A poet/memoirist’s account of how he bonded with his first guide dog.
Kuusisto (Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening, 2006, etc.) was born with exceptionally poor vision. However, because his mother and father believed he would have no future if he presented as blind, they “forcefully encouraged me to do absolutely everything sighted children did.” He went to school, attended college, and became a professor, all without learning Braille. But his world was also extremely circumscribed: the one thing he could not manage was travel outside of his small town. “I was a second rate traveler who didn’t know how to go places independently,” he writes. When, at age 38, he lost his teaching job, Kuusisto was forced to reckon with circumstances that demanded he change not only his lifestyle, but also his attitude toward being physically imperfect. His path led him to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization that helps visually impaired people become more mobile by using guide dogs. The author began training with a “brilliant and silly” yellow Labrador named Corky, who had “the most comprehending face I’d ever met.” Over the span of a few months, he learned how to control Corky and feel the “dog-man confidence” that allowed him to move through public spaces with her. At the same time, Corky also forced Kuusisto to come face to face with a suppressed part of his identity. Gradually, he integrated the stubborn survivor he was with the new, “more refined man of the street” able to navigate urban mazes like New York City with ease. Most significantly, the author was able to leave behind the disability prejudices he had inherited from his parents and honor his own right to live an authentic life free of guilt and shame for being “deficient.” Kuusisto tells the poignant story of a midlife rebirth that led to self-acceptance and also celebrates human/animal interdependence and a “companionship [that] was intimate and richer than poems.”
An eloquent and heartwarming memoir.