20th March 2005

The next day, my mum and Stephen both came to visit me at the same time. Mum had been given compassionate leave by the company she works for- an accountant firm in the middle of the city. She's good with numbers and mental arithmetic- which I never am- and she's very organised with things like paperwork and business accounts, which I guess is why they hired her and she's one of the most well-paid accountants in the firm. In that respect I'm more like my dad: I prefer books, mostly crime thriller or 'horsy' books. My dad works as an agent for a book publishing company and he'll usually let me read extracts of books he gets sent and I'll give him my opinion on the book. I suppose that makes us a pretty well-off, or even rich, family compared to other people. Because of that and me being an only child, people expect to me to be spoilt or snobby when they first meet me, but I try not to be like that. Our house isn't much larger or grander than most others in our neighbourhood and my parents don't have fast, expensive cars. I know we have money, but especially since the accident I've tried to appreciate things a lot more.

Anyway, back to the hospital. Mum brought me some flowers and my favourite books from home so that I'd have something to occupy myself with in hospital, and Stephen bought me a heart-shaped box of truffles from Thorntons that he knew I loved. Mum started talking about how dad was missing me and was going to come into hospital later that evening to visit me, and that my grandparents would come to visit me tomorrow. I could tell she was talking for the sake of talking, to distract me from the fact that I was blind. I couldn't see either of them, but I could tell by listening that Mum was sitting in the chair to the left and Stephen to the right, holding my hand. Just the feel of his palm in mine made me feel better.

'How are Sooty and Sweep?' I asked. Believe it or not, neither are the same animal; Sooty is my black cat with two white paws and Sweep is my 15hh (there are four inches in one hand) dapple grey horse. He's a Connemara that Mum and Dad bought me for my fifteenth birthday and he's the best present I've ever got. He means the world to me, besides Stephen, and I entered him in a few competitions last summer which we did well in. I was planning on joining the local Pony Club and taking my BHS examinations with him, but I was forced to give up on that dream three and a half years ago.

'Sooty's fine,' replied my mum. 'Just as playful as ever. He'll be looking forward to seeing you again.'

I noticed her hesitation to mention Sweep and frowned. Surely nothing bad could've happened to him in a couple of days? 'Mum, is Sweep okay? He's not gone lame or anything has he?'

She hesitated, as if she was trying to think of the best way to put something. Icy fear ran down my spine as I lay there frozen in my hospital bed. Had Sweep had to be put down? Had he been attacked by a dog?

'Hollie, honey,' said my mum eventually. 'I know you're not going to want to hear this, but I think it's for the best if Sweep goes to a new home.'

If I could have recoiled from her in shock, I would have done. I stared in a dumb silence, seeing nothing and feeling nothing. The idea refused to compute for several seconds. Finally, I stammered:

'Sell Sweep?' My voice shook. 'No, Mum, you can't! You can't sell Sweep!' I tried to reach for her arm, to grab it to plead to her that I needed him, that he had to stay, but instead I banged my arm hard against the safety rails. I felt Mum's fingers brush my skin and I jumped, having become much more sensitive to touch since I had lost my sight. She tried to find my fingers, to clasp them in hers, but I pulled them away. My voice rose as I continued talking. 'How can you even consider selling Sweep? He's my horse; you can't just take him away from me!' Tears began to fall from my eyes as I refused to obey my mum's pleading to be quiet. I was almost shouting now and I could hear nurses hurrying down the ward to my bed. 'You can't sell Sweep! You can't! I won't let you! Let me out of here right now!' I remember my agitated state as I actually tried to climb unaided out of the hospital bed. Somebody's hand- I think it was Stephen's- took hold of my arm and seconds later a nurse darted inside the curtain and took hold of both my shoulders, gently forcing me back onto the bed.

'Hollie, you must stay in this bed,' said the nurse gently. But I didn't want to hear it; I only struggled more until her iron-firm grip exhausted me. Eventually, I gave up fighting and flopped back against the pillow, tears flowing freely from my eyes.

