by Netagene Kirkpatrick

I'm sure it's hard to be a total, but for me, I feel as if I am in limbo. It probably sounds dumb, but sometimes I wish I had less sight than I have.

When I was 54, with no warning, my left retina tore while I was driving to work. After nine operations, the doctors and I gave up, leaving me with light, dark, and motion. I also had "preventive maintenance" on my right retina. At the end of October 2003, four years to the day of the preventive surgery, the doctors were reattaching my right retina. I was almost total for awhile.

Early that month, I attended a free public seminar. The speaker was a man born totally blind, a counselor at the local office of the Alabama Institute of Deaf and Blind. Less than a week before my right retina detached, I met with a counselor for the blind at the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Service. I had arranged for him to come to my house, just in case something happened to my good eye.

After a total of 15 operations between December 1998 and March 2005, I became a high partial. Some think I am not blind because I can read a lot of things even without magnification. Just because I have to hold things a certain way, but can still make them out, means to them that I am not blind. They don't understand that I compensate in many ways. And that I ride paratransit doesn't mean a thing.

I did not want a cane, but was given reasons for it. (Some of you have a copy of my poem, "Lady with a Long White Cane.") That cane has saved my life many times in the almost four years I've had it. I have almost no depth perception and have lost a lot of peripheral sight.

Once in a while, I ride the fixed-route buses. If it's a route I'm not familiar with, I'll ask the driver to let me off at a certain place, only to be told, "You have to ring the bell." So I sigh, point out my cane, tell the driver that I do not see well enough to read the street signs, at which time, other riders invariably will offer to ring the bell for me.

In trying to find another job after I lost mine when my good eye went bad, I've been told, "But you have to have reliable transportation." I tell them that the bus is almost as reliable as their car. Doesn't their car sometimes break down?

Not being able to read a menu board has caused me to pay more for a meal than if I could see well. So often, the young people who work in fast- food places slur their words and don't seem to care. Often there is no printed menu. The fact that I also have a slight hearing loss doesn't help.

I have never been clothes-conscious, and I am worse now. I know that I should stick with high contrasts instead of trying to match colors and shades! Luckily I've never cared for wearing makeup. With poor eyesight, I finally quit wearing the one thing I did wear: lipstick. No one has noticed yet.

I thought for sure that I could ride an adult tricycle. Wrong! A friend took me to a bike shop. There was a beautiful three-speed trike with a big leather seat and a big basket on the back for packages. I tried it for a few feet -- and got off and had the salesman ride it and show me that it would not turn over. I tried it again and again. Me, who in my 40s had my own motorcycle, could not ride an adult trike! It scared me out of my wits! Intellectually, I knew that it would not turn over, but that's not what I saw! I'm sure I was entertainment for the other customers. I have since learned the word "stereopsis" but am still not too sure about the meaning.

I often get so frustrated when shopping that sometimes I just give up and walk out. I seem to be the careful one; fully sighted people talking on cell phones while they shop have been the ones who bump into me!

I have had people think I was uppity when I didn't speak. They thought that because they were standing 10 or 20 feet in front of me and waving, that I could tell they were waving to me. Sure, I could usually see them and usually see a wave motion, but that wouldn't mean I had eye contact with them. But because I often CAN recognize someone 20 feet away, others think I have no vision problem. A good example is at the church house. People do not realize that I can usually tell if it's a man or a woman, and sometimes tell hair color. I've learned that I can often tell who someone is by the way they walk! I can't see the details of their face or clothes, but I can tell who it is.

Today I unplugged my old printer and hooked up a new one. Therefore I must not be blind. Right? The fact that it took a powerful electric lantern, switching glasses back and forth, and doing a lot by feel and by process of elimination doesn't count. I ought to be out driving a car!

At least I have quit apologizing. I don't say, "Excuse me, but I don't see well" or "I'm sorry, but I'm legally blind." I just say, "I am legally blind."

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