I did not like to be called entitled. What people see was the glamorous life that I lived as a travel photographer. They thought the girl behind the lens must have hit the jackpot with the job that pays her to travel. Through my pictures, they imagined my beautiful morning was greeted by the sunrise from a mountain, adventuring through the day to capture the authenticity of less-traveled places, enjoying the sunset by the infinite pool, and even staying in five stars hotel.
My ugly, and tiring face hiking on a mountain at 2 AM just to get me on the right viewpoint at the right time was hidden behind the curtain. I would not complain to their imagination about the luxury of my job bring. Except one thing. I did not like to be called entitled. I did not achieve the life that I had been living without sacrificing my sleeping time, and anything else that tested my dedication. Planning for the best timing and preparing for the worst condition were always at the back of my head each time I left my house for a job.
More than being afraid of falling off from the mountain that I hiked, or being lost in a jungle; now I was scared with my uncertain future. In just a day, my life turned somber with people around me who could only express how sorry they were for me. It only took a sleepy-eyed guy hitting the wrong pedal and made his car jumped on me, the lucky cyclist who was at the right junction. The fine Saturday afternoon had defined my whole life and world to the new challenge. I had to live in the dark. Literally.
A knock on the door was heard.
“Cassie, Emily from Visual Learning Community is here.” It was Mom.
Without waiting for my reply, the door was closed. And re-opened again after a few moments.
“Hello, Cassie. I’m Emily. I am entering your room now,” said a gentle voice.
“Cassie! Don’t be rude. Emily is your friend. You can treat your new friend better than this,” begged Mom.
I knew that she was right. I just disliked the fact that people could come and reach me at where I am, without me being able to control what they see, and they do. I was the limited one here.
“I understand, Mrs. Tanner. I think it would be better for Cassie and I had time to know each other personally. I will be thankful if you could leave us alone. I will call you if I need any assistance.”
“I’m sorry, Emily. It was hard for my daughter to…”
“Don’t worry. She needs some time to relearn everything,” said Emily. “Alright. Your mom has left and I’m standing here at your door. Now we can talk freely. How are you, Cassie?”
“Never been this good,” I said sarcastically. I lied down on my bed.
“All I see is dark. People can see how am I look like, what do I wear, and my facial expression; but I see nothing of them. I only hear their voices, and the rest is hidden to me. It’s not fair, I used to be like them. Now I’m scared, even to move forward. What if I stumbled and fall? People will laugh at me for not being able to do a simple stuff that I used to do,” rambled Emily.
“Don’t try to mind read me,” I said. I could feel a warm flow was ready to fall anytime soon.
“The world was too complex to be explored without my eyesight. What kind of future that I will have as a visually impaired woman? My bright future was taken away from me. I want people to look at me in admiration as a model, and not to be pitied about my handicap.”
“See, you got it wrong. I never wanted to be a model! I am a travel photographer who was part of an international franchise magazine.”
“It was my dream. I was recalling how I felt when I lost my eyesight. My inclining career as an emerging photo model put me in the worst position. I got a wider audience than my inner circle who followed my world turned upside down. Other models poured their sympathetic words to me in front of the media, just to be mentioned and posted in the articles. It was the best way to get the spotlight while showing how sincere they were to the unfortunate rival of them. Well, they mentioned that we were friends,” she said. “I can’t read your mind, Cassie. That’s why I am here. I want to be your friend, because I was once like you.”
“What? You lose sight and gained it back?”
“Not at all. I used to have perfect eyesight, and I lost it. Forever. I live in a dark as you do, Cassie. You are not the only one. You are not alone,” her voice sounded warmer than before. Her warmth slipped inside my heart. My tears broke.
“Are you alright, Cassie? I hear that you are crying. I will stand still unless you allow me to come closer,” her voice became smoother and sounded worried.
“I am afraid. I am confused. I don’t want to live as a burden. I could take care of my own life. Why, why did not I lose my life? Maybe leaving this world is easier to me than living without my sight?” I sobbed. A warm hand touched my cheek.
“Ssshh… you are going to be okay. You have a strong will-power, Cassie. You won’t live as a burden. We’ll figure it out together,” said Emily in a low voice.
I reached her hand and held it tightly. I did not want to lose the hand that I had been waiting for in the endless dark. I wanted to tell her how angry I was to the guy who ruined my life, the frustration I felt knowing that regardless of what happens my vision will not return, and how I was fed up with my parents’ overprotective mixed with their guilt and sorry for my life. I wanted to tell her all of that, after the streams of my tears stopped flowing.
