I am not blind. But sometimes I feel like I am. Blind to the actual world, to our own actions.
Ethan is not just a friend, far from it. He is not just a lover. He is not blind either.
But I have seen blind people walk on the street, sit in cars, do small things which I imagine are big for them, as effort is immense in things which require it.
Two years ago, I met a blind man who wrote poetry. He was twice the poet for being blind. One, a poet sensing and living in the dark; two, a poet grappling with the dark that was in all of us. Beauty was in all his work. How we beheld it in his lack of seeing, his sense becoming our distraction.
Once I put an apple in his hand. He held it like anyone would and wiped it against his shirt. All in a matter of seconds, so practiced, so natural. Something a normal person would do given an apple to bite. He bit it and bit it. I thought, maybe he’s hungry. And I never felt so tender. When faced with a blind man, we looked into his face as if seeing our own. To make up for his lack.
“Sam, why do you like writing poetry?” I asked him one day.
He touched his dark glasses as if to adjust a vision which included more than sight.
“Well I, funnily enough, see through poetry. That sounds pretentious but it’s actually not. See, I wasn’t born blind so I’m lucky. And with poetry, I go back to that world when I recall my life before I became blind.”
“Like a memory aid.”
“Yes, something like that.”
“What’s it like to be blind apart from having to deal with the every day practical stuff?” I asked, curious about how he felt about his blindness.
“It is like sleeping,” he chuckled when he said this. “I sleep without closing my eyes.” More chuckles.
I smiled at how easily he was amused, how the world needed it.
When Sam met Ethan, he shook his hand, hugged him, and slapped his back.
“How are you, Sam?”
“I’m still here, as you can see,” he laughed again. As if being blind made him see other people’s efforts, thankful for his own endurance.
They talked well into the night about poetry, how it helped him be less sad, less alone. Sam even wrote one. He dictated his poem into a tape recorder. Ethan wrote it down afterwards. I was in the corner listening to them talking, glad to be invisible, to be held responsible for nothing but my silent company.
Ethan and I have been together for two years. But I don’t feel like I know him any better now than at the beginning of our relationship.
It’s like we are stuck with how we want to mean with each other and not delving into understanding.
Like one time, he asked me if I wanted to be with him the rest of my life. I said, “Yes.”
And he looked like he’d just seen a ghost.
On the one hand, he kept asking me those kinds of questions; on the other, he was surprised with my assent. As if I should’ve known better.
It is not hard to think that maybe this is all just a game to him. I feel like he’s a reporter asking me all those intimate questions which he will promptly write down and forget.
It seems we are always planning to be disappointed. As if life were one big party we are unable to attend.
There is a photograph of Ethan and Sam that I like which shows them with their arms around each other’s shoulders, like brothers. Sam was laughing, teeth showing. And Ethan was suppressing a smile. I took the picture two years ago. We had just known each other then, the three of us. Sam was our neighbour, still is. Two years and we are all still grappling with the dark part of ourselves. And Sam seems to be the only one surviving.
If I am drowning, it will be too late to learn how to swim.
But there is nowhere we could be to learn how to cope with blindness. We are just shoved into it. We fall into blindness like we fall into love, instantly. Even if we lose our sight slowly, as in illness, we cannot learn how darkness invades our lives, we cannot let it. And love just comes like a neighbour or else like an art. Accidentally. Like we need it before we know we need it.
I was first attracted to Ethan because of his confidence. Now that confidence is drowning the things it is teaching. Like I need to be taught in spite of my wisdom. He has become a burden, an emotional burden. A cross.
“What are you doing, Ethan?” I said after one particularly grueling day at work.
“What do you think I’m doing? I’m trying to resist the temptation to eat this chocolate cake.”
“Why not just eat it?”
“Oh, I don’t know. As a sign that I can do what I set out to do?”
“It’s just a piece of cake. No pun intended.”
