When my book was published, my friend, mentor, and teacher, Dr. Paul Ponchillia, called to congratulate me.
“How long have you been working on this book?” he asked.
Thinking back, I first answered, “Since January of 2012.”
Paul was silent.
Thinking back, I revised the date, saying, “No, it was more like some time in 2008 or so.”
With a slowly widening smile and then a sigh of recognition, I said, “No, I actually started writing this book in 1990.”
“Exactly,” he said, brightly.
I have no idea what happened to that first attempt (it would have been saved on a 5.25” floppy disk!), but even if I still had it, I don’t have a machine that could read it. Just as well. The writing probably wasn’t that good. But it was my first attempt at telling my story.
Life went on. The 90’s were wonderful years. We lived in Maine and enjoyed hiking, skiing, kayaking, and skating. I did my first presentation to an International audience. I was invited to try out for the Paralympic goalball team. 2002 found us moving to Alabama to take jobs with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
As I advanced in my career I began doing presentations before International audiences again, this time about my new passion, assistive technology. A couple of folks that I met at technology conferences had books published. One wrote his own book and the other was written by someone else. Both books concerned living with blindness, adjusting to blindness, and in one case, getting vision back. The writing bug bit me.
In around 2008 I sat down and wrote the story of my own process of blind rehab. I had been a recipient of blind rehab services, and, after obtaining a masters degree in blind rehab, I worked in the field for over twenty years. My motivation was to tell the story of what it’s like to have to learn to do almost everything all over again following the onset of blindness.
I wanted to produce a body of writing that could serve as a resource for people who were losing their sight, their friends, their family members. As I wrote, I took myself back in time, including as much detail as I could remember about learning techniques and making the new techniques part of my life. I also tried to include enough detail about the emotional adjustment as I could. Adjusting to new blindness isn’t easy. I wanted to include enough about my emotional adjustment to let my reader know that, yes, it’s tough, but you can do it.
In the end, I had about 20,000 words covering everything from learning to read three letter words in braille to the drop off lesson.
When I was done, I read the whole thing again and then I put it aside. I couldn’t do anything with it until I could tell the story of how I became blind in the first place. That time came in January of 2012. Over the years, I had been quietly telling people the truth about how I became blind. It was the death by suicide of someone I did not know that brought me to the willingness, nay, compulsion, to tell my story. Friends of this woman who also knew my story came to me with questions. “What could I have done?” “What if I had, fill in the blank, reached out to her, noticed her tone in an email or tweet, called her up just to check in.”
Thinking back to how I had felt, just before I pulled the trigger, I could honestly tell my friends that it was not their fault. When a person is suicidally depressed, nothing gets through. Nothing matters. The alienation and isolation is so complete, so final, that no one and nothing gets through.
And, with that, I sat down and started writing.