I AM NOT YOUR JOHN MILTON*
You'd think that after twenty-seven years of this alien existence, I'd have learned to be a little bit more compassionate towards people and their weirdness towards me, but I haven't. It's always a fresh wound. Every time the workshop facilitator says, "I don't want to offend you, but I've never met another person like you before. How do you refer to your…impairment…disability?" (Delicately perfumed pauses, deep enough to drown in). Every time a classmate asks, "Did you see that movie…oh, I mean, did you listen to it?" (More hesitations, persistent as flies, unrelenting as needles). Every time a stranger calls me inspirational, just because I managed to get out of bed in the morning and walk to the bus stop. (Someone said that unrestrained wonder cripples curiosity).
I want to tell the workshop facilitator that political correctness was invented for people like her, so that they can hide behind their Power Point presentations and their fear. I want to tell her that I am totally blind, that my retina is dying, that all the tepid euphemisms in Washington won't dissolve my pain. Instead, I tell her politely that she can say "blind," that it's all right, that her anxiety is all right, that she is all right, and I smile, and she smiles, sort of, and I somehow know that a tiny bit of revulsion flits at the corners of her eyes.
I want to tell my classmate that I use visual metaphors more than she does, simply because the power of language lies in its ability to bridge the imaginary with the real. I want to beg her to please, please let me have one moment where I pass this impossible examination, where the self that I put forward is not my blind-self, but my quantum self, my imagined-seeing-self. I want to tell her the story of how my friend almost let me get run over by a bus, because she wasn't looking where we were going, and I want my classmate to laugh with me, because my story is absurd, because blindness is absurd, and yes, the flavor of my humor might be a bit odd, though it's rich and layered and aromatic, and if she'd just have a taste, maybe she'd ask for more, and we could enjoy it together. But if she's like most people, she will not laugh, and the lack of her laughter will be loud and bricklike and unforgiving.
I want to tell the stranger that for all he knows, I am an axe-murdering bitch who would strangle his children without a thought. I want to give him a bulleted list of all the reasons that I should not, under any circumstances, be considered inspirational. I want to tell him that I am going to be late for work today because I stayed up drinking shitty wine and watching insipid reality TV with my roommate. While I'm at it, I want to show him the extent of my shallowness. For example, I would never date a fat person like him. I want to explain how I dream that maybe I could be a painter like my mother and my grandmother, but that I'm too afraid to pick up a brush because everything I paint now will look unformed and childish, and I don't want the word "squiggle" to be associated with my name. Instead, I wait for the sight that might never come, and one day, my dreams will reach their expiration date.
If this stranger and I will be spending a lot of time together (the bus is caught behind a train, perhaps) I might offer him one of these tidbits. I might even start texting in the middle of his inevitable anecdote about his amazing blind piano tuner cousin in Outer Mongolia, just so I can demonstrate that I'm merely another obnoxious specimen of my generation. But all of my grand rhetorical strategies won't scratch the surface. They will mock me with their dull impermanence. By the time the bus arrives, his pure picture of me will remain.
You people who are afraid of me. You want something, too. When you first meet me, you think I have given you a gift. You see me whole and sane and relatively human, and suddenly the prospect of blindness seems tolerable, not nearly as cruel as those terrible ten seconds last Tuesday, when you awakened with a full bladder, in a strange bed in a strange house, and you groped for a lamp on a battered mahogany nightstand that wasn't there. You believe in my gift so much that your eyes grow sore from gazing at the glowing simulacrum that you have created, and you forget that she and I are not the same, that she is a phantom. My voice, when it comes, is uncanny, for phantoms do not speak.
My truth, my laughter, my tears, my fragility, my darkness. They are not wanted here. I am a thief.
*This essay was previously published on the Rebelle Society website.