Monday, December 27, 2010

Cockeyed: A memoir of a young man going blind

Cockeyed: A MemoirMy rating: 3 out of 5 stars

As a teenager, Ryan Knighton was labeled as a klutz because of his various scrapes and near-misses, especially driving a car and driving a forklift. At the age of 18, Knighton received a devastating diagnosis: he was going blind, and nothing could be done about it. He fought against his condition, refusing to accept the sad facts. Even though he was ill equipped, he left his home and went off to college, and embarked on his first serious relationship: with a young deaf woman. Communication between them was stunted, at best. He describes one awful moment when they are in New Orleans and she becomes disgusted with him, and she abandons him in a restaurant. There he was, in a strange city, completely dependent on his angry girlfriend and with no way to return to their hotel. Fortunately, she hadn't completely abandoned him and helped him find his way back to the hotel, albeit walking a ways off to punish him.

Not to be deterred by his deteriorating eyesight, he went off to teach in Korea with his new girlfriend, Tracy, but he had to hide his blindness from his Korean employers. (They claimed that blindness did not exist in Korea. That reminded me of living in Japan, where I was often told "we have no alcoholics in Japan.") He found himself relying too much on others to get around in the hopes of maintaining the illusion that he was not blind. This dependence caused problems in his relationship with Tracy, too, and when they returned to Canada, Tracy decided she needed to take a break from him for awhile.

Ultimately, love and Tracy's strength won out, and they ended up getting married. Knighton now teaches English at Capilano College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He still has a bit of sight left, but not much. One of the chapters I enjoyed was about his brief visit to "Blind Camp," where Knighton found himself hanging out with a wide variety of eccentric blind people. He ended up escaping two days earlier because he couldn't stand it any more.

Another poignant chapter was about Knighton's brother's suicide. I wanted to know more about Rory and his upbringing. Before this chapter, Rory got only a mention in the early chapters.

Knighton could have delved a bit deeper in certain areas, and much of this book was stream of consciousness. I found myself scanning some chapters, such as the visit to IKEA to buy a couch. How did he and Tracy rebuild their relationship after falling apart in Korea? How on earth did he and the deaf woman communicate with each other? How did his parents deal with his condition?

Clearly, Knighton has struggled with his blindness, as any young man would. It should remind readers of the need to not take our sight for granted. Knighton was a victim of a bad roll of the dice.

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