Please note this is fiction and any similarity between real people is purely coincidental. However, the information about retinitis pigmentosa and the AFL history has been researched and is believed to be correct.
Tommy could feel the excitement emanating from other spectators like an electrical current.
Noisy chatter, children laughing, rapid footsteps, rustling jackets, these were just some of the sounds his ears were bombarded with.
He could not stop the smile creasing his face as he smelled the familiar aromas of beer, meat pies, tomato sauce and hot chips.
The sounds and smells were very intense without the distraction of vision to translate the world around him.
Tommy was here to watch the first live football game he had been to in more than 20 years. And he was clinically blind.
Of course, he wouldn’t be ‘watching’ the game with his eyes, but with his other senses.
It was his 63rd birthday today, but this visit to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) was a double celebration, marking not only the day of his physical birth but also a rebirth of sorts.
The road to complete blindness had been a long and painful one, filled with anger and depression, grief and resentment.
Tommy had been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) nearly 30 years ago. It took more than 20 of those years until his world went completely dark, though he was legally blind by the time he was 40.
His 40th birthday was celebrated, much like today, with his son taking him to an Australian Rules Football (AFL) game at the SCG.
Tommy had always been an AFL fan, just like his parents who came from the home of the game, Melbourne.
The family had supported the Sydney Swans, even before they became the “Swannies”.
The original team was founded in South Melbourne in 1874. Massive financial issues which threatened to close down the club forced some major changes and South Melbourne moved interstate and become the Sydney Swans.
This enraged many of the club’s supporters but Tommy and his family were just happy for the opportunity to watch more live games without the time and expense of travelling to another state.
And watch they did. They missed not one of the first 11 home games played at the SCG in 1982.
In fact, Tommy didn’t miss a home game until the day he was told he would eventually lose his vision.
NO RELIEF IN SIGHT
In his early 30s, he had noticed he was becoming increasingly clumsy. He didn’t seek help right away. It took a particularly nasty fall, resulting in a broken nose, to inspire a visit to the eye doc.
Tommy figured the thing could be easily sorted, maybe some glasses or something. He had been vaguely aware of losing his night vision when in his late teens. It didn’t really impact his life too much and he believed this little problem wouldn’t either.
So the doctor’s verdict of blindness, a slow death sentence for his eyes, was a shock.
The shock soon morphed into a simmering anger as resentment set in and ate away at Tommy’s soul. And the disease claimed a new piece of his vision almost every year.
He quit his job as an accountant with a large firm when he could no longer hide his vision loss from his co-workers.
The disability payment he was accepting only served to make him feel more shame and disgust.
Tommy found himself imagining punching people when he heard them complain about anything. What right did they have to be sad or angry when they could see?
If someone was thoughtless enough to highlight how vision orientated the world is by saying “nice to see you” or “see you later”, Tommy would respond by growling and storming away.
A DOWNWARD SPIRAL
The resentment, rage, and self-loathing were the perfect ingredients for the recipe of his rage.
He unleashed this new found rage on his wife until she could take no more, walking out the door for the final time just one week, to the day, after their son had left for a university campus.
Alone with his emotional wounds, Tommy allowed himself the agonising pleasure of immersing himself in his feelings of loneliness and helplessness until they were so familiar he couldn’t feel them anymore. In fact, he couldn’t feel anything anymore.
The depression and its lack of emotion were a kind of a relief because it suffocated all of his emotions, even the terror of his increasingly dark world.
It was terror he felt during his last visit to the SCG. By then Tommy had lost all of his peripheral vision and the sensation of a continually flashing light haunted him and affected his balance.
So the super-sized crowd of the 1992 game against Geelong was a terrifying monster that poked and jostled Tommy, unaware that large black circles covered most of the pictures in front of his eyes.
Somehow thousands more fans than there were seats for had been allowed into the SCG for this game. Some of the overflowing numbers of supporters were moved to the football stadium next door, where a big screen was provided so they could watch the game.
Tommy found himself being pushed and shoved by spectators jostling for the best position from which to see the game.
He felt the familiar cloak of his anger take hold, shoving away the chance at a happy bonding day with his son, who would soon leave home for uni.
Twice his foot was trodden on, and then a drunken fan managed to spill beer all over Tommy’s trousers, leaving him cold and fuelling his anger.
He verbally attacked his son. Unleashing his fury felt like opening the most marvellous birthday present.
He would feel the repercussions of that gift for years as his son would have no contact with him, frightened of another attack full of terrible things that could not be unsaid.
HE FINALLY SEES THE LIGHT
It was after another fruitless attempt to speak to his son that Tommy finally sought help to deal with his emotions, or lack of them, and his new life in an increasingly dark world.
Counselling sessions showed Tommy that blindness didn’t have to mean less quality of life – just different quality. He would no longer see with his eyes, but he would see in different ways.
Those ways included consciously making the most of his other senses as his brain worked frantically to compensate for the loss of one of them.
His counsellor told Tommy to take the sounds he was hearing and put his own pictures to them, creating his own vision world as beautifully as he chose.
He did not have to live in a world of darkness.
Tommy practiced this constantly, delighting in his artistic efforts as he painted mind pictures made of sounds and smells, taste and touch.
A support group helped Tommy set up his own accounting business, using tools and software programs specifically designed for people with vision loss.
This filled him with a sense of purpose and pride.
Tommy mailed one of his newly printed business cards to his son, hoping the young man would also feel pride. He included a letter apologising for the things that could not be unsaid and adding many kind and encouraging words that he was happy could also not be unvoiced.
His son called and they arranged to meet. They spoke for hours, catching up on the several years of silence and rejoicing in Tommy’s rebirth.
And now, on his 63rd birthday, Tommy sits alone in the midst of a large football crowd as his son goes off to buy beer and pies and chips.
And Tommy paints pictures with the smells – a whiff of cut grass here and a hint of mandarin cutting through the greasy chip smell over there – and the sounds, laughter, coughing, conversations and loud cardboard clappers.
A cool breeze touches his skin, bringing with it more smells – the dampness of clothes that made contact with today’s sprinkling of rain, the pungent aroma of someone’s body odour, the scent of a floral perfume.
A careless spectator begs forgiveness when he steps on Tommy’s foot and Tommy smiles and nods – nothing can spoil this day. The increased aroma of beer, hot chips and pies tells Tommy his son is near. He happily anticipates the feast, which will add another layer to his mind art.
Then the siren blares and the game begins.
I hope you enjoyed this story, please let me know in the comments if you did.
Have a gleeful week, Tamuria