reviewed by MELISSA KATSOULIS
a memoir of going blind and, as you might guess from the title (and
the jazzy embossed Braille on the cover) it doesn’t take itself
too seriously. Which is no mean feat, considering the subject matter
is about as serious as they come. For who does not recoil at the
thought of being trapped in their head with the shutters down?
Knighton started life as an ordinary suburban boy growing up
in Langley, British Columbia - albeit one who seemed particularly
accident-prone and clumsy. But when, as a teenager, he crashed
his father’s car in to a ditch, he just couldn’t
explain himself. He knew he’d been driving carefully,
and he knew he wasn’t drunk. As far as he could tell,
the ditch had just appeared out of nowhere. He couldn’t
help noticing things did that quite often.
to him, this was the first sign of the degenerative eye disease,
retinitis pigmentosa, that would slowly rob him of his sight.
When he crashed the car, he thought he could see everything.
Now he sees through a hole the size of this letter m.
eventually facing “perhaps the most dispiriting thing
a newly blind person goes through” and taking up the
white cane full time, Knighton’s daily life was characterised
by failing to locate urinals and starting conversations with
barstools as he tried with increasing difficulty to pass for
he describes these pitfalls not with prickly irony or cynicism
but with an astonished awareness of the bizarreness of his
life - and, indeed, life in general. Because the things
that happen to him - the embarrassing mistakes, the dark sentimental
moments, the uninhibited dancing, the deceitful encounters
with the opposite sex - happen to everyone. It’s just
that most of us have only ourselves to blame.
blindness as a universal excuse only cuts one way. As an apparently “normal” looking
man (and a particularly cute and stylish one at that), Knighton
never gets used to the awkward moment when people suddenly realise
he’s blind, inform him indignantly that he doesn’t look blind,
and then instantly change their attitude to him.
he take sugar?’ isn’t the half of it. Once, on holiday
with his girlfriend in New Orleans, a pair of thugs accosted them
in a dark street and call out the words no middle-class white boy
wants to hear, blind or no: “Watcha got?” Having been
mugged before, Knighton knew what was coming next, and braced
himself for a drubbing. But the minute the attackers saw his white
cane, the atmosphere changed: “We, like, didn’t know
y’all couldn’t see nothing’… you look
like f***ing some normal guy, you know what I’m sayin’ ”.
And what’s more, “I respect your peoples and what you
got to deal with, man. We cool?”
he is not cool. He’s pissed, as they say over there, and
spends the rest of the holiday brooding over not the indignity
of not having been mugged.
however, the years of regret and denial came to an end in as unexpected
a way as they began.
would think that fate had already dealt her cruellest hand with
the retinitis pigmentosa, but one day, out of the blue, Knighton
received a phone call telling him that his beloved brother Rory
had been found dead. The world was changed again.
than anything, his death forced me to make room for a world that
didn’t revolve around my blindness. I miss things every day,
but what are they? Objects. Phenomena with colour, depth, and shape.
They have smells, tastes, textures, and weight…. Sure, I
miss these things, but Rory’s death is the first time something
in my world went missing. I thought I knew loss, but what did I
know? Little. That’s why, when we laid Rory to rest, I tried
to put something to rest in me, too. Things grow smaller in the
distance, and things disappear. Even blindness can. That’s
what I hope for.”
it takes some hope to live as this man does, knowing that you are
missing all the things that your peers’ creative, responsive
minds are taking in. Not seeing your family’s changing faces
is sad, but knowing you’ll never see your own “last
face” is perhaps even worse. Knighton no longer even recognises
himself in language; when a shop assistant asks “Can I help
you?“, who is “you“?
what makes this wonderfully readable memoir different from others
of its ilk is that the author emerges as someone you’d really
like to hang out with. He’s funny, imaginative and possessed
of a lightly-worn learning that makes his cultural and literary
references (from Oedipus’s desire for blindness to an imagined
Platonic dialogue on IKEA), well-judged and enlightening.
of all, Cockeyed is a unparalleled user’s guide to blindness
that will benefit the sighted as much as the sightless. He is a one
man de-stigmatization machine for his disability, and if you read this
book you will never again feel awkward around someone just because
you don’t know how much they can see.
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