I don’t recognize you.
I don’t know your face. I don’t know your clothes. I don’t know your vehicle. I don’t know the way you walk.
I’m sorry about that, I really am. And if you know me, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, Cam means someone else.” No. I’m sorry, but no. I’m not. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been best friends for decades. It doesn’t matter if you’re my parents. It doesn’t even matter if you’re my brother, the person I’m closest to in the universe.
I do not recognize you.
One of the questions I get asked frequently – and I’m sure I’ve mentioned this, but this blog can and will repeat itself as topics will frequently intersect, and because my memory is absolute shit – is just what is it I actually see. That’s not a question people want to know in numbers (which, as of this writing, is -27 and -30 diopters in each eye, and if you know what that means, send me the bill for cleaning your underwear). They want to know in a quantifiable, real-life situation what I could actually see.
Defining that is often difficult, but as I’m pondering this idea of not being able to recognize anyone, it makes for a good teachable moment. The best way to describe my vision is I don’t see details. I see vague ideas of things, sometimes a bit more solidly when I’m up close and personal, but often times even then it’s a crapshoot. I don’t really see fine print anymore. I don’t see what’s up and down grocery store aisles – nowadays, I usually rely on common sense and the items you’d find at the end of each particular aisle as my beacons, but someday I’ll lose that latter one too.
And in what might be the saddest way vision has affected me, I don’t see people. I see the idea of you – your rough shape, the color of the clothes you’re wearing (although even that’s an illusion to me – I’m partially color blind to boot), maybe a few generalities, especially if you’ve got big hair or a heavy beard or sit in a wheelchair. Sometimes, within context, that’s enough to say, “Oh, that’s enough visual information that I feel confident in saying that’s X.”
But when I don’t have that contextual information, like when I’m in an environment where a lot of people come through the door or say hello, I’m very much socially paralyzed by an inability to distinguish what makes you you. This is compounded by my aforementioned terrible memory, because this should be offset by a recognition of people’s voices. But unlike a few of my blind friends who have developed sharper memories for these things, my brain seems to leak like a sieve.
Sometimes, this is helped by the way someone will talk to me. “Hey boo!” my mom will shout across a store. In a sea of voices, I could probably pick hers out – but the way she says it, “hey boo,” it’s an audible signal that helps me out a ton.
And though the responsibility is most definitely not on you, if you see me out and about, one of the ways you can help me tremendously is to just say, “Hey, Cam, it’s X.” Not all my blind friends like or need this, so it’s definitely not universal. But my God, does it ever help me out. When people shout hello at me, I always feel terrible for giving a generic, “Hey!” and then ignoring them, but I really am rendered socially awkward because I don’t have any clue who they are, generally speaking.
So yeah. Usually when people say this, it’s placating, but for me, it’s one hundred percent the truth – it’s not you, it’s me.