Authors: Rachel Dewoskin
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published in the United States of America by Viking,
an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Rachel DeWoskin
“Bring me the sunflower, I’ll plant it here.” Copyright © 1992 by the Estate of William Arrowsmith. “Ossi di sepia,” copyright © 1948, 1925 by Aroldo Mondadori Editore S.p.A., Milano, from
Collected Poems of Eugenio Montale 1925–1966
by Eugenio Montale, edited by Rosanna Warren, translated by William Arrowsmith. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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Blind / Rachel DeWoskin.
Summary: After a horrific accident leaves her blind, fifteen-year-old Emma, one of seven children, eagerly starts high school as a sophomore, and finds that nearly everything has changed—sometimes for the better.
[1. Blind—Fiction. 2. People with disabilities—Fiction. 3. Family life—Fiction. 4. Interpersonal relations—Fiction. 5. High schools—Fiction. 6. Schools—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.D537Bli 2014 [Fic]—dc23 2013041189
For brave girls everywhere, keeping
each other inspired, un-lonely, beloved.
Including the dazzling ones who
compose my world:
Christine, Donna, Erika, Heidi, Jill, Julia,
Kirun, Lara, Melissa, Olati, Shanying,
Tamar, and Willow.
Thank you for seeing me for real,
in the most important ways.
I see you, too.
Bring me the flower that leads us out
where blond transparencies rise
nd life evaporates as essence.
Bring me the sunflower crazed with light.
, W. A
Going blind is
a little bit like growing up. Maybe because the older you get, the more you have to close your eyes partway. From the time I was tiny, if I thought the words,
When I die, I’ll be dead forever
, I could actually understand, in my bone marrow, what
meant. It was like falling into something textureless, silent, unscented, absolutely blank. And never stopping the fall. I grasped that terror early, and had just started forgetting it when my accident happened. Now I remember again. So I might not be “sighted” anymore, but maybe I’m not that much blinder than anyone else, just a different kind of blind.
If you’re me, then you see that we’re all only a half-second disaster, mistake, or choice away from being changed forever. Or finished. If you’re not me—like my sisters and brother and parents—then maybe you don’t see that. At least not in the same way. Maybe you don’t think about forever in the dark. Or what it means to feel colors, to relearn Sarah, Leah, Naomi, Jenna, Benj, and Baby Lily by the shapes of their voices and the textures of their breathing. I know my sisters and brother by the baby powder, cheerio, and blue toddler toothpaste feeling of the little ones; the pickle, bubble bath, tousled pillow hair of my middle sisters; and the lemon and licorice of the two oldest. Maybe you don’t think about what it means to see or not see; you squeeze those thoughts shut, because who can stand to stare straight at what’s happening? No one. We have to learn to look away so we can say—the way my parents still try to tell the seven of us—
you’ll be okay;
everything will be fine.
In other words, we lie. I don’t do that anymore.
I don’t say much at all, because I have to keep track of what’s going on around me. And I was quiet anyway, even when I was still sighted. I learned that word from my doctors; I’d never heard of
until I wasn’t it anymore, never considered
until it locked onto me like a parasite. I hadn’t noticed what an odd and colorless word it is, how it can suck the meaning out of whatever it attaches to: Blind love? Blind rage? Blind faith? Why are those the unthinking kinds? And who’s more lost or hopeless than the blind leading the blind? The most amazing love happens at first what? Right, sight. Seriously?
This July was the one-year anniversary of my accident, and I was shocked to find it hot again. Time was keeping its same pace, even though for me, the world had flipped onto a flat axis where days were dark and nights lit up my mind. Hot didn’t make sense, and neither did the idea that a year had passed. I had missed half of ninth grade and spent the second half at a place called the Briarly School for the Blind. Until the accident, I never skipped thirty seconds of Lake Main, the school I went to my entire life. And then all of a sudden I dropped out and found myself at Briarly, where they teach history and braille and cooking and laundry. My life was like a horror movie about someone else’s life. One I couldn’t watch. Briarly was for The Blind, and I was
. The truth is, I keep getting surprised by that, even though everyone else seems to have accepted it.
This summer, while my best friend, Logan, and all our friends from Lake Main were at the lake, shading their eyes, dipping in blue, falling in love, I was in summer school at Briarly, pressing the six long, flat keys of an old Perkins Brailler, listening, practicing, sliding and tapping my white cane, finding shorelines where the grass meets the curb, where the wall meets the floor, where each stair starts or stops. I was listening for traffic to the right, to the left, thinking, if I heard a chorus of engines rev,
But if they idled, I thought,
Okay Emma, okay me, okay, now you have the whole light, strike out, walk, okay, now, go.
