I’ve logged more experience than most with simplicity and the complexity you discover inside simplicity, minimalism and asocial behavior, endurance and landscape.
Here is the truth: I think some deep wisdom inside me (a) sensed the stress, (b) was terrified for me, and (c) gave me something new and hard to focus on in order to prevent me from lapsing into a despair coma — and also to keep me from having a jelly jar of wine in my hand.
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In my late twenties I had laser surgery to correct my vision, even though I was terrified of the procedure. They lift a thin layer of your cornea, make incisions with a laser, and then place it back down like a piece of Saran Wrap. All the while you have to look straight ahead at a red dot. You can’t let your gaze stray.
The doctor had given me Valium to relieve my anxiety, but when I went under the laser, I was still shaking all over.
“As long as your eyes don’t move, you’ll be fine,” the assistant said with a smile.
The procedure was a success, and my sister drove me back to her house, fed me carrot soup, and read to me while I waited for the initial blurriness to clear. I certainly didn’t want to go home to my boyfriend.
The night before the surgery I’d gotten in a fight with him. He’d accused me of being “too needy,” and I’d reminded him that I was having my eyes sliced with lasers the next day.
“Good!” he said. “I hope you go blind!”
It was the meanest thing anyone had ever said to me. I ended up forgiving him, though, and the next summer we got married. I left him a year later. I could have saved myself the hassle of changing my name twice if I hadn’t been so nearsighted.
Almost twenty years ago a photographer acquaintance wanted to expand his stock-agency portfolio to include head shots of African American professionals. As a black woman in business school, I volunteered myself and two classmates, Calvin and Charles. We showed up for the shoot dressed in the business suits we wore for career fairs and job interviews.
We saw the prints a week later. In my photos I wore a short Afro, minimal makeup, and a Mona Lisa smile. I looked like a young corporate manager.
The photographer asked us to sign model-release forms, granting him permission to sell our images. No problem, we told him. We didn’t expect anything more to come of it.
Almost ten years later my best friend called to say she’d seen my picture in a brochure titled “Competency-Based Interviewing: A Behavior-Based Selection System.” Immediately I called Charles, who told me his face turned up so often that he’d started his own vanity portfolio. His favorite was in an International Day of Prayer ad. (Charles is agnostic.)
About two years ago my adult son, Lamont, called from his cellphone and said, “Mom, I’m on the bus, and you’re staring at me.” There was an ad with pictures of people’s eyes, and he swore one pair of them was mine.
I finally saw the ad on BART, the Bay Area’s train system. It was paid for by the Department of Homeland Security, and the text read, “When it comes to our safety, we can always use an extra pair of eyes.” The ad designer had used three head shots, cropping away the rest of the faces.
The middle photo was of me. Though there were considerably fewer wrinkles, I could see the tips of the clip-on pearl earrings I’d long ago donated to Goodwill.
Because the ad was used by several transportation agencies, I started to see my eyes everywhere, even plastered across the side of a bus. Eventually the campaign ran its course, and I began to miss the notoriety, as anonymous as it had been.
Late one night my boyfriend, Patrick, and I took BART home from San Francisco and boarded a car that displayed one of the few remaining ads. We rode to the end of the line and waited until everyone else had exited. Then, as I blocked the security camera, Patrick slipped the poster from its metal frame, and we bolted.
At home I hung the ad on a wall. Now, whenever I want to see the eyes of my youthful self, I simply walk into my den.
After a storm blanketed my backyard with snow, my dog, Dulce, seemed disoriented and could not find the stairs to the house. I realized that my seven-year-old bichon, my closest companion, was going blind.
Weeks earlier Dulce had been diagnosed with diabetes. Now cataracts clouded her black button eyes. A veterinarian ophthalmologist said cataract surgery usually cost $3,400. I went home with sticker shock, and with steroid pills to give my dog.
For the next week I carried Dulce up and down the stairs to the yard while I debated what to do. The money, if I spent it, would come out of the savings for my daughters’ educations, in effect making them pay for Dulce’s surgery. I told myself that when I’d brought Dulce home as a puppy, I had signed up to be her caretaker, but how could I justify spending thousands of dollars on healthcare for a purebred dog when most students at the inner-city school where I taught relied on Medicaid and many had never seen a dentist?
Dulce couldn’t hold down the steroids the vet had prescribed. So the vet changed the prescription, but she couldn’t tolerate the new pills either. Then we returned to the ophthalmologist, who told me Dulce was not a good candidate for surgery due to her inability to be on steroids. I no longer had to make the choice. I took my best friend home and became her seeing-eye human.
