Seeing Things

Manuel Duasso has achieved a semblance of normality in the decade since he was blinded. The same can't be said of his assailant.

For Duasso, though, the relationship with Ciri couldn't replace what he felt had been irretrievably lost. "My handicap never interfered with our relationship -- my marriage was like a gift. But at the same time I was so, so sad that I'd lost a love: I was afraid I couldn't work again, and my life wasn't complete at that level."

After leaving the Daytona rehab center in early 1986, Duasso spent much of the $10,000 his students had raised, plus a matching amount added by the school administration and part of his share of a $50,000 settlement his lawyer negotiated with Metro-Dade (although Bird Drive Park had been the site of several previous violent crimes, the attorney argued, the county hadn't increased security there), to buy a townhouse in Sweetwater. Dade's Division of Blind Services paid for him to return to Florida International University to complete his degree and to pursue a second bachelor's, in secondary education. Carlos Gonzalez, a friend he'd met at church, was enrolled in English literature courses at FIU. Often during the fall semester of 1986, Gonzalez drove Duasso to school and helped him negotiate the campus he was relearning as a blind student. The environment was safe and reassuring, Duasso recalls, but still fraught with hazards unimaginable before A metal statues with head-high protrusions that he couldn't "see" with his cane; water fountains that stuck him in the stomach when he bent over to drink; students sitting on the floor with their legs in his path. "It was a whole new challenge to understand the complexities of building designs that might hurt you," Duasso says. "And so many times I got lost."

In 1987 Duasso interned as an eleventh- and twelfth-grade history teacher at Miami Southridge Senior High in Cutler Ridge. Despite what he considered a successful internship, and despite having received praise from the principal, Duasso wasn't offered a full-time job upon his graduation. "I felt very, very hurt because the principal had seen my work," he recalls. "I think I didn't pursue that principal enough. Then, of course, my low self-concept said, 'Well, maybe you weren't good enough.' I was in a self-destructive cycle for years."

Subsequent job interviews resulted in cool receptions A years and years of cool receptions. "I was looking to work at a high school or junior high. I have two bachelor's degrees. I know my stuff. The Division of Blind Services would provide assistance in class, all the computer equipment, everything, at no cost to the school board. But still no one wanted to talk to me. I interviewed in so many schools. I suffered from so much discrimination. They couldn't bear the thought of having a blind teacher. I sat in offices where principals stuttered and mumbled and sometimes outright accused me of not being capable enough to take the job."

When he completed a master's degree in international education in 1991, he was still job-hunting. "I really fooled myself," he says. "I thought if I get my master's, they'll really like me then." They didn't. In 1991 Ciri was laid off from her job as an executive secretary and they had to apply for Medicaid to augment his disability benefits and the remainder of the $50,000 settlement from Metro-Dade. The following year the Duassos' first child, Christopher, was born.

In May 1993, after more than five years of unemployment, Duasso got an excited call from his friend Carlos Gonzalez, who had just been given a job teaching English part-time at MDCC's InterAmerican Center extension on SW 27th Avenue. Nadine Gandia, Continental Academy's former principal, chaired the English department, and she had asked Gonzalez if he knew anyone else who might be interested in teaching part-time. "Chairs are always desperate for good adjuncts," Gandia explains. "I asked him if he had a friend. When he said, 'Manny Duasso,' my face just dropped. I hadn't spoken to him in over eight years."

That summer Duasso taught two classes. Gandia asked him if he could take two more. "It was a hard schedule to take on," she says. "But he never missed a beat; he was just so enthusiastic, and we were just lucky that two positions for full-time were coming open the coming year. I encouraged both Carlos and Manny to apply, and they were selected [by dean Jose Vicente]. Carlos says it was an act of God."

Adds Duasso: "Dr. Vicente was the very first person who didn't question whether I was able to do the job. He was the very first person who was like, 'When can you start?' To me it was like winning a million dollars, or seeing again."

The Duassos' second son, Branden, was born in August 1993; this past September 1994 they sold their Sweetwater townhouse and moved to a new, larger home in West Kendall, where a wind chime of ceramic hearts tinkles softly on the front porch and Victorian furnishings cozy up the living room. They are expecting their third child in December. Duasso is now pursuing a doctorate in education. His salary, and income from investments he and Ciri made with the settlement with Metro, allow the family to live comfortably. A uniformed maid takes care of the two boys; Ciri is her husband's main source of transportation and also must take care of the household jobs. Though they haven't been told in so many words, Ciri says, the children know their father is blind. Instinctively, they have always known how to communicate with him by touch.

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