I felt crazy asking for directions to her house. Over the phone, Lee began, “Get on 8 west, at the Sports Arena exit you make a left, then when you get to West Point Loma Boulevard where a shopping center is, you make a right. Go about two blocks, and when you get to the Chinese restaurant...” Lee has been blind since birth.
Her home, a condo, is signaled by a misshapen palm curved by a disease of some sort Into a foot-thick shillelagh. The front walk narrows between ferns, cover vines, and a patch of lawn. There’s a mock lantern above Lee’s address and a mailbox below.
I rang the doorbell, and after what seemed so long a time I’d just concluded “no one at home,” I saw In the dim interior a woman moving toward me, trailed, though sometimes led, by an overweight and arthritic black Lab. Lee smiled as she opened the door. Her skin was a fine Irish white. Lee had blond hair, tightly curled. She laughed easily, laughing when I stumbled over my own name. Then she extended her hand.
I’d expected to find 43-year-old Lee Morton alone. But ensconced on the sofa In the living room, where Lee made her living — a phone-answering device for her answering service, what looked like a court reporter’s dictation-machine, a telephone in Braille — I met David Moore. Preoccupied, fingering a cigarette, his hand trembling with the cigarette. David was average height. Thin, too thin. Long-haired. About 45.
“I’m leaving San Diego. Tonight. I’m through with this town.” Lee explained that David had been mugged two weeks before, outside an elevator in a downtown building.
David elaborated, “They did CT scans and MRIs and, basically, came back with no obvious result. They said, ‘Well, you know your bell was rung, and you probably have a concussion.’ Unfortunately, my right eye has been removed, and my left eye has a cataract, so you can’t tell by looking at my pupils. They told me I was unconscious for 15 to 20 minutes.”
Lee sat in a contoured vinyl chair, beneath a lovely fall landscape that could have been a New England tarn and two strange florals, one yellow, one rose, painted, I later learned, by her grandmother.
Lee’s and David’s blindness was a result of their premature births. I asked Lee about her background.
“I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. My dad was in the Navy. We left there when I was about one. We went back for vacation a couple of times. But I don’t remember living there, of course.
“I was born two months early and there was too much oxygen in the incubator; that’s what they thought they had to do then to preserve quality of life and all that good stuff. They since have found out that the oxygen is what causes the blindness. But, yeah, even though there are still cases where it happens, because sometimes they have to make a judgment call: to save the eyes or the brain. As more preemies are being born again, it’s starting to come back up. I guess they don’t call it retrolental fibroplasia anymore. It’s something, I don’t know — premature retinopathy, or retinopathy of prematurity, I don’t know, one of the two.
“Growing up I didn’t really feel that different. I knew I was, but I knew I had to adapt to things. Yeah, I got my books in Braille; other kids got them in print. Sometimes some of the other kids’ attitudes got to me, but then I always did have other friends who were my friends, blind and sighted, so I just kinda learned to hang around with the guys who were my friends and to heck with the ones who weren’t my friends. Especially when I saw the other guys who were my friends back me. So I really figured, ‘Okay, there are jerks and there are good people,’ and so I’d hang around with who I wanted to hang around with.
“As far as growing up, I did a lot of the normal things. I went to Brownies for a little bit, and then we moved from here to Washington, D.C., for a few years, and I just never got into it. But I did a lot of the other normal junk that kids did. My sister and I would go tandem bike riding together. When I was a kid I took piano lessons and all that, just like every other kid. They have a Camp Bloomfield in Malibu, which basically gave some of the blind kids the chance to go somewhere. So I got the chance to do that.
“So I think I probably had about the normal, as much as one could have, probably a pretty normal childhood. Growing up I knew I had a disability. I knew I didn’t do things the way sighted guys did them, but it never really dawned on me how really different all of us were until one day....”
Gerta, Lee’s retired guide dog, jumped into my lap. Lee said, ‘Gerta, down. You’re being a punk. I love you, but....” Then she went on.
“One day I was hanging around with some friends at school, it college this was, and someone says, ‘Oh, wow, the light’s way I down in here. I can’t see to dial the phone.’ And to me that whole I concept was weird, because I couldn’t help but think, ‘Why do you waste your time looking at the phone? It’s so easy to just stick — that was when they had the rotary phones — to stick your fingers in the right one you want and just dial it. Why do you even waste the energy looking? Use your eyesight for something valuable. Why use it when you really don’t need to?’ And then I decided, ‘You know something, I’m going to start surveying a bunch of sighted people and see what they say. I can’t believe they can be that stupid.