Written by Kristen Witucki
The T-shirts a friend gave us our first Christmas out of the closet proclaim this message inclusively via puff paint in both print and Braille. The phrase usually implies love's majesty over visual attraction or its ability to hide lovers' faults from one another. But what if the lovers are both blind? What if blindness bridged the gap between different races, different economic and educational backgrounds and an age difference sometimes called May-December? Yet to say blindness begot the love gives people the illusion that blindness is more than a physical disability. I cringe when people have that "aha!" moment and realize that even though I'm 28 and James is 62; I'm European American, and he's African American; I have multiple graduate degrees, while he has been educated in the school of hard knocks; we're both blind. "Aha," they seem to think, blindness is the common denominator." But even our blindness is different: I have been blind since birth, and James went blind in his thirties and can remember light, colors, faces and print. Both of us have had sighted partners, with whom we shared other characteristics such as race, education or age. But now the two of us are a family, and among deeper values we share, we're both blind.
James and I both work in the customer service department at a not-for-profit company; he taught me the idiosyncrasies of the software we use. It's my starter job while I'm in school, earning degrees in education and in creative writing, but I hope to find a job with more teaching and writing responsibilities. For James, this job is likely his last before retirement: the culmination of a working life initially fraught with struggle as his vision deteriorated but later crowned with triumph when he embraced the opportunity of blindness to recreate himself, to build his knowledge, skills and self-respect. James doesn't talk about this much; in fact, he doesn't talk much at all. His speaking reminds me of a church bell, a voice which is easily drowned by traffic but which is worth pausing to hear.
As our friendship blossomed into love, we felt uncertain about our age difference. Didn't this lifestyle only work for celebrities and politicians? Would people think James was perverted? Did it indicate some sort of psychiatric pathology within me which stemmed from my father's death when I was an adolescent? Would I end up taking care of an old man or worse, become a young widow like Mom? But I couldn't deny that I felt happier and more stable than I have ever felt during my adult life. We grew very quickly into a pattern of caring for each other. James helped around the house while I studied, and I became the voice and the writer behind all of our official transactions. We share books and music, talk of our days, make love, tease each other and analyze the complexities of the people around us. We feel like a family.
Before James moved into the apartment, before we told our families and friends about our unusual relationship, I told James I want to have a baby. Conception of even one child in this economy feels like a luxury only the wealthy can afford, but I've heard the call, a swift tide carrying my bloodstream, "I want to have a baby." James didn't flinch or shudder, even though he has adult daughters and granddaughters. "Well," he said, "I'd be honored to have your baby." This is a unique viewpoint, even for me; if I had already raised two children, I know I would never, ever want to parent again as an older person. But I knew James's intelligence and compassion would help to make a great baby. And I knew from my father's early death that parents can die whether they're old or young, so the thought of parenting a teenager alone someday doesn't frighten me. Suddenly the relationship felt less like a rendezvous and more like a life decision.
We were fortunate to have very accepting family members and friends. No relative approached the interloper with a shotgun or disowned us. Our co-workers were the easiest people to inform, because they knew James and I and were happy we had found each other.
Now that our secret is unveiled, we've grown accustomed to our differences, and we're turning to the kid issue. Our most pressing concern is that someone will try to take the child away from us, because we're blind. The only news story I found about a blind couple was that social services officials had tried to remove their kid and place it in foster care. Luckily members of the National Federation of the Blind had intervened. No headline reads, "Blind couple has kid, and everything's fine." The thought of surviving labor and sleep deprivation and learning how to parent is less daunting than that of justifying our choice to the world. According to the National Center for Parents with Disabilities and their Families, sponsored by Through the Looking Glass, "There are nearly 9 million parents with disabilities in the U.S. -- 15% of all American parents." Yet parents with disabilities seem like exotic birds, fishing and eating alone.
Fortunately, the internet gives prospective parents with disabilities a virtual community. We bought a book called Hands-On Parenting. We eavesdrop on NFB's blind parents' Listserv. We've read a website devoted to parents with visual impairments and are taking a course in parenting preparation offered by Hadley School for the Blind. We even met the adult child of blind parents who has a doctorate in neurobiology and who told me, "I know five kids with blind parents, and we all turned out ok." And through it all, we continue the dialogue about whether a wave in the ocean of our profound love should consummate in a child. We still wonder how we'll afford it, but we know that our insight, empathy and communication will make it work.
Kristen Witucki has been totally blind since birth. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Vassar College, a Master of Arts degree in teaching gifted students from Teachers College, Columbia University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She is currently earning her third and final Masters degree in blindness and visual impairment from Dominican College and is putting the finishing touches on a novel for young adults. Kristen lives in New Jersey with her partner, James, and her guide dog, Tad; In the time which elapsed since this essay was written, Kristen and James have become pregnant and are expecting a baby boy in December. She can be found on the web at http://kristenwitucki.wordpress.com