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Stories From the Edge of Blindness

In 2002, Retinitis Pigmentosa changed my life. This is my story of a slow approach to darkness.

Tag

loss

By Your Side

I have been in a bleak place lately.  It is a familiar place, a place of introspection where I can try to figure out what is bringing on the sadness.  I thought it was because of the shit storm of rejections I have been getting, but they were just the cap on feelings that were already dragging me under.  I have been feeling overwhelmed for so long.

After coming to the conclusion that it isn’t the rejections that are pulling me into the clutches of sorrow, I had to stop and breathe and look behind my eyes to see what has been troubling me.  This can, at times, be a herculean task, as I seem to be troubled far too often, and it is never just one thing. But, I have become good at peeling away the layers, seeing what lurks beneath.
Continue reading “By Your Side”

For You My Friend

I am posting this poem for an extraordinary and beautiful new friend.  You know who you are.  My heart and love are with you today.

Sono’s Death Poem

Don’t just stand there with your hair turning gray,
Soon enough the seas will sink your little island
So while there is still the illusion of time,
Set out for another shore.
No sense packing a bag.
You won’t be able to lift it into your boat.
Give away all your collections.
Take only new seeds and an old stick.
Send out some prayers on the wind before you sail.
Don’t be afraid.
Someone knows you’re coming.
An extra fish has been salted.

— Mona Santacroce

 

Bones Plucked Out

I am thrilled to have my poem, “Bones Plucked Out“, in Eunoia Review today!!!!

Poem in Anapest Journal

I wasn’t expecting this one to come out today as well, but I am thrilled!  My huge thanks to editor Veronica Bruce!  3 of my poems will be in Anapest (a part of The Paragon Journal); this one is called, “My Mother’s Breaking Body”

Seasonal Voice

I wasn’t going  to write about Christmas, but here I am at 6am on Christmas Eve morning, reading lots of posts about Christmas, and I felt like adding my seasonal voice to the mix.   Let me start by saying, I love Christmas!

When I was a child, my Mom adored being festive; she had boxes of decorations for every holiday and made sure that the rooms, windows and exteriors of the house were appropriately adorned.  Christmas was her favorite; although Halloween did run a pretty close second.  Every year, upon the arrival of December, my Mom would open the plethora of Christmas boxes, overflowing with elf figurines, tiny trees, dancing Santas, lights, paper cutout snowflakes and every other (non religious) Christmas decoration you could imagine, and transform our house into a seasonal feast for the eyes.

During the first week of December, she would bring home the tree.  She lit a fire and made pots of tea and we spent the day decorating the fragrant branches with ornaments that had been around since before I was born.  My moms exuberance about the holiday was catching and we couldn’t help but be swept away in it; she made the entire month of December shiny and joyful and fun.  We celebrated the season and the month of December, not just one day.  It was a celebration of life and of love; it was a time to wrap up in the comfort of home and family.  We were lucky.

My Mom never lost her love of Christmas, even when she got sick.  I was 13 when she was diagnosed with cancer, but even in the years when she was the sickest, she had a magical ability to conjure up joy.  For her very last Christmas, my mom was in the hospital, but she insisted that we celebrate.  We brought Christmas to her hospital room and she, as always, brought love and light.

8 days after Christmas, my Mom died.  For years, I couldn’t celebrate Christmas, and when I tried, it felt empty and wrong.  It was as if the light of Christmas had been extinguished with my Mom’s light. After her death, I slipped into darkness; I couldn’t breathe or feel anything.  Christmas became something to dread, because she wasn’t there to make it beautiful, to bring it to life.

I turned my back on Christmas, rejected its trappings and merriment, but time and love eventually brought me back into the arms of the season.  I came to a place where I could feel grateful for having known and loved someone as magical as my Mom, rather than just feeling the pain of her absence.  I started thinking about how lucky I was to have had a Mom who made Christmas so special. I was slowly coming around, and then, 9 years ago, I met my husband and found myself actually getting excited about Christmas. With my husband, I found joy and home, and I wanted to share a little bit of my Mom’s magic, which, I realized, had been with me all along.

