My nephew Ben was born prematurely with cerebral palsy. His seventeen years have been punctuated by painful operations. He has faced each one with courage and grace, hardly complaining, occasionally admitting that it doesn’t feel so great to have been dealt this hand. But his sly smile and hearty laughter show up more often than his complaints.
Recently, he went blind.
As the sight in first one eye, and then the other, slipped away, and the surgeries to save his vision did not help as expected, he learned to cope with this new loss.
With his limited control over his limbs, virtual sports have always been important to him, and he wasn’t about to let something like going blind stop him from enjoying his favorite video games.
His parents explained that he often knows which player is at bat in Wii baseball, even though as far as they can figure it’s random with no auditory clues.
“Ben, how do you know it’s Luca?” his step-mom Alicia asked.
“I just know,” he said.
“Yeah, but how do you know?”
“I’m not telling,” he said.
He plays the game based on sound cues. When he hears the whoosh of the pitch, he swings the bat based on timing.
The other day I got to go Wii bowling with him. He held the controller in his right, his good arm, and with a flick of his wrist, he rolled the virtual bowling ball down the virtual lane.
“What’d I get?” he asked. The 6 and 10 pins remained standing. Click, click, click. He adjusted the trajectory of his throw and let it rip, racking up another spare. He got plenty of strikes, too, while I stumbled along with a lot of 7 or 8 pin rounds.
Ben played baseball with my son, too, and he had a way of stating the obvious that made the whole family shake with laughter. My son asked of one of the batters: “What’s up with his hair?”
“What?” Ben asked.
“Look at it,” Dan said.
“Dude,” Ben said. “I can’t see.”
I battled Ben in boxing, too. Unlike my klutzy self trying to bowl, I talked some trash for boxing, based on beating other family members in the past. I boxed away, punching the air, working up a sweat. I knocked him down a few times, got knocked down a few times. I figured I was ahead, and it would come down to the judges.
Then, with a mighty punch, I crumpled to the mat, down for the count. Knocked out.
The room erupted in cheers. Ben flashed that sly smile.
Like his parents did before me, I shook my head in disbelief, thinking: “I just got beat in a video game by a blind kid with cerebral palsy.”
It’s a goddamned frustrating experience.
And goddamned awesome too.
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