With chopped-up words in my mind and a million sounds and my ears and brain exhausted, I stuck my white cane out ahead of me, waiting to see—was anyone turning? Had I made a mistake? And if my cane remained uncrushed, then I struck out into the walk, tried to stay straight, to keep my body safely within the white lines. Hug the right, stay straight. I was working, focusing, trying not to panic, panting with the hope of being what the Briarly School for the Blind referred to as “mainstreamed,” my dad called “back on track,” and Logan and I knew was just me going back to real school. Back to Lake Main, to my actual life.
And then it happened; in August, we got the yes, the “paraprofessional,” the promise of “special-needs dispensations,” and even though it was humiliating and I still couldn’t see, I was going back to Lake Main, and a rainbow blew up around me. Logan was at my house, as always, and she grabbed me and we danced through the living room, until I banged into my older sister Sarah. She screamed at me, but I didn’t care. I had learned to walk, read, and survive life in my house and at Briarly, so everyone was assuming I could manage tenth grade at Lake Main.
I would get my assignments early, either braille or audio versions, and have my paraprofessional read the chalkboards out loud to me. I would eat in the lunchroom with Logan and have my life back. I was flying with pride, and so was my dad. My mom was terrified, but faking that she wasn’t. Sarah was furious that everyone was paying so much attention to me “again,” because I had used up my quota after the accident. And my crazy, lovely, oldest sister, Leah, was talking about how we’d walk every day and pick up the little kids from Lake Main primary, and how great it would be for all of us to be together again.
It seems insane now, but my family and I were actually—after one small, terrible year—backing into the warm groove of things-might-be-okay again. That’s how easy that mistake is. Even I had started thinking
is, couldn’t happen to us; had started feeling stupidly safe again, the way people do, even though we should know better by now.
Because right as I finished summer school and Logan and I were planning what I’d wear my first day back, a girl from Lake Main, Claire Montgomery, disappeared. At first we all thought her ultraconservative parents were exaggerating—she was probably just in the city again, since one time she’d gone for a day with her best friend, Blythe Keene, or maybe she had run away. But then the days multiplied, and it seemed like something might be really wrong, so people started freaking out and searching frantically. News teams came and circled like turkey vultures. Then the last Sunday night in August, when it had already started to cool down and smell like fall and school and burning leaves, Sarah screamed in front of the TV.
We all ran. I came last, sliding my cane along the hallway wall, with my dog, Spark, barking in front of me. Spark and I hate screaming. I listened while everyone else watched. Even my dad was home, because it was Sunday and he wasn’t on call for once. We were scattered all over each other and our huge gold couch, red chairs, tan rug. I was at my mom’s feet, on a pillow, one of my hands holding the ankle of her jeans. I felt the scratch of paint on the hem, wondered what color it was, what she had been making and when. Because she doesn’t paint anymore. Leah was on the floor next to me.
“They’re showing Lake Brainch,” Leah whispered, her voice quiet and steady in my ear, competing with the newswoman’s vicious report. The worst words tore up to the top:
body of . . . washed . . . drowned . . . local teen . . . don’t know . . . foul play . . . haven’t said.
I smelled lemons. Leah had leaned in toward me, set her head on my shoulder. “I’m Emma-izing,” she said, pulling my hand up to her face so I could feel her closed eyes, lashes against her cheek. “I’m just listening, too.”
Words have vivid edges and colors now, and listening to Leah is like being inside a book with glistening pages, or seeing the sun from the roof of our house. When I was little, Leah used to take me out there some mornings before anyone else was awake, including our parents or Sarah, Leah’s cranky, inferior, one-minute-younger twin. Leah liked to see the sun as it woke, and to show me, too. Now, when she speaks, I can feel each tile’s smooth curve and the way my body tilted into the rise of the roof. Mostly I remember what the sun looked like, hot over the sliver of lake we could see from up there, hot over our small bodies. Like “our own burning gold balloon,” Leah once called it. She said since we were the only ones up, the sun belonged to us, even if just for a moment. And it was true. That sun is one of the things I can still see, in my mind. That and my mom’s face. I remember exactly what my mom looks like. Maybe because her voice and face are everywhere in our house, or because she keeps us all in a loose orbit around her, I still see her in a different way than I see anyone else. Now Leah and I will never climb out onto our roof again—Leah is seventeen and a senior and busy with college applications and I’m, well, it’s obvious.
I steadied myself on the floor in front of the TV, tucked my head, and rocked as Sarah said, “They found her body. Oh my god. How can they be showing this?”