My mum was crying too as she spoke again. 'I'm sorry, Hollie, but I really think it's for the best. You won't be able to ride him anymore now you've lost your eyesight and it's not fair on him to leave him cooped up in that field all day. You know me and your dad aren't capable of exercising him. We'll be posting an ad for him in the paper tomorrow.'

'If you knew what was for the best you wouldn't be trying to sell him!' I cried. I wished I could see so that I could grab her and shake her and make her realise how much I needed Sweep, now more than ever. 'How can it be for the best if it hurts me so much?'

But my mum refused to yield. 'I really do think he needs somewhere where somebody can enjoy him and take him to his full potential. Now, I think you need to rest, darling. I'll come and visit again tomorrow.'

She got up and walked out of the ward to leave Stephen some privacy to say goodbye to me. He came closer and gently cupped my face in his hands so he was looking directly into my unseeing eyes. 'I'm sorry, Hollie, I tried to talk her out of it.' I could hear the distress in his voice. 'I tried convincing her that right now you need as much stability in your life as possible, and at first your dad agreed with me, but neither of us could say anything to change her mind.' He touched his lips to my forehead. As he spoke, I heard the sadness in his voice, but at the same time, I could tell he was smiling. 'You know, even though you can't see me, your eyes still look at beautiful as they always did. Every time I look into them, I see you smiling back at me, and every night before I go to sleep I see your eyes and can't help but smile.'

My heart ached at his words and I wished I could return the compliment. But with it came the painful sting of realising one of my worst fears. 'I'm afraid I'll forget what you look like,' I whispered. 'I keep remembering that I'll never see your eyes or your face again.'

'Hollie, don't talk like that,' said Stephen, and I could hear a thickness in his voice that meant he was crying. 'I hate not being able to do anything to help. If I could give you my eyes so that you could see again, I would. I hate seeing you like this, but no matter what happens we will get through this and I will always be here for you.' His hands moved to grip mine. 'I'll come again tomorrow, every day until you get out of here.' I felt him shift his wait and this time I knew he was going to kiss me goodbye, so I leaned forward and kissed him back softly. He paused for a moment, then slowly moved his hand to my hair and deepened the kiss for a few seconds before moving away again.

'I love you Hollie Morgan,' he whispered in my ear. I threw my arms round him and hugged him tightly to me.

'I love you too Stephen,' I replied, mustering up as much strength in my voice as I could. If I kept strong, I could be out of here as soon as possible to get back home to Sooty and Sweep. That night, I went to sleep formulating plans of ways to stop Sweep being sold, which eventually ran onto crazy ideas such as tacking him up and riding him away into the countryside where we couldn't be found by anybody so my mum would realise how much we needed each other and let him stay.

Looking back on it now, that second day in hospital was one of the toughest. Being told that I had to give up Sweep was devastating and I still can't think about him now without that terrible ache in my heart from the hole he's left. Deep down, my biggest wish is to find Sweep again and to bring him home. I know he was sold locally so there's a chance I might be able to find him, but once I bring him home I want to canter him through our field and take him into the woods behind our house and jump the fallen logs like we always used to do. I know being blind means this is near impossible, but during the hardest days of coping with my loss of eyesight, those were always the memories that I clung to the most.

23rd March 2005

Today is exactly two months until my 21st birthday, which means that in four months it will be four years since the accident that caused me to lose my sight. Everybody in my family has been asking me what I'd like for my birthday and in all honesty I've come close to choking up every time they ask. I haven't even told Stephen this because I know this has been almost as hard on him as it has been for me; having to cope with me going through everything must have been tough on even the most patient of people. But what I want to ask for the most is a day, or even just a few hours, of my life the way it used to be so that I can see the faces of everybody I know, to be able to skip into the lounge and scoop Sooty up in my arms the way I used to do, to saddle up Sweep and take him out for a ride... the list goes on. If I could see again for a few hours I'd do so many things and then I'd gladly take being blind and whatever came with it just so that I know I've remembered people and things correctly. I know I've been lucky in my life so far; a wonderful boyfriend and family; a decent house; enough money for us to get by better than most and not to live in poverty. I don't know if this sounds selfish or not; I don't mean it to be, I just want to be able to see again, so I don't have to worry about every step I take and so I can just run around and be free again, like I did when I was a little girl.