 

 

 

Writing Sample Part 4 – Surrender

It’s impossible to think about going blind without thinking about loss.  When you have a degenerative disease like RP, the loss comes in unpredictable bursts that steal pleasures and pluck freedom from disappearing fingers.  In the weeks just after my diagnosis, I thought a lot about how my life would change and what blindness would take from me; I was most afraid of losing the ability to read the printed word.

 I have always loved words; the way they can simultaneously smooth and sharpen the page. A life that leaves me unable to see the printed word is unimaginable.  I feel paralyzed by the thought of no longer seeing how the shapes of the words meld and flow.  I wonder what kind of writer I will become when the pages turn dark. Perhaps I will learn to rely solely on the musicality of language; the taste of the words in my mouth and the feel of their vibration on my lips. I am sorrowful when I think of no longer taking the words in with my eyes, but I will read voraciously until the darkness has swallowed them up.

Although the loss of the ability to read was my greatest fear after RP became part of my life, one of the most significant rites of passage in an RPer’s life is giving up driving.  I was a terrible driver, for now obvious reasons, and always felt anxious behind the wheel, but I have definitely felt the loss of freedom since I gave up my car for less convenient forms of transportation.

Because one of the first things that alerted me, and the doctors, to my RP was decreased night vision, the consequential difficulty led me to stop driving after dark immediately following my diagnosis. The combination of the darkness and the glaring lights of oncoming cars made it so I simply couldn’t see well enough to drive safely. In truth, it hadn’t been safe for years:  I had just been lucky.

I had also, in daylight hours, had several run-ins with walls, poles and curbs that seemed to jump out at me from nowhere.  This started serious contemplation of whether I should continue driving at all.  Walls and curbs only hurt my car, but what if it was a child or an animal that I didn’t see?  I couldn’t bear the responsibility of hurting someone just because I didn’t want to give up my car; so, about seven months after my diagnosis, I gave up driving altogether.

When I decided to give up driving, I chose to surrender my license and make the rite of passage official; I had no reason to hold onto it when I knew I would never drive again.  I needed to make it real.  I suppose it was my way of dealing with the loss head on, not allowing myself to live in denial about the gravity of my disease and how it was going to continue to change my life.  I was empowered because I took charge of the decision and I knew I was doing the right and responsible thing.  I felt the loss, but it was intermingled with a sense of relief.

It the first couple of months without my car, I joked about how lucky I was that I never had to be the designated driver and how I had always been a lousy driver anyway, so no big deal that I would never drive again.  True statements, but I also started to see how my disease was a burden to the those around me, and how I was going to become less and less practically useful as the years and the RP progressed.

I hated listening to my family agonize over who would drive me home after a family dinner, knowing how tired they all were.  I hated knowing that once I arrived somewhere, I was stuck until someone else was ready to leave; I had lost the freedom to come and go as I chose and because of this I became more reclusive.  I didn’t want anyone to have to take care of me.  I was determined to take care of myself.

My family never complained and I knew that they were just trying to make things easier for me, but I needed to find a way to assert my independence.  I had always had a fiercely independent nature and I wasn’t going to let RP rob me of that.  So, I learned the ins and outs of the LA transport system, which is no small feat given that it is the worst in the country.  I remember the first months of riding the bus, looking out the window at the enraged faces of the drivers in their cars, and feeling lucky that I got to spend my ride home listening to music, far away from the stresses of road rage and blaring horns.

Surrendering my license ended up saving an important part of who I am, and showed me that my determination means something.  And let’s be honest, L.A. busses are full of stories dying to be told.

Mortal

My poem, “Mortal”, was published in WildFlower Muse in March of 2016.  I am posting it today in honor of the anniversary of my brother’s death.

