The night before I met my neurologist, I was in the quietest room in the library finalizing my applications to PhD programs. Her phone call disoriented everyone in the room and forestalled my progress. Before I let my neurologist waste any more of time I said, “Harvard’s deadline is tomorrow evening. Can you stop using ornate language so I can get back to the library?”
The next morning, sitting in her office, she told me: “The reason why you’re experiencing the headaches and optic neuropathy is because the medulloblastoma in your posterior fossa is metastasizing. Tumor resection in this region of the brain can pose a few risks.”
“It will impair your visual acuity.” She broke my gaze, which was uncharacteristic. I grew nervous and watched her shoulders hunch towards the floor before she added, “The procedure could result in unilateral blindness.”
Two years before my visual scope escaped me, I composed a research essay on subjugated modes of textuality and communication such as tactile language and the technologies that support it. I wanted to map a not-yet-seen terrain because I knew I’d have to traverse it at one point or another (though, quite frankly, I wasn’t ever sure when I’d go blind). What I did know was that there were at least one million books housed in the combined collections of the university’s libraries. Only four had to do with blindness. When it registered to me that the institution to which I “belonged” wasn’t concerned about the scholarship and exigencies of disability, my zeal faded and I emailed the university librarian in a mild panic.
Dear Ms. Librarian,
There are only four books in our library on blindness. What the fuck is up with that?
The message sat on the screen. In a kind of spiritual composition, my grandmother’s legs shook with anxiety whenever she heard about me cursing at another faculty member or administrator at my university. My grandmother’s arms journeyed through heaven and with clenched fists she’d mutter prayers for me, a fugue with God. It was quite beautiful but I didn’t hit send.
What I knew was that if and when I became non-sighted, I wanted to encounter and understand braille as a literary rubato as opposed to a lack. A vitiated form that seemed to be exiled from libraries and, perhaps, scholarship altogether.
In a roundtable discussion in school on Jacques Derrida, a gutting voice across the room asked, “What does it feel like to be Black and blind?” Perhaps what he meant to ask me was, “How does it feel to be a problem?” The question erupted out of his mouth and I suddenly became a subterranean figure with ears overtaken by sinter.
People are far too loud when they speak to me now. I suppose they assume that because I am non-sighted that I am also deaf. Who knew? But the presumption of abjection encoded in this kind of question, blackened by a planetary mass, was heavy with ignorance. Unlike Du Bois, I did not smile. I offered, “I know what it’s like to be me and I can assure you that it is phenomenal.”