An Essay


By Patty Harmon

The setting sun was dancing on the dishwater, the detergent forming bubbles. In this perfection under the kitchen window, bloodclots gathered like storm clouds over purple seas. Tears splashed the waves.

I was going blind. As a teacher, I noticed parts of textbook letters disappearing. My head moved to accommodate vanishing punctuation. Curbs caused caution in my steps. Fear paralyzed me until this spring evening in my childhood home. I was twenty-four years old. I had other things to do.

Diabetes governed my life from the age of ten. I practiced hiding it. No one saw the injection-insertions. Doctors frightened me; Mother nagged. Approaches to disease were different in the fifties. I became a dramatic actress, forever pretending I felt fine. High school and college were superb stages for this suburban Jersey girl. Drugstore novels guided me into fantasies. I was the deserving princess, following women of my time into successful careers. Television and working women were new concepts as the sixties unfolded. I was a hippy-want-to-be, visualizing poetry readings in dark coffee houses. My curly hair never grew; my poetry was simple.

Following college, my parents believed in work. Teaching was temporary. The world awaited Patricia Ullmann. Blindness interrupted.

In spring of 1969, the dramatic role of my life commenced. I learned to smile rather than sob. Doctors sent me to Colorado Springs for experimental treatments. Alone and terrified, I stuck out my hand and grinned–often. Colorful clothes and puffy hairdos became absolutes. I must not be a wallflower at my life’s party. If I were going to walk with a long white cane, I must look damn good doing it!

It worked! I earned a masters degree in special education from the University of Northern Colorado. When I believed the world longed for a newly blinded young teacher, just one opportunity developed. In Alamogordo, New Mexico! I traveled Greyhound to the desert, celebrating employment. For thirty years I taught at the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped. I married; raised a daughter; divorced. Looking back, the normalcy of my life surprises me. I did it blind. I don’t understand how it happened. From that night in the kitchen, I realized the necessity to move forward.

Blindness never removed my love for fashion and fringe. Visual memory thrives. I have NOT seen my daughter, but I have known her beauty forever. Together, we roam New York City and the Jersey shore, sharing poetry and possibilities. She describes the world with dramatic flare. In retirement, I returned to New Jersey. Reluctantly, perhaps. Decisions and change demand pauses. It’s tough to leave comfort zones. New friends, new rules, new poetry.

It is a challenge to be a blind woman in today’s world. The desire to fit in–immediate acceptance – stimulates my imagination. I remain an actress in ordinary life, forever seeking the extraordinary! Once, a dishwater decision directed me forward.