Legally Blind #5 – Fear and Loathing in Colorado, Part Two

I’m kind of an asshole. Okay, you can leave off the “kind of” in that statement and still be wildly accurate. I tend to speak my mind and to hell with the consequences. I tend to get especially vocal about deliberate ignorance, ideological domination, and my anti-ism nature. My social media pages are devoid of family largely because I’m so abrasive. It’s neither a good or a bad thing – it’s a part of who I am and I embrace that. Call me flippant, call me an asshole, call me whatever you like if you need to label me, but I will never sacrifice who I am for the sake of keeping the peace or playing politics. It’s come back to bite my on the ass so often that I’m surprised my behind hasn’t been chewed off entirely.

I say all that because you’re going to need to understand the National Federation of the Blind, the way they ran the Colorado Center for the Blind, and why I struggled every day there with their sometimes-rabid faith in their politics. It influenced everything about that school and was (at least at that time – I can’t speak to changes they may have made since) the truest backbone of the school and why I ultimately sucked so hard at getting along with many of the teachers. Some were born educators and genuinely great people, even if I don’t necessarily agree with their idealogies. Some were very much… well, not that, and seemed largely like NFB cheerleaders sent there to spit in the eyes of anyone with sight. If they were just pricks, I could probably forgive them, but they were also terrible teachers too, who opted to only teach fundamentals when it suited them.

Part of that stems from the never-ending flow of students through the CCB. Induction and graduation weren’t a regular thing. People were admitted any time, and graduated when they were ready – or in the case of people like me, when the student and/or the Blind and Low Vision counselors agreed the student had learned enough. Or, also like me, when the daily knocking of heads against each other grew too much and all parties agreed that it’s for the best for the student to head on out.

Now that we’ve got that pre-amble out of the way, let’s jump back to my second day. My roommate “Steve” pointed me in the general direction of a bus stop, where we lined up with a few other students, all of us armed with canes. Mine was different than theirs – mine was a folding cane with what’s called a marshmallow tip (because it looks like a marshmallow, in case that wasn’t apparent), and every single one of theirs was a normal stiff cane with metal tips. Cool little side note – there’s a reason for that. The metal tipped canes have a better tactile feel to them, though they wear out so rapidly I personally think the trade-off isn’t worth it if you’re familiar with the areas you’re traveling in.

In any case, I immediately felt weird and out of place, but I’d been feeling that since I flew in, so it wasn’t so bad. I don’t remember anyone in particular that first morning. It took me a while to acclimate to getting to know people by their voices, and that first morning, I was more or less pissing myself just trying to remember the route I needed to go each morning. What I do remember about the group that morning was how diverse they were, not just in terms of skin color and backgrounds, but in age and health. Some were fit as a fiddle, some were grossly overweight (as was I – I think I was in the 250 lb. range back then, and I’ve since packed on another hundie, something I’m working to change). Some were beautiful, some were handsome, some were strange to me, some were “normal,” some clearly had physical problems and limitations. With my thick glasses, I’d always felt out of place, but in with them, I actually sorta felt for the first time like I wasn’t on the fringe of normal society. I didn’t realize it yet, but these were very much my people, as weird and individualistic as we all were.

Apart from the tragedy of the Littleton high school shooting, that’s actually a really nice suburb, and it’s really simple to navigate via the bus routes in Denver… once you know what the hell you’re doing. I’m a slow walker, and that day, when we finally got off our bus, I was hustling my ass off to keep up with the group of students. I forget the specifics, but it usually took about half an hour or so each morning to reach the school, including a pretty neat light rail system I still really like.

The CCB claimed they couldn’t teach people with varying degrees of sight in an equal fashion, and made everyone with sight wear sleepshades in order to teach everyone equally. It’s an idea I can understand, but I don’t think their solution was ideal. Sleepshades. In the summer months, that was nothing short of insane. We’re not talking velvety soft ones, or something light you might put over your eyes. These were foam-backed plastic pieces of garbage that accumulated sweat and grossness without a great way of keeping them clean. Cleaning them with soap and water helped, but after a couple of weeks, regardless of how well you kept them, they stank and fell apart. Despite the continued barrage from sighted studnets like me that there had to be better ways of doing this – painted sunglasses being the most obvious solution – they insisted that the sleepshades blocked all of a person’s vision and leveled the education among all of the students.

Let me reiterate that point. Even when I pointed out the existence of the sunglasses used by those recovering from surgeries that covered up all the field of view, they still insisted sleepshades were the best solution because… well, I have no clue even to this day. It was obtuseness for the sake of its own stubbornness, and it was this kind of thinking that led to me clashing with my instructors time and time again.

