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Breath & Shadow

Fall 2022 - Vol. 19, Issue 4

"The Write 2 Heal: It’s Not About the Sight Lost, but Vision Gained: A Review"

written by

Denise Noe

Jeanetta Price has assembled a collection of ten autobiographical essays, each by an African-American blind woman. The title and subtitle of the collection well describes the way writing is used in a positive way as a coping mechanism. The introduction by Jeanetta Price discusses the centrality of writing in her life: “I write my way out of hard times. I write my way while having good times. I write to release pain, not intending to gain fame or likes. I write to express what I suppress. I write what I hide, so you must read between the lines. I write with no limitations, excuses or lies. I write what I see beyond the eyes.”

With one exception, contributors to this volume were not born blind. Thus, stories typically are divided by the time before blindness and the time after it. Writers usually start with their backgrounds prior to vision loss. Jeannetta Price observes, “Being the youngest and biggest sibling was a little challenging at times.” Jasmin Duffey reveals that the lack of an “e” at the end of her name caused jokes about how her mother had been in so much pain from birthing her she forgot to add that letter. She talks about how other children thought her a “tomboy” but she just thought of herself as a kid who liked fun and believed there was no reason boys should “get to have all the fun.” Krystle Allen discloses that her life as a “good ole Jersey girl” was scarred by severe eczema. The skin condition meant she was “tormented by the itchiness, teasing at school, depression, low self-esteem, and suicidal attempts.”

Loss of sight was inevitably a major, and painful, dislocation. For Lynette Eberhardt, that dislocation was traumatic but not entirely unexpected as problems with vision because when she was very young. As a child, she resisted wearing “humongous, pink, grandma-looking glasses.” She was a young adult holding associate degrees in accounting technology and business management and seeking a bachelor’s degree in business administration when she started having difficulty driving and then reading. In young adulthood, she suffered excruciating agony due to both glaucoma and retinal detachment. In 2011, she underwent “surgery to kill the nerve endings in my right eye because the magnitude of pain was so great.” When she went blind, Eberhardt was so devastated that, instead of praying for a healing, she writes, “I tried negotiating with God to kill me.” Meeting “positive, independent, goal-oriented, and working blind people” helped restore her will to live. Toward the end of her essay, she tells the reader that she co-chairs a peer support group for blind people and belongs to the Community Service Division of the National Federation of the Blind. She enjoys “partaking in activities that reach out to other blind/low-vision individuals” and generally “giving back to the community.” She is also looking forward to earning a bachelor’s degree as well as “advocating for the rights of the blind and other [people with] disabilities.”

Samuel Jonita Gates writes dramatically of the physical agony caused by the illness that took her sight: “Tears seeped between my fingers and rolled down my hands from the pressure and sensation of ripping behind my eyeballs. . . . I felt a more intense tightening and feeling of pulling or ripping apart.” She vibrantly writes of the anticipation of loss when the ophthalmologist informed her that she would “eventually become blind.” A combination of “fear” and “despondency” took over as she thought of all the things that would change when she lost her sight. She thought of how she “wouldn’t be able to see my granddaughter that my daughter would birth nor my grandson that my second son would father.” She mourned the “inability to read and research scripture independently.” She was frustrated that she had become the passenger, not the driver.” Pausing at that last loss, those of us whose disabilities preclude driving know all-too-well what that means in an automobile-centered society like the United States. Even people who do not drive for reasons other than disabilities can feel exactly what Gates felt when “the lack of dependable transportation sparked anger and frustration.” Gates continues that, along with major losses, she grieved “the minor things” that sighted people take for granted, writing, “I would not be able to match my clothing, jewelry, shoes, stockings, or socks” and wouldn’t be able to see her hairstyle. Overcoming despondency was a matter of emphasizing to herself what she could do: “I could continue collecting for the needy, telephone and visit the homebound, write my books, poems, plays, songs, or whatever.”

