I was walking with my friend Eytan through our village park on the Hudson River just north of Manhattan on a winter limned October afternoon. Heading for our cars with our two boys walking ahead of us we passed through a knot of children and adults when my left foot caught on something. Arms pinwheeling, I tripped forward before Eytan caught my right arm restoring me to balance.
I looked down and saw the startled coal black eyes of a blond haired toddler in a Yankee cap. Further to my left I heard a steely voice demand, “What are ya, blind?” I twisted my torso to the left and beheld a rather angry large young man in a dark blue Yankee windbreaker staring hard at me while a petite woman, his wife and the mother of the young child, I imagined, picking her son up and backed away from me as if confronted by a criminal intruder.
Gathering my softest apologetic voice, I turned squarely to face my interlocutor and said, “I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t see your boy. And, yes, I’m mostly blind on my left side. I simply didn’t know he was there. I’m relatively new to this and I haven’t yet figured out how not to be a menace to dogs, furniture and small children. I am truly sorry.”
We stood looking at each other for what seemed like minutes before his eyes softened and looked away from me to his wife and son and back to me before saying, “No harm, no foul.” I smiled, turned away and continued on my way out of the park with Eytan and our small boys.
This vignette is brought to you courtesy of the nasty effects of the the exotic malady, Bechet’s Disease. This nasty little number causes vasculitis-inflammation of the capillaries, veins and arteries. For me, and thousands of others, this means recurring mouth lesions, persistent rashes over my torso and upper arms, and ghastly, painful genital lesions, not to mention frequent bouts with uveitis, which over time, led to the permanent partial blindness in my left eye.
Twenty years past the stroke in my optic nerve that caused the blindness and one would think that I would have since learned to successfully navigate my partially darkened world.
One would think.
But no, that’s not happened. If I was born with this dark spot I imagine it would simply be a part of who I am and would not be a problem. But this partial darkness descended upon me after I turned forty and I have never learned to compensate for it, with the single exception of driving. I have learned to adjust the mirrors of my cars in such a fashion that the blind spot doesn’t come into play.
Navigating the world on foot is an entirely different matter. Here’s why: If I look straight a head of me and draw an imaginary horizontal line across my vision wherein everything below that line to a depth of four feet is lost to empty darkness, but above that line I can see everything as well as the sighted among us. If you’re a step ahead of me, you’ve comprehended the problem.
An example. When the blindness first took up residence in my left eye I thought there would be no problem. In the weeks after, however, when I got up at night to go to cross our bedroom floor to the bathroom across the hall, I inevitably stepped on our poor golden retriever, Nikki. He would yelp startling me into a ridiculous hop to avoid him as he scurried away. After the third night of this, when I swung my legs over the bed with my feet barely thumping the floor, I could hear Nikki in the dark scramble quickly to his feet and high-tail it for the corner of the bedroom giving me the widest birth possible. He, at least, figured it out.
Though I no longer step on our innocent dogs, the bed in our room, the one in my office, low tables and any other furniture that doesn’t rise at least four feet off the floor into my line vision is fair game, it would seem, for my sight-dimmed perambulations, night our day, dark or light.
My left leg from my knee to my toes bears testimony to my luckless navigation through our house, a house I should know like the the curves and planes of my dear wife’s face. At this moment, I have four nasty dark scabs on my knee, three smaller ones below on my shin and two deranged purple toes. I always look as if I’ve been fleeing the authorities through the brambles and the bushes of a rural idyll.
At least once a week, growled expletives spewing from my startled and enraged mouth announce to all in the vicinity that I’ve had yet another losing and painful encounter with a solid-edged inanimate object, objects strategically placed, in my enraged mind, to cause me the utmost harm. Yes, blindness can lead to paranoia.
It appears that I’m not going to learn. I’ve been thinking of going on to Craig’s List to search for used catcher’s gear, especially those nifty hard plastic shin guards. Then all I’d need to import from Holland are solid wooden clogs.