by Merry-Noel Chamberlain
EDITOR’s NOTE: The following speech was delivered by Merry-Noel Chamberlain at the National Federation of the Blind Louisiana State Convention’s student seminar in April, 1999.
This is a story about my journey—my journey to blindness. As I tell my story, I am going to be referring to different "streets" I have encountered along the way. Each street took a varying amount of time for me to travel. To reach the end of one of these streets took anywhere from one to five to even ten years.
I began my journey on Infant Avenue. Here, I was unaware that I was different from anyone else. I started wearing glasses when I was two years old. In my baby book, my mother wrote that I was so good about wearing my glasses. The first thing I did in the morning was put them on and the last thing I did at night was take them off. I felt good about myself.
While on Elementary Boulevard, I was teased about my thick glasses. I was called all the names in the book: “cat eyes,” “four eyes,” etcetera. I am sure you have heard them all. I had to wear a patch over my good eye that just added to the teasing from my classmates. I then started to hate my glasses and even, at times, wanted to break them in two! I did not have many boyfriends. I felt ugly and I cried a lot.
I then started to climb Mountain Ridge Road with its ups and downs. When contacts entered my life, I vowed that I would not let anyone see me in glasses ever again. If I was at home with my glasses on and someone came to my door, I would toss those things off my face. Where they landed, no one knew. I would answer the door and pretend that I could see this blurry visitor. It saddens me when I look back at myself acting so childishly in my mid- to late twenties.
I had terrible nightmares, too. I had nightmares that I would close the lid to my contact case and accidentally snap one of them. That would cause me to get up in the middle of the night and go check to make sure they were okay. I had nightmares of being in a rush to get to work or school because I was behind schedule. On my way, I would suddenly realize that I was still wearing my glasses. That terrified me!
Then, I turned the corner to Introduction Alley where I met a blind college student. She was the first person I felt comfortable wearing my glasses around aside from my family. From her, I started to learn some alternative techniques. For example, she taught me to put a rubber band around my shampoo so that I could distinguish it from the conditioner. She even gave me a talking alarm clock. I began to learn about blindness, about alternative techniques, but still had terrible nightmares.
I progressed to Content Court where I started to feel a bit better about myself. I was introduced to other blind people and they accepted me for who I was. I was still learning but was just not ready to venture onward. After getting married, it took about three months before I even let my husband see me in glasses.
One morning, while driving my husband to work, we were on a straight road heading east, right into the morning sun. I had forgotten my sunglasses, so I borrowed his. All of a sudden, he started laughing. When I asked him what was so funny, he informed me that the right lens was not in the sunglasses. I had always known that my right eye was worse than my left. But, I did not realize until that day just how bad it was. I did not even notice that the lens was missing! However, I was content even though I still had those terrible nightmares.
Denial Drive was just around the curve. Things happened, but I would simply ignore them. Incidents would occur that suggested I had a vision loss, but I took no notice of them. For example, I would try to find something on the dresser or table and look and look and look for it...when finally, it would just magically appear!
One time, I bought a new pair of sunglasses. I was in the drive-through at McDonald’s when the cashier commented that she liked my new glasses. I thanked her and went along my way. But, I wondered how she realized they were new because I had taken off all the dangling tags. As I was eating, however, a fry fell. I looked down to find it, but saw some blur in my visual field. I took off the glasses to clean them, only to find that there was a sticky tag on the left lens. This concerned me some, but I dismissed it because I did not want to think there was anything wrong with what I believed was my good eye.
Then, I had a major car accident that totaled my car and almost killed my daughter. I thought I saw a green light and drove right into the middle of an intersection. My learning about blindness was rather slow paced in Denial Drive, and at times, even stopped entirely.
Recognition Lane was a hard road to reach. I was forced to realize that my vision was not as good as it used to be. I started to notice little things. For example, I would no longer see some of the things in my visual field such as the lights on my dashboard when I drove at night. I realized that streetlight signals disappeared from my view from time to time, and street signs became blurry. I was always looking at the ground when I walked. My social schedule also was dependent on when I could wear my contacts. If I was planning to go out in the evening, I would hurry home after work, to give my eyes a break. Then, I could wear my contacts later that night.
Pursue Parkway was a deadend. Here, visits to the eye doctors were more frequent. The doctor told me that I could no longer drive at night, and that my daytime driving was "questionable." I searched to find the answer of what was going on with my vision. My eyes were hurting all the time. At this point, my learning focused more on eye diseases than on alternative techniques of blindness. I wore my contacts less often, but only a few special friends were permitted to see me in my glasses.
After several U-turns, I arrived at Eureka Highway. This came on rather suddenly. I was at the National Federation of the Blind national convention in Dallas when I met so many people like me. I knew then that I was not alone. I wanted to learn all that I could. I started talking more openly about my vision loss and began accepting my blindness. I stopped driving and I started using the long white cane. I've started learning Braille, too. I no longer look down at the sidewalk when I walk, and the nightmares have ended.
Now, I have reached Paradise Way. I know that this is not my final destination because there is still so much for me to learn. But now, I feel good about myself and I no longer wear contacts. (In fact, I am not even sure where they are!) I go everywhere with my cane and I hold my head up high. My path has led me to the Orientation & Mobility Master's Program at Louisiana Technical University where I will continue on my journey, and obtain a job. Each of us is on a journey and is fortunate to have the National Federation of the Blind help us map out our way.
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