A posthumous memoir collects vivid scenes from a life complicated by disability.
Debut author Dent died at age 68 and is survived by her husband, Blair Gleisberg, and his stepdaughter, Patricia Stout. Dent began writing this decades ago on her digital Braille note taker; editors Stout and Elaine Wiltse DeSmith compiled the text, most of which was completed by 2005. Growing up blind in the 1950s near St. Louis, Dent felt the weight of unrealistic expectations. “You have to be twice as good as anyone else to be considered half as good,” her father insisted. Independence was the watchword at Wilson School for the Blind, but from day one of kindergarten, Dent found disaster-free walking and eating impossible. “Mobility was a Great White Whale.…Any time I’m walking, I’m struggling,” she divulges; as for feeding herself, “the touch-or-spill quandary continues.” Her difficulties were compounded by Asperger’s—not diagnosed until her 60s—and her mother’s ambulatory schizophrenia. Sometimes her mother could be loving and industrious, churning out Braille textbooks; other times, she was consumed by imaginary figures and compulsive lies. Both parents were verbally abusive, yelling and echoing teachers’ put-downs like “crybaby” and “smart aleck.” Physical abuse wasn’t unknown, either: her mother beat her with a hairbrush until the handle broke; a teacher snapped her wrist showing her how to hold a spoon. Dent’s grandmothers, by contrast, gave precious moral and practical support. The book is enlivened by first-rate sensory descriptions, such as her earliest memory (of a chandelier), and convincing dialogue. Bitterness would certainly be understandable, but instead the author seems accepting and eager to convey her situation. Her examples and metaphors are just right. What does she see? Something like a polar whiteout. How does she explain where she lives? By memorizing directions; she can’t list landmarks. Black-and-white photos and contributions by Gleisberg, Stout, and a nurse fill in details: Dent’s schooling, including a Ph.D. on illness in Chaucer; meeting her husband via the Christian Science church; and everyday home life with diabetes and knee problems.
A valuable glimpse into what it’s like to be blind and autistic.