My husband is a dichromate. In other words, he is colorblind. Not completely colorblind, or monochromate, but green-red colorblind, a condition that affects between 5 and 8 percent of all males and less than 1 percent of females.
He struggled in elementary school because his condition was undiagnosed. He learned early to compensate so that not even he was aware of what he was missing. It wasn’t until he was in college that he realized the extent of his colorblindness. He’d point to a green car and tell me to look past that “brown car.” Confused, I eventually realized that green and brown had no distinction for him. I would show him a red azalea bush in full bloom — and he wouldn’t see the flowers. He is unable to distinguish red when it is next to green, as it is on the bushes. He doesn’t actually see red at all, though he sees a color he has learned to identify as red.
There are a couple of good websites that show exactly what a dichromate sees. One is http://colorvisiontesting.com. The other is Vischeck.com. These sites were revelations for our kids and me, because my husband looked at the side-by-side photos at those sites and saw absolutely no difference. Where we saw reds and greens and all the hues in between, he saw different shades of sort of a khaki color with splashes of blue (he sees blue very clearly, but not purple, because purple has red in it).
John sees absolutely no difference between these two photos from Vischeck.com. He stares intently at them, trying to see what I admire in the bright red flowers, but what he perceives is on the right. If the background behind the flowers were green rather than blue, he would not be able to see the flowers against the background.
To be honest, it makes me sad that he misses out on the vivid colors around us. I love color, red being one of my favorites, and it hurts me to know that the bright splashes of red I use in my decorating are nothing more than rather muddy tones to him. The colorblindness has been a disability in some ways. Many everyday tasks involve color perception; more than you’d realize if you couldn’t see them. Though he has always been very “handy,” able to fix just about anything that breaks around the house, he has more difficulty with doing electrical chores (he can’t see the differences between the colored wires, so he always has one of us help him label them according to color). He has often had to ask strangers to help him determine the color of something he needs to purchase.
When we play games, the rest of us sometimes have to make adjustments for him so he can tell which color tiles or game pieces are his. (We enjoy a game called Apples to Apples, for example. When he plays, he can’t tell the difference between the green cards and the red ones, so we stack them separately for him).
We’ve even found the humor in his condition. When we were young newlyweds, we moved into a tiny house that had a ugly linoleum floor in the bedroom. He went to a warehouse outlet to buy carpet one day while I was at work, which made me a little nervous. I told him to be sure and buy green carpet rather than brown (before you groan, as I know you are, remember this was the 70s. Our colors were avocado and harvest gold). Sure enough, he brought home brown. It turned out that the man he asked for assistance was also colorblind. Because it still looked better than the ugly linoleum, I let him put down the carpet he’d bought.
Several years later, John offered to refill my mother’s coffee cup at a casual restaurant. She accepted the offer, then added that she wanted decaf, which was in the orange-rimmed pot, not the brown. Mother and I were chattering away when I realized that John was standing by the coffeepots, staring at them with a puzzled expression on his face, trying to figure out which had an orange ring. I couldn’t help laughing as I called out, “It’s the one on the right.” He laughed about that one, himself.
Despite what most of us would consider a handicap, John has a deep appreciation of beauty. He has often called me to come admire a particularly striking sunset. I’m not sure what he sees in the streaks of color in the sky, but whatever it is, he enjoys it. He loves nature, especially mountains and lakes. Because blue is such an intense color for him, he particularly admires a clear blue sky or vivid blue water. (He also loves blue neon).
Maybe it would surprise you to learn that he is an artist. His medium of choice is wood (examples of his woodturning are found at his blog site, which I’ve linked here on my own). He loves the feel, the smell, the patterns and grains and variations in shade, even if he doesn’t see all the nuance of wood colors that the rest of us see. He is never happier than when he’s in a woodworkers’ supplies store, surrounded by tools and woods. He has found an outlet for his own creativity by crafting beautiful and functional wood pieces.
Colorblindness is carried by the mother. Our son does not have it because I don’t carry the gene. Our daughters’ sons have a chance of inheriting the condition from John (being scientists, they would know the exact odds — 1 in 2? 1 in 4?). Whatever the percentages, if we eventually have a dichromatic grandson, John will be the first to assure the boy that there is still plenty of beauty to be appreciated in this world, still many ways to express creativity. He will say it’s more of a challenge than a handicap, and challenges are to be met full-on.
Many times during the years John and I have been together (we’ll celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary in February), I’ve found myself trying to describe things to him. Beautiful red blooms against dark green leaves, for example. A bowl of red and green apples (he can’t see the difference). It’s difficult to put color into words. I keep that in mind often when I’m writing. The reader can’t see the images playing out in my head, so I have to find the words to make the scenes come to life. To set the stage upon which my stories play out. That’s my challenge when writing.
We all have our own outlets for expressing imagination and creativity. Art, music, storytelling, cooking, decorating, gardening. What is your special talent?