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American Contemporary Inspirational

If you knew you were going blind tomorrow, what would you make an effort to see today? An eagle soaring? Or maybe the waves as they crashed on the beach? Certainly you would drink in the smiles of your children, memorizing their faces to help you through the dark days to come. Billy had no such warning, and even if he did, he wouldn’t have had any such list.  


Billy was the son of an unwed mother who died in childbirth. He spent the first thirteen years of his life in forgettable foster homes and most of the next seventeen on the streets of New York. If you asked him why he chose the name Billy, he would tell you that William always seemed too formal and that no one likes Bills. In truth, what name he went by wasn’t important because he had no real friends.


Lest you think I am here to tell you Billy was a saint, I can assure you he was not. He was a thief, an addict, and a drug dealer. No one cared about Billy, and he didn’t care right back. 


He carried a gun with him wherever he went, and it’s only by the grace of God that he never ended another person’s life. 


What would you make an effort to see if you were going blind tomorrow? Billy didn’t have the chance to make a list because as in cases of most sudden blindness, he didn’t know what was about to happen. 


The details aren’t worth rehashing—it is enough to know that the incident occurred during a drug deal gone bad. You see Billy wasn’t the only one who always carried a gun. 


The bullet that changed Billy’s life entered his cheekbone at a slightly upward angle. It destroyed his right eye and severely damaged the tissue and nerves behind his left. His right eye was removed during surgery, and the left was instantly useless. He was totally blind.  


When Billy woke up, he wasn’t angry that he was blind; he was angry that he was alive.  


Then Billy met Kay. I’d like to tell you Kay was a beautiful young doctor with whom Billy found everlasting love. I’d like to tell you that, but we all know that's not the case. 


Kay was a cantankerous old nurse with a raspy smoker's voice and bony cold fingers. She had no bedside manner, and she didn’t suffer fools gladly. To her, Billy was a fool. 


She never told him he was lucky to be alive. She thought that too obvious to waste her breath on. She, however, gruffly told him he was lucky to be blind. She was also the only one who would visit with him regularly. 


It was more than three weeks after he woke up before Billy realized Kay had been to see him every day. She worked five days a week, but she came in the other two just to see Billy. Those who worked with Kay, at the time, will tell you she never came in on her day off before Billy or after.


She was the first person who ever authentically cared about Billy, even though you’d never know it by how she treated him. She called him lazy when he wouldn’t get up and try to walk around the room. She called him a coward when he refused to meet with a social worker. She called him foolish when he would confide his desire to die. 

But if there were only one reason Billy was able to turn his life around, then it would have to have been his overwhelming desire to shut Kay up.


Twelve weeks passed as Billy was in the hospital, just shy of three months. Miraculously, other than being stone cold blind, Billy had been unharmed by the bullet. When he left, with Kay’s help and annoying encouragement, Billy was able to move into a halfway house to continue his journey towards sobriety. Billy was careful to avoid using the phrase “rebuild his life,” as before the accident he had no life worth rebuilding.


A funny thing happened at Billy’s new home. He became both a celebrity of sorts and the living embodiment of encouragement. Everybody in the house wanted to hear the story of the man who was shot in the head and lived to tell about it. It was also hard for any of the other residents to feel sorry for themselves because no one had it as bad as Billy. Yet with the help of Kay, Billy didn’t feel sorry for himself.  


Billy was supposed to be in the halfway house for three additional months. Three months is a long time when you’re trying to hold your breath, but devastatingly short when it means facing a world you can no longer see. Whereas other residents counted the days until the court would allow them to leave, Billy found the approaching end of his stay to be mentally overwhelming. 


It wasn’t until years later that Billy found out Kay had been working behind the scenes to get him a job as a lay counselor at the very halfway house he was dreading leaving. It’s a little known fact that someone who has an eye removed can still produce tears if the tear ducts remain intact. If Billy didn’t know this already, he learned it the day he was offered a job that would allow him to stay and work with residents as they efforted to re-enter society. 


