Breath & Shadow
A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
Breath & Shadow
Summer 2012Volume 9 Issue 3
By Ann Chiappetta
“Mommy, it’s the guy who made our kitchen!” exclaimed Cara, running over to
I smiled. Cara wasn’t good at remembering names, but she never forgot a face.
After a quick hug and kiss, he released himself from Cara’s seven-year old enthusiasm
and introduced Donna, his fiancée.
“Hey, Amy, “he said, clasping my hands and kissing my cheek,
“How’s it going?”
“Good.” I said, reminded that he was a grown-up now, a man, not the insecure,
seventeen year-old I dated all those years ago.
Heck, I was thirty-eight and he was thirty-two; the years left us both with a bit more flesh
I was thrilled to see him, but equally as uncomfortable. My pulse raced and I did my
best to hide the fact that I was still attracted to him, and prayed he or his fiancée didn’t
notice. We were even sitting together at the reception, a situation I was both excited and
I’ve been in love twice in my life, the first time at age twenty –two and the second time
at age twenty-six. I married the second man and still have dreams about the first.
Who am I kidding? I can’t get Walt to fade into a memory because we have the same
circle of friends. Every time I think that we’ve parted ways, some circumstance throws
us back together. This wedding was a perfect example.
After I ushered Cara back into the church pew, we played cat’s cradles with the string
I’d brought along to pass the time until the ceremony began.
The last time we’d seen Walt, he had remodeled our kitchen. That was two years ago,
when Cara was five. I still have the pictures of the two of them on hands and knees,
spreading tile grout on the floor.
She talked about it for days, saying, “Mommy let me get dirty!”
In fact, not only did Walt keep Cara occupied, but he also rescued us from a potential
contracting nightmare. I interviewed five contractors, all of whom were either too
expensive or overbooked and I was at my wits end. As a last resort, I asked all my
friends for other references, and asked them to pass on the word that we were looking
for a contractor. A few weeks later Walt called me.
“I heard you want your kitchen remodeled. If you’re willing to wait another month
or so, I can do it.”
I agreed. He even adjusted his fees after hearing I wasn’t working.
While Walt first demolished, then rebuilt our kitchen, I studied and wrote term papers. At
one point, he tried to get my attention from down the hall by waving his hands. Turning
from the desk space, I looked down the hall and saw him standing there but couldn’t tell
what he was doing.
“What is it?” I asked, sensing he wanted my attention.
“Wow, you really can’t see, can you?”
“All this time you thought I was making it up?” I teased.
“No, well, everyone said you’re losing your sight, but you don’t act like it.”
I wanted to tell him, “Yes, I’m going blind and I’m really scared.
I wanted him to take me into his arms and let me cry. But I swallowed the urge along
with the lump in my throat.
“Whatever you do, don’t pity me, okay? I’m still the same person.”
I couldn’t see his face, but his body stiffened, then relaxed.
“It sucks, that’s all.” He said, and went back to laying the floor tile.
On the last day, Walt packed up and snapped photos of our kitchen for his portfolio
and I handed him the check. As he folded and stashed it in a shirt pocket I realized that
this was it, most likely the last time we’d ever spend that much time together, and in
defiance of the feelings it provoked, I asked for a handshake instead of a hug.
He tilted his head and pushed my hand away,
“That’s not good enough.”
He smirked, and held out his arms. As he folded me into a familiar embrace, I wanted
to cry, tell him how scared I was, and find a little comfort from someone who cared. He
was always uncanny when it came to reading me and my thoughts. Just as good, in
fact, as I was at reading his. But I hung back, afraid that if I let go, I’d be overwhelmed.
I recalled that day as Cara nestled closer to me. The church was musty, cold and
damp. I put an arm around her, and she whispered,
“Walt was your boyfriend?”
“Yes, a long, long, time ago,” I whispered back.
“But I love Daddy now and Walt loves Donna.”
She quieted, then said, “Is it okay that I think he’s cuter than Daddy?”
Walt was the opposite of my husband in looks and temperament. Gary was responsible
and reliable and Walt wasn’t. But Walt was like touching fire and the chemistry between
us kept us seeking one another, even after we’d broken up. We remained lovers for
years after our lives diverged. One time he needed it, another time, I did. The attraction
was there, and it was unsettling.
My heart was in two places, and until that moment, I didn’t want to admit it. If it was like
this after fifteen years, there was no hope, I thought, watching Walt and his fiancé hold
hands while we waited at the reception’s bar for drinks. My husband couldn’t come, and
even though Cara was with me, I felt lonely. It didn’t matter that my husband needed to
work so we could come to the reception.
After a few drinks and an hour of dancing, I got my white cane and headed outside.
Cara was busy with a few kids she’d met and I took the opportunity to slip out after
letting the other moms know where I was going.
“Want some company?” asked Walt, appearing beside me.
Once outside, he put my hand on his arm and we walked around the garden.
“Are you happy?” I asked.
He stopped and seemed to consider the question before answering.
“Yes. I’m doing what I love to do. I’m with someone I think I can spend the rest of
my life with, so, yeah, I’m happy.”
He squeezed my hand against his side for emphasis. I felt his bicep bulge.
“What about you, Amy?”
I leaned into him for a moment, then sighed and let go of his arm.
“I’ve got so much to be thankful for, my marriage, my kids, and my family. For a
long time after my diagnosis, I pushed them away. I didn’t want them feeling like I did,
you know? But it’s better--I’m getting there, getting back to being me.”
“What’s it like—going blind, I mean.”
“Not being able to control it. Not knowing when it will get worse is what I hate the
most about it,” I answered.
I knew he was looking at me. I reached up and touched his cheek; I wished I could see
his hazel eyes one last time.
“I’m going to be okay.” I said, and fell in beside him. We walked back to the
reception, my arm tucked securely into the crook of his elbow.
I knew I didn’t have to say I was scared about losing my sight, about living with the
anger or the fear. Walt knew. He understood, and, if I’d learned anything about him
during our friendship, it was that he respected and admired me for fighting my way
through the slush pile called disability.
“Amy, did I ever tell you how amazing you are?” he said, and leaned in to kiss
It was just like the one he shared the day he finished renovating our kitchen. There
were so many times I wanted to know what he thought about me, about my life, my
decisions, but I was too afraid to ask. Too afraid to let anyone get close enough to see
But those words and that kiss provided me with the answer I’d ached to hear for so
many years. He validated our past and the future with a simple set of words and
gestures, what I will always remember as a renovation of the heart.
Anne Chiapetta writes because she is compelled to do so in order to remain a
somewhat balanced human being. Her poetry has appeared in small press publications
including Lucidity and Midwest Poetry Review. Ann’s non fiction articles have appeared in Dialogue Magazine and The Matilda Ziegler Weekly E-zine, among others.
She lives in New York with her husband, two teenagers, and a bunch of furry and
feathery critters, including her black Labrador guide dog, Verona, and bitzer doggie
named Neeka. Read her blog at: www.brainnatter.blogspot.com