“With all due respect honey, you really should slow down,” my husband says after we nearly collide with a well-dressed gentleman in a black suit cutting across our path. I’m pushing our eighteen month old in her new trike across the concourse of our local train station. It’s a place I am very familiar with. Although recently, what little vision I have seems to be gently but painfully fading from existence. My life feels like it is slipping into shadow.
I love the trike with its extendible handle and small stature. It’s so much easier for me to use than the pram as it allows me to more obviously hold my cane. I worry that sometimes the comparative largeness of the pram frame might leave the cane almost invisible, making me feel vulnerable. Not that I’m willing to admit this aloud, because what if my husband thinks I’m not coping? Will he continue to let me push those boundaries of blind motherhood and independence I’ve been stretching of late?
On the one hand, the tight three-wheel configuration of the trike makes her zippy and flexible to push around, which is a beautiful and freeing feeling. But on the other hand, that same zippiness causes a greater degree of instability. Sometimes that front wheel has a mind of its own, and we can end up Dukes of Hazard style on one or two wheels as we zoom along. But in my defence, it isn’t only my reckless driving that causes us to almost topple over. Our daughter also has input as to where and when we steer courtesy of her set of handlebars being linked to mine. This can make for some narrow escapes.
Heaven help us when she learns to pedal and can contribute to our speediness. The speed, oh gosh, the speed is phenomenal. I love it! It reminds me of when my vision was clearer and I travelled faster. Much faster! Much, much faster! I miss that. Oh, how I miss that.
It’s early, which means the sun is behind me. It should be easy, like any other similar day. By this of course I really mean any other day in the part of my past I like to remember. It should be ideal for seeing where I’m going. But today it is not, so I’m already on edge.
This sucks, I think privately, as I peer at the grey, maybe there, maybe not shadowy obstacle before me. Well, it could be grey, or it could be green. Who knows? It could be nothing at all but a trick of the light.
“Step back,” my husband instructs gently as we approach the lift. The lady who exits in front of us touches our little girl on the head as she passes. I am mortified at the action. Utterly mortified! As in completely, absolutely no words are big enough to express or engulf just how beyond mortified I am at the intimacy and entitlement of the gesture. I become the mama who tells my husband rather loudly to go and slap her for it. What right did she have to touch my child? Would she have done that if I were sighted? Did she even notice I am not?
People are always taking advantage of my lack of vision in ways like that. Ways that they wouldn’t dream of doing with somebody else. It was both humiliating and infuriating. The possibly innocent and otherwise affectionate act may have been made out of love, but she was a random stranger, and it’s far more personally violating than anything she could have done to me. I feel as though some part of my soul has been tampered with. It’s as though a part of me, a deep, deep, precious part of me has been irrevocably changed. I’m almost bowled over. My breath catches under my ribs, leaving me grappling for air in the shadow of my fading vision.
“With all due respect honey,” my husband tries again, obviously unaware as to the cosmic shift which has just taken place within me, “you really should slow down.”
“Speed is not the culprit here,” I retort, defending my point of view with an unjustifiable vehemence. I wonder why I have to be right on this one. What has he awoken that I don’t want to recognise?
“It will give people a better chance to see you, and for you to see them,” he continues. His comment causes the continually simmering resentment within me to flare up and send sparks of anger and unfairness flying off me. If people opened their eyes, I think they’d have plenty of time to see me.
“Honey, it isn’t going to matter how slow I go,” I say. “I’m not going to see anything until I’m on top of it.”
My cheeks burn with shame as I say this, because I really don’t want him to know just how bad my vision has become in that respect. He did not marry a blind woman, I tell myself as our wedding day flashes across my mind’s eye in a series of snapshots. His handsome face, a black shirt, the sparkle of our rings in the sunshine, my pregnant belly, the sound of my dress swishing as I waddled, the feel of his hand in the small of my back, our two closest friends, the taste of champagne, our overflowing happiness, and the vows we made.
This is followed by a brief history of our courtship as my mind rewinds through the years. The long phone calls, butterflies at the thought of him, sweet sensual kisses, shared secrets, stolen moments, silly emails, laughter, culinary competitions, deep discussions, and oh the anticipation of everything. Because I had known long before him that we would end up as we are.
I just didn’t know our relationship would be this good, or my vision would be this bad. I knew it was a possibility but I didn’t know what it would mean. How could I? How could anyone? This wasn’t supposed to be happening to me. This was supposed to be happening to somebody else. Anybody else. Nobody else.
How could this be my life? It’s as if my mind is travelling backward to the day we met in a bid it has made a thousand times before to change history, but to no avail. Stop that, I scold inwardly. Stop that, I tell myself as the love emanates from him like a burning fire, even in my memory. He didn’t sign up for this, I think as a pang of guilt shoots through me like lightning, jolting me back to the present.
“Well then, people will see you,” he says. No, no, no, no, no, I scream in my head. Again, I wonder what nerve he’s touched. Why oh why am I defending myself? I know he’s right.
“Okay,” I say, trying to appease both him and myself. We both know by my tone I don’t mean it, but at least I’m trying. “I will slow down,” I promise. If there’s one thing I can’t hide from him it’s the truth. My voice always gives me away. And if not my voice, I know it will be written in invisible ink across my expression.
“It will just make it easier for others,” he says. Why should I make it easier for them, I wonder bitterly. Surely if they use their eyes, they would see me coming. I am aware of my environment, so imagine how much more aware I would be if my vision was as strong as theirs, I muse. How could people not be aware, I continue down the linky, clinky chain of my thought.
It occurs to me that I have this idea of what having vision is really like, and that even though I like to think I can see, I really cannot. So how would I know? It’s like trying to imagine what it’s like to have children when one doesn’t, I think as my little girl reaches around and tugs on my finger. Because before having her, I had no idea. I thought I did, I theorised I did, I imagined I did, but oh how I did not. This is so much bigger, better, bolder, and busier than I could ever have conjured up in my tiny mind.
Surely having sight is the same, I ask the shadows dancing across my eyes. But it hurts me to imagine. Because if I brew on it for too long, and by too long I mean any more than half a millisecond, it’s as if all my limitations come into sharper contrast, and hem me in even more tightly. So it’s easier not to think about it. It’s safer to sit in the discomfort of denial, because at least there I can get more done than I otherwise might if I understood the truth of things.
I look up, as in really look up. My husband is standing less than a metre from me, and I cannot make him out. I can barely make the outline of a figure, let alone the contrast between his grey jumper and his handsome face. Why can’t I see my husband’s face? I used to be able to see it when we stood here like this.
The very thought physically scares me, and my skin bristles. But it’s nothing compared to the next thought, which questions whether my vision was ever good enough to see him. Have I merely built a construct in my imagination of what he might look like? I mean, do I really know? Do I really have a solid frame of reference like I assume, or is it a figment based on false observation and the opinions of others?
I’ve been in a world of pain lately in terms of everything being so shadowy and dim. Everything echoes around me, but I can’t put a body to the noise. I am exhausted. Not just mama exhausted, but exhausted exhausted from trying to see, which is a whole other type of exhausted in itself. So add the two together, and I’m very, very exhausted.
“Honey, but I don’t go as quickly as I would if I could see,” I say, again trying to defend myself, but it comes out as dejected more than anything. What I mean is, I used to walk much more quickly when my vision was stronger, and now I feel so dithery fithery and incompetent.
As it was, last night I walked home in the dark and ran into three trees, one fence, and somebody else’s driveway before finally finding my bearings. And even after that, I turned too soon and hit the front wall of our property when my husband called me from the front gate. Because yes, my vision has become that bad that he has taken to standing on the street waiting, watching, and talking me home with his kind words.
I never used to be that disorientated. If anything, I pride myself on my excellent orientation skills, and the ability to always know which direction I’m facing and where I am in relation to everything else, be it big, small, or otherwise. So what the hell was that? I’ve walked that route thousands of times, literally thousands of times before.
Every time a car approached from the opposite direction, it was literally blinding. But the same happens when I go from sunshine to shade and back again. So on those beautiful sunny days when the light is dappled, it’s like walking with a strobe light in my eyes.
I cannot cope. No part of me can do this. I don’t tell my husband any of these things. At least I try not to tell him. I try not to show him, but I’m pretty certain he knows, even if he doesn’t let on. Not because I wish to keep secrets, but because I’m afraid. I am so afraid. I am afraid for myself, I am afraid for our child, and I am afraid for him. I’m afraid of who I am becoming. I’m afraid my daughter will resent me and my husband will reject me, not because he wants to, but because I give him absolutely no other choice.
What if he leaves me? I don’t think it because he’s ever likely to abandon our union. It simply isn’t in his makeup. I think it because it’s safe to think. It’s a distraction from the gun to my head. I think it because the lie of maybe he will go is more comforting than the reality. I think it because it is me who would like to opt out. Not from us, but my blindness. If only I could leave the shadows, the baggage, the bullshit, and the broken self that seems to accompany it.
As it is, sometimes when we’re out admiring a view and I can’t see it, I wonder what the point is of me being there. What kind of life will I have if my vision fades away to nothing and I’m left in complete darkness? A nothing life, I think sadly. What kind of a life do I have now? I am angry all the time. I’m angry and I don’t know how to articulate my feelings. I try to contain it, but it pours from me like soot from a steam train, coating my outlook in a thin black hue.
Our house has grown steadily darker over the years we’ve lived there. Sometimes I find myself yelling at the crappy light fittings for being too, I don’t know, too shitty. I hate the white light bulbs as they are too white. But I hate the yellow bulbs for being just too yellow. The fluorescent stripe in our kitchen used to be my favourite brightest place, but now it is my least favourite. My least favourite besides the lounge room, the bathroom, or under my treasured mother-daughter lamp beside my desk.
“I’m just trying to help, honey,” my husband interrupts my thinking.
“I know you are,” I respond flatly. I am defeated. The day hasn’t even begun and I’m already done. It is so depressing.
He kisses me ever so softly on the lips in a gesture of love, one which is so familiar to me that my heart aches with its power, giving me a clear indication of where he’s coming from regarding this conversation. I cannot deny his insight and wisdom. I have to give it to the man, he really does know me well.
What he doesn’t realise is that when I’m with him, of course I speed up. I speed up because it is safe. He is there to look after us. He is there as my eyes, and an extra pair of ears. My husband clears the path, and if he can’t clear it, he commentates about it. Therefore, I speed up because it’s one of the few moments during my day I get to feel semi-normal.
But again, I don’t think to say any of this to him before my train arrives because I’m too stuck in the fear of it all. I’m trapped in my thoughts, and the overwhelm of what is to come. I’m already going through the million micro decisions I have to make in order to get on the train and find my way to work.
“Have a good day,” I say as I lean up to kiss him goodbye. “Have a happy day, Little,” I say as I lean down to kiss our beautiful amazing daughter on the top of her head.
“There’s a seat for you on the far side,” my husband says as he steers me toward the train doors, and at the last second hands me my favourite travel mug filled with piping hot happiness.
“Thanks honey,” I say distractedly as I step into the vestibule. What I really want to do is turn around, wrap myself around him like a blanket, and have him carry me home.