When Fiction Becomes Reality

Watching the 1978 version of the movie ICE CASTLES has always been an emotional experience for me. It has its faults, such as a problematic romantic relationship the lead character has that is portrayed as normal, but otherwise it is beautifully acted, with emotive music and dialogue. And that tough-love scene between the ice-skater protagonist and her mentor/coach (played by the amazing Colleen Dewhurst) after the former goes blind always brings me to tears….

As does the scene where the girl has learnt how to skate again and performs at a competition despite only seeing very blurry shapes and shadows.

I have watched this movie so many times over my life, as has my twin, but this time it was different. This was the first time I watched it again since becoming so blind in the last two years that I, too, only see very blurry shapes and shadows when looking at anything more than a foot away from my face. It hit me hard: what they show this lead character seeing on the ice, after going blind, is exactly what I see now. Or, rather, what I don’t see.

I fell apart. Not necessarily in a bad way, but the starkness of the similarity in our sight now was incredibly confronting to me. And the protagonist’s grief when she realized this is how she would always see the world is something I can identify with, except I feel like I went through all her emotions in slow motion. That I am still processing them. The fact that this movie could accurately capture the experience of going blind was never quite so apparent until now. This fictional movie suddenly felt oh so real.

I was told recently by someone who knows me well, and talks to me daily, that the biggest change they have noticed in me in the last few months is that I now recognize I am blind. That might sound weird, to not realize it earlier when I have always been viewing the world with these flawed eyes of mine, but until my surgery and follow up diagnosis I always just saw myself as having a condition that will be fixed. My inability to focus through the blur and doubles was not originally going to be permanent, so why label myself as blind. Then the condition worsened dramatically in the last two years because of my thyroid issues, the surgery was unable to repair my sight, and it took me almost a year to get my mind around my second form of blindness being diagnosed.

I look like I see better than the girl in the movie, because I have had years to adjust to increasing blindness and time to learn how to instinctively move around in my environment better…but the sudden deterioration in my sight has meant I have had to work out what visual aides I need to help me perceive what I cannot see. Which means accepting that I am blind.

I suppose it is rather bittersweet and ironic to say I will never see this film in quite the same way again. It almost feels like I lost my innocent ignorance in quite the same way the lead character did. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Like the girl in the film, I can still have my happily-ever-after future. It will just look a little different.