THE WORLD THROUGH MY WIFE'S EYES • by Ryan Knighton
My birthday is a conflicted twenty-four hours. While I’m more than happy
to bumble around this mortal coil, looking for whatever it is we look for, my
birthday also happens to mark a second beginning. The morning I turned eighteen,
I was told I was going blind.
According to my doctor, the twilight would dim for another five, maybe ten years,
then, well, poof. To this day I puzzle over the zeal for blowing out candles
on cakes. Sighted folks get off on the strangest rituals.
Not that I’m party-pooping at my own bash. I’ve other
causes for celebration. For one thing, my wife and I were born twelve
hours apart. We discovered this neatest of facts when we first met
in graduate school, ten years ago, when I was still a somewhat sighted
Our birthdays catapulted us into a first date, wings and beer at
a stupid sports bar. Granted it’s not the most swishy first encounter, but it’s ours.
We turned twenty-three together that night. More accurately, I aged in the morning,
and gloated that Tracy would understand certain things when she was older. Maybe
around suppertime. We’ve been inseparable ever since. Sort of.
I would give anything to tell you what my wife looks like, but I
I haven’t seen her face in five years. Even its memory is rapidly fading.
Her expressions, body language, the shapely gait of her walk, all of these things
are dissolving in my mind as I move further away from the visual world, and a
memory of what it means to see. Blindness is a troubling divorce from my gal,
and for her from me.
The paradox stings, too. Always with me is a feeling that I miss
her, even though she’s here, in traces of smell, sound, taste and texture. These hint at
the pleasure of an image I used to know, but can’t have.
Now, I bet I know what you’re thinking. Sure, I’m acutely
aware that I must delight in my other senses. Oddly enough, sighted
people are always the ones advising me to get with the program, and
to enjoy it. Many subsequently space out, lost in daydreams about
a partner who really listens. You know, like a blind guy might.
No doubt sight can dominate, if not overwhelm us. The rest of the
sensorium is clearly capable of subtle attachments to another person’s body and mind.
Having said that, the whole blindness deal still stinks. It’s a lesser
bliss, I’m sorry to report.
I do my best, though. Consider Tracy’s sound. I like to. The other day,
when she finished shopping, she returned to fetch me from a bench. I’m
not a fan of noodling around the mall. Really, I’d rather test electrical
sockets with a wet finger. That’s in part why I prefer to wait on a bench.
It’s also more comfortable than standing around Banana Republic, looking
lost and confused, as I tend to look.
Although I didn’t see her coming, I recognized her footsteps,
and stood up.
“How did you know it was me?” she asked, and placed my hand on her
The leather was unfamiliar. A new coat. Had I not known it was her,
I could still tell whose elbow was wrapped inside. Hers remains distinct
to me from all other elbows, even when dressed in a smooth, new texture.
I’d wager everybody
has known the body of a lover to this degree. Touch is enough, and I doubt it’s
a party trick specific to squinty folks.
“Nice coat,” I said. “I knew you were coming by the way you
walk. The way you sound. Your boots make a certain music when you move. It just
sounds like you.”
Call it an attempt at charm, honesty, or surrender to my condition,
learned to appreciate such sensations more than I used to. Tracy’s sounds
and smells mean more to me and my desire than they did when I was a sighted guy.
At least that’s what I tell myself, and practice on a daily basis, the
way others work at yoga.
Were I less shy, I wouldn’t have stopped at saying I recognized Tracy’s
walk. I would have added that she sounds attractive to me. Her walk is quick
and sure. She prefers hard soles, and higher heels. Each of her boots make two
defined clicks when she steps. Their sharpness is nothing like, say, the sound
from a rubbery sneaker. I think of those as the footwear of wallflowers. Practical,
but mute. And alarming to the blind. They’re called “sneakers,”
By contrast, I adore the clean, articulated percussion of Tracy’s step.
Because of her deliberate speed, I also hear her punchy confidence. The total
sound is an extension of her character: she is meticulous, self-assured and well-spoken.
That’s the sound of who I love, and I try to listen for it. I try to tell
myself this is little, but more than enough.