My parents met when they were in training to go to South America and become missionaries. To determine each trainee’s knowledge of Spanish, the Mission Board gave them all a test. My mother didn’t speak Spanish well, but she had previously taken the very same test and knew what was on it. Her high score placed her in an advanced Spanish class. In over her head, she approached a cute classmate and asked if he would help her. The lessons were successful in more ways than one.
Before they left for South America, my dad wrote to his mother in Nebraska about his new romantic interest. My grandmother wrote back and asked, among other things, what color her eyes were. My dad didn’t know. He had to go check; they were hazel.
One evening, twenty-six years into my own marriage, I was telling this story when my wife closed her eyes and asked me what color they were.
“Brown, of course,” I said.
They were green.
I couldn’t see his face — only his eyes. He stuck a gun in my mouth to quiet me, so I wouldn’t wake my roommate. After he took the gun out, I kept him talking long enough to learn that he’d been stalking me for some time and thought I wanted to have sex with him. I told him I was a virgin (I was), so he made me give him a hand job. Then he was gone, and I ran naked to wake my roommate.
The police came and showed me how to prevent future break-ins, and my boss arranged a ride home for me every night after work. But I lived in fear of seeing my assailant on campus and recognizing him by his eyes.
When I was a young girl, I loved to eat meat: steak smothered in A1 sauce, bacon dipped in maple syrup, even raw ground beef sprinkled with salt.
Then my family moved from the suburbs to the country. The first thing I did was run down the road to visit the horses. Being a young girl, I was, of course, obsessed with them. I stood at the fence, and their soft lips tickled my palms as they nibbled at the grass I held out.
On my way back home I passed a cow pasture. The cows lifted their heads to watch me, and when I stopped, they ambled over. My heart sank as I looked into their eyes, which had the same gentleness as the eyes of the horses. I petted their noses and patted the sides of their necks, sad at the thought of what was to become of them.
Before dinner that night I looked into the mirror and made a promise to myself that I would stop eating meat. I knew a life of vegetarianism would not always be easy, but making the choice was.
As an adult I still don’t eat meat. Our culture needs to change the way it treats animals. I sometimes think of the horses and cows who lived down the road from me and feel connected to them. All sentient beings are connected. I know this because their eyes told me so.
“Stand up and face the class,” ordered my junior-high social-studies teacher. Startled, I got up and stood with my back to him.
“Look at her slanted eyes,” he began.
I could smell his after-shave as he pointed to my Japanese face.
“See her flat nose, her straight black hair. Look at her high cheekbones. See how different she looks from the rest of us?”
This was in the 1970s, and he was teaching a lesson about World War II, using my thirteen-year-old features for show and tell. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he said, the government had to send citizens who looked like me away to camps to protect them from angry white Americans.
I fixed my gaze on the clock on the back wall, hoping not to make eye contact with any classmates, lest I burst into tears. My cheeks burned with embarrassment. Slanted eyes. Flat nose. High cheekbones. Wasn’t it good to have high cheekbones? Not today.
In art class I made a watercolor painting of the Breck Girl from a shampoo ad: round blue eyes, a perky nose, and flowing blond hair. That’s what I wanted to look like.
I had long been teased by kids who used mocking gestures and bucktoothed jibes and racial slurs like “Jap,” “Chink,” and “gook.” One kid would pull the corners of his eyes back with his fingers while the others laughed.
My parents said some children just didn’t know any better. But shouldn’t my teacher have known that it was wrong to give everyone permission to stare at me?
I never told my parents what had happened in school that day. If I had, my mom would have tried to comfort me by telling me how lovely my eyes were, and my dad would have marched up to school to demand an apology. I didn’t need more humiliation or more stares.
I kept quiet for almost thirty years, until the day my daughter came to me with an anguished look I knew too well. She’d been bullied for being Asian. How little the world had changed. As I rocked her in my lap, I wiped the tears from her eyes and whispered, “I understand.” Then the reticent girl inside me became the bold mother who began loudly to protest. For my daughter. For myself.
Los Angeles, California
I learned at a young age that my father was legally blind in his right eye, and I should sit on his left so that he could see me when I was talking to him.
He’d had bad vision his whole life. In Catholic school, because he was tall, the nuns would always seat him at the back of the room, where he couldn’t see the blackboard. Teachers interpreted his poor grades as a sign that Dad was lazy and not very bright. In tenth grade he dropped out and took a job at a local auto-body shop. He worked there until cancer forced him onto disability forty-five years later. My father could fix or build anything, but he couldn’t spell even the most basic words.