The school itself was based out of what I believe was once a gym/rec hall type building. Built on several levels, the main floor overlooked the open-air classrooms, which were once squash courts, I think. Also on that central floor was a reception area, several offices, a kitchen, and a cafeteria that doubled as the “home ec” type classroom, which wound up becoming my very favorite part of my education because the woman who taught it – and I’m afraid I don’t remember her name offhand, which aggravates and saddens me – was the best of the bunch and a born educator.

I was run through my day’s schedule, set up in chunks like a regular school. Travel, Braille, Computers/Tech, Art/Woodworking, and Cooking/Home. Those weren’t the official names of the classes but that’s how I thought of them and continue to do so. There were usually weekly activities of some sort that got us out of the building, or put us in conference room lecturing settings. More on those dreadful things later, because boy howdy, do I have things to say about their cheerleading sessions.

I had, at that point, very limited cane experience. I knew the basics of walking with a cane – you tap with the cane in front of you on the opposite side of the foot you put forward, so that you have enough reaction time to stop yourself before you go plunging over an embankment or a curb. There are also larger sweeping motions you make when you’re not in a crowd of people, but by and large, the former is much more useful inn real world settings.

I was told to stow my folding cane and my glasses, and was given a new cane with a metal tip and my sleepshades. Then I was told to keep up while a group of students took a walk down the block and around in a big loop.

That’s pretty much the extent of my travel training almost for the first month. See any problems here? The travel instructors weren’t instructors. Not in the slightest. They didn’t teach, they told. They talked a lot about throwing people in the water and letting them swim, but when you’ve never seen a fish and you’ve only ever put your toes in the water, that’s no way to learn. And it almost led me to quit my very first actual day there.

That walk was the most humiliating, terrifying time in my schooling there. I felt like an idiot when I was told consistently my cane techniques were wrong without anyone taking the time to actually show me how or why I was doing things the wrong way. I was expected to learn from the other students, whose names I hadn’t even caught yet, and I was expected to learn immediately. I managed most of the walk okay by keeping up with the group, but that was a facade and the instructor knew it. So he had me cross a street.

In high traffic.

By myself.

You’re thinking at this point they were right to throw me in the deep end, that it would energize me to realize I can do this, that it’s not so bad. No. There are situations where I’m at my absolute best when my back is to the wall, but that situation is most definitely not downtown Denver when I’m already feeling like quitting and going home. It’s definitely not with a smirking instructor who continually, in all my months there, treated me like a weird second class citizen because I had sight.

I was afraid, and I was angry, and not the good kind of angry, the kind that can motivate a person to do great things. I was just… angry. I stepped out onto the street when I thought the time was right. I walked forward five feet. And I whacked my cane right against a very moving car that came to a screaming stop only feet away from me.

At that point I ripped off my sleepshades, used what little sight I had without glasses (mostly shapes and colors at that point – nowadays I couldn’t manage even that), and got across the street, so scared I will unashamedly admit I think I pissed myself a little. That was the first time I took my sleepshades off during travel periods. It was far from the last.

To this day, I can’t understand what the point is of teaching a travel class if you’re not going to teach on a regular basis. Lumping the sighted people with each other so they could learn the basics would have been a smart move. Giving someone individual courses so they could warm up and get the basics down would have been a smart move. Throwing someone at the fucking sharks and expecting them to not get torn to shreds? That’s not teaching. That’s straight-up jackassery of a degree that still infuriates me to this day.

And that was my very first course.

Thankfully, Braille was next, and the instructor was much more decent at… you know… teaching. I’d never learned even the slightest bit of Braille, but this was the class most important to me. See, I know I can go blind nowadays because I know I’ll always have books on tape and Braille. Back then, I was terrified that if I went blind, I could never read again. An absurd fear, to be sure, but you’ve gotta understand, at that point, going completely blind was the apocalypse for me. That was the end game. If it had happened before I went to Denver, I would have curled up and probably withered into a husk of who I am.

I argued with my Braille instructor more than once. In fact, our irritation with each other once led to me and my close friend Rebecca getting separated in class like we were a couple of lovestruck teenagers who didn’t know any better and weren’t absolutely killing it in terms of progress. We argued ideologically, too – again, more on that later – and I get the feeling he plain just didn’t like me in the same sense that I got from a lot of the fully blind instructors there. By and large, though, I liked “Bob,” and if he wasn’t pushing the NFB agenda, I think we would’ve largely got on just fine. In any case, he was a good instructor, and when I opted out of travel courses later in my education when it became clear my time in Denver was numbered, I doubled up on Braille.

