S1: Episode 17 - Dominic Helm

Episode Information

Narrator:          Welcome to my Heart is Not Blind. Narrative histories about blindness and perception. A traveling exhibition and book published by Trinity University Press, supported by Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, edited and hosted by Michael Nye. Stories are often found, resting along the edges of surprise and revelation. Every person, every place is a map to somewhere else. Episode 17, Dominic Helm.

Dominic:          I went from being fully cited to blind within a matter of three weeks. I was 32 years old and it was a combination of the swelling of the optic nerves and the macular portion of my eyes were, were bleeding. Was I angry? Yes, I was angry. Was I depressed? I was depressed because my life was changing. Uh, first thought was, was that man, I’m never gonna be able to read. It wasn’t that. I’m never gonna be able to see again. My biggest fear was I’m never gonna be able to read a book. I’m never gonna be able to read a magazine. As a child, I was quiet. We lived across the street from the beach. I loved it. It’s like I, I feel I’m safe when I’m in the water. When I’m around water, you can take water and you can put it in a, in a teapot, and it takes the form of the teapot.

You can put it in the glass and it’ll take the shape of the glass. And if you put something in front of it, it’ll just find another path to go around that object. At nighttime, I would, uh, leave my window open so I can hear the waves and hearing the, uh, the horns from the ships. It’s a sound that would always put me to sleep. Hearing the, uh, the sounds were very comforting to me. My dad did three tours in Vietnam and develop a drug habit. I remember the night when he came over and he left the family. I just remember him telling my mom, you know, just gimme the money. Just gimme the money. And as he was leaving, you know, I was telling him, dad, I wanna, I wanna go with you. I wanna go with you. And he said, Puchi, you stay here. I’ll be right back. As he shut the door and left, I looked at my mom and she placed her face in her hands and started crying. Never had the chance to get to know him and grow up with him in my life. But I’ve never felt any anger. Never held any anger towards him.

I lived in the Catholic orphanage for about six years in my early childhood. The first day my mother dropped us off. At that time, that was a lot to take in. Me and my brother were separated, but I adapted and I learned to trust the ladies that were taking care of me. And I think having the ability to trust people as a blind man is important. Who, who am I? I always tell people that I’m, I’m Dominic Am Him. I’m not into identity labels, but I’m a light-skinned black man. I prefer the term Black American. The reason why I don’t like the labels, because I think it, it just gives a negative stereotype, especially like a blind man. People will see, well, he’s blind, but they don’t see me as, as the individual. They don’t see the professional. It’s almost in the sense that I’m not even a man. But I always show respect because that’s what my mother had instilled in me. Not to hold hate. It’s never good to hold hate.

Attending the Lighthouse and attending Chris Cole Rehabilitation School for the Blind was a big, tremendous help to me. They were very supportive. I learned a lot from all of them. It gave me great confidence about being blind for the rest of my life. In a weird way, it was my blindness that has allowed me to be able to go to college. I have a, a B.A. in Sociology, and I have a Master’s of Science Degree in Sociology.

I’ve been blind for 16 years. I miss being able just to have the freedom of getting my car keys and driving in the beginning. It’s scary because you’re learning how to adapt to my life in a new manner without my vision. Now, is it, is it difficult to me? No. It’s a piece of cake. It’s a piece, piece of cake. Now I learned that I can do anything. I just have to adapt actually. I think that if I was to get my eyesight back, I think I would be afraid because I’ve gotten so accustomed of not being able to see in a physical sense. The world moves at a fast pace, and I think my blindness has allowed me to, to slow down. I pay a lot more attention to tone, to pitch. I can see their feelings, what their emotions are, what their thoughts are.

I’ll tap my cane and listen to the sound bounce around to tell me, this is how far I am from a wall. This is how far I am from a person walking around my neighborhood. I’m listening. I’m smelling. I’m feeling things. And it gives me greater details. It gives me more insight as to what I’m experiencing. When someone passes me as they’re walking past. I do feel that <laugh> my niece when she was little and she would try to sneak up on me. I can feel her. I can feel her presence. I can feel when someone’s staring at me. I know that I can sense that I can, I can feel that. A question that I have for the public about blindness is what makes you afraid of a blindness? And I guess the second question that I would ask is, as a blind man, why are you afraid of me? What is it about me and my blindness that makes, that makes you nervous or makes you afraid?

Host:                Dominic has a bachelor and master’s degree in Sociology. He said, “I’m interested in sociology because of the ways society is structured due to stereotypes in folklore. I’m curious in the beliefs that other people have having been cited and now blind. I wonder why blindness is so misunderstood and viewed in a negative way as a blind person.” He says, “what is most beautiful to me is the way people use language and put words together. There’s a mood that is projected in a voice. It’s the sounds I hear when I’m listening to classical music, whether it’s Mozart or Beethoven.”

Join us next week. Two new episodes will be released. Please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can also go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast. For portraits and transcripts. There are so many ways, different ways to experience moments to their fullest. Thank you for listening.