Real Life

REAL LIFE: I married a man I couldn't see due to blindness, but it was magical

It wasn’t love at first sight but something even stronger.

By Brittany Smith

Stephanie Agnew, 32, from South Melbourne, Vic shares her true life story;

The beat from the DJ's booth vibrated through me as I sipped my glass of sauvignon blanc.
"Would you like to dance with me?" my next door neighbour, Rob, 47, asked.
He'd been attentive all night, offering to top up my wine and bring me plates of food.
I took his hand and let him lead me through the crowd, towards the dance floor of our apartment block's Christmas party.
I'd been born with cone-rod dystrophy, a genetic disease that kills the light- sensitive cells in the retina.
My sight had been slowly deteriorating since I was 19.
By 30, the world as I knew it had been replaced by grey static.
Everything looked like a TV that hadn't been tuned properly – completely black, white and fuzzy.
At first, I didn't know how I'd cope.
"If I have kids, I'll never be able to see them," I sobbed to my mum, Linda.
"How can I get married if I don't know what my partner looks like?"
Mum had lost her sight due to the same condition a few years earlier so she knew what I was going through.
But she'd never let her blindness stop her from living and had travelled to Vanuatu every year with my dad for voluntary mission work.
"If I can do this, you can, too," she encouraged.
With Mum as my inspiration, I pushed through.
At first, I didn't know how i'd live.
In some ways, life wasn't so different.
I was still glued to my phone, with voice-over technology reading all my emails and messages out to me. And I still maintained an active social life, especially when it came to the monthly parties in my apartment block.
Rob and I had been living next to each other for 18 months, but we'd only met one month earlier, at another party.
As soon as our neighbour introduced us, I could tell Rob had a crush on me and once I got to know him more, I realised how nice he was.
As I danced with him, I felt his strong, broad shoulders. He was much taller than me, too.
With my cane, it was obvious I was blind, but Rob didn't pry.
"Just so you know, I look like Bradley Cooper," he teased, insisting he was the spitting image of the Hollywood heartthrob.
Afterwards, we walked back to our apartments and just outside my door, we kissed.
The next week, I had tickets to see a Keith Urban concert, but my friend dropped out at the last minute.
I asked Rob if he wanted to go.
He's a police officer and was supposed to be working that night but managed to swap his shift so he could be there.
I couldn't see Keith strumming his guitar but in a way, just focusing on the music was better.
"I want to feel the sunshine shining down on me and you," Rob and I sang as we danced.
Rob's proposal was a dream come true.
Turns out we had even more in common.
We were both passionate about good food and exploring new places.
But best of all, he made me feel like a princess.
We never had a big discussion about my blindness. It was just a fact and Rob was totally supportive.
We'd been going out for just over a year when Rob and I visited my parents for Christmas.
When we exchanged gifts and he handed me my present, my face fell.
Instead of the ring I'd been hoping for, it felt big and heavy. He'd bought me an Apple TV.
I couldn't hide my disappointment. I'd been so certain he was going to propose.
Minutes later, the room went quiet as Rob cleared his throat.
It sounded like he was crying.
"I love you, Steph," he choked. "Will you marry me?"
Happy tears flowed down my cheeks.
Our wedding day was everything i'd dreamed of.
"Yes!" I shouted, planting a big kiss on Rob as my family cheered.
I was thrilled but, days later, I started having second thoughts.
I'd been dreaming of my wedding since I was little, and had even kept a scrapbook full of inspiration.
But how could I enjoy my big day if I couldn't see?
That night, I confessed all to Rob.
"I don't want to get married if I can't see my wedding," I explained.
Of course he was upset but couldn't change my mind.
A few days later, Mum sat me down. Rob must have told her what I'd said.
"You'll regret this," she warned. "Being blind won't stop you from having a beautiful wedding."
I knew she was right.
I couldn't let this condition ruin something so important to me.
So I threw myself into planning, hiring a photographer, James Day, who was dedicated to creating a sensory experience for me.
I'd rely on sounds, smells, taste and touch to make the day memorable.
I chose a white, princess gown and loved running my hands along the beaded bodice, picturing what it looked like.
My florist helped me pick a bouquet filled with the most fragrant flowers that were velvety between my fingers.
Me with Mum - she knew what I was going through.
Then, James had even bigger plans.
"What if we get everyone to experience the ceremony the way you will?" he said.
On the morning of our wedding, I was so excited.
The day was so well planned, I knew I wouldn't miss a thing.
I couldn't see Rob's reaction as Dad walked me down the aisle but when I touched his face, I could feel tears trickling down his cheeks.
Before we said our vows, the celebrant asked our guests to look underneath their seats, where a black blindfold had been placed.
With their eyes covered, they experienced the ceremony just as I did, using every sense except sight.
The sweet scent of my bouquet wafted in the breeze.
In the distance, birds were chirping and the sun felt warm on my skin as we listened to the celebrant.
"Today, in front of our family and friends, I choose you," I said to Rob.
"I want to love and support you through this life," he promised.
With their eyes covered, our guests focused on our voices.
We all experienced the moment in the same way.
Once the vows were finished, our guests took the blindfolds off.
I listened to the soft flapping of wings as an owl flew down and landed on my arm to deliver our rings.
Our guests experienced the vows as I did.
And I heard people sniffling happy tears when the celebrant pronounced us husband and wife.
At the reception, our first dance was to Making Memories of Us by Keith Urban.
Nestled against Rob's chest, it felt just like the first time we danced together.
Afterwards, guests raved about how much they enjoyed the ceremony.
It meant so much to me that my loved ones were willing to step into my shoes and understand what my world was like.
People say love is blind and at our wedding it really was.

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