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Below are a sampling of articles by Knighton. Discover his take on squid-flavoured chips, the neurotic psychology behind perfume, the fact airplanes have windshield wipers, and – most pressing of all –the dangers of Utah.
 

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SEEING 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 guy.

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 can’t. 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 elbow.

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, but I’ve 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,” after all.

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 disappeared.

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 by Tracy’s 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.



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