Perhaps one of the most emotionally wrenching stories in the volume is that of Stacie Leap who was not blinded due to a medical problem but due to domestic violence. She discloses, “After repeated punches and blows to my face, I saw a sudden flash of light, thinking that my vision would come back because when he hit me before, my vision would blur but then come back in a matter of hours. However, this time that was not the case. My vision became blurry, and eventually, I could not see anything at all.” Physicians informed her that the beating had detached retinas from both her eyes. Leap was also pregnant when this happened. She had to adjust to blindness at the same time as she sought to distance herself from her abusive boyfriend and prepare to be a mother to a baby. Whew! These were extreme and extraordinary challenges but she managed to meet them. In a physical rehabilitation facility, an occupational therapist taught her to tag clothes with safety pins in specific patterns that let her know the colors of the clothing and mark bottles of things like shampoo, conditioner, and lotion with “tape or rubber bands to differentiate them.” She learned to identify coins “by their size and feel,” learned “how to move up and down steps safely and walk around outside with a sighted guide” as well as how to use a white cane. She was “elated” when she received services that taught her how to competently perform infant care tasks like diaper changing.

A different perspective, or “vision,” is provided by the single contributor who has been blind from birth, Kamille Richardson. Her family encouraged this blind child to learn and enjoy life. “Growing up there were never any limitations placed on me,” Richardson asserts. “My mother was determined to make sure that her little girl would live a full and happy life, although she would never see the world around her. . . I played outside with my siblings and other neighborhood kids without a care in the world. I even climbed a few trees in my day!” Richardson did not hide from the world but was active in such extracurricular activities as chorus and track.” Even though Richardson enjoyed a happy childhood, she acknowledges that her blindness led to “doubt and insecurity” and a kind of “secret shame” she hid behind a “bubbly, outgoing personality.” Despite her nagging insecurities, she attended college and earned a broadcast communications degree. A job as a radio personality followed and she felt she was “flourishing in the gift that is my voice!” Richardson’s essay continues to tell about her life’s ups and downs with the latter being bouts with severe depression and panic attacks as well as the death of her mother. The “up” parts are more prominent and include a successful career as a massage therapist that was cut short by the Covid pandemic and an even more meaningful career as “an independent living instructor for the blind.” She gained expertise in technology, especially technology oriented toward blind people. Richardson is sensitive to the special hurdles that must be overcome by the newly blind, writing, “They were often terrified of this new and unknown world.” She found great satisfaction in teaching them “new blind skills,” increasing her own confidence along with theirs. Having built a successful life despite having both physical and psychological challenges, Richardson also works as a motivational speaker.

In addition to being black and blind, most contributors to this volume are devout Christians so their essays often focus on how Christian faith helped them cope with loss of sight. Thus, non-believing disabled readers will find that these sections do not speak to them as they do to Christian disabled readers. Indeed, some non-believers may even find the religious emphasis off-putting. However, it is unlikely they will find it so off-putting that they do not gain from reading The Write 2 Heal.

The Write 2 Heal is a valuable collection of memoir essays from a niche group in the disabled community. Its multiple authors do not sugarcoat the very real difficulties they have faced and continue to face. By acknowledging the emotional problems that so often accompany physical disabilities, they avoid making their stories the sort of “inspiration porn” abhorred by many disabled people including the writer of this review. However, their overall message is one of hope and confidence. The book will be of value to any reader, even if not disabled, while having a special interest to the disabled and especially the blind.

Denise Noe is a severely disabled and struggling writer. Her ebook of literary criticism on Joyce Carol Oates, "Obsessions & Exorcisms in the Work of Joyce Carol Oates," was complimented by Oates herself. Noe's collections of true crime stories include "The Bloodied and the Broken," "Justice Gone Haywire," and "I Spy, You Spy, They Spy." She has a self-published ebook on amazon entitled "Voices from the Inside: Letters from Famous Prisoners" that includes reproductions of letters from notorious murderers including Charles Manson.

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