New York Times Neediest Cases

Battered and Blind, and Finding a Home in the Bronx- New York Times

For Seana Cromitie, the surest sign of a new problem in a life full of them came in the place that had always been her sanctuary: the kitchen. There, in the Applebee’s restaurant in East Harlem where she worked, she would slice vegetables and miss, scarring her hands with small wound after small wound.

Ms. Cromitie, an animated woman with a carefree laugh and a mildly mischievous bent, was in her early 40s and had never needed glasses. Yet she was slowly losing her sight.

“At first, I didn’t want to believe I was going blind,” she said in an interview in her tidy apartment in the Bronx.

By the time Ms. Cromitie turned 46 in October, her life — long ravaged by violence, mistrust and depression — had mostly become one of voices and vague shadows.

A person’s eyes ordinarily work in tandem, but in the case of Ms. Cromitie, each one has its own story.

The left eye was the first to have problems. Two years after it happened, Ms. Cromitie is still not sure what exactly caused the retina to detach. Maybe, she speculated, it was the repeated blows to her head over the years or in one of the two car crashes she was in.

After unsuccessful surgery, she ended up with an implant, a nonfunctioning stand-in for her eye, and planned to depend on her right eye.

Ms. Cromitie had a troubled upbringing. Her childhood was so rife with abuse that she sometimes preferred the benches of roaring subway cars to a bed at home.

Then there was a new clash, after her vision problems had begun, this time with a sister about how to care for their ailing mother.

“She wanted me to take care of my mother the way she wanted to; I thought her way wasn’t helping my mother,” Ms. Cromitie said, adding that during one of these arguments, her sister took a folding shopping cart and hit her in the face with it.

Her eye implant ruptured and hemorrhaged. Her right eye was damaged. Ms. Cromitie’s sight was essentially gone, and so was her willingness to return home. When she was released from the hospital, she went to a rehabilitation center.

“I had nowhere to go,” she said. “My mother’s house was the last place I stayed at.”

But the center, she quickly found, was also troublesome. Her blindness was new, and she said the employees were unsympathetic. She would panic, and staff members, she said, would say she was having a mental breakdown.

“I had no life in that place,” she said through tears. “I said, ‘No more.’”

And so she left and hoped that she could make a home at one of the New York City’s homeless shelters.

“I got hit,” she said. “I got kicked. I got hit in the eye, and in the back of the head.”

One woman constantly harassed her, she said. And Ms. Cromitie, who is legally blind, prepared her own defenses: a lock in a sock and a cane on one side of the bed.

“Sometimes,” she said, “I didn’t even sleep.”

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York helped her find a subsidized apartment in the Bronx and furnish it with a sleep sofa, linens and adaptive kitchenware. 

Catholic Charities, one of the agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, also used $350 from the fund to buy a table and chairs, as well as plates and silverware.

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