Billy was thirty years old the day he received his first actual paycheck, and that paycheck, still uncashed, can be found in his Bible to this day.


Over the next few years, Billy did more than just work at the halfway house. He devoted himself to its transient residents. 


When you lose your sight, Billy would say, you see things others don't. There was no time, day or night, that Billy was unavailable to listen or give advice, or even offer a much needed hug. The man who spent his life caring for no one now cared for everyone.


Billy worked hard to master the use of his cane, becoming so proficient that he didn’t need a seeing eye dog. He didn’t need one, but he got one all the same. 


Over the last forty years of his life, he had three of them. The last one, Max, is here with us today. 


Billy also did find love, just not with Kay. He was in a supermarket looking for tomatoes, and, just as he was wont to do, he asked the closest person to help him select the finest two. 


That’s when he met Millie. Yes, Billy and Millie. Outsiders chuckle at the coincidence but those of us here know it was more like destiny. Millie as it turns out had a servants heart and was more than happy to help with the tomato dilemma, and for reasons unknown liked Billy instantly. 


The day before he met Millie was the last day of his life he spent apart from her. They went for coffee and dinner and talked until it was the next day. Billy always said he could see voices, and then he’d turn to Millie and say hers was the most beautiful one in the world.  


Less than a year later, they were married. Billy, for the first time in his life, moved into a home of his own. They had three children, two daughters and a son. They never got rich, but they spent their lives helping others. 


If you ever asked them how many people they helped over the years, they would always say just one. It was their way of giving each wayward soul their full attention. Whenever they had the chance and the money, they would travel to see the sights of the world: Millie with her eyes and Billy through Millie’s descriptions. 


If the question is ever asked if one person can change the world, anyone who knew either Billie or Millie would answer quickly and enthusiastically—yes. 


If you knew you were going blind tomorrow, what would you make an effort to see today? 


If it were me, I would want to see that young man who shot Billy so I could tell him, from Billy, he was forgiven. 


I would want to see Kay, so I could hug her and tell her thanks for loving Billy enough to change his life. 


I would want to be here today to see something no one thought possible forty years ago: a church overflowing with Billy’s family and friends and people who he and Millie helped as Billy had been helped. Oh, and Max.  


Legacy is a word over and misused. But not in Billy’s case. Millie is his legacy. My sisters are his legacy. I am his legacy, and all of you are his legacy. We are all proof of what my dad always said about life: it’s not how you start, but how you finish. 


I find it ironic that my dad lived his life in darkness when he had sight yet saw the light only after he became blind.




May 07, 2021 16:25

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32 comments

Nina Chyll
20:06 May 10, 2021

I know I'm a little late to the party seeing as your story has already got approved, but I thought I'd chime in as well after having read the story and the comments. By the way, you have some amazing commenters with the most useful critique and advice, kudos to you for creating such a great atmosphere around your stories! I very much enjoyed that you managed to span the story across quite so many years, yet at no point did it feel rushed. You simply picked out the things that mattered and wove them into a coherent, full narrative. I particu...

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Thom Brodkin
20:13 May 10, 2021

There aren't enough kind words to thank you for this feedback. It's the love of writing passed on to another writer and it makes all the difference. Your advice is perfect. I wish I still had time to edit. I also thank you for letting me know what did work. I really want to get better and the criticisms are the only way to get there but it's nice to know I'm still able to reach you as I make my way on this path. Thank you. More than you know.

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Jane Andrews
22:08 May 23, 2021

Dear Thom, I know I'm horrendously late in reading this, but I'm so glad I did. In true Thom fashion, you tell a simple story that packs a gigantic emotional punch at the end. It's uplifting, it's inspirational and it made me tear up when I read your final line. A couple of comments suggested this was more 'tell' than 'show', but I think that's the kind of story you write so well. You don't need flowery chunks of description: your strength is in taking a simple story and telling it in such a way I can imagine you sitting in front of me, just...

