Everybody has been through the stresses of high school. The burden of peer pressure, constant relationship issues and having to keep up with the latest trends and looking good ALL the time all contribute to these stresses. Most people can’t imagine having to go through all of that as well as being blind. I did and to top it off, my blindness was a sudden and explained phenomenon.
It happened five months ago, a week before my school formal. Mum and I were at our local shopping complex looking for the final touches to complete my outfit. We walked into a small, clustered jewelry shop. The florescent lights were starting to hurt my eyes. We were on the hunt for rusty pink, feathered earrings to match my dress. Both of us were wandering gazing for something that matched what I was looking for. I was tired and wouldn’t have minded if I just wore some gold earrings I already had, but Mum insisted I buy something I really liked because it was my last year and I “…deserved it”.
Earlier that day, we were at the food court sitting outside a Mexican place. I remember the details very well; she was wearing a blue t-shirt with a grey throw over and her black jeans. Her natural brown curly hair was tied up into a neat low ponytail though I could see it beginning to unravel. She came and sat down with both our meals and she started eating hers immediately. I remember watching her eat, the way she would always make sure she had every element in the dish on her spoon in each mouthful. She caught me watching her and asked me “what’s up?” I replied by apologizing for asking her to spend so much money on such frivolity. She looked up at me with her large, brown, almond-shaped eyes and said, “Baby, you are worth it and completely deserve it. I love you, always remember that.” My heart began to swell and I thought I was going to cry. I stared at her face, which so closely resembled mine and felt safe and loved. I began look away and as I did I dropped my spoonful of food all over my jeans making a large dark stain. I groaned as she began to hand me napkins holding back her giggles. Back then I really cared what I looked like, so she passed me her throw over so I could hide the mark. She’s always been there for me.
It happened in the middle of the pokey jewelry store. I was absent-mindedly roaming the aisles, running my fingers gently along the displays when I started feeling dizzy and my vision became unclear and slightly blurred. Mum called me over enthusiastically, pointing at an object in her hand, indicating she had found something. I looked up and could barely see her but I hurriedly rushed over to her. She pointed to the pair of earrings that she found. I tried to focus on them to get a good look but I just couldn’t, my vision remained hazy. I shut my eyes tightly and when I opened them again all I could see was black. A spasm of blinking came over me but my vision never came back. The panic set in then, I felt nauseous, disoriented and bewildered. I grabbed onto the display shelf to steady my self and I felt mum’s hands on my waist catch me. I recognised the sound of metal hitting polished marble floor. Mum immediately asked what was wrong and I felt her breath hot on my face as she spoke and I could hear the alarm in her voice. I remember trying to explain to her what was wrong but I think I didn’t know how. She took hold on my arms and gently guided me out of the shop. I felt the air become thinner and then the cool breeze as we left the mall. All I remember was the terror and distress coming over me, her comforting words tickling my ears and the gentle stroking of her thumb on my arm.
We arrived at the car and I reached out to the touch the smooth, cold metal. She tenderly guided me into the car and buckled me up like you would for a small child. I felt the door shut then a few seconds later I felt the car lower as she entered from the other side. I heard her rummaging through her bag then the jingle of her keys as she fitted them into the ignition. I felt the car come to life and heard the hum of the engine. She sighed deeply and heavily and I felt the car start travelling backwards. I felt numb. I lay my head back and shut my eyes.
All I recall next was a string of doctors. Their cold, robotic voices telling me things I couldn’t comprehend and didn’t want to hear. “…permanent and incurable…” “…no cure…exceptionally rare…” I felt as if the life I had known for seventeen years had come crashing down. I had to learn everything all over again, even the basics. I lost all my freedoms; everything I once used now was useless and insignificant. All I felt like doing was curling up in my bed, in the foetal position, and waking up when it was over. And to top it off I missed the formal.
I didn’t want to carry on, what was there to do. I was useless. I sat at home and stared at the back of my eyelids. I saw black with white and yellow dots. It looked like the night sky, like someone had turned the sun off and I was in permanent night. If I pressed the heel of my hand against of my eyes until bright patterns would flash across my eyes and opened my eyes, I would sometimes see a bright light, which reminded me of being flashed in the face with a torch. It was the closest thing I had to ‘seeing’.
School was hard. Navigating around was difficult at first; I had to be guided around by someone. The stairs made it extra problematic. I was given all new texts books, exactly the same as before, but in braille. The raised bumps, which corresponded to letters, numbers and symbols, helped me ‘read’. The disease helped me realize who my real friends were. The endless whispers as I walked past began to drive me crazy. I know no one meant to leave; I must be odd being friends with a blind girl. But Eric stayed.
He came to visit me when I was going through my ‘loner’ phase. I was lying on my bed facing the ceiling feeling hollow. I felt air brush past my face and rustle some papers on my desk. The smell of soap, lemon and cardamom swept past my nose. I sat up and faced in the direction I knew the door would be. I could feel his presence there. It was silent for a few moments and I felt a tear roll down my cheek. I felt him come nearer and put his hand on my cheek. He wiped the tear away with his thumb. His touch was smooth on my face. The sensation was reassuring. He sat on the bed beside me and put both arms around me and held me tightly, gently stroking my hair. I lay my head on his chest and I could hear the constant thump of his heart against my ear. It was a steadying sound. In that moment I felt safe and loved. We stayed like that for what felt like an eternity; I would have liked to be there for forever.
After being back at school for a few weeks, my friends decided to throw a party for me because I missed the formal. Mum and Eric helped me choose what I was going to wear; we ended up going with my formal dress. I could hear the joy and excitement in Mums’ voice, which made me glad. I went and got ready with the help of Mum. She did my hair and makeup and I had all faith in her to make sure I looked nice. When I came out to show Eric it was silent. I was worried, did I look that bad? I felt mum leave my side and then I felt his hands slide around my waist, He smelled of soap, leather and cloves. I felt the cool, smooth material of his jacket and his hot breath on my face. I put my arms around his neck and felt the minute hairs at the nape. Next I knew we were chest-to-chest then his lips were on mine. He kissed me tenderly and lovingly. The kiss; hard, but soft; fiery but cool; a split second but also forever, felt like home. In that one kiss, it felt like we breathed our souls and our love into each other. Mum interrupted our embrace when she put her hand on my shoulder. I reluctantly slipped out of his grasp as she pulled me towards her. She applied more lip-gloss on me then heaved me into a hug. I could feel her face wet against mine.
“You look beautiful, Baby,” she whispered in my ear. I hugged back hard. I had so many things to thank her for and to know she was happy filled me with joy. I wiped away her tears with my finger and as Eric took my hand and led me towards the car I blew a kiss in her direction.
We arrived at the party about an hour later. Eric got out of the car and came around to my side to help me out. I could hear the muffled dance music from inside the house and I could feel the thump of the deep bass from the ground. The sound of the music intensified as we neared the house. I felt Eric open the door and I was inundated by the lyrics of a pop song. I recognised the laughs and voices of my friends in the distance. Eric led me towards the source of the dance music. We reached the main party area and I was engulfed with laughter, people and hugs. I was hustled to a sitting area and doted upon for the next hour. I felt different, but in a good way. All night people brought me food and drinks and talked to me until Eric interrupted to pull me towards the dance floor. It felt nice to be admired but the constant questions and queries started to get annoying. I held onto Eric and just let the music envelop me. I let the music take control until the music and my body were one. I felt like it was like it was coming from the deepest part of my soul. A female hand grasped my waist and I heard my friend whisper in my ear,
Her words were soft but with a jubilant tone. They made me feel alive and like a brand new person. I held on to Eric again and he pulled me into a cuddle and kissed my hair. At that moment I realised what I wanted to do with my life.
People ask me now what it feels like to dance especially since I am blind. I tell them it feels like a really good conversation. There’s an exciting chemistry that runs through my body. I am energized and smitten. I am in love. It feels like I’m free, like I can see with my body. It’s amazing how wonderful I feel once I enter the stage, like I can do no wrong, like nothing bad will happen to me and like God has given me my talent and I should really use it.
After that night at the party, I realised that I am a dancer it was what I was supposed to do. Everybody was very enthusiastic about me getting into dance. Mum found a dance instructor named Marcos. He spoke with a thick French accent that had a lot of body. From the very beginning my ailment didn’t faze him. In our first meeting he came straight up to me, took my hand and laid it on his face. He told me to feel his face so I would know what he ‘looks’ like. He was able to teach me by literally put my body into the correct positions. He taught me specific situations for my feet and showed me where to place my arms. Sometimes he would act as a frame and put his limbs where mine are and show me how to make the movement as if we were one dancer. I learned dance terminology e.g. plié, first position, pirouette, fourth position, chasse, ball change, round kick. I knew what each term meant, and I could execute all of them. Whenever a step in class was announced in class, I knew exactly what was happening. As I progressed Marcos spent more one on one time with me.At one point I was spending full days at a time at the studio. I studied arm movements and specific placement for my feet for all my routines. That was what I wanted to do.
It was harder having to dance within a troupe. In performances and competitions my teammates and I organized how I would find my spot, keep formation, and get to where I needed to go. Most of the time I didn’t have to move far from my spot. I could still do many formations this way, and it helped make the transitions for me easier. If movement were necessary they would communicate with me verbally during practice and rehearsal, telling me where and when to stop or keep going so that for the performance I knew exactly what to do.
I can’t imagine my life without dance. I’m glad my parents didn’t hold back on letting me dance because I am blind. I’m grateful that they never thought I was too fragile, or that dance was too dangerous or too difficult for me. Dance shaped me and gave me the confidence that is a huge part of finding success as a blind woman. I sometimes thank God for making me blind because it helped me find out my true passion and made my life better than I would have expected than if I had complete sight. I am a healthy woman, following my passion, married to the man I love and expecting my first child.
It’s a funny story though. A few days ago, Eric and I were going through baby name books for our child. Out of curiosity we looked up each other’s names. I flipped through the pages running my fingers over the bumps feeling for the name that was so familiar to touch. Enzo…Eoin…Erasmus…Eric.
ERIC: “Eternal Leader”
I told him the meaning and explained at how fitting I found it because he led me into my new life. He continued to search for mine. I heard him scoff and laugh out loud when he found mine. He handed the book over and told me to read it. I scanned the page with my fingers until I found my name. I almost dropped the book when I read the meaning.
DAMALI: “Beautiful Vision”
All I can say is that God works in very mysterious ways.