S1: Episode 32 - Kellie Givens

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 32, Kelly Givens.

Kelly:  Well, I can tell you that growing up, I did not know I was colorblind. Yellow, I could see. Red, I could see. I never saw orange. Pinks and purples were very close, if not the same. But my favorite colors were black and white. And my grandfather would say things like, well, if you do black and white, it just keeps it simple and takes the guesswork out. Why would you wanna make things more complicated? My name is Kelly. I am married. He’s my college sweetheart. I have two children. I was born and raised in Louisiana. Loved being outside. We lived for hurricanes, lived for hurricanes because it meant you were off school. And it meant we got to have parties, <laugh>, and have people over. So I grew up in a very cultural area that impacted everything. I think who I am still today. When I was 18, I was turning left on a four-lane highway.

It was dusk, and I pulled out right in front of somebody. Everybody kept questioning, why did you pull out in front of the car? I did not see the car and it, it was enough, even as an 18-year-old that it scared me. I actually ended up seeing a retina specialist, and he was the one that determined that it was retinitis pigmentosa. He came in and said, what we’re seeing is a degenerative disease. You are going to lose your sight. Just like that. I didn’t say anything. I did not cry right away. No. And it was very, very quiet. I went to Auburn University. I was pre-law in a matter of a few months. I had a very steep drop off of my vision. It just happened. It came out of nowhere. So their disability department is fantastic. They set me up within a several days time.

Here’s what you’re going to do. This is what you’re gonna focus on. I was going to the Helen Keller Institute. I re-enrolled in all the 21 hours and finished, and I was planning my wedding at the same time, cuz we got married June 13th of that same year, <laugh>. So it was very stressful. I think as you’re in the perils of it happening, you learn a lot about yourself. I was raised never to quit, but honestly, I grew up quoting John Wayne <laugh>. So you know, I didn’t grow up watching Cinderella. I can honestly tell you I was never angry. I’ve been sad and I’ve been frustrated. But to me, frustration is not anger. I’m not someone who wastes my time. My son will like to sneak up on me. But even if he’s holding his breath, I can feel his presence. You don’t have to hear it.

You just feel that there’s been a change in the air. If somebody was being perfectly silent, maybe it’s their body heat coming off of them. I don’t know. You just sense someone is there. Blindness is not a lack of intelligence. It’s not an inability to understand the world around me. I just have to understand it differently. Being blind has made me more aware of my surroundings. The people I associate with, decisions that I make, I can hear a number of conversations happening at one time, and I can usually follow at least 3, 4, 5, depending. So it happens automatically. Now. I just do it. I do go out of my way to seamlessly fit in because I don’t wanna deal with having to discuss my blindness and my husband and I look like the happiest married couple ever because we’re always holding hands. We could be in the middle of an enormous fight, but I still have to hold his hand, which really pisses me off sometimes.

Let me just tell you. So whether or not I have a cane or a dog or a person, I try to draw as little attention to myself as possible. Not for my sake, but I do care about my kids. For me, my children are literally my life. I love watching them succeed. They’re very athletic. So if I hear my daughter’s name, my daughter’s name is Mary, and she’s a forward for soccer. If she’s driving down to go score a goal, and I hear people saying, go, Mary, go. Of course I’m going to scream. I actually had a person tell me, isn’t it kind of, and she, you could just tell she was halting her words. Cuz as she was saying them, she had to be thinking, oh, I should shut up now, <laugh>. But she’d already started talking. It was too late. And I’m just like, okay, keep digging your hole.

Come on. And she actually says, she goes, well, it’s almost like you’re lying because you’re cheering for something you can’t see. And I’m thinking, I’m cheering for a daughter that I know is on the field doing something because the people around me are telling me why would I not cheer? I have pity parties. I’m not perfect, but I try very, very hard to hide it from my children. I never want them to see mom weak when it comes to my blindness. And I don’t ever want them to look back and go, my mom sure did cry a lot. That would be awful. I want them to look back and say, I don’t remember my mom really being blind. I just remember her being my mom. But it doesn’t stop because the second that you stop, perhaps you’re gonna get a little lazy or you’ll get a little depressed or you’re gonna get a little something. So you have to have a forward motion all the time. If you don’t, you’re gonna get left behind.

[Outro Music]

Host:  Kelly believes that the public is so caught up in their visual sight that they don’t really listen. They miss so, so very much. It’s not because I can hear better, she says, it’s just because I pay attention differently. I can absolutely hear a fake sincerity in a voice. Everyone has that ability. Kelly is a powerhouse funny and grew up with a deep and urgent determination. She learned as a child to never give up and she doesn’t. Adaptation is not unimaginable, nor is it arbitrary. She understands a simple but essential insight about attention and learning and the long shadow of sound. That is, if you pay attention to what you hear as opposed to what you see, you will hear more than most people do.

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.