He sees beyond the obvious. In an often futile gesture. While I am the type who just does what she does for no particular reason. I am blind to duty; he is blind to chance.
And Sam is blind to nothing. He is the best reason I want to be with.
I don’t know exactly when it happened, when I first gravitated towards Sam.
Maybe it was his laugh. Maybe it was the way he held the apple. The way he bit into it, as if there was nowhere he’d rather be at that time. No one he would rather be with.
I suspected he had not been with a woman in a long time.
He laughed when I asked him if he had a girlfriend.
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes, of course. I have a lot of girlfriends. Haha. They’re all blind too,” he laughed again. I didn’t know why but I blushed.
It was good that he couldn’t see. But maybe he could sense it, the way I blushed listening to him.
He went really quiet as if listening for the part he couldn’t see.
“You and Ethan. Is it going alright?”
“Well, not really.”
“The funny thing is, I don’t know why. I just know it’s not going right.”
“Heart not in it?”
“Was it in it though?”
“Ummm, I don’t know.”
“It’s a funny thing, love. I once met a woman. She had a nice voice and I fell in love. That was the only reason I liked her. Her voice. Sexy and inviting like that.”
“How did it go?”
“I didn’t let her know. I just listened to her voice whenever I could,” he smiled.
“Well, me and Ethan. Nothing like that. It was simple.”
“Nothing more simple than falling in love.”
I blushed again.
“What are you doing?”
“You smiling or something?”
So that was how it went.
I am beginning to like Sam while quietly falling apart with Ethan. Even Ethan doesn’t know we are growing apart. He is too intent with succeeding to know success. He is too intent with getting his own way after already having it.
Sometimes, I worry about Sam all alone like that. He doesn’t have a guide dog or anything. He has someone who comes in, cooks, cleans and does the laundry for him. But he is completely alone in the world. He has no family. No family near here, anyway.
I can sometimes see him through the window. He’s mostly sitting on his couch. Or standing up, getting a drink. Or speaking a poem into the recorder.
He can do all that himself. Sometimes, he goes out to the shops to do groceries.
I worry about him.
His safety, mostly.
But most importantly, for how much beauty he must be missing in his dark world. How a person never gives it up, especially a poet.
And how much of it doesn’t make sense. How much I miss of him just by his being there.
Ethan must be on his way home now. I am fixing him dinner. I have eaten because I was hungry and couldn’t wait any longer. He’s been coming home later and later these days.
And I am spending more time with Sam. Just being neighbours and friends. Saying things which mean more than my saying them.
I think it must stay like this, blindness. Between Ethan and me. We see the living room with all the coziness, the kitchen with all the desire, and stop there. And never thrive beyond that.
When he comes home, he is exhausted after having dinner. And our lives are becoming ever more stale, ever more distant. We preserve our love like fruit.
There’s so much to do and we do it blindly, hoping not to cut ourselves. We do it with our eyes open but our will paralysed. Beauty is everywhere without us. Outside, under the sky we share, the grey is growing into ever-changing effort. Colour staying as colour and never expanding into vision.
Jill Chan is a poet, fiction writer, and editor based in Auckland, New Zealand. Her poems and stories have been published in MiPOesias, Blue Fifth Review, foam:e, Mascara Literary Review, Asia and Pacific Writers Network, Otoliths, Eclectica, Snorkel, Broadsheet, JAAM, Poetry New Zealand, Takahe, Deep South, Trout, Denver Syntax, The Tower Journal, Metazen, A-Minor Magazine, 52|250 A Year of Flash and other magazines. She is the author of The Art of It: Three Novellas (2011), and five books of poetry: On Love: a poem sequence (2011); Early Work: Poems 2000-2007 (2011); These Hands Are Not Ours (ESAW, 2009), winner of the Earl of Seacliff Poetry Prize; Becoming Someone Who Isn’t (ESAW, 2007); and The Smell of Oranges (ESAW, 2003). She is one of the poets featured in the New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive. Official website: http://www.jill-chan.com.