A memoir on blindness (and ways to hide it)
Blind Man’s Bluff by James Tate Hill is a beautifully honest and funny memoir on blindness. Or more accurately, on how the author, struck by a serious eye disease at age sixteen, tried to hide his disability from friends and lovers for fifteen years.
At first there was denial, the inability to accept his fate. “Every day that I passed for the fully sighted person I used to be made it easier to believe there was nothing wrong.”
Then, there was the daily stress of the disability itself. He could no longer drive, read the blackboard, decipher a menu, or recognize a face. He was legally blind. “Anxieties about what I couldn’t see disappeared into the vortex of my blind spots.”
What made him bluff the most, though, was his desire to be seen as a normal young man. He would rather come across as an asshole not waving back when a schoolmate greeted him from across the street than be known as blind, a word that “felt like a slur.”
Many of his friends silently helped him and covered up for his shortcomings. Many but not all. Intimacy and lies don’t go well together and his relationships suffered. The author often found himself alone or miserable. “I wished I were a man capable of leaving a bad relationship, but I barely found the courage to leave the apartment.”
He got himself into all sorts of trouble by pretending he could see. Even after a car nearly runs him over, he keeps up the act. “This epiphany, the how and why of your almost death, brings you no solace. […] The only meaning you find in almost being killed, no matter how deeply you scrutinize the event, is that you are still alive.”
What more needs to happen for this young man to accept his disability and tell others the truth? You may want to read this moving memoir on blindness to find out.
Read my full review of this memoir in the Colorado Review.
James Tate Hill, Blind Man’s Bluff, August 2021, W. W. Norton.