Anyway, enough about my life as it is now. This diary is recounting the events of the past so that I can remember them and remember why I have every reason to be grateful about life. After all, the accident could have resulted in something a lot worse than blindness. Some people have gone into comas from hitting their heads and not all of them have come back out of them, so I should count myself lucky.

The next event I remember is a week later, when I was discharged from hospital. It was a Saturday and both my parents were sitting on either side of my bed. My dad taken to bringing excerpts he had been sent from aspiring authors and reading them out to me when it was just the two of us, which I loved because he treated me like an ordinary person rather than a fragile girl who couldn't see like my mum often did in the beginning- I loved her but I got increasingly frustrated with her a lot of the time- but I'll come to that later.

The doctors came in to talk to us and they said that I was ready to be discharged- I had to stay in my bed until lunchtime, have something to eat and then my blood pressure and heart rate would be measured. If everything was normal, I would then be able to go home.

That wait until lunchtime was one of the slowest two hours of my life. After that week in hospital, having to be helped to eat and drink by my parents or by a nurse, having to be helped out of bed to walk a few yards to go to the toilet and be treated like a china doll, I just wanted to go home. But eventually, about half an hour after my lunch, a nurse wheeled the machine to my bed and strapped the Velcro pad around my arm. I waited to hear her diagnosis as obviously I couldn't see the readout on the machine. After a few seconds she declared that I was safe to go home. I knew I should have been over the moon, but I couldn't summon the energy. Part of me wanted to be out of this place for good, but part of me was dreading arriving home and finding everything different: I'd have to learn the layout of my house all over again in a new way, and I knew that when I got home Sweep would be gone. Mum and Dad had tactfully not mentioned him, but Sweep is a good horse and I knew he would find a home quickly. There would be no more waking up to see his grey head looking out over his stable door in the mornings as he waited for me to feed him; no gazing out of my window to watch him relaxing in his field; no grooming him until his coat shone. I had decided that I just wanted to get it over with, so I sat up in my hospital bed and turned to face the side.

'Whoah, Hollie, not so fast!' My mum grabbed my arm even though the safety rails stopped me from getting off the bed and I didn't know where the button was to release them.

I pulled my arm away from her. 'I'm only sitting up Mum,' I said sharply, her constant fussing already beginning to irritate me after one short week.

'Calm down, Jenni,' said my dad. 'She's barely moved all week. Give her a chance to stretch her muscles.'

I sat still for a few minutes moving my legs gradually, as they had become quite stiff from the lack of use. The nurse had wheeled away the machine and now returned.

'How do you feel, Hollie?' she asked.

'Fine,' I said. The aching in my legs had gone so I saw no reason for me to have to stay on the bed any longer.

'Okay,' said the nurse. 'Once you feel ready, I'll fetch you a wheelchair and your parents can help you off the bed. If you feel any pain or discomfort anywhere, particularly headaches, give the hospital a call and we'll diagnose whether we need to bring you back into hospital or not. I'll give your parents some leaflets about dealing with the blindness and a leaflet about the local guide dog agency should you want one.'

I nodded. 'I feel ready to get off the bed now,' I told her. I just wanted to be home.

'Okay,' said the nurse. I sensed that she sounded a little alarmed that I wanted to go so quickly. She'd understand how I felt if she was in my position I thought. 'I'll just fetch a wheelchair.' She left the ward and came back moments later, although the only indication to me that she had anything was the wheels squeaking over the floor as she pushed the chair along.

'Who do you want to help you get out of bed?' asked the nurse. 'Shall I do it or do you want one of your parents to?'

'Dad,' I said decisively, reaching out tentatively for his arm. I felt his strong hands grip mine as he prepared to support me. A click indicated that the safety rails were gone.

'Nice and slowly, Hollie,' he said reassuringly. 'We don't have to rush. Just take your time.'

I slowly shuffled forward until I felt the cold frame of the bed underneath me. I stretched my legs until I felt my feet touch the floor and moved forward so that my own weight caused me to slide off the bed. My dad's hands tightened around me in support as I touched the ground and stood, unseeing but hearing my dad's calm voice coming from in front of me.

