The subject of my latest book cuts close to home: Cockeyed: a memoir is Ryan Knighton’s own story about his gradual loss of vision by retinitis pigmentosa. On a personal note, in 1988 I lost the central vision in my left eye by toxoplasmosis, a diagnosis I still don’t understand yet eye specialist after specialist told me the same thing. Twenty-two years ago I was given the dreadful news that I might lose all the sight in my left eye. Since then I have lived my life by the eye doctor’s adage “Never take your eyesight for granted”. I have also developed a sensitivity towards and activism on behalf of the blind and visually impaired. It was after conducting some on-line research that I discovered Cockeyed.
Knighton received the diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease, on his eighteenth birthday. His memoir, which is laugh-out-loud funny in places, tells the story of his voyage into darkness.
As a mosh-pit dancing punk his limited sight didn’t matter; he discovered with pleasure that he didn’t even need eyesight while flailing himself into people in dark clubs. Knighton even managed to teach English in South Korea, only to find that the faculty and his students didn’t even notice he had very low vision.
Funniest of all was his tale of going to adult “blind camp” with thirty others on an island in western British Columbia. I quote the following passage:
> I expected, of all places in the world, this would be the one where sighted habits were dropped. They weren’t. People sat around the breakfast tables and spoke to one another without identifying themselves or whom they meant to address. Cheryl might have asked something like, “Are you going to glue macaroni owls at the crafts table this afternoon?” Everybody would carry on chewing until somebody said the obligatory, “Are you talking to me?” All six dining tables sounded like a rehearsal from Taxi Driver. You talking to me? You talking to me? …
> Likewise, you’d think of all places in the world, this one would have been gesture-free. Nope. Everybody, me included, carried on flagging and pointing, and as you’d expect, none of us followed. We were so used to living with sighted people that we couldn’t even be blind with one another.
I had never read an account of a person’s loss of sight before. Knighton never gets mad at God or goes on a destructive rampage, however his three car accidents while he had failing eyesight, before he got the RP diagnosis, come close. The one part in the book that will stop your heart and make you cry is how he found out about his younger brother’s suicide. It was written with such vivid detail, I felt as though I were in the same room when he got the news.
Knighton did not write about learning Braille, so I am making the conclusion he can still read the printed word, albeit with 1% vision. He did write about learning how to use the white cane, or the “stick”, as he calls it. Cockeyed was mostly a fun read, in spite of the subject matter. Near the end of the book Knighton waxes philosophical and seems genuinely at peace with his eventual total blindness.