The picture remains incomplete, though, no matter how much I revel
in glorified details. I can’t honestly say I feel these sensations as a fully realized
image of my gal. Something about them remains malnourished. True, as a recently
blinded man, my other senses buoy me, but I can’t help feeling like something
is missing, too. Once a sighted man, always a sighted man, perhaps.
Smell has its own limitations. And I don’t mean “smell”
in the derogatory sense. Apparently we don’t want one.
Even a pretty smell, when too present, is smelly. Yet for me it raises
different olfactory trouble, and has little to do with my nose.
When Tracy passes me in our house, her fragrance doesn’t
arrive in advance. Perhaps that would smell needy, even clumsy or
brash. But as soon as Tracy nears me, the faint sweetness of her
air unfolds. The notes are singular, a subtle mingling of her own
scent with that of her perfume. Then, the full effect reaches me
* and this is the important part * the moment she passes. That’s
the erotics of smell and space. Different notes twirl in the air
after her. They make me want to turn my head. I want to look.
What a pleasure and a pain it is. I can feel the ghost of sight tugging
at my head, egging me to catch a glimpse of the woman who just walked
by. But what’s
the point? The full experience of her smell is without closure. Imagine the phone
is ringing, but you’ve no way to pick it up. So many sensations cage me
in this dynamic. I may be blind, but the codes and behaviors of a sighted man
haven’t left the building yet.
Last night, Tracy spent some time picking an outfit, curling her
hair, and generally getting gussied up for a movie and some sushi.
When she came downstairs, I felt the usual contradiction burn. I
wanted to say how terrific she looks, but can’t.
What husband doesn’t want to say this?
The words are available, but not their meaning. Even more is missing. Unable
to pay her that casual compliment steals something from Tracy, as well. AS if
my blindness is robbing her of her own image. She lives in a house, unseen. Somewhat
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like she nibbles at her spicy scallop
roll, needing praise for her poise and make-up. Nor do I fret about appearances,
be it hers or mine. Yet just think about the inevitable disconnection. She smiles,
and unless I’m told, I don’t give one back. I can’t gaze at
her, nor look into her eyes. With a simple phrase like, “You look great
tonight,” I can’t communicate all those fuzzy feelings that are both
caught and generated by a look.
And I’ll be honest, on her behalf. Saying how great somebody
sounds, or how nice they smell, only gets so much mileage. Frankly,
after a certain point, when the novelty wears off, it sounds peculiar,
if not creepy.
The problem is built into the very heart of our language. The word
“desire” comes from “Sirius”, the north star.
Desire, in other words, is a distant image that guides us, but is
never reached. Desire begins with an image. I remind myself because
it explains why my sense of desire is so lost. I grew up sighted,
so I’m tasked to learn another way of looking at love and attraction.
And I thought Braille was going to be a pain in the ass.
I suspect, however, that my next beginning is here, no longer guided
image, but by her voice. By words. In that lies the true frontier of our intimacy,
one I never could have imagined blindness would gift.
A real blind love, the literal kind, is a giving over of consciousness. Today
I let Tracy see for me. She makes us two who live more like one. Much of my world
only comes through what she chooses to describe and illuminate with words. Because
of that I am no longer only attracted to her appearance, but the appearance she
gives to the rest of the world.
A little domestic case in point. We have a dog, a tan-colored pug
with a black face. Technically, the pug-crazed would describe her
as “smutty apricot,” but
that seems overly pornographic. Not to mention abstract and plain wiggy. I have
little idea what she looks like. Except one night when Tracy and I were eating
dinner at the table. She began to giggle.
“What so funny?” I asked, and imagined my face and shirt covered
in tomato sauce. Again.
“Nothing. It’s just the dog. She’s curled up on her mat and
she looks funny.”
“Funny? How does a dog look funny? Is she, like, bent or something?”
“Well,” Tracy said, and puzzled for a moment. “It’s not
really the dog that’s funny, so much as what she looks like to me.”
“And what’s that?”
“Like a loaf of bread burnt on one end. A fat loaf.”
It may not be the most extraordinary sight Tracy has let me in on, but now I
have an idea what the dog looks like. With that I can also glimpse something
else. My wife is here, too, in the descriptions that fill my mind’s eye.
What a closeness to share. There she is. Everywhere I look inside.
back to hackery
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