by Maureen Comiskey
After spending 47 years developing both my personal and professional life in Illinois, I finally got brave enough to make a huge change in my life. Having to climb snow banks, standing at cold, windy, and frigid bus stops, and paying high energy bills just to keep my family warm will definitely age you. It was that huge snowstorm back in December 2005, when it took me seven hours to get home, that convinced me. Roosevelt Road, normally a six-lane road, was a parking lot covered in falling snow. The cars and trucks sounded so quiet. I couldn't hear or distinguish the difference from the sidewalk or street. Yes, I was scared! I am an excellent cane traveler but that experience forever made me realize that there had to be an easier/safer way for me to make a living. I had to get home to my boys - I'm all they have now that their dad has passed on. I often said, "I'm not going to retire here. I'm going to where it's warm in the winter." I envied my sister-in-law, who moved alone with her children a few years ago. "If she can do it, I can," I thought to myself.
So the adventure began from Chicago, Ill. to Phoenix, Ariz. "You're crazy!" people remarked. "You'll never make it." "It's dangerous - you're going through a midlife crisis," some people remarked. For anyone who knows me, that's the last thing to say to me. No obstacle or barrier will stop or discourage my determination.
And so the planning began. Two months prior to my sister-in-law's death due to breast cancer, I phoned her for support. I began surfing the Internet just to get an idea of the type of housing, schools, transportation options and the best communities for blind people to live in. I remember reading an article in "The Braille Forum" back in January of that year about Arizona hosting the 2010 convention and thinking that I would love to be there. The view of the state on the computer was attractive. But I needed to know how blind people truly lived there. Since I recently retired from the Chicago Lighthouse, I wondered if they had a similar facility. I visited the Arizona Center for the Blind's web site. But I needed to know more. "Wait!" I thought. "I'm a member of the American Council of the Blind! They must have members like me." So I called Ray Campbell, president of the Illinois Council and a long-time friend and asked him to introduce me to Arizona's president. He made the introduction, and that's when I met both Ron Brooks and Barbara McDonald. These two individuals gave me a more personal idea of life for them with their families and warmly welcomed me. There was no turning back now.
Next step: telling my friends and family, mainly my teenage sons and my elderly father. Naturally, my sons were reluctant (angry) but my father was wonderful! That was the boost I so desperately needed to accomplish this mission. He provided the air fare, saying, "You need to do what's best for you." He and my mother never treated me different from my sighted brothers and sisters. He somehow knew the challenges I faced on a daily basis as a blind person. I got scared because this dream was now becoming a reality. My five brothers helped pack our things, saying, "Only bring what you need. You're going 2,000 miles." So after an emotional farewell on Sept. 8, 2008, the day before my older son's 18th birthday, we landed at Sky Harbor Airport! They wondered where the skyscrapers were. "Welcome to your new life," I said. I admit, after taking my first breath of Arizona heat, I wondered about this decision I had made. I still felt a bit uncertain, but wasn't going to admit that to them. I'm the parent, I'm supposed to have all the answers, right?
We stayed with my sister for a couple weeks prior to moving in to our own home. Now, I'm learning how to get around, mapping out the streets, locating the restaurants and stores, and miraculously settling down pretty easily. In addition, I was elected board member of AzCB and served on the host committee that planned the 2010 national convention! My two sons have adjusted by making friends, working part-time jobs and growing into young men. I promised God, after the death of their father in 2003, that I would take good care of them. But none of this would have been possible without the love, support and guidance of so many people. I remember telling my father, "Don't worry, Dad, blind people watch out for each other. Only we know what we need." I explain to my sighted family and friends that living with a disability has been a gift. I might not have had the strength to make the change I needed to do or to reach out to humans and ask for help. Illinois will always be my home base, but now I can take my talent, skills, knowledge and share it with my new colleagues.
When you read this, we'll have already welcomed the second decade of the century! I thank God, my dear friends and family and ACB for being available to me. Happy new year to all of you!