I felt like I was falling. Sarah smells like pepper, and her words sound like stilts, hooves, or heels. She and Leah are each other’s opposite, maybe like most twins. Sarah’s hair is so dark it’s hard to believe her eyes could be darker, but they are. Flat, black, and glinty. Leah’s are almost black, too, but they shine like stones you’d hold in your pocket for comfort. When Leah tells me what’s on TV, it’s because she doesn’t want me to feel left out. When Sarah does, it’s so I’ll have to suffer, too.
My mom, slapped back to consciousness suddenly, took a sharp breath and stood.
“Benj, Jenna, time for bed!” she sang out in the cracked plastic voice she puts on to hide fear. She leaned over me to hand Baby Lily to my dad, and then herded the little kids out of the zone of dangerous news. My dad stood, too. “Come on, Benji,” he said. “Let’s take Lily to her crib.”
But they were too late. The scary part was over, and we had all heard or seen it. Naomi, who’s ten and not really a little kid anymore, but also not one of the big kids, asked, “Um, should I go to bed, too?” I felt bad for her. No one answered—maybe my parents didn’t hear—so I said, “Come sit on my lap,” and she did. The words had turned to cooking sugar over whatever the shot was: . . .
beloved by her family and friends
, the television was chanting.
Friends say fifteen-year-old
Claire loved animals and sports;
she was a star on Lake Main Middle School’s Sweet Pea Synchronized Swim Team. According to authorities, foul play does not appear to have been a factor. What a shock to the tiny town of Sauberg, where residents are stunned by the occurrence of such a tragedy in their own backyards.
I buried my face in Naomi’s hair as a new reporter joined in, her words at first squeezed white and flat and then pumped up with the breathy thrill of someone dying. Someone young. Someone she didn’t know but we did. At least I didn’t have to see those anchorpeople with their mannequin faces, pretending to be heartbroken while they practically sang about misery and death. Since my accident, I’ve noticed that the gorier and more horrible the story, the lower the reporters’ voices go; there’s a drumbeat under their words, a music that blooms and swells like it’s leading to a love scene. But it isn’t, at least not in Sauberg, where before Claire, the biggest story was my eyes, my “horrific tragedy,” as they put it, so everyone would look. Everyone except me.
And now Sauberg is in the news again because Claire’s dead—streaky-haired, allergic, freckled, daring, athletic Claire. Claire of the clear lip gloss and chipped front teeth, of the skin so thin you could see through it, of the lopsided smile and shockingly strong legs. Soccering, swimming, smoking, partying Claire. Claire of the usual contradictions times a thousand. The one who could do everything, including get in deadly trouble, better than the rest of us.
I’m probably the only one in Sauberg—including the toddlers—who hasn’t seen the footage of her body being removed from the lake. Which may be why I can’t believe she’s gone. Kind of like I still can’t fully believe I’m blind. If there’s any truth to that stupid expression “see it to believe it,” then what can I believe? I still wake up thinking,
Okay, Emma, now open your eyes
, and then—well, then nothing. I can practice the facts of my accident, just like I can repeat what I know about Claire: she drowned and washed up. But in neither case do the “facts” really help, maybe because facts aren’t exactly facts. They’re just names someone puts on what happened, and then we all repeat them straight into the encyclopedia. What actually happened to Claire? And maybe more importantly,
Maybe we can’t make sense of things like my accident or Claire because there is no sense. Maybe we’re all stunned numb because we thought my eyes were enough karmic tragedy for our whole town. We believed nothing else so terrible could happen again. Lightning twice? Not here. Not to us.
• • •
But actually, getting struck once doesn’t change your odds for getting struck again, and I spent my first day of mainstream tenth grade feeling like a lightning rod. In the Lake Main High School building, where I’ve been waiting to go my whole life, I was lost in a maze of friends I once knew but couldn’t see or understand, waiting to see what might electrocute us next. Most of them were too traumatized about Claire to care about anything else; some were angry that I had ignored them for the entire year since my accident, and others were vicariously curious in the way people get when something awful happens to someone else. It wasn’t exactly the homecoming Logan and I had dreamed of.
Logan tried hard to help. She kept a running commentary as she walked me down halls rushing with gossip I couldn’t quite get. There was so much movement and noise. I was in a barrel, spinning and falling down some huge flood. I tried to push the thoughts of Claire and last year at Briarly back down into my bones, to focus hard on Logan’s voice. “Not a germ on it!” she said, and laughed until she snorted. Adrian Woyzniak must have walked by. I shared a desk with him in second grade, and one time he said, “Hey, Emma, look at this!” And when I looked over, he had unzipped his pants, and there it was, resting on the outside of his corduroy bell-bottoms like a forlorn class pet. I said, “Oh my god, Adrian!” and he responded, “Not a germ on it!” It’s Logan’s favorite thing anyone has ever said. Whenever she hands me anything, usually something to eat, she says, “Not a germ on it.”