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Alison Brewis
19:31 May 09, 2021

Great ideas here. I really liked this line: "No one cared about Billy, and he didn’t care right back." It's a clever use of language. I wonder if you could think about the language you use throughout. At the moment it seems a bit matter of fact. Could you include more imagery?

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Thom Brodkin
00:54 May 10, 2021

This is great advice and one of my biggest struggles. I am a big picture guy which leaves a lot of details out. Thanks for the read and the feedback.

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Julie Ward
16:12 May 08, 2021

I can't tell you how much I loved this story, Thom! I pictured Billy in my mind the entire time - you have such a gift when it comes to letting your readers know your characters inside and out. I haven't had a full cup of coffee yet (yes, I read before coffee...that's how much I love your writing!) so it took me a minute to connect the title to the story, which actually made the ending sweeter and more poignant. You really do have a wonderful way of telling the story of a life. There are so many great lines here, and I'm so uplifted by ...

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Thom Brodkin
16:32 May 08, 2021

Julie, I love you the exact appropriate amount for someone who I've never met and is still so wonderful. I also loved all of your suggestions and incorporated them as quickly as I could. Thanks so much for your help and friendship.

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Julie Ward
16:59 May 08, 2021

You just made me laugh out loud! If you ever come to California, or if I ever get to your neck of the woods, a cup of coffee is in order. In the mean time, we'll write. : )

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Thom Brodkin
17:00 May 08, 2021

It's a deal!!!

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Kristin Neubauer
12:58 May 08, 2021

Oh, Thom....what a wonderful, uplifting story! Your opening sentence was so strong and then every line after that. I started highlighting sentences that I loved, but then there were so many that I can't put them all in here. You covered a lifetime in a single short story and that is so difficult to do....but you did it so expertly. Your characters were wonderful, the metaphors of blindness, darkness and light. And to set the whole thing in a eulogy delivered by the son....brilliant. This read like a parable and I'm glad that I read i...

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Thom Brodkin
17:40 May 08, 2021

I don't have words to thank you for your encouraging feedback. I know as a writer you hope what you write hits people in the way you intended. Your feedback let's me know I did. Thank you!!!!

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H L Mc Quaid
11:15 May 08, 2021

It's a touching story, with some great turns of phrase, especially the last line. And it's also thought-provoking. What would we want to see, if we knew were never going to see again? I didn't see any sentence level stuff that I'd suggest changing, and as for storytelling, it works well as an address (eulogy). I suppose it's not 'dramatic' in the sense of the reader feeling that they're part of the story, but I don't think that's what you were going for here, anyway. So there's nothing to critique, other than saying this is well-written, t...

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Thom Brodkin
17:42 May 08, 2021

Sometimes no corrections are the best corrections. It helps me more than you know. I'm so glad we get to read each other.

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Claire Lewis
04:57 May 08, 2021

This one really pulls at the heartstrings! It’s a fantastic take on the prompt and I love the bits that felt like breaking the fourth wall. You have the fantastic skill of capturing a life, a full life, in the span of a short story. This piece absolutely showcases that talent. One wording edit to consider: He was a thief, a drug user, and a drug dealer. Consider ‘addict’ instead of ‘drug user’ here, to break up the repetition of the word drug It’s a lovely piece, Thom. Well done :)

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Thom Brodkin
06:09 May 08, 2021

I felt that repetition as well. Great edit. Thank you. Really thank you.

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Willow Byrd
22:46 May 07, 2021

Okay, first and foremost, excellent first paragraph. It caught me right away and drew me into the story. Thom, this was beautiful. I think the fact that it was in the form of a funeral eulogy made it that much more perfect. And gosh, the lines you included " When Billy woke up, he wasn’t angry that he was blind; he was angry that he was alive," and the last one "I find it ironic that my dad lived his life in darkness when he had sight yet saw the light after he became blind," pulled it all together really well. I didn't spot any grammar mist...

