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Thad Nodine

"Trusting Blindness"

 An old man shouts in the night, waking me. I sit up, disoriented by the pitch darkness that is not my room, until I remember that my grandmother has died. I’m staying with my grandfather for a few nights before the services, in case he needs help. It’s 1981. I’m 23 years old.
            I stumble down the hall and into the blinding fluorescence of the bathroom, where Grandpa stoops over the sink. His brittle forearms poke from loose pajama sleeves; his hands are like claws on the counter. For a moment, his long white hair, which sticks up and out, shields his face. But he jerks his head around. I’ve rarely seen him without his big, thick glasses.
            The fear in his eyes scares me.
            He’s an atheist, Grandpa, with an open mind and unshakable convictions. An octogenarian. He’s been blind for over ten years; macular degeneration blacked out the center of his vision. He can see shapes and shadows along the periphery but can’t make out people’s faces or the numbers on a clock.
            “It’s me,” I say, “Thad.” But his expression does not change; his eyes see through me.
            In the daytime, Grandpa likes to walk around town with his red-tipped white cane poking forward. He gets around well on his own, having learned to use his cane in his 70s. Wearing his polka dotted shirt and with white hair flowing to his shoulders, he stands out on the west coast of Florida. He can poke your ribs and let out a whistle that makes you jump; he likes to do that to youngsters he meets on the street. When he meets women, he likes to touch their arm, saying, “Pardon me, I’m blind.”
            Twice a week he writes pithy letters to the editor, wondering perhaps if pro and con are opposites, like progress and congress, or if the sponge industry will get soaked by the government.
            When I was young, I got to skip Sunday school sometimes and go to Grandpa’s church, which meant no church at all. He wasn’t blind back then and we played a game as we walked his neighborhood: I’d close my eyes and keep them shut. He’d take my elbow and lead me gently up and down curbs, across patches of gravel, along an odd arching angle, up a set of stairs and back down, across a street.
            At first it was strange to navigate without vision, even with a guide. It took awhile to find my balance. I had to trust his lead.
            After we stopped but before opening my eyes, I was supposed to guess where we were. I tried to track direction and count steps. The parking lot of 7-11. The stoop of Mr. Rice’s carpet store. I’d open my eyes and I’d be wrong.
            After several tries, I settled into the rhythm of his gait. As I let go, my senses opened without sight: trucks rumbling by meant Ft Harrison St. and fried chicken from an exhaust fan meant Gay’s Restaurant. When we crossed the road and stopped, a chain squeaked in its eyehook as a porch swing swayed in the breeze. I didn’t have to open my eyes.
            “Home,” I said, grinning.
            When I was in high school and he’d lost most of his vision, I’d still go to Grandpa’s church, where he would grip my arm as I led him down curbs and across streets. Feeling the touch of his hand on my elbow, I recognized the irony of the game we had played, but I was too young to appreciate the other gifts from his church: a humble sense of the world, seen through another’s eyes. And faith, strangely. How can an atheist teach faith?
            Years later, it’s 1981 and his wife of 61 years has passed away, leaving him blind in the night, bathed in the stark brightness of his bathroom. I’m out of college now, somewhat fearless. In daylight I can assimilate Grandma’s death, but at three in the morning, Grandpa’s hair seems bedeviled. His whole body trembles. Yet it’s the panic in his gaze that pierces me.
            In his eyes I glimpse his death and my own.
            Quickly I step forward and hold him; I need the contact. In this darkness I trust the touch, the companionship, more than any destination. But I’m not used to taking this lead.
            “Where am I?” he pleads.
            “Home,” I say.
            Somehow that’s enough. I’m relieved to see him blink; his eyes soften. He’s breathing now. He takes my elbow and together we walk back to his bedroom, where he’s Grandpa again. After I help him get beneath the covers, I’m the one who’s green enough to fall asleep. He stays awake past dawn.

Gpa
Frank Nodine - 1980

Thad Nodine’s first novel, Touch and Go, was released in September. It tells the story of a family’s road trip, through the eyes of a young blind man.


Thad Nodine
Thad Nodine is the author of Touch and Go, which won the Dana Award for the Novel. Touch and Go tells the story of a family road trip, through the eyes of a young blind man. Thad is former fiction editor of Quarry West magazine. He has written for a living all his life, as a speech writer for U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles; a publishing director for an art gallery in Santa Fe, NM; a journalist in New Mexico and Colorado; a college lecturer and writing instructor in California and Japan; and an education policy specialist for think tanks and policy organizations.

 

Spring 2012

Fiction
John Chandler
Alta Ifland

Nonfiction
Shiloh Hellman
Thad Nodine
Patrice Vecchione
Stephen Woodhams

Poetry
Dane Cervine
Eileen Eccles
Peggy Heinrich

Monologues
Lauren Crux

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