But still I was on the verge of quitting. That travel class had really pissed me off and I wanted out immediately. Enter the cooking/home ec class. This was the most chill, relaxed class in that school, and it was, oddly enough, the one class I never felt like removing my sleepshades, despite working with knives and hot stoves. The instructor was harried on that first day – I forget why, but she was busy with something or someone, and I was told to make some chicken salad for sandwiches out of some chicken breasts that had been cooked by an earlier class. Thankfully, she buddied me up with a good guy, my buddy Matt Palumbo’s former roommate who would graduate about two weeks later.

Chicken salad. Easy enough, right? Except imagine doing this all blind. The student I worked with showed me the ins and outs of the kitchen, and did a remarkable job of showing me how I could feel things out without any real danger to myself. But he’d also never made chicken salad either, so the two of us figured out the best way NOT to do it. And that’s by hitting the puree button for a minute, rather than the fifteen or twenty seconds it takes to whip chicken salad into shape.

Whoops.

But this? This was a harmless mistake. It was the sort of joyfully funny thing I probably should have experienced first rather than the outright terror of that travel class. We tried our liquefied goop, we laughed about it, and we cleaned up. And… it was okay. It was strangely okay.

I didn’t know it then, but that’s when I started to realize the education I needed in Denver wasn’t going to come from the instructors, but from my friends that I’d make there, in seeing how they functioned, how they dealt with things, how they lived a day to day life and what I could avoid. Through our daily mishaps, I wound up becoming okay with the future and the idea that I could live a really great, fun life even if I became fully blind.

I’m gonna leave this blog entry off with one last note from those earliest days there. My second day at the school – very literally my second one – I was asked to man a barbeque for a student’s graduation. Flipping burgers sounded easy enough, so I took it up. Surprisingly, it’s easier for me to cook meat completely blind than it is sighted. It’s easier for me to tell when the meat’s done than if I just look at it. Pink meat? What the everloving hell does pink meat look like? But slightly firm and with only a little give? That i can understand.

So I manned the barbeque. And I was happy with it, really happy. Right up until the point when I flipped a burger on the back burner and realized it was a two-tier barbeque by jamming the back of my hand against a very hot grill. Up until I was thirty, the hair on the back of my hand never grew back right.

Still beats the hell out of potentially getting hit by a car, though.

Part 3 will come soon. I want to reverse the order of things – we’ll talk more about the NFB and the reasons why I ultimately left Colorado before I get intot he joys of the life there. Thanks for reading.

Beast – A Look at the First Chapter

Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming freebie Beast, exclusive for people who sign up for my newsletter! Enjoy!

Chapter 1

“She’s a witch.”

If she was, she didn’t look like one. Mrs. Fulton looked… well, like a mom. Middle-aged, a little frayed around the edges, her makeup perhaps caked on a little thick in the vain hopes of pushing time back a decade. She strode down the street, pushing her little red grocery cart in front of her, a pair of earbuds trailing down to a cell phone holster. Mrs. Fulton could have been any other suburbanite woman on her way back from the store.

Well, save for the braid of long auburn hair tied to the handlebar of her cart, anyways.

“That’s human hair,” Chris said from the driver’s seat, sounding not so much scared as amused. “My dad says it’s some kind of Wiccan thing, like a calling card to let the others know she’s a witch.”

“Serulian,” Becca corrected absently, eyes locked on Mrs. Fulton as she glanced over her shoulder and smiled. She couldn’t have overheard them. They were a quarter of a block away at a red light. But still…

After finishing a deep drink of her Dr. Pepper, Trish asked, “What, like the color?” Becca’s best friend was sharper than she usually let on, but didn’t bother hiding her book smarts with the two of them. Becca had been her best friend since grade school, and Trish had lived with Chris since they were three, after their parents had hooked up at a drunkfest of a Christmas party and decided to get hitched a week later in Vegas.

“No, with an S and an I.” Becca spelled it out for Trish, who wrinkled her nose. Behind them, a car honked and Chris shot forward guiltily. “They’re… I don’t know, hardcore witches, I guess you’d call them.” That wasn’t true, not by a long shot. The Sirulians worshipped something they called the Blight, but what that was she had no idea and it was easier just to explain away the details in a vague fashion.

Becca was fascinated by the splinter group, as she was with everything horror and occult related. When the news reports started leaking that last winter about a small town to the east of Rankin Flats just appearing out of nowhere, its citizens all apparently dying within a day or two, something had woken up in Becca. She’d always liked writers like John Saul and Dean Koontz, but that had been at a distance, and purely for entertainment. Something about that little town, Hamber, and the way the government tried to cover it up made her hungry to learn more. She gorged herself on every book, popular or obscure, that dealt in the history of ghost towns and the occult in the area. And with it being Rankin Flats, one of the most dangerous and storied cities in the world, there were plenty, enough to fill whole sections of libraries.