By the time he was a parent, Dad had traded his glasses for expensive contacts, because his thick lenses embarrassed him and their weight made it hard for him to work on carpentry projects. But he would frequently lose a contact lens, and it was my job to find it for him. (Although I have my father’s almost-black eyes, my vision is perfect.) One day in second grade my mother picked me up early from school because Dad had dropped his contact in the snow next to the driveway. I remember my gloveless fingers turning red and my eyes watering from the cold, but I found it.
Even with the contacts, Dad had trouble seeing. He never came to the movies with us. He read Stephen King novels with the aid of a magnifying glass. When he wanted to watch The Rockford Files or Police Woman, he pulled an ottoman right up in front of the television.
Last year, when he was sixty-seven, Dad developed cataracts that left him unable to drive or watch television or read. When the ophthalmologist operated on my father’s cataracts, he also performed laser surgery, and, just like that, sixty-seven years of near blindness were gone. For the first time in his life Dad could just pick up the newspaper and read. He could easily see the television and his grandchildren’s faces.
Around the same time, Dad was diagnosed with cancer of the vocal cords. The doctors removed his voice box to try to prevent the cancer from spreading. With the radiation and chemotherapy he couldn’t even walk unassisted. But he could see perfectly.
It began at the airport. As we waited to board our flight to Saudi Arabia, women in flowing black abayas passed by with only their eyes uncovered. Later, from my airplane seat, I decided to smile at each of these women as she boarded the plane, looking into her eyes through the narrow rectangular opening in the cloth. Each time, I received a smile back, clearly visible in the eyes.
In Saudi Arabia I met many “covered” women. The experience of maintaining eye contact during a conversation without the rest of the face to look at felt unnervingly intimate. I wonder, would we all connect on a deeper level if we could see only each other’s eyes?
Hanover, New Hampshire
One of my first ecology research projects was to observe the nighttime activity of insects in the Chihuahuan Desert near the U.S.–Mexico border. We wanted to see if their patterns of behavior were changing and whether certain plants were still being pollinated.
In the heat of the day the tarantulas, moths, and ants of the desert are mostly inactive, but they emerge after the sun has set. Wearing head lamps, we hiked through miles of cactuses and dry grasses, casting our feeble lights into the endless dark of the desert. The plants and rock formations, when not caught directly in our beams, were shrouded in shadow, but the tiny, glowing orbs of many eyes were clearly visible in the blackness: insect eyes, animal eyes, shining all around us, watching.
Socorro, New Mexico
I’ve had a lifelong amblyopia — a “lazy eye.” Though I can use my right eye for reading and close-up tasks, it will not focus on anything far away. Having monocular vision isn’t exactly disabling, but it does make for some challenges. As a teenager, before I learned to adapt to driving one-eyed, I got into so many accidents my friends called me “Crash.” Facial recognition is difficult; time and again I’ve been embarrassed by my inability to recognize someone.
As a young adult I thought glasses might help. (I had resisted wearing them as a child.) The optometrist told me that my right eye was uncorrectable and prescribed glasses to enhance my distance vision on the left. I noticed no significant improvement, and the glasses came to rest in a bureau drawer and were soon forgotten.
Twenty years later my daughter, home on break from college, was due for her annual eye exam. I took her to the walk-in clinic at the mall, and while we were there, I decided to get my own vision checked. After my exam the technician inserted sample contact lenses into both my eyes and encouraged me to take a walk through the mall.
Leaving the clinic, I stepped into a three-dimensional world for the first time. Signs and shop displays jumped out at me. Faces in the crowd lost their usual mild fuzziness and revealed distinctive features. All kinds of visual stimuli fought for my attention.
I returned to the clinic, my head throbbing from sensory overload. The technician gave me more contact-lens samples to try at home, but I found that wearing them gave me headaches, as if my cross-wired visual cortex simply couldn’t handle such unprecedented input. I went back to looking at the world through one eye.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The grinning optometrist ended every visit by saying, “Always take care of your eyes; they’re the only pair you’ll ever have.” At the age of six I adjusted quickly to the thick glasses he’d prescribed. The blue rhinestones on their cat’s-eye frames were the height of fashion in 1969.
In the fall of that year my mother was sentenced to ninety days in jail for assault with a deadly weapon. Every Sunday I rode alongside my dad in our white station wagon to the county courthouse. Children were not allowed inside, so I waited by the car, which he was careful always to park in the same spot: at the bottom of the hill, directly across from the tall stone building. Although I couldn’t see my mother when I stood next to the car and waved, she could see me from the window of the visiting room.
