By William H. Grignon
In my dreams, I can see, but I still use the white cane. I see it out of the bottom edge of my vision. It swishes back and forth, back and forth, tip and tap, tip and tap, tip and tap, sending crackling static to my seeing brain, adding blunt force data to what my dream eyes think they see – an imperfect impression, a looming blur, a pastiche of forms and faces, not exactly there, but not exactly absent – a world of smears and shadows through which I walk, then run, then stumble, then fall, the tip of my white cane catching in some unseen crack in the universe, thrusting its handle up and back into my guts, skewering me, pinning me like some commonplace bug against a broken backdrop onto which is projected the reflection of a medical report: diagnosis and prognosis, futility spelled out in scribbled jargon, fatality spilled into my upturned child’s heart.
And, when I was seven and learning that the world was quickened by blood spilled in the names of useful gods with bottomless appetites for broken children, I ran the white-coated gauntlet. I endured endless appointments and examinations, my father being pissed-off at having to take a day off from work, pissed-off I was sick with worry, pissed-off that somehow he had produced one of those broken children, and I heard the verdict but did not understand the sentence, “We know what it is. Unfortunately, we don’t know what causes it and we don’t have a cure. However, we know that, eventually, he will go blind, we just don’t know when. Have a nice life.” And so, we returned home, me vomiting in a dirty subway stall, my father pissed-off that I was vomiting and, as I figured out decades later, just pissed-off at life.
Moving forward, we didn’t talk about it. This broken thing inside me that made me different from all the “normal” kids. This brokenness threatened to flush my future down an ever-narrowing drain, a small darkening place of difference, otherness, and hopelessness. It kept my horizons just out of sight, just beyond reach, just far enough to give up hope but just close enough to trip me up when I wasn’t looking and, later, when I couldn’t look.
And the jargon became prophesy. The cells in my eyes died, rotted, and fell off. The edges of the world fractured, collapsed in on themselves, crumpled in and in and in until life jittered at the tap of my vision’s hypodermic tip – a small, bright, shivering droplet amidst a swirl of indifferent shadows.
And I remember the day I turned, looked around, and could not tell where I was, even though I was only a hundred feet from my house. It was as though the universe had shifted in my turning and everything had changed places around me, so nothing was familiar, and everything was terrifying in its strangeness. I had no point of reference, no anchoring landmark, no point to point me to where I was and I froze where I stood, afraid to move, afraid to maybe fall in a ditch, afraid to maybe step into the road, afraid to maybe never find my way home. But the moment of panic passed and, slowly, the familiar seeped back into the alien surround and I tottered home.
And then the darkness, no, rather, the nothing comes fast. Two years later I lose the last flicker to the encroaching promise of nothing and nowhere. For it is not a darkness. Rather, it is like apprehending life through double panes of frosted glass, in between which a mucus layer ripples, flecks, flickers, and shivers – like looking through a glass of pond water with its myriad microscopic life forms, floating exsanguinated cells, and jittering crystalline debris, tinctured by sparks and torn shadows. This is what I see with eyes opened and eyes closed, everywhere, no matter where. I force my eyeballs, as if my sight has drowned in its own rotten humor, slowly turning on ruined stalks, floating like stillborn homunculi, dead twins in a purgatorial slough.
And, after years of stupid resistance, I learn to use the white cane. Slowly, I pushed through a topography of sharp corners, sudden absences, and partial revelations – interpreting the echo within the shadow, the tone inside the voice, the ways through and around my own intrusions. At first, I am naked and center stage of my flailing self-consciousness. Then, compressed into a coil of nerve, I listen and move. Finally, concentrating on the tip of my tap, trying so hard to do it perfectly but, in the end, happy I have made it; thankful, too, for the guardian angels who seemed to appear when cane, ear, and brain failed to work out the escape.
And, so, in my dreams, I can see, but I still use my white cane. In my dreams I am two of me, dangling between the seeing past and the blind now, and I know, I know, I know, my blindness is not to blame.
And, in my dreams, I can see my white cane swishing back and forth, back and forth, like some bloodless bone-finger, thrusting, tip-tapping and tap-tipping, morsing out the flinch and hunker of the there that is not mostly there, beyond and between the me that reaches, touches, and feels with a hand at the end of my cane, connected by one, long, taut wire to a brain that wishes for only the obsequy of shards to enfold in a knot of flame at the still point around which I slowly twist. And I dream I can see.