'You're standing, Hollie. Now just turn to the right and walk backward a couple of steps. The wheelchair is right behind you.' Walking those steps backwards was the hardest thing to do as I had no way of seeing where to go; instead, I trusted my dad to guide me gently in the right direction. I felt the footholds of the wheelchair press against my ankles and slowly sat down, relieved to feel the leather seat beneath me.

'I'm just going to move the wheelchair Hollie,' said my mum, but even with the warning the sudden backward movement still caught me by surprise and I grabbed hold of the armrests.

'It's okay, darling,' said my dad. His warm hand closed around mine and I relaxed. The movement of the wheelchair when I couldn't see anything that told me I was moving was disorientating and I began to feel a bit queasy. I will not be sick, I will not be sick I repeated in my head, until eventually the feeling began to recede. We paused for a moment and I guessed we were at the main desk while my parents collected the information the nurse had mentioned earlier.

This time I braced myself against the back of the seat so I was ready for the wheelchair to move again. The surface changed from smooth and slick to hard and bumpy as we left the hospital and I was wheeled along uneven paving slabs, across a road to the car park. I felt relieved when we reached the car as my uncomfortable journey came to an end, although it meant that I now had another hurdle to overcome.

My dad lifted me from the chair and guided me forward, telling me when to lift one leg up and then the other, placing my hands firmly on the seat and on the handle inside the door until I was sitting in the front seat of the car. The journey home was uneventful; I just sat in my seat listening to Gold Forever by The Wanted- my favourite band- playing on the radio.

When we got home, it wasn't my dad or my mum that opened the door and helped me down, but Stephen. He told me later that he'd had a text from my dad, who he gets on with remarkably well, telling him that I was being discharged that afternoon. He said he'd been sitting in his car for about half an hour waiting for me to get home. He sounded oddly excited.

'What is it?' I asked. I sensed that he wasn't quite looking at me and I slowly raised my hand until I found his face. I left my hand there to gauge what direction he was looking at; then I turned and walked slowly that way, my arms outstretched, to find my dad standing a couple of metres from us. I turned back to Stephen and made my way back into his arms. 'Why were you smiling at my dad?'

Stephen must have looked surprised I could tell, because my dad laughed and said: 'She's getting very good at reading people's expressions and moods by listening to their voices. You'd better tell her now or you won't hear the end of it?'

'Tell me what?' I asked impatiently, frustrated with the secret-keeping.

'Your dad told me a few of the things they'd said at the hospital,' said Stephen, and I could tell a smile was dancing across his lips from the way he spoke. 'So I made a quick stop-off on my way over here.' He moved away and my dad stepped over to support me instead. I heard Stephen open his car door and the soft noise of something jumping out of the car. Next thing I knew, a cold, wet nose was nudging my hand. I gasped and bent down, feeling soft fur and velvety, floppy ears beneath my hands. My new dog barked and I felt a rough, scratchy tongue lick my left cheek. I began to laugh and I ran my hands down over my dog's back.

'She's a Golden Retriever called Honey,' said Stephen. I felt him kneel down next to me and begin stroking her. 'Do you remember the palomino Arab we saw at that show last year? She's the exact same colour as him.' I smiled. Only he could have thought of a way to describe her colour so perfectly to me.

'Thank you Stephen. She's wonderful.'

'I'm glad you're pleased. The dog agency gave me some information on a special Braille leaflet so you can read it. There are classes once a week on Tuesdays that you can take her to, to help you both get to know each other and so you can learn how to communicate with her properly.'

I stopped stroking Honey and put my arms around Stephen instead, burying my head into his shoulder. 'Thank you so much,' I whispered. 'She's wonderful.' Stephen hugged me back and kissed my cheek.

'Let's get you and Honey inside,' he said. 'I bought you a few things at the pet shop too. We need to find somewhere to store all her bowls and things, and I thought you might like to try out her new collar and lead. I'll help you put them on her.'

I smiled and stood up, holding Stephen's arm in one hand and resting my other hand on Honey's head as we made our way into the house.e H