I was thrilled on the cold December morning when my mother finally came home with us. Aunts and cousins assembled around the dining table, eager to hear about her experiences. As I wriggled in her lap, she told everyone how a gang of women had crowded into the tiny cell next to hers and, while some others distracted the guard, beaten the inmate in the cell mercilessly. My mother described the woman’s screams and the guards’ carrying out her bloody body on a stretcher. “I had to look away,” she said, “because they had knocked one of her eyes right out of her head.” That story haunted me for years.
As I got older, violence would become commonplace in our family, with shoes, brooms, and leather straps used to “settle” us children down at bedtime. More family members would do time in jail or prison. During her rages my mother would threaten to take me to juvenile hall and leave me there. This never failed to start me sobbing and pleading. I imagined it as a place where a gang of girls would beat my eyes out. They were the only pair I would ever have.
My daughter, Nina, was only thirteen months old when the pediatric ophthalmologist confirmed that she needed glasses. I worried about how I would convince her to keep the glasses on. I also worried about the expense. But mostly I worried that other people would look at my baby and see only the glasses instead of the perfect little face behind them.
For two months I let my anxiety keep me from bringing Nina to the optician to get fitted. Finally I gave in.
After the optician placed the glasses on Nina’s face, my daughter looked at herself in the mirror, smiled, and clapped her hands. That’s when it dawned on me that Nina really had been unable to see before. I was ashamed that I’d let her world remain out of focus due to my own insecurity.
Western Springs, Illinois
I was upset when my brother first brought our elderly mother to live in our town two years ago, because she’d been so harsh to me as a child. But I also knew that her life now was hard. It was impossible not to feel compassion as I watched the huge, terrifying mother of my girlhood shrink down to a frail, vulnerable old woman in a wheelchair.
Now my mother is receiving hospice care at the small group home where she lives. She is eighty-nine and has stopped eating and grown disconnected from the world. When I’m lucky, she will gaze at me, and we will exchange a few words. Most of the time, however, she sits with eyes closed, as if pondering important questions. Hospice workers warned me she would eventually do this.
The other day, trying to coax my mother to eat, I brought her some lasagna. She hadn’t spoken a word to anyone in six days. I told the group-home staff person that I’d made the lasagna just the way my mother had taught me, with tomatoes fresh from my garden, adding, “I think it might be almost as good as hers.”
At this my mom’s eyes popped open, and she said, “We’ll just see about that!”
Ann Arbor, Michigan
When I was four years old, I would routinely wake to the sound of my mother’s voice. It was not the voice she used to sing hits by Petula Clark or the baby song she’d made up for me. The voice she used late at night was a high-pitched and urgent whisper. The first time I heard it, I stole out of my bed into the hall, hunkered down next to the doorway of the living room, and peeked in. That’s when I learned what made my mother’s voice sound so different.
My father was dragging her around the room by her long, beautiful hair and hitting her. Sometimes my mother would trip over the furniture and fall, but he’d pull her back up. He called her a “bitch” each time he hit her. I didn’t know what a bitch was, but I thought maybe all mothers were called bitches and all dads beat up moms late at night while their children slept.
One night my mother caught me peeking, and she screamed at me to get back to bed. I thought my dad might pull my hair and hit me, too, so I ran back to my room and waited for him to come. He never did.
Eventually my mother pulled my dad’s gun on him. (He was a police officer.) She squeezed the trigger but missed. The bullet made a hole in the kitchen window. Someone taped a piece of cardboard over that broken window, but no one ever fixed it. I had to grow up looking at it every day.
Dad packed two suitcases when he moved out. I was happy he was leaving, but my mom was crying, so I cried, too.
Every time I looked into my father’s eyes, until the day he died, I remembered what he used to do late at night when he thought I was asleep.
Sanbornville, New Hampshire
Both my parents had lost their sight at a young age, and while growing up, I acted as their eyes. Even before I attended school, I learned to read, so that I could read the mail or the newspaper to them. They were avid readers of Braille books and periodicals. I can still see my mother’s hands flying over those pages of raised dots.
Because my parents were blind, they were largely unaware of people’s differences. They couldn’t see the color of a person’s skin or judge whether someone was rich or poor by how he or she dressed. They treated everyone equally and expected me to do the same.
I knew what it felt like to be treated differently. I couldn’t understand why some people pitied me because my parents couldn’t see. After all, we lived normal lives.
Now I’m eighty. My eyesight is quite good, and I still try not to see anything in people except their humanity.
