Duncun Noble lived 49 years of his life in colour. For the past decade, he’s had to cope with darkness, and it changed everything. When a tumour was found on his brain, Noble underwent three surgeries. The surgeries got rid of the tumour, but the sickness took his sight and hearing in one ear. The colours began to blur, and sounds started to fade. Noble felt invisible. He thought that if he couldn’t see anything, no one could see him.
Early into his predicament, he started picking fights at bars as a way to cope.
“It was an anger I was going through, and it took me years to realize what was going on. I had become hearing impaired and legally blind. I had become invisible, and it was my way of saying I’m still here.”
The Fredericton man was living in his hometown of Bathurst then. he eventually realized he didn’t want to be the talk of the small town. He needed a new direction, but didn’t know how to take the first steps.
“Every once in a while, I don’t care who you are, you want a change. You want to change yourself completely. A friend of mine used to say you are what you are today, and I wanted to become someone else.”
Growing up in Bathurst, Noble and his friends were known around the town. Noble began to unravel during his teen years.
“The girls had all marched down to the centennial building and burnt their bras. That was the summer of free love. We didn’t have a chance, so the women took over and it was the start of the feminist movement.”
He looks around the room like his friends were there with him, but his laugh is the only sound breaking up the stories of his past.
After his third surgery, Noble was dealt another blow. A good friend of his was killed by her estranged husband. He’s been emotionally wounded ever since.
“I’m still not quite over it. It happened a week and a half before Christmas so obviously I’m upset during Christmas. It took its toll, let’s put it that way.”
A year later, Duncun was on the move. He was driving to Fredericton, thinking of ways to start over. His anger had turned him into a person he didn’t like.
On the drive, Noble made a decision. He grew up known as William Noble, so he started using his middle name, Duncun. He entered Fredericton’s city limits a new man, and left all his anger behind.
“I am Duncun, I’m not Bill. Sometimes I feel myself going back but I snap out of it and think those were different times and stop trying to live in the past, because I have a tendency to go back.”
As part of his transformation, Noble asked himself what he always wanted to do in his life. He registered at the University of New Brunswick and began studying political science.
“It was terrifying because I couldn’t see, and I only had one ear that worked. I thought am I going to be an embarrassment, or am I going to be able to do this? The mind is a very strange thing, because it finds new channels.
What you seem to lose in one respect you gain in others.”
In his early 60s, Noble was a registered student and had left William behind. He sat down in the classroom as Duncun.
Whitney Slipp graduated from St. Thomas University last year. She worked for the Canadian Deafblind Association during her final year of university. Her relationship with Noble went beyond her job description.
“He’s been through a lot and I’ve been through a lot, and I think he sees that in me. I have patience for him, and he does for me.”
Slipp’s father has been battling cancer almost his whole life. She’s 21, but Noble would say her soul is much older. Slipp, like Noble, wanted a change and decided to move to New Zealand for three months last year. She saw firsthand how hard it was to start over.
She walked into Noble’s arms when he opened the door to his apartment on one of their visits last year.
“I think me and Duncun have that connection for a reason. You have to go through a lot of stuff to become an optimistic person. You have to take the good with the bad,” she said.
“How’ve you been, kid?” Noble said from the living room.
He sunk into the couch and Slipp sat down across from him. Then they began their ritual of storytelling.
“Sit on my right side kid, I can’t hear you.”
Noble always wanted to be a writer.
“If you start writing now you’re just a raving lunatic. If you’ve got a degree they may think you know what you’re talking about.”
Noble is still working on his degree, and wants to be a “political antagonist.” He wrote a column once a month in the Daily Gleaner until recently. He would tell Slipp what he wanted to write, and she typed it out for him.
“Anyone who talks to Duncun is immediately captured by him and taken with him,” Slipp said, “and not because of his situation but because he’s a good person. He tells me he hasn’t always been like that, and I can’t imagine him not being the softie he is. He really is a big teddy bear. I’m glad I never met Bill.”
Noble said he feels he’s lived many lives. He showed Slipp a picture of his old baseball team in Bathurst, and asked her what he looked like. In the picture, his hair is below his ears and his smile is so big his eyes squint. It’s easy to see that young man is still in him now.
“Life was definitely a carnival, it was a very entertaining life.”