocery packet in the supermarket, every bus number, train billboard, t-shirt, trailhead or arrow pointing toward some hidden treasure. I would scroll through every meme on social media, go through every instruction manual ever written, pour over every hand written ancient scroll I could get my hands on and drink in every shaky letter drawn by my daughter as she takes her first steps into literacy.

I would drive a car everywhere, confidently cut across an open courtyard without calculation, ride every kind of bike, and dock a boat all by myself. I would steer a crane, fly a plane, pilot a helicopter and launch a rocket. I would dive from the sky, jump off a cliff with a bungy rope, and swim to the bottom of the ocean to look at shipwrecks and fish.

I would aimlessly and easily meander down little laneways, referee a soccer match, play netball, become a surf lifesaver, and run around the block, the suburb, the state, the country, and the world a thousand times without fear of hitting anything. I would turn up to the gym, an orienteering race, a cooking class, a welding workshop, life drawing session, defensive driving school, do a university degree, or anything else I could think of without having to first negotiate the logistics, inaccessibility, prejudice, or the everything of it all.

I would iron my shirts without creases, exquisitely decorate tiny cupcakes and mix delicate colours on a paint pallet in nuanced shades. I would cut cheese, melon, pie and bread straight, and choose spices, condiments and other foodie elements by sight alone. I would use the printed recipes from my neighbours, look at baby photos of my daughter, embroider intricate pictures onto linens, and read paperbacks under a lamp by my bed.

I would use every public toilet, bubbler, chair and tap, and mess up the order of financial currency in my wallet into something haphazard and random. I would cut out shapes that actually line up, and write my name in fancy calligraphy on hand made cards. I would use a paper calendar, smile at numbers ticking over on a digital clock and understand sign language without needing to touch it.

I would design garments, draft a house, plot a printed map with pins, watch birds, watch for snakes, and physically watch television or a blockbuster at the cinema. I would watch how-to videos on YouTube, silent movies, foreign films with English subtitles, or a play, puppet show and pantomime. I would watch everything.

I would make eye contact with the cute bar tender, the busy barista, bored bank teller and the shy beautician. I would make eye contact with everybody. I would stare at myself in the mirror for hours on end, and then stare at everyone else until they were uncomfortable under the intensity and fascination of my gaze.

I would totally ignore people on purpose, smile at people when they smile at me, mouth exclamations to a person across a table, the dance floor or conference room. I would silently signal for a waiter, a taxi, or another runner as we passed one another, and wave at random strangers just to gauge their reaction.

I would sort jellybeans and paper clips into colours, choose clothes with confidence, pluck my own eyebrows, paint my own nails, and push the pram like the other mums. I would have two hands free to gesticulate while walking down the street, two hands to carry twice the amount of shopping, two hands to carry my little girl when she got tired, or two hands to indulge in both a coffee and a pastry at the same time. Because one hand wouldn’t always be taken up with my mobility device.

I would ogle every cake, take away food counter and display product. I would browse at jewellery behind glass, pluck wine off a shelf with a cursory glance, buy stationary I would actually use, appreciate the art in a museum, and describe everything in glorious detail to my best friend regardless of whether she wanted me to or not, and never ever get lost five or so metres before my destination. Oh my God, I would walk in and out of every doorway I found just because I could. I would be spontaneous, plan nothing, do everything and think nothing of the privilege, power and freedom.

I would find glee in a sunset or sunrise and the ability to know the difference. I would luxuriate in the visual contrast between closing and opening my eyes, invent reasons to perv at my husband as he walks past, and play with my shadow whenever it caught my eye. I would be forever mesmerised between the different yellows of bananas, pears and lemons. I would get distracted by bright flowers and bright sparkly tutus, and never ever be able or want to take for granted the green grass striped against the white footpath or the pretty purple poppet of my daughter skipping just ahead.

But most of all, I would revel in what I have, and be philosophical about what I do not. I would know that to see is not just a function of the eyes, but also a function of the mind, body and spirit. Lastly, I would know that the questions people ask and the answers proffered in exchange cannot and do not define either of us, and nor should we let them.



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