By Kristen Witucki
Langston knows my husband and I can’t see. That we are both blind. He never points at things and always attempts to verbally describe something to us. He knows that if he wants to show us something he can’t describe, he needs to bring it to us or us to the site. He even manages to show us where our dog threw up without having us touch it directly or touching it himself. “Mess,” he says in disgust, “mess, mess!”
Last August, a job teaching English and creative writing at the West Virginia School for the Blind caused my family and me to pick up and move from the Northeast, where we’ve always lived, to West Virginia. In New Jersey, both my husband James and I worked, but now he has retired and is Langston’s fulltime caregiver. When I rationally think of immigrants and ex-pats recreating their lives in new lands, the move is inconsequential, but when emotions outrun my intellect, the move is gigantic and becomes more so as the weeks turn to months and the months turn into the end of my first year as a teacher. I miss the diversity and accessibility which come with living in a suburb along the Northeast Corridor. I miss play dates and chatting with mothers of children Langston’s age. We can’t walk to a grocery store or a doctor’s office anymore, so because my husband and I are both blind, we need assistance driving there. My colleagues happily drive us places, but we worry, because we can’t reciprocate.
Langston also can’t attend a real nursery school until he’s four. Since I’ve come from a land in which kids seem to be educated at birth if not earlier, this feels appalling to me. My mother, however, received this type of rural education and assures me my child will come out all right in the end. We decided Langston needed some social exposure and that it didn’t matter whether the “kids” were his age or not. When spring came, we began making pilgrimages to the dorm, and through those evening journeys, we began to feel at home here.
“I want see Nee-nee again! See Ba-dawn, see Ed-die!” Langston tells me this several times a day every day. He can’t comprehend phenomena like teen social events which naturally exclude him or, worse, Homegoings, when my residential students disappear for a few days, leaving the dormitory deserted. Every evening, after I’m home from school, he wants to “see kids again!” Anita, a fellow blind teacher whom he calls Nee-nee, takes Langston down the slide with her on the playground or rocks him in the rocker on our front porch. DaShawn sees well enough to take Langston for rides on a scooter or a bicycle, or he runs with Langston, even after I tell him it’s ok to stop if he wants to. Eddie, a blind adolescent who wants people to think he has no feelings, drops the facade as he gives Langston a hug or a high five or lets Langston dump water on him during water fights. When we show up, my students cheer and accept him as one of their tribe, and Langston adores them. It doesn’t matter to him or to the visually impaired teenagers around him that he can see.
Although Langston is aware that his parents are blind, he has never articulated it. He knows what we need without knowing words for it. In my zeal to increase his vocabulary, I decided to talk to him about blindness one afternoon. “Langston,” I said, touching my closed eyes, “I am blind. Mommy is blind.”
“Bind,” he repeated.
“And Daddy’s blind,” I said. “Nee-nee’s blind. Eddie’s blind.” I decided DaShawn’s visual impairment was too complicated to explain in Blindness 101.
“I’m bind,” he said cheerfully.
“No,” I said, “you can see.” I touched his eyes gently with a fingertip. “See? Your eyes are open, and you see with them.”
“No,” Langston said, “I’m bind!”
Then he began listing our relatives. “Grandma’s bind, Aunt Frances is bind, Topher is bind …” (All of these relatives are sighted). Then he ran away to play with his cars and trucks.
I sat there, stunned. In my day job, I often encounter kids who deny the extent of their visual impairment, struggling to read print when Braille would be easier or pointing out what they can see. Now my two-year-old is denying his sight?
No, I told myself, you’re overthinking this. Again. I remember lines in Stephen Kuusisto’s ground-breaking memoir, Planet of the Blind. “On the planet of the blind, no one needs to be cured. Blindness is another form of music, like the solo clarinet in the mind of Bartok.…The sighted are beloved visitors, their fears of blindness assuaged with fragrant reeds.” Langston is the solo clarinet, a beloved visitor, upon our experiences as blind people and as his parents. Maybe all children, as participating observers, adopt worlds they’ll go on to leave behind.
Kristen Witucki earned her MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her first book, The Transcriber, became part of Gemmamedia’s Open Door series. Her non-fiction has appeared in Huffington Post, Literary Mama and the Momoir Project. She teaches English, creative writing, and Braille. She lives in West Virginia with her husband, her son, and her Seeing Eye dog. Visit her at www.kristenwitucki.com.
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