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Thom Brodkin
22:51 May 07, 2021

Post it and then work on it. Don’t miss the deadline. I want to read it. Oh and thank you. I can’t tell you how much it means to know it works. I’m always afraid in the beginning.

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Willow Byrd
23:21 May 07, 2021

I'll do my best! Working hard. Not sure it's my best but I don't hate it either :) Of course Thom. Writers are always scared in the beginning, but pushing through that is what yields great work. Keep writing friend :)

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Valerie June
21:59 May 07, 2021

This was beautiful. The beginning hooked me at once and the last sentence tied everything up really nicely. It pulled my heart a bit, and I'm fine with that. :)

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Thom Brodkin
17:41 May 08, 2021

Thank you, my friend. You always find words of encouragement. You are a blessing to me and Reedsy.

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Francis Daisy
01:53 May 27, 2021

A man, I completely forgot I was reading a eulogy. Your endings! Your writing! You are an amazing writer. We followed Billy right along all through life - your story was seamless and beautiful.

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Mark Wilson
18:41 May 16, 2021

Bravo, sir! Very touching and indeed, inspirational. How lucky, was Billy (a statement, not a question). How many of us get a second-chance at, Redemption? My fav quote: "If you ever asked them how many people they helped over the years, they would always say just one. It was their way of giving each wayward soul their full attention." Well done!

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Thom Brodkin
18:47 May 16, 2021

When talent pays me a compliment it carries a lot of weight. Thank you.

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Aloe Plant
23:36 May 11, 2021

I love the characters and world you made in this story. They all felt so real, like I could run into them at the supermarket, or see them shopping at a Macy's. You clearly have a passion for writing, and I encourage you to keep up the amazing work.

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Thom Brodkin
23:38 May 11, 2021

You are so kind. I love Reedsy for just this reason. Writers can encourage writers and you have encouraged me. Thank you so much.

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Anna Mosqueda
18:21 May 10, 2021

Amazing story with an amazing ending. Thom, you never fail to impress me with your stories. I think my favorite thing would be your unique way of narrating every story that you write. This one was just as impressive as all the others and I commend you on that. I also loved the "moral of the story" sort of ending that you put into this one. The way that you incorporated the bible, church, having a servant's heart, and "seeing the light," made it even better. (And you know I'm a huge fan of religion being worked into stories ;)) Overall, ju...

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Thom Brodkin
19:25 May 10, 2021

I know I'm always begging for your feedback but it's because of feedback like this. You help motivate me to write. I can't think of a higher compliment to pay to another writer.

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Anna Mosqueda
11:46 May 11, 2021

The same to you! I always look forward to your feedback as well!

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Karen Kinley
18:05 May 10, 2021

Thom, I am perhaps too late to help you with edits (just saw your message from Saturday a few minutes ago!), but I still wanted to offer my thoughts. This is a wonderful tale of redemption and hope! I didn't much like Billy at the beginning but loved him (and Millie) by the end. Not an easy feat to sway a reader's feelings in a few hundred words I did feel that the swing, though, from Billy not caring about a soul to Billy turning into a great guy wasn't gradual enough. There needs to be something more between Billy in the hospital tellin...

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Thom Brodkin
18:54 May 10, 2021

Hey there. It just got approved this morning. I wish I still had time because your help would have made this a better story. I think you give the most constructive advice and I'll never be able to thank you enough.

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Karen Kinley
18:58 May 10, 2021

Darn it! I was hoping the judges were slower than that! It was a busy weekend with family activities so I didn't see your message until today. Sorry about that! Still a very good story though!! Good luck!

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Angela Guthrie
23:09 May 10, 2021

I loved this story. It has so many layers but your writing style is simple and to the point. Well done Thom.

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