The Blind Man Who Taught Himself to See
Credit: Steve Pyke
The longer the waiting list for his services grows, the more conflicted Kish feels. He knows what he's doing is important. But what he really wants, as more people clamor for his time, as the frequent-flier miles add up, is to hand over the reins of World Access and run away from it all.

He's essentially a loner. "My constitution," he says, "is that of Grizzly Adams." In 2003 he purchased a 12-foot by 12-foot cabin deep in the Angeles National Forest. It was built in 1916; he paid $10,000 for it. To get there he'd take a taxi to the end of the road and hike in. "My only company," he wrote in his journal at the time, "is a small family of mice." He explored the wilderness. "I taught myself how to negotiate tricky, winding trails with sharp switchbacks, how to cross rushing streams on slippery stones. I've gone for miles and days without meeting another soul."

He was once asked by a colleague what he thought the biggest problem was with being blind. "My biggest barrier is people," he answered. "Especially sighted people." He has never once in his life had a girlfriend or, for that matter, a boyfriend. When I ask him, via e-mail, to explain why, his response is three words: "Lack of interest."

Two tragedies, nearly 20 years apart, have bookended his adult life. The first was the death of his dog, a black lab named Whiska. This was in 1990. She was run over by a car while Kish was walking with her. Kish has always blamed himself for the accident. "I loved Whiska with an intensity that completely distorted my better judgment," he wrote. "I spoiled her rotten and took over her job. She forgot to watch for traffic, because I'd always done that for her." He had nightmares for a year after the accident. "The chain's just dangling and there's no dog. I'll never forget that moment." Not long after, he got another dog, but soon started traveling and gave him away. That was his last pet.

The second tragedy occurred in January 2007 when his cabin burned down. He'd had a wood-burning stove installed, and the wrong materials were used for the chimney. The fire was fast-moving and horrific – "my last memories of my cabin are the ominous crackle and rumble of advancing flames" – and Kish had no idea if it would engulf the entire canyon, incinerating him as well. The disaster haunts him; he keeps a chunk of melted glass from the cabin in his home in Long Beach. "A piece of my own heart has gone up in flames," he wrote. He plans to one day return to the woods, perhaps permanently. "I find people," he says, "to be incredibly draining."