Because I’m going blind, I lie.
Sometimes I run into my colleagues on the way out of class, and, turning towards the off-campus lot, they ask, Did you park over here? or, Coming? Oh, I forgot something in the office, I’ll say, or I’m down this way (accompanied with a nebulous gesture at not-the-lot), or My husband has the car today. For the first excuse, I have to double back, hover just inside the building’s threshold, trying to look plausible, call the Uber once I’m sure my colleagues have hit the highway. The second is good for when I feel like a walk, like choosing a direction and seeing what shape it takes, then finding an untrafficked corner from which to summon my ride. The third is also not technically a lie, because my husband always has the car, is the only one of the two of us who can see to drive.
Then there are the look-at-my-phone moments. I hope for them to give me some kind of cue, like a laugh or an “Oh my god, isn’t this awful/adorable.” This way, when I stare obediently at the glowing rectangle that I can only say with certainty has something with a few other somethings on it, I can react appropriately. If they don’t give me an emotion to mirror, I just smile, nod, say, “Nice,” hope I’m not looking at a headline about their favorite show being cancelled, or, you know, most news in general.
Then there are the game nights. Do I want to come over and play Mario Kart/Pictionary/that new card game for adults that is just so racy and edgy and exposes what a secret depraved asshole you can be, all while using your eyes constantly to recognize, perceive, judge? On these nights, I have a mountain of grading to finish (never untrue), I need to stay at home because the dog isn’t feeling well/I’m not feeling well/my husband isn’t feeling well, I already have plans, but next time, totally, keep asking. More problematic, though, are the social gatherings that were not supposed to be game nights but where someone excitedly suggests we play something, and that something always involves a lot of seeing. In this case, I have to seem like that girl who just isn’t all that fun, who would rather sit in the corner and watch, sucking down her beers alarmingly fast, and occasionally insisting that she is having such a good time just watching, really.
At the store, there’s always the hurdle of the tiny display that appears when I insert my credit card, that demands immediate decisions and actions with the miniscule buttons and even more miniscule text, all of which may as well be written in Klingon. And, as I squint and struggle, about a third of the time the cashier will say, “Forgot your glasses?” and I’ll say, “Yep,” even though they don’t make glasses that fix early onset macular degeneration, and, if they did, I sure as shit wouldn’t leave them at home.
Even the way I look at people is a sort of dishonesty. My vision is deteriorating from the center outwards, and it’s the center that’s responsible for fine detail, like reading text and faces. If I want to know what something or someone looks like, I have to cast my eyes slightly to the right, use my peripheral vision to get a general, still unfocused, picture. When I look at someone straight on, their face is obscured by the pulsing void that is the projection of piles of dead and useless cells at the back of my retinas. Any visual cues will dead-end, and I have to rely solely on their words, their inflection. But I make eye contact anyway, because it’s normal, what people expect, what makes them comfortable.
It’s why I do all of it. Not with everyone—not with my husband, or my closest friends, who have learned over the years to anticipate what I can and can’t do, who, before I can even ask, begin reading a restaurant’s beer list to me, highlighting things they know I’ll like. But for my garden-variety encounters, the ones with people who also don’t know that I occasionally have weirdly prophetic dreams about friends getting pregnant or that I refuse to watch TV shows that even reference a dog dying or that I once put on a mustache and a Goodwill suit to officiate a fake wedding on a train in Berlin or that I hike and rock climb and scuba dive and bake cookies with too many chocolate chips—I struggle to tell these people who don’t have a full picture of me that I can’t do things because my body is defective. It’s a difficult and intimate thing to share, and it’s hard to know what the right moment is. If I popped my head up from the card reader and told poor grocery cashier Barb (I’m assuming this is her name because I can’t read her nametag) that I’m pressing my nose to the display because I’m going blind, she’d feel terrible. And probably sorry for me. This is the thing that would define me for her.
I don’t like feeling like that, like I’ve thrown off the rhythm of people’s everyday interactions, like I require a different sort of reaction, like I’m painfully atypical and need to be tiptoed around. Lying allows me to define how I’m perceived. I get some control over the narrative, get to decide when to reveal my difference.
And yet this means I have to continually unspool these half-truths, untruths, that keep me unpitied, unmarked by lack. I know it’s not, strictly speaking, right, I feel a twinge of guilt at every sidestep and deception, know a better and braver version of me would put myself out there immediately. Maybe someday. For now, I have to hope that, when I finally feel I can choose honesty with someone, they will be able to look back on what I’ve done, on what I’ve let them believe until that moment, and will try to understand, will try to see.
Wendy Elizabeth Wallace (she/her) is a queer writer with vision loss. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, and has now landed in Connecticut by way of Pennsylvania, Berlin, Heidelberg, and Indiana. She is the co-founding editor of Peatsmoke: A Literary Journal, and met the kind people who suffer through her rough drafts at the Purdue University MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Carolina Quarterly, Longleaf Review, Pithead Chapel, Necessary Fiction, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @WendyEWallace1 or at www.wendywallacewriter.com.
Photography by: Bulkan Evcimen