A Four-Sense Morning: What Blindness is Like

This summer, a colleague asked me to read All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.

She wanted to know if the depiction of blindness within the book is realistic. I dove in and was transported. Blindness is very personal, so just as diverse as individuals are in values and personalities, thus are their experiences of blindness. Still, Doerr's lyrical, reflective characterization is the closest anyone has come in literature to "getting it right" for me. The novel inspired me to capture my own blindness in words, so welcome to my four-sense morning.

I awake not with the thought, "Shoot, I am still blind," but more likely, "Another night without superb sleep is over." I count on the chill of the room to make me move quickly. This I do as my feet encounter the roughness of flat carpet, then the furry inside of my slippers. As I shrug on my heavy, 20-year-old robe, I note the changing sound of those slippers on carpet versus linoleum, then the unforgiving cement of the patio as I take Nacho outside. The slosh of the fountain in the pond behind my house makes me shiver, no matter the air temperature. Nacho comes back inside to pace; he is ready to devour his breakfast, the rhythmic swoosh of his paw pads sounding like satin ballerina slippers, much more delicate than my furry rubber-soled ones. After the clatter of dog food against the metal bowl, the clunk as I deposit that bowl on its stand, and the splash of fresh water filling his other dish, Nacho makes short work of the venison and sweet potato kibble whose smell is earthy and inoffensive.

Halls, corners and doorways in my house are marked by different floor coverings, plastic corner guards, and throw rugs respectively. I bring the computer to life as the familiar robotic voice that has read me everything I've created or received the last few decade's starts yammering, set at a speed only other blind folks have ever been able to understand. I lean toward the computer as it tells me about new emails, news headlines and the latest chatter on the gymnastics discussion board that is my lifeline to my favorite sport. The click of the keys is efficient and deliberate, interrupted only by the grunt and sigh of Nacho as he, now sated, curls into the round bed right behind my chair.

Breakfast is prepared through the use of longstanding routines that require no vision: choosing the coffee pod I desire by reading the braille labels on the boxes, pouring liquids slowly with one finger bent lightly over the brim to avoid overflow, selection of cereal with the help of yet more braille labels. Nothing spills or splatters, and nothing requires sight. In fact, the chances are my eyes have remained closed or at half-mast this whole time, and no lights have been flicked on.

Back in the bathroom, I access medications that are sorted into a weekly organizer with braille abbreviations for the days. In fact, everything has its place as disorder is a personal enemy of mine. Minty toothpaste slides squarely onto the toothbrush and is verified by my tongue that runs lightly over the bristles before brushing insues. The cool moisture of face wash is scrubbed away by the warm abrasion of the washcloth, like an encouraging massage. Hair still clean from the shower the night before is dampened for styling by the spray bottle whose gushes remind me of the pumping sound used to raise the chair when my hair stylist gives me an easy cut that requires only wetting, a lightly sticky anti-frizz product, and scrunching with my hands that feel for any renegade spikes that need to be reminded of their curly origins.

Clothing choices are made with ease as outfits, matched initially through sighted help and then stored in my mind by texture and style, hang in my closet. My heart chooses what to wear that day, based partly on the events on my schedule but more on what I want next to my skin. All must be straight, tucked, smooth, and right, for style blunders from the sighted are daring, but those from the blind are cause for whispering, at least my mind says so. Jewelry known to me by touch is selected, especially the chunky, spunky bracelets that are my trademark. Perfume is the last accessory, matching the outfit and my mood as its scent will comfort me when I step into a world much less in my control.

Nacho goes out one more time. He is mellow and stoic, wagging lightly when business is finished and standing placidly as I put the harness on him, buckling the metal fastener as I stroke his wide chest. I kiss his nose as he stands still. Already, the serious demeanor of work has settled upon him. His love for the job is not communicated in snorts and wiggles. Instead, it whispers through his large head pressed against my now dog hair-speckled skirt and his ready approach to the front door as I pick up my purse to leave. He is the quietest worker of the four dogs I have had, demonstrating resilient composure in his slow, steady steps of ballerina slippers on other unforgiving cement, then the jingle of his collar as he jumps into the vehicle which, gladly for him, does not have room for him on the floor, allowing him to plop that large head on my lap as the car pulls away and we go out into the world together, just four senses and a partnership that is a lovely side effect of that missing fifth.