4 Years

Today is the 4th anniversary of my brother’s death.  He has been on my mind more than usual this week and I woke up this morning feeling like it must be impossible that he has been gone so long. I can’t believe that I am now the age he was when he died. Where have all the days gone? I miss him so much. I really could have used my big brother’s advice with the whole Zelda thing (Zelda is my white cane).

John(that’s my brother) was sick on and off from the age of 18 until his death at age 48.  He knew more than most what it meant to feel different and defeated, but he had a determination that I have rarely seen.  We weren’t close as kids; I was the one who swooped in and usurped his title of youngest child, and he had absolutely no use for me, but in the last years of his life we had truly become friends.

We both loved Harry Potter and saw almost all of the movies together.  While waiting in line to see “The Half Blood Prince”, a group in front of us kept growing; people coming into the line gradually to join the two girls who had been there from the beginning. John and I had been there for about 4 hours ( we were dedicated), and John was not happy about all the people arriving late and essentially cutting in line.  When the line finally started moving, the now pretty big group ahead of us had to gather their blankets and backpacks and purses, so John grabbed my hand and raced up to get ahead of them in line.  One of the girls had the nerve to call us out on it, so John turned around and told her that she had joined the line late and we had been there the whole time, so tough shit. She replied by saying that everyone one was doing it, and John said,” If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you do that?”.  It was a wonderfully old man kind of thing to say and I loved him for it.  I loved watching him stand up for us.  I wish he was here so we could reminisce about that day.

Maybe two or three years after my RP diagnosis, I was feeling sorry for myself, lonely and misunderstood, and I made a comment about how no one in my family could possibly relate to what it felt like or what I was going through.  Later that day, John came to sit with me at the dining room table and told me I had hurt his feelings by what I had said, because he understood.  He understood what is was like to feel loss, to feel afraid and different and alone.  I knew in that moment that neither of us were alone.  I learned in that moment what it meant to be brave. I saw in that moment how much John had been teaching me all along, about strength and kindness and honesty.

I am lucky that John was my big brother and so grateful that we became close and that I really got to know him, but I wish he was here so I could tell him how amazing he was and how much I miss him.

 

Poetry and Blindness

 

I realize that I am a rubbish blogger, tweeter, instagrammer and facebooker.  I go along feeling as if I have just written a blog post and when I visit my site, I find it has been months since I have posted a single word.  The truth is, some days I have nothing to say or I am afraid to face the things I know I want and need to say, and some days I write as if I am burning and crazy and elated and drowning. None of which leads me to blog on a regular basis.

Although I have not written a blog post in a long time, I have been writing and rising out of the ashes of a disease that steals not only my vision , but my sense of self and purpose.  I always knew that I wanted to write, that the spaces inside the words are where I feel my truth, but I got lost in the murky waters of RP.  I wrapped myself up in the task of becoming a blind person and forgot that I am a person beyond my blindness.

Outside of this blog, I write poetry.  Poetry is really my first writing love; it is where my creative pulse was born.  A few months ago, after a 20 year hiatus, I decided I wanted to start submitting my poetry for publication again.  I had some things published when I was in my 20’s, but life got complicated, I put my writing voice on a high shelf and I stopped sending my work out.  Starting this blog got me excited about writing again and although it took years, I finally immersed myself in my poetry and gathered up the courage to put my voice back into the literary world.  I was elated when the first response I got was a positive one.

Heather Lenz, the poetry editor at Stepping Stones Magazine, accepted three of my poems for publication.  I am over the moon.  I feel reunited with my self and my passion.  I feel as if I have stepped out of the darkness and learned how to weave RP into the fabric of my life rather that allowing it to smother me.

I can’t say that I will become a prolific blogger; I am still trying to get a handle on that discipline thing, but I do think I will be blogging a lot more.

 

The two poems that have appeared in Stepping Stones Magazine can be read through the links below.

Twenty-Five

Tiny Voice

 

 

 

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