“Are you feeling better, Cassie?” asked Emily, who had been letting me holding her hand and wrapped my hand with the other one.
“Sorry, Emily. I made you wait for me crying,” I said and wiped my tears with my blanket.
“I’m glad that you release your emotion, Cassie.” Emily released my hand and I heard she zipped on her purse, and put something soft in my hand. “Use the tissue, my dear.”
“Thanks,” I took it and wiped my face. I sat up and leaned on the bed frame.
“Losing sight is not fun, and it is not easy to live in a world that we used to know with the ability that was no longer there. We cannot live in the same way we used to live,” she said.
“I was forced to see in the dark. How can I do that? It’s impossible.”
“It’s not impossible, Cassie. We ‘see’ with a different pair of ‘eyes’. Hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching are our new set of ‘eyes’. The world is still beautiful as before, and your life is not as doom as you thought. I cannot deny that all you can see is darkness. Endless darkness. If you see with your old pair of eyes, you found that you are trapped in a handicapped body. If you learn your world with the other senses, you will find how rich the world is.” Emily continued. “I realized that my old self was too focused on what eye could perceive, that I ignored how capable I was with my other senses. You know, models just need to look pretty, good, and sexy. Now I realized how shallow I was focusing on just eye-pleasure.”
“That’s normal. I enjoyed beautiful places, but I cannot enjoy any of them anymore. It’s just so devastating.”
“We are gifted, Cassie. We have our secret way to enjoy beautiful things, not just places. Learn to be immersed in the surrounding with your senses. What you see is not the only thing you get. You can feel the warmth of someone through their voice, the way they treat you, the food they cook to your taste, or the way they hold your hand. It’s beautiful, Cassie. We may lose sight, but we do not lose everything.”
“I do not want to be confined and being limited because I lose my sight, Emily. My parents were overprotective towards me, and they felt sorry for me.”
“Like you who need to relearn the world again, they also need to learn in protecting and loving their daughter in a new way. You will need to learn from each other. Nobody can limit you unless you allow them to do so. Learn to live freely with your new way of exploring the world, Cassie. Don’t let your condition becomes your identity and your excuse for not having fun in a new way.”
“What if I am not loved because I lose my sight?”
“There’s more to love than meets the eye. True love won’t fade when your vision is lost. True love is found when all he sees is you.” She added, “‘What is essential is invisible to the eyes’. It is the quote that I love from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Essential things such as love, hope, and joy can’t be seen with your eyes. They lie within your heart and felt by your heart.”
“Emily. It’s easy to say what you have said to me, but life is not as simple as that. I cannot afford to live as a blind woman for the mistake of that guy. I have to sue him and make his life miserable,” I said. “Letting him slip away is too easy for him while I’m struggling with my life.”
I felt a slight bounce on my bed, it seemed that Emily stood up. “Cassie, I know it’s not easy for you. It won’t be easy at all. I will teach you how to survive with the reality that you are in now. You can choose to live as a victim and waste your time with all the revenge, or you accept the reality and start building your new life to thrive. It is your choice.”
“Calendar: Shop for groceries. Four-thirty P.M,” the robotic voice over emerged in the room.
“It’s my phone. I’m sorry that I have to leave now, Cassie. Nice meeting you today,” she held my hand and left after we shook hands. Her steps with the help of the canes left the room and my heart.
“Life can throw things at us and in a matter of time, the life that we knew could turn upside down. Nobody knew that a travel photographer’s life turned to a visually impaired woman in a day. It was me, obviously. All the pictures that I had always treasured turned to a memento from my past life. My life could turn to further south if I let anger consumed me in my victim mentality and limitation. It was a blessing in disguise that brought me meeting Emily, and learned how similar our lives were. Emily and I were the same storm, but we were not in the same boat. She learned to dance in the storm and built a stable ship to keep her life manageable as the way it used to be when she was visually able, instead of letting the storm swept her away. She had always been my role model since the day we met. I am forever grateful for exchanging my sight to the friendship that she offered. I may not be able to take her picture for the last time today. For forever, I will remember her and keep her perseverance in enduring her prolong physical pain, forgiving people who hurt her heart, and kind heart as a memento in my heart. I will see you again. My prayer goes with your journey to heaven, Emily Larson.”