Ned’s eyes were blue, his eyelashes long, thick, and curled. I once sketched him in profile, and all it took was a few lines: the plane of his cheek, the angle of his nose, and the tips of those eyelashes. When we were first together, I sometimes watched him sleep. I remember thinking, Enjoy him while you have him. This much beauty can’t last.
In the nineteenth year of our marriage Ned had a lengthy affair. I’d had my own ongoing affair, with my work. After he came clean to me, we worked hard to rejuvenate our marriage.
One afternoon we were just talking about what to have for dinner when we grew quiet, and a look passed between us: a connection so strong and vibrant it almost radiated heat. Despite all the tears, the anger, the recrimination, and the blame, I said, “If it took the affair to get us here, then God bless the affair.”
Then, on November 30, 2000, Ned went on his usual bicycle ride near the lake. On his way back he was hit and killed by a pickup coming around a blind curve. I had just turned forty-eight.
That last week of Ned’s life, he and I had made love three times. Once, it was the quick, satisfying sex of the long married. The second time was on my birthday. He’d borrowed a massage table, set it up in the living room, and announced cheerfully, “I’m going to give you an erotic massage.” And he did.
The third time was the best sexual encounter of my life. I remember his beautiful eyes looking not just into mine but into me, as I was looking into him. We knew everything there was to know about each other. And still I loved him. And still he loved me.
Sudden deaths parachute the survivors into a foreign country, where we are lost without adequate supplies; with no knowledge of the language, the climate, the terrain. To stay alive, we must learn this strange, inhospitable territory.
Almost immediately I was faced with decisions I felt completely unprepared to make. The first came in the emergency room: “Do you want to consent to organ donation?” the nurse asked. I looked into Ned’s eyes, which I would never see again in earthly life.
A few months later I learned that a man of seventy-seven and a woman of thirty-nine were seeing through his corneas.
© Rachel J. Elliott
My right eye has crossed inward since birth. When I was five, doctors advised my parents that surgery was too risky and prescribed glasses, an eye patch, and optical exercises. To encourage me to wear the glasses, my mom bought an identical pair and wore them herself. She didn’t look good in them, however, so her plan backfired. As soon as she was out of sight, I would stash the glasses under a bush and go play with my friends. My eyesight was fine. Some kids made fun of me, but I stood up for myself and often for others who got picked on. Finally my parents just let me be.
When I was thirty, my mom wanted me to look into surgery again. I didn’t want to, but I decided to go to a doctor to learn more about my eyes. After testing me, the surgeon said my brain had compensated very well, and that I could focus both eyes together and each one individually. He then went on to try to sell me on surgery anyway, despite the possible side effects. He told me he could guarantee me I’d get married if I corrected this flaw, because I was an “otherwise beautiful young woman.” I told him that my love life was excellent and I would not be having the operation.
In this age of cosmetic surgical fixes I am sure people wonder why I’ve never corrected my eye. But there are advantages to having a crossed eye. I can immediately spot people who are uncomfortable with differences. I can also watch others without their knowing it. I enjoy fooling around with kids in public, who often mimic me by crossing their eyes. Some cultures believe that cross-eyed people are seers and mystics. Being cross-eyed has certainly forced me to approach life with a sense of humor and friendliness.
I have made my living as an artist for forty years now, and I am cofounder of an after-school art studio and mentoring program. Many of the young artists we serve have been made to feel like outcasts by their peers. By embracing my own differences, maybe I can help them embrace theirs.
I’m Japanese American, and I grew up in rural New Hampshire, where everyone I knew was white: our Quaker congregation, all my classmates and teachers, our neighbors, store owners — everyone. Only my parents and my brother looked like me. I felt a sense of alienation from my body, which deepened as I became a young woman. My uncles teased me that I had daikon ashi — legs like the stubby Japanese radish. Twice, white men made cruel racial remarks to me in moments when I was open and trusting. And, though I was born after World War II, I knew that my parents, their parents, and everyone else in their Japanese American community had been imprisoned in Colorado because of the way they looked.
When my husband, Chris, and I met, I was fifty. He was my first real love. He once made me laugh so hard that I fell on the floor. I knew I could trust him, but even so, a subconscious part of me felt it was dangerous to become intimate with a white man. I briefly broke up with him out of fear.
After we became engaged, I wanted to meet Chris’s parents, who were in their eighties and lived in a nursing home. I knew they both had dementia and might not understand what I said to them, but I needed to thank them for raising such a wonderful son. I wanted them to see that he was loved and cherished.
The morning of our meeting, the nurses wheeled Chris’s father and mother into a private room to greet us. Sun poured in the window. Chris’s father was