S1: Episode 23 - Jeffery Olivarez

Portrait of Jeffrey

Episode Information

[Intro Music]

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 23, Jeffrey Olivarez.

Jeffery:   I regret shooting myself when I was 18 years old, and I miss being able to see, and I think about it every day, being blind, what I could be doing in life today if I still had my vision. When I was a teenager, I used to work throwing newspapers, and also I did yard work. And in the wintertime, I shoveled snow outta people’s driveways. We used to work at a hog farm, and the hogs are so noisy, they scream so loud and went <hog squeal>

<laugh>, you know, and they sound ugly, and they’re always snorting and slopping around in the mud and everything. <hog snort>. My mom was a very good loving mother. And then as the years went by, my mother started drinking alcohol. And, and my stepfather, sometimes whenever he had come home and he would, uh, be throwing furniture and he’d get his .22 rifle and be shooting holes in the wall with his gun. And my mother would be screaming, the kids would be screaming. And he used to beat on my mother and sometimes had to call the police. And yeah, I was kind of scared of him at the time.

I was really depressed about my mother and stepfather being alcoholics, and it was really hard for me to concentrate on my schoolwork. So my high school principal told me I, I wasn’t gonna be able to go to graduation. And I went to get in my car after the bad news from the principal and somebody sprayed white paint all over my paint job, my windshield. And then I lost my job working at a grocery store. And I, I was, all those things made me really distressed. And I went home and I was on my hands and knees in front of my mirror, holding a little .25 pistol to my head and my stepfather, he, he came upstairs with his .22 rifle and he was drunk. And he, he cursed at me and said, you mother f—er, if you don’t pull the trigger, I’m going to. And so that’s the last thing I remember seeing was him forcing me to shoot myself.

And the doctor said I’d never see again because I severed my optic nerve. And there was no way of re repairing it. I didn’t do a whole lot after I went blind, but just stay home most of the time, you know, cuz uh, there was no hope in life anymore. And finally I was fed up with all of my mother’s drinking and my grandfather, he said, grandson, you ought to move down here where I live. They got a place here where you can go back to work. So I, uh, made up my mind to come to Texas and start over.

My first name is Jeffrey and I live alone and I work at the San Antonio Lighthouse. I’ve been employed there for, uh, 26 years in July. And the lighthouse has meant, uh, a lot to me since I’ve been there. I feel confident knowing that I have a full-time job and I, uh, bought a house and I hardly ever miss work. I usually get perfect attendance every year, and I love to keep all my bills paid and I don’t like to be in debt. And I hold pride in, uh, being responsible and being independent. A lot of times you can tell what a person’s, uh, character despite the sound of their voice and how they talk and everything. And one time our neighbors across the street were out talking and I heard one of the little kids say, mommy, and all of a sudden the mother didn’t even say what. She just screamed so loud that the little kids started crying. And it really hurt me. You know, parents, you know, treat their children like that. Yeah. The sounds of mother nature can be beautiful. Uh, I’m pretty good at imitating sounds of birds cars, and my senses of, uh, hearing has gotten a lot more sensitive and I can hear all, all sorts of sounds outside. All the cars and planes and everything trains honking outside. And I love to hear horses, you know,

And, you know, or, or birds whistling. And they all started, uh, getting used to me feeding them and whistling back at them. So they communicate with me when I get home from work. They all start whistling back at me and I whistle back at them. And it’s like having an extra friend. <bird whisling> One bird at my house, he always whistles like, you know, he is whistling at a lady or something and, you know, <bird whisling> and he whistles like that. And I whistle back at him. <laugh>

[Outro Music]

Host:   Not all blind people are blind and not all sighted people can see. Knowing what the world looks like is not a requirement for understanding. It’s been a rare privilege to have these deep and personal conversations. My ears saw much more than my eyes. Jeffrey believes that his resilience was the result of his love of working and knowing that his employer and his coworkers can depend on him. His relationship with birds is moving. He told me the birds in my backyard know me and I know them.

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. Thank you for listening.