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Going Deaf and Blind in a City of Noise and Lights

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I heard one phrase repeatedly at the Hell’s Kitchen party: You play the hand you’re dealt. It’s an attitude of getting on with things. One night, I watched Alexander shimmy into tight jeans in her East Fifties studio, getting ready to go out. All eighteen lights in her apartment were on. She expertly applied makeup under three bright bulbs. In three weeks of hanging out with me, she’d yet to really delve into her feelings about going blind and deaf. It occurred to me to try the past tense—how does it feel to have already lost so much of two senses? She sank into her bed. “I miss walking into a store and saying, ‘Oh my God, do you hear this song?,’ ” she says. “And it’s terrible to remember that I used to sit at my cabin at camp and whisper. I could never do that now. Or I remember being little, in my room, and hearing the creaking of the door in the kitchen.”

Then she snapped out of it, pulling on a thick headband, obscuring her brown hearing aids. I try to gently coax her back into reflection, asking how she copes with the loss. “Yoga is really great.”

No, I mean, cope.

She pauses, purse in hand, and looks at me. “If you were in my shoes, you’d do the same thing. If these were the cards you’d drawn, you’d play them. You would.” She grabs a scarf and waves me out the door, past her cane. Tony loudly yells good-bye. While she hails a cab on the corner, I tell her about a poll that says Americans are more afraid of blindness than of AIDS, cancer, and heart attacks. She looks dumbstruck. “Cancer? For real? I don’t get that. Really, it’s not that bad.”


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