Updated: Jul 7, 2020
| This is the 197th story of Our Life Logs |
When I close my eyes, I gaze upon my dreams—
For what more is there to see?
I was born in 1955, in Cleveland, Ohio, the last born of three children. My mother and father were compassionate beyond compare, and did their best to raise my siblings and me. And while both were “uneducated” (in the sense that my father dropped out after 8th grade, and my mother had never been to school a day in her life), my parents pushed all us kids into our graduation gowns. They even sent my brother and me both to college. The only reason my older sister didn’t go was that at the time there weren’t any facilities in the area that would accommodate her severe hearing impairment.
I began to have a dream for my own future. I had always loved to draw and paint, and wanted to pursue art. Unfortunately, there weren’t many opportunities for African American artists in Cleveland in those days, and the schooling and beyond would require more money than we had. So instead, I chose to pursue a more sensible degree and career, and to stay close to home. I told myself that the time would come when I could pursue art, I would just have to remain patient.
After I graduated college, my father became ill and soon passed away by the start of the 1980s. My older sister’s disability and my brother’s plan to join the military positioned me as the new bread winner for my family. So, while I grieved, I took on my new role as caretaker of my mother and sister. I still held my dreams close to my heart, but my perspective had widened. I stayed in my cubicle setting, and resolved to save every extra cent I could until I could be back in the classroom. That went on for years and years.
By 2009, I was in my 50s and had begun taking occasional freelance art jobs, but they were few and far between. A friend asked if I had given up on my dream of being a full-time artist. The boldness of the question shocked me. No! Of course I hadn’t! After the indigence calmed, I realized that I was postponing—albeit for valid reasons—my dream.
I began looking at different art schools and found the Academy of Art in San Francisco. They had an online program that would let me study part-time while staying in Cleveland and continuing to work and care for my family. Much to my surprise, I got accepted on my first application, finally beginning the journey I had dreamed about for so many years. We were off to the races!
Because I was only studying part time, a program that would normally only take two or three years, for me was going to take much longer. In my third year, I began to struggle. At first, I just dismissed this as being tired because that had become my normal state of being. But as the semester went by, I was falling short in most of my course. Something was not right.
When I started having problems with blurry vision, my already dismal class performance got worse. During a visit with my doctor in 2012, she asked, did you ever receive a follow-up for the CAT scan you had two years ago? I hadn’t. Because I hadn’t gotten back results, I figured the constant headaches I’d been having were a result of the hours of study and stress from work. She asked, “They didn’t tell you, you have a tumor?” I was floored. Obviously, they hadn’t.
She set me up with an optometrist and neurologist who ordered an MRI. They came back with results, I had a brain tumor in close proximity to both optic nerves. I cried until I realized the doctor didn’t say, “cancer,” and that I had a chance at a normal life once it was removed.
In the time between my diagnosis and the schedule procedure to remove the tumor, my vison had deteriorated so much that I was forced to drop out of school. What’s more, my mother had COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and was in the process of dying. I checked her into the hospital about a week before my surgery. During that time, I had every right to worry and cry—and I did—but I told myself I was going to remain hopeful. What else could I do?
My surgery that was supposed to last 8 hours took more than 14. I didn’t even come to full consciousness until about a week later. When I did finally regain myself, I opened my eyes, but the whole world was gone. I was blind. I wanted to scream! Slowly, some vision returned to left eye, and once it did I raced to the bathroom. I needed answers. I thought, maybe, I just wasn’t opening my right eye enough, and that was why I couldn’t see out of it. I looked into the mirror and pulled my right eye lid open as wide as possible. But there was no doubt, my eye was open. I just couldn’t see.
That afternoon, the doctor came in and began to explain. When they had opened up my skull and moved the brain, they realized that the tumor had completely destroyed my right optic nerve. All the extra work led to brain trauma as they continually moved it around to get at the tumor. When he left I wanted to cry, but I told myself, “What good is crying going to do except get your face wet? It’s not going to resolve anything.”
I took a deep breath and said, “Hey, life has changed.”
I recovered slowly and went home on March 23, 2014. Two weeks later, my mother, who had been moved to hospice care, passed away. Soon after, I began radiation treatments to reduce the size of the remaining tumor that the surgery had been unable to remove.
I had to begin the process of learning how to live with limited sight. I was often scared out in public, someone would pass into my right side and I wouldn’t see them until they reached my left. I walked into doors, feel onto the pavement, but most of all, I could barely see enough to paint. But you know what, I could still see if I got really close to it, and I decided that my life wasn’t over.
To help me learn how to get used to my new normal, I began taking classes at the Cleveland Sight Center. They taught me how to be aware of myself and my surroundings with my limited vision and how to walk with a cane. That was a huge help, because I’ll be honest, they helped give me my confidence back.
By then, I realized I hadn’t really drawn since before the surgery and the desire to create again rose in me. I wasn’t sure if I could do it as well as I had before or at all, but I wanted to give it a shot. I set out for freelance art jobs online and soon I was working again. It was hard, but I learned I could still do it, and do it well.
My work now takes far more time, a portrait that would have taken me 40 to 45 minutes to draw before the tumor and surgery, can now take more than 6 hours. Despite everything, I love that I am still able to create art and help my family by bringing in a little extra money as well. I feel happy that I can still do it, that is the biggest thing in the world to me.
My life has had its fair share of trials and tribulation but today I’m doing what I always wanted and hope to soon earn more of a steady income from my freelance work. It may not be how I dreamed of getting here and the reality is far from perfect, but the important thing is I haven’t given up, I keep fighting. Because that’s what you have to do in bad times—get back up and keep fighting.
There may be times you need to stop and cry—and you can—but once you’re done crying you have to pick yourself back up and keep going. Every time I’m done having myself a good cry, I say to myself, “Well, crying is over, time to take care of business.”
This is the story of Geneva
Geneva was born in Cleveland, Ohio and dreamed of one day supporting herself as an artist. After delaying her dream for decades to help support her family, she was finally in the process of pursuing that dream via a Master’s in Art when she developed a brain tumor that robbed her of most of her sight. She had to learn even the basics of how to navigate in her situation, but she kept pushing and was eventually able to return to the art she loves. Today, Geneva lives with her sister and their many pets. She enjoys taking freelance work she finds via the Internet and hopes that it can soon be a true support to her and her sister.
This story first touched our hearts on October 2, 2018.
| Writer: Adam Savage | Editors: Colleen Walker|