What I want to Remember
By Ann Chiappetta
I lost my sight at the age of 28, and resigned from my job because of it. I worked as a designer for an acrylic furniture company and could no longer perform my job duties, which were all visual in nature. I mourned this part of my life more than any other because I didn’t know how to take all the creative energy and transfer it into something else. One night, out of sheer frustration, I began to write. First it was poetry, most of it fanciful and meaningless. This turned into journaling and short stories, which led to some successful small press literary magazines publishing my work. It wasn’t until much later, when I was in college, that I realized I’d made the transition from expressing myself with the visual arts to those of the literary kind. From this point, I resolved to develop my talent because I knew it would become an essential part of learning how to successfully live with a disability.
What I didn’t realize back then was that re-training my mind was the cornerstone of the transition into blindness. I will always remember what life was like before it and I am grateful that I do have the visual references of the first 26 years of my life to help me go forward.
Images have a way of tattooing themselves to the psyche. If they are referenced enough, one will never forget them. All writers use this sensory recall as an essential tool to enhance the craft. What I didn’t know at the time was that developing it would one day help me deal with losing my sight.
I call this my soul sense, and it incorporates personal visual experiences with other sensory skills, like touch, sound, smell, and taste.
For instance, when I hear a jet plane, my mind cues up the image; when someone points out a beautiful sunset, I recall one. I use the power of observation to keep the memories close, that way I will never be without a reference.
Of course there will be surprises, like when I expected the Napa leather bag to be black or brown and the sales clerk told me it was electric blue. I’d never seen electric blue leather bags, so it took me a moment to put the image and the color together in my mind.
Blindness is a way of being, a distinct circumstance in which a person learns how to navigate through life. To ignore it means we are ignoring ourselves and denying the personal growth to cope with the emotional nature of living without it.
Retinal degeneration has made my world monochromatic. I do, however, remember the colors I can no longer detect. In my mind’s eye, the flat grey and black bushes dotted with stark white blobs are blooming forsythias lining the sidewalk. The vivid yellow flowers and light green leaves under the blue sky are only memories.
Does this sadden me? Frustrate me? It used to but not now. It happened so gradually that I had time to adjust. I already knew what forsythia looked like so for me, even when the color blindness began, the reference guide in my head kept me from feeling like I was missing out on something.
Retinal degeneration has also rendered me night blind. Since I was about ten years old, the lack of any form of light filled me with anxiety. It made me feel so helpless. Now, however, I do my best to face the dark with courage, though I don’t always succeed.
If I could impress just one piece of advice upon a young visually impaired person I would tell them to never give up, learn Braille, mobility skills, and trust themselves to know when to ask for help. I would ask this young person to remember the golden rule of true Independence: know when and how to ask others for help to achieve it. We are, after all, interdependent, learning how and when to ask for assistance will open doors and prevent social isolation.
What I miss seeing the most: faces of those I love. What I don’t miss: the ugliness of suffering and violence.
What advice to I have for someone who is progressing into blindness? Do the best to let your mind file away what you want to remember visually.
If you’ve seen a breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon, even if it was only a photo, when you are actually standing at the rim, it won’t really matter. You will be smelling, tasting, and listening to the majesty of that wondrous place. Your soul sense will aid in the expansion and creation of new memories.
Ask yourself what you want to remember and make it happen.
Explore, ask questions, and refine your skills for those times you will need them most.