That rabbit hole led her to start reading up on magic practitioners, common or uncommon to the Flats. Serulians weren’t written about much, mostly because they kept to themselves. There weren’t covens or thinly disguised gab clubs devoted to the Serulian ways. The tenets had yet to be discovered by the hordes of liberal arts majors dabbling in witchcraft in head shops and the backs of libraries. All that was really known about them were generalities. Chris wasn’t wrong about the hair being a symbol of the craft, at least according to what she read. But Wiccan? No..

Becca turned in her seat to keep watching Mrs. Fulton. The woman turned to glance back at her, a smile flickering just for a moment across her face. She’d known Becca was there, looking. Creepy.

* * *

Darcy and Derek, known affectionately as the Double Ds, met them at a Brisktro not all that far from their school. The couple were practically twins, both dressed in flannel, jeans, and cowboy hats too big for their heads. Becca had grown used to not rolling her eyes when the pair were around. Derek, not all that long ago, had been a dyed-in the-wool geek who wore nothing but 90s referential t-shirts and cargo pants. Ever since he’d started dating the cowgirl at his side, he’d changed up his entire wardrobe for her, not to mention his lifestyle. Weekends and evenings spent obsessing over Overwatch and track turned into enthusiasm for rodeos, farm work, and country music. Becca wouldn’t mind so much if he didn’t try so damned hard at being this faux cowboy. It was douche and not a little slimy.

To her credit, at least Darcy wasn’t trying to force the changes on him, but she wasn’t exactly discouraging them either. In her tight jeans, it was easy to understand why Derek would lose himself over to a slavish devotion to his girlfriend. Darcy really wasn’t a bad person, though. She was the one friend Becca could call night or day and have a friendly ear to talk to, and she didn’t ever seem to share secrets, something even Trish couldn’t manage.

They ordered their favorites – Trish a chai tea, Derek and Darcy iced coffees (even if Derek used to hate coffee), Becca a hot tea, thinking about the lonely five-dollar bill in her handbag. She hoped this was the year she could finally pass for old enough to get a part-time job, but she looked years younger than she actually was. A blessing, some of her aunts called it, but to Becca, all it meant was that she couldn’t get away from home, couldn’t buy herself any of the day-to-day things her friends enjoyed, couldn’t get anything more serious than yardwork and babysitting jobs.

When Trish sweetly but naively told her she could have whatever she wanted because it was on her, Becca grew red as a beet and tried not to storm off. “Just tea,” she said through gritted teeth and a forced smile. Becca darted away from the group, trying not to let them see her balled fists. Pity. She hated that word more than any other in the English language. Well, except for “I’m sorry.”

At a table near the window, she dug out a tattered copy of Edgar Sawtelle, her latest favorite find from a Friends of the Library sale. Once upon a time she’d owned a Kindle, bought with money carefully saved from babysitting two little brats in her trailer park, but after only a few weeks, she’d come home to find it missing and her father Luke armed with a trio of new bottles fresh from the liquor store. Becca had cried and cried, and he’d even apologized in his fumbling way, but he’d never bought her a new one. Now she never bought anything he could sell.

Not even a sentence into the book, Chris dropped into the chair beside her. Her sense of smell always grew sharper just before her period, and she imagined she could sniff out every drop of delicious sweat coming from his pores, not to mention his sporty deodorant and the hint of aftershave. Just a year older than her, he was still the only boy she knew who wore the stuff and make it seem natural instead of like a boy playing at being a man. His easy-going smile did things to her stomach that no one else’s could. It wasn’t just a girl crush, either, but full on lust. If Chris told Becca to sneak away to the Brisktro’s men’s room, she’d have gladly followed him in there and let him do whatever he wanted for however long he could, preferably over and over again.

“She means well,” he said quietly, covering her free hand with his. She wondered if he could feel her heartbeat rev up like a NASCAR racer’s engine.

Drag me off, she pleaded internally. Make love to me for days. I’m yours. “Yeah,” Becca muttered.

“It’s not a pity thing. It’s just Trish trying to be sweet.”

Becca didn’t say anything to that, just buried her nose further in her book. He squeezed her hand, sending a delicious little jolt of electricity up and down her arm. Trish slid into the chair across from her and pointed a finger at her stepbrother. “You’re so not hitting on Becs, are you?”

“What if I am?” Chris said, and trailed his fingers up and down Becca’s arm. That caused her to drop her book in shock.

Approaching the table as Becca scooted her chair back to swipe up her book, hoping the rest of them didn’t see how red her face was, Derek snickered. “Smooth, Becca.”

“Shut up,” she said, finally coming up with Sawtelle in hand.

Behind her boyfriend, Darcy asked, “You okay, Becky?” She was the only one who called her that. Becca hated the nickname – she didn’t even care much for Becca, but it was what everyone called her and she went with it meekly.

“Yeah fine,” she said, fast enough that it became one word – yeahfine. “Just got startled, that’s all.”

“Must be my sexy lips,” Chris said, and made a kissy face in Becca’s direction. This time she was positive everyone could see her blush.

Perfect.

* * *

When Trish and Chris dropped Becca off back at her trailer, Chris hopped out and told his sister he’d be just a minute. She made some moaning sounds and giggled when Chris thumped the door to get her to shut up. Becca’s whole body quivered as she waited for Chris to talk.

“So. Um,” she finally said, kicking herself for her inability to say anything cooler.

“So,” he said, and scratched his head. She liked his clean-cut hairdo. Most of the boys in her class thought the shaggy dog look was still in, but Chris… Chris was classier than that. As young as he might be, he’d almost look right at home in a boardroom somewhere if he owned a suit and a tie. “I’m sorry about that.”

“It’s okay,” she mumbled. He could only mean one thing – the coffee shop incident wouldn’t leave her friends’ minds easily and they’d use it to fluster her whenever they wanted.

“No, it’s not. Let me make it up to you.”

“H-how?” She thought boys were the only ones who suffered from squeaking voices, but hers went as high as a mouse’s.

“Let me take you to dinner or something sometime. And maybe we’ll see a movie or something. We’ll-”

“Yes,” Becca said, practically shouting it.

Chris grinned. “Cool. It’ll be fun to hang out as friends, just the two of us.”

Her heart, soaring so quickly just a moment before, crashed into her gut and burned. “As friends. Right.”

Chris pulled her to him for a quick hug. “See ya then.”

Becca watched them off down the street until the car was just a speck in the distance, then yanked at one of the hairs on her head. It was an unhealthy coping mechanism for her stress and she hadn’t done it in weeks, but now her fingers plucked away like a first chair violinist. Before she could storm inside, a neighboring trailer’s screen door popped open and fifteen pounds of panting furball bounced down the stairs and across the grass to her. Spotted with mud and burrs, Frisco was badly kept and half-starving, but he was a gleeful little thing and Becca’s heart lightened a little seeing him.

She knelt down to scratch at his ears as the dog’s owner Shea appeared at her screen door. The elderly woman had to come out of her trailer from time to time, Becca was sure of it, but damned if she could remember when. “Frisco!” she called sharply. “Get your ass back here!”

“it’s all right, Shea,” Becca called out. Frisco waggled his butt as if to say, yes, it’s quite all right, I’d like to stay here now, preferably forever so long as I get my butt rubbings.

Shea muttered something under her breath and called Frisco back. The dog reluctantly returned to the house, stopping only to lift its hind leg and spray down an old broken barbeque. Becca raised a hand to wave at the old woman, but she was already retreating inside the house and didn’t return the gesture.

“Fuck you too, then, you old bitch,” Becca muttered and felt a little better.

Becca hadn’t been expecting her father to be home. His old Cutlass hadn’t been parked out front and she’d thought she was safe for the evening to head into her room, shut the door, cry herself out, and then try to figure out just how the hell she was going to start earning some real cash. When she smelled the meat frying, every instinct in her body told her to turn around and run. Her father never cooked. Luke’s meals came from a can, or on very rare occasions, the microwave.

Meat meant something was out of the ordinary, and in the Pratchett family, out of the ordinary meant trouble. He was in the kitchen, his graying hair tied in a ponytail with a rubber band as he whistled something she vaguely remembered hearing on the radio, some old-timey honky-tonk rock song. Cooking and whistling. This wasn’t good. This wasn’t good at all.

When the screen door banged shut, Luke turned and grinned at her, giving her a little wave with his spatula. She hated her dad’s smile. That beguiling, charming twinkle to his eyes. The way his nose crinkled just a little bit. It was the smile of an addict in momentary denial and with it would come a tempest if she wasn’t careful. And Becca was in no mood to be careful.

“Cooking some ham and eggs!” he hollered at her cheerfully. “How do you want ‘em? Scrambled or over-easy?”

“Um. Scrambled.”

“Atta girl. Just like her poppa.”

Becca didn’t sit down. Didn’t move away from the door. She didn’t trust her dad when he was like this. Not one bit. Him standing over her bed. “You look so much like your mom,” he’d whispered. She shuddered involuntarily.

“Where’s the car, dad?”

Luke stiffened but kept right on cooking. “Got a new job today. The bank! Gonna be their janitor.” He stretched the word out – jan-it-tore. “Mop their floors, clean up after their shits, say yes sir, no sir, why lemme get that for you, yassir!”

Any other day, that might have been great news. Luke hated his job at the gas station down the street. Now she just waited for the other shoe to drop. “That’s good,” she said, her voice flat.

“Fuck, Becca, can’t you be a little happier than that?” The words might have been harsh, but his tone was still chipper. He turned, flipped a piece of ham in the air for her amusement, and caught it with the frying pan. It had been a trick she’d loved as a kid. Before her mom had died. Before it had all gone to shit. “You know what this means, baby girl? Money in our pockets.”

“Did you sell the car?”

He slammed a fist down on the counter. “Damn it, Becca-” There he was, she thought to herself. The beast come out to play.

“You pay the water bill? The electric? Anything? Or did you just buy a few groceries and, oh, hey, the liquor cabinet’s restocked again?”

The pan came flying at her a moment later, still searing hot. She ducked it easily but where it landed it sizzled the carpet. Burn, motherfucker, burn, she thought idly as she spun for the door. “Becca, wait, I’m sorry,” Luke shouted after her.

But she was already moving, already running out the door and down the steps.

Legally Blind #4 – Fear and Loathing in Colorado, Part One

I used to be afraid of the dark.

Unless you know me particularly well, “the dark” isn’t probably what you think it means. I’m not afraid of the night, or things that might or might not go bump in it – hell, my paychecks are now based on the boogeyman and his merry band of asshole buddies. What I mean is blindness. Waking up one day with another detached retina, or the slow fade into total blindness through macular degeneration used to terrify me in some subtle ways.

It’s not an easily describable fear. It wasn’t like it kept me up at night – though it certainly did, sometimes, when I’d contemplate how little I could actually do if I went completely blind (which is a falsehood, by the way – the blind can do plenty). It was more like a creeping dread, a sense of inescapable quicksand into a continued loss of functions we take for granted each and every day since we’re born.

Most of all, I was afraid of being helpless. By the end of college, I’d already lost my ability to drive, leaving me hoping for a single room in dingy college dorms probably best torn down. It left me without a great many of the activities I liked to do – suddenly I couldn’t play games online with my mom because I genuinely thought the eye strain would screw up my good eye. It left me straining to read books because my good eye wasn’t my dominant one.

Fear and helplessness leave me an angry, bitter mess. I’d bet you ninety nine times out of a hundred, abusive husbands hit their wives out of impotent rage. They can’t hit the thing they truly want to hit, so they find someone they think they can lord over and go to town, verbally or physically. I wish I could say I was different, but I know that need. It’s been the passenger in the seat next to me my whole life and it’s something I still struggle with every day. I’ve hit my brother so much over our lifetimes that the guilt of it crushes my shoulders on a daily basis. I’ve been in a dozen stupid fights, ostensibly because I was standing up for something or someone, but really because I just really fucking love the feel of my fists hitting something fleshy.

I hate myself for that. And don’t try to tell me not to. That contempt I feel for my anger is what drives me to seek peace with myself every single day. What all the hippy-dippy types don’t tell you about trying to find yourself is that when you do, you have to live with looking in the mirror every day.

None of that seems relevant to blindness, except it all is. Blindness isn’t the only thing that makes me angry all the time, but it’s a large part of my continual disappointment in myself. Imagine wanting to live your life as your own man and then having to ask for help from people who are never going to say no because they love you and pity you. Imagine how much that grinds you down. It’s exhausting.

I say all that about the present because back in 2004, these feelings were all still new to me. Up until 2003 or so, I had my issues with my temper, but going blind added a mountain to my back. If I’d been focused on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t, I have no idea where I’d be right now. I’d have tried for an acting school on the east coast, almost certainly. Who knows where I would have gone? What I would have done?

But fear had me and I don’t really blame myself. Thankfully, though, that temper of mine can sometimes work as a positive every once in a great while. I was tired of being afraid. I didn’t want to live my life on Social Security (which would later become kind of ironic, since that’s what I’ve been doing for eight years). I wanted to figure my shit out.

So I did. I talked to my Blind and Low Vision rep here in Montana, and the individual pointed me towards a place called the Colorado Center for the Blind. A few months later, and I hopped on a plane with a small suitcase and no idea what I was headed into. None. All I knew was that I’d be staying in Littleton, Colorado – yes, that Littleton – and going to school near there.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is incredibly apt when it comes to Denver. No six months of my life has ever been so eventful, made me feel so damned alive or so miserable. There are people I love from that period of time more than I have the ability to express. Rebecca Myers. Matthew Palumbo. Tommy Needham. Thirteen years later I still tell people stories about them, still laugh, still kinda wish I’d never left, still kinda glad I did.

When I hopped off the plane, I was greeted by an old man in an outlandish Hawaiian shirt, who promptly dropped me off at a surprisingly nice apartment complex in the suburbs. I was told that someone would be by… well, eventually. Eventually turned into a couple of hours of disbelief that this was suddenly my life, spent waiting outside in the blistering June heat. I couldn’t even get into my apartment because there was some SNAFU with the apartment keys. So I waited.

Enter my new roommate. Completely blind and looking kinda like a wet rat, he whacked his cane up and down the sidewalks and… promptly walked right by our apartment building for the one next door. I didn’t realize he was my roommate at the time, and “Steve” as we’ll call him had absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever. So I waited more. And more. And when he came back down the street, I asked him if he knows a guy named “Steve.” His face lights up – and if you’ve never seen a completely blind person’s face light up, it is one of God’s great joys, and I’m not even being the slightest bit sarcastic about that – and we finally get our housing stuff sorted out.

The apartment was sparse – a few bits of furniture leftover from various tenants and bedroom accouterments were about it. No TV, no entertainment, nothing. I slung my suitcase on my bed and sat down to enjoy the air conditioning for a while until “Steve” barreled right through my bedroom door and stood – I kid you not – half a foot away from me to ask me a bevy of questions.

He then asked if I wanted dinner. Since I hadn’t eaten since before the flight that morning, I was all for it. I wasn’t sure what I expected, but “Steve’s” next words kinda took me by surprise. “Sorry,” he said, “I haven’t gone grocery shopping in a while. All that’s in the fridge is hot dogs and spinach leaves.” And come to find out, those spinach leaves were rotten.

My first dinner in Denver, Colorado was a boiled hot dog, followed by my new roommate following me around like a lost puppy.

As far as first days of anything important in my life, it’s by far the weirdest. And that night, when I laid down listening to “Steve” whack his cane up and down the street trying to find a neighbor I didn’t know in a different building, I wondered just what the everloving hell I was doing there and how long I’d make it. Privately, I gave myself three days.

Turns out I lasted six months. Six grueling, happy, miserable months where I learned more about myself than any other time of my life. But more on that in Part Two, coming soon.

Band of Fallen Princes is available now!

Heya folks! My latest Rankin Flats supernatural thriller Band of Fallen Princes is now live on Amazon! This one centers around four childhood friends, once the victims of vicious bullies, as they become four criminal masterminds behind the scenes in the big sprawl that is Rankin Flats. When one of their own is brutally executed in an apparent gangland hit, the remaining three cut a bloody swath through the city to get their revenge. Can Garrett and Murphy stop them? After the events of Bone Carvers, are they even capable of trying? Well, read on and find out!

I’ll be pursuing the paperback version in June, but for now, you can buy your copy on your Kindle for just $2.99. Hope you enjoy, and welcome back to Rankin Flats!

Fallen_Princes Final

Mailing list problems have been resolved (kind of)

Hey folks!

I’ve set up a new mailing list page. If you’ve already signed up, you’ll be automatically added and don’t need to do anything. If you haven’t signed up, you can sign up here! Joining the mailing list will nab you Beast, a free horror novella set in the Rankin Flats universe. A standalone story, it follows Becca, a teenager being stalked by a hound straight from the pits of hell.

One quick note – if you try to sign up for the mailing list directly from the ebooks themselves, I have not yet uploaded the changed links. If you don’t receive a confirmation email when you sign up, please contact me via a private message here or on Facebook or Twitter and I’ll get you hooked up.

As always, thanks for reading!

Regarding my mailing list

There appears to be some technical troubles affecting people trying to sign up for my mailing list. If you don’t receive a confirmation email when you sign up, please drop me a comment below and we’ll get you sorted. You can also PM me via Twitter or Facebook with your email address and I’ll add you manually.

I’ll have more details soon, but newsletter subscribers will receive exclusive access to a free short story/novella titled Beast. Set in the Rankin Flats universe, the story follows Becca, a teenager being stalked by a dog-like creature straight from the pits of hell. This is a standalone story, and features all-new characters. Should be fun! More info to come soon.

Legally Blind #3 – Tools of the Trade

My vision’s affected every part of my life. That pretty much goes without saying when you’re staring down diopters in the -30 range (my vision doesn’t even really work with the 20/20 scale, that’s how bad it is), but the truism of it doesn’t really hit you until you start to see the minutia of what I do on a day to day basis that might be different from your own life.

Let’s start with the most obvious stuff as pertains to just writing. Larger fonts on PCs are an absolute must, but by and large I prefer to use the magnifier built into most Windows operating systems. It’s not the most ideal tool in the world but it’s pretty damn close to being perfect for my needs. This is something not everybody’s aware of, but you can find it by searching for “Magnifier” in your search bar next to your Start button. It’s super handy. I use the full-screen version at a 300% magnification, then minimize the tool to the taskbar so it doesn’t get in the way.

It’s not ideal for everything – games can be kind of hit and miss with it, unless they can be windowed, in which case it usually works great. But for simple web browsing, video watching, or Microsoft Word (the program I use ten times more than any other), it’s ideal and simple, and doesn’t cost a thing.

I tend to set up my computers to run at slightly larger fonts, as mentioned before, and this is another something people might not be aware of. Check your settings in your browser of choice – usually the font sizes are either under accessibility or advanced options. Going too large will tend to screw with the line placement and text wrapping, so be warned it might look funky.

I don’t tend to read much on paper anymore, unless I’m proofing one of my paperback novels. The reason isn’t so much my vision – you’d be surprised at how great the publishing world is about supplying large print versions of their books – as it is lighting. As mentioned in my previous post, I don’t see light the “right” way anymore and shadows interspersed with light can really screw with my eyes. To that end, I either like to read in full daylight or with the aid of a supremely bright reading lamp angled over the top of my head. This isn’t always feasible, so I tend to do a lot of my reading on my iPad or Kindle, both of which have adjustable font sizes and a relatively high contrast between the font and the “paper.” If you have a low-vision family member with a bit of technical savvy, I cannot recommend one of these two options enough. Sure, we all tend to prefer books on paper, but when the alternative is eyestrain, migraines, or worst of all, no reading whatsoever, then make the smarter choice and go for the tech. I did and I don’t regret it.

The iPad also has a nifty high contrast mode, which reverses the text and the background, so that the font shows up as white and the background black. That’s really handy for nighttime reading, though I do wish the iPad allowed for a greater font size. It’s nitpicky but when your vision is this bad, you want to be able to control your fonts to the greatest extent possible.

For walking, I get by without a cane but I do have a fold-up travel cane I take with me to unfamiliar places when traveling, especially if I’m going to be walking at night by myself. Our little community finally (in 2017!) has corners with dots on the sidewalks to let you know where the sidewalk ends. I tend not to need these, but believe me, when every painted curb looks like it could be a ramp, it’s extremely nice not to come off a curb the wrong way and twist my ankle needlessly. Now I now, “Oh, hey, I can cross here and it’s not going to be a drop.” Again, this is maybe a decade late coming, but we’re also talking about a town that’s just now getting a Redbox, so “behind the times” doesn’t quite do us justice sometimes. We’ve also had an update to our town’s lights, or at least as far as Main Street is concerned, which is a blessing. Being able to see the sideewalks at night isn’t just awesome for the blind, but lends the town a less murderous feel when you’re out and about. Now to just get the residential areas up to snuff so I’m not tripping over the billion potholes. Another battle for another time, I suppose.

Around the house, one of the more useful things I have is sticky dots of various colors for buttons on my microwave and stove. Although my microwave’s buttons are big, they’re not high contrast or particularly easy to define since they all feel exactly the same, so adding dots to the “time cook,” “cancel,” and “start” buttons is a pretty good alternative. Same goes for the stove. I like that my stove has its dials right up front as opposed to near the back – I get that it looks old-fashioned, but it also means I can see the dots and line them up where they need to be.

There are some other little tools I keep around. Gel pens, while a bit messy, tend to write thick enough to make handwriting legible (or would, if my handwriting was legible to begin with). Magnifiers don’t work very well with my glasses for whatever reason, but I have a couple I keep around that do help a little. I keep a largeprint notebook (with extra thick lines) next to my computer for writing minutia. That’s handy, but honestly, unlined notebook paper would probably work just as well.

One note to gamers out there – if you have a PS4, check into your accessibility settings. They’ve been doing some amazing things, including adding a magnifier. It’s not ideal – you can’t control the action and be zoomed in at the same time, so it’s largely limited to games with frequent pauses like JRPGs or text-heavy games. But it’s a fantastic little touch to make things just a little easier. Hell, given how small those fonts are for some games, I’d recommend it even for my well-sighted friends.

For information on where you can obtain most of this type of stuff, contact your state’s Blind and Low Vision (or equivalent) service. At the very least they’ll point you in the right direction, and in a best case scenario, maybe they’ll even pick you up as a client.

That does it for this blog. As always, if you have any questions or comments, fire them off below.