After Losing My Sight, Struggling to Be Seen

M. Leona Godin

After Losing My Sight, Struggling to Be Seen
Brian Rea

Blindness can make you paranoid in love. Is he looking at another woman? Is she prettier than me?

At the kickoff dinner for a five-week retreat in the Catskills, I said to my fellow writers, “I suck at being blind.”

This is only partly true. I’m good with the technology that allows me to be a writer, but I’m not so good at the mobility thing, which is where my sighted partner, Alabaster, comes in. I had work to do and didn’t want to waste time getting lost on the way to the dining hall, so I asked if I could bring him. They said yes.

I was the only blind person, the only disabled person, the only person to bring a companion, so it was understandable that people would ask, “How did you two meet?” But it bothered me that my fellow writers were more interested in my relationship than my work. As he and I told and retold our complicated history, we were pushed to the breaking point.

Before the age of 10, I had normal vision, and since my early 40s, I have been totally blind. During the decades of losing my sight, I was visually impaired.

As I was going blind, my dating life proceeded as it does for many urban 20- and 30-year-olds, with a lot of falling in love that sometimes resulted in shacking up. Two months here, four years there — that seemed to be my relationship expiration date.

The year I turned 30, I trained with my first guide dog, Millennium, a sleek black Lab. I still had some usable vision during the day but could hardly see at night. With Millennium, though, I could go out by myself at night for the first time in years.

My boyfriend became a casualty of my newfound freedom. When he moved out, he said (half joking) to Millennium: “You won, buddy.”

Yet that freedom did not translate into how people saw me: I suddenly went from looking “normal” to looking blind. At intersections, strangers would grab my arm and attempt to usher Millennium and me across the street. I understand they were trying to help, but sighted people often forget that blind people also do not like to be grabbed by strangers.

“I know karate!” I’d say, shrugging them off, and I did. Blind karate is a thing.

This was in New York City, where I was teaching English literature as part of my graduate degree. I wore cute little outfits — herringbone skirt suits with high-heel boots. I did quite a bit of dating those first few years with Millennium.

But academia was not for me. After receiving a dissertation grant, I had so much time on my hands that I began moonlighting as a performer at East Village open mics. I wasn’t particularly talented at comedy or the accordion, but I got friendly with great people who accepted my guide dog and me as two of the freaks.

I met my partner, Alabaster, in a basement black-box theater. He’s a singer and composer, and from his first song, I experienced a strange mix of sorrow and glee and awe. I could tell from the way people treated him that he was good-looking, too. In various stages of proximity and strong lighting, I would glimpse that fact. Thus, he is preserved in my mind’s eye, youngish and beautiful forever, as am I.

We were both loosely dating other inappropriate people in the scene. Nothing happened until my roommate and I invited him to take the vacated third room in our Astoria apartment. Our previous relationships melted away, and when he got a gig to transport some rich man’s art to Florida, I volunteered to join him. We first kissed by the side of a fancy swimming pool, and love followed hard. That was a decade ago.

Something the movies don’t show when it comes to blindness is how it can make a person paranoid in the love department. Or at least that has been my experience: Is he looking at some other woman? Is she prettier than me? Is he looking at me with love? Such are the questions that fueled my jealousy. I had been prone to fits of insecuriity with different boyfriends, however my anger grew with my blindness.

Throughout one among our early meals with my writing fellows, Alabaster stated, “Oh yeah, we had some knockdown drag-out fights again then. She punched me within the face as soon as.”

Everybody laughed. I used to be aghast. Apart from the truth that I don’t bear in mind punching him within the face, it’s not one thing I wished these close to strangers to learn about me. He meant it to be a comic story about how tousled we had been again then. And we had been. We broke up after a yr collectively.

The summer time of our breakup marked my nine-year anniversary with my first information canine. I had misplaced fairly a little bit of imaginative and prescient over these years and it was tougher for me to get round. But, it was time to retire Millennium. He was slowing and wanted to reside his remaining years in tranquillity. My information canine, my lover and my roommate all moved out in fast succession.

I referred to as my greatest pal, Indigo, crying. She flew within the subsequent day to assist me. We cleaned up the residence and I discovered new roommates. I additionally had a summer time fling with a pleasant younger man I met at a present.

“Is he cute?” I requested Indigo.

“Oh, yeah,” she stated. “You simply need to shoot him up in a rocket.”

Which is how he got here to be referred to as The Astronaut. But it surely didn’t final.

I bought educated with my second information canine, Igor, a ravishing German shepherd, however I had by no means developed good mobility expertise. Earlier than, I may all the time see visitors movement and now that I used to be blind, I didn’t know learn how to pay attention. Information canines are solely nearly as good as their companions, and I used to be not good.

Alabaster and I by no means utterly stopped seeing one another, though we dated different folks. Just a few years later, we re-declared our love and dedication, and inside a month, Igor died instantly due to problems throughout surgical procedure. I used to be devastated and riddled with guilt for my ineptitude having stuffed his too-short life with a lot stress.

Alabaster helped me by way of this loss, and we clung to one another. We had been extra humble by then and considerably extra sober.

Six years have handed throughout which we have now been almost inseparable. It’s not possible to say what our relationship could be like if I weren’t blind. Being blind is a part of who I’m now, and being with him can be a part of who I’m. But I wrestle to be seen as a succesful, distinct particular person, which is why, after working so onerous on my e-book proposal and promoting the mission, after being nominated by my agent to attend the Catskills fellowship — finishing the beastly software, after which being accepted — it was painful to assume that my writing fellows weren’t seeing me.

The paranoia crept again, besides now, as an alternative of fearing my man could be led away by one other girl, I feared my very own accomplishments had been being eclipsed by his appreciable charms and skills.

Alabaster helped me get round campus, and others assumed he did far more. At dinner, I discussed studying an e mail, and somebody stated, “You imply, Alabaster reads it to you?”

I defined about my screen-reading software program, my Braille show.

Even after I introduced my work, folks had been extra passionate about Alabaster’s music and former navy service. Perhaps they thought blindness made me much less approachable. Perhaps they puzzled what an excellent, sighted man like Alabaster was doing with this blind-woman ball-and-chain.

I want I may say that I used to be proud quite than jealous of the eye he bought, however the imbalance strained our relationship in a manner that it hadn’t been in years. So many nights within the Catskills led to arguments and tears.

I started to dream of reasserting my independence, of returning to my life as a single particular person of price quite than a blind sidekick. Though imagining my life with out Alabaster made me see that I may after all reside with out him, I additionally understood, with a sudden readability, that I didn’t need to.

“These folks don’t admire me,” I assumed, “however he does.”

On the final evening of camaraderie over beers, somebody stated, “You and Alabaster have been one of the well-liked matters of dialog right here!” And for the primary time, I didn’t hear, “What’s an excellent man like that doing with a blind girl?” I heard, “You two make a extremely good couple.”

Just a few of my fellow writers had vital others ready for them at house. Amongst us had been extra divorcées and single folks. Wanting again, I’m astounded that I forgot for these weeks within the Catskills that, blind or not, love is simple to lose, onerous to seek out.


After Losing My Sight, Struggling to Be Seen
M. Leona Godin
The New York Times
Jan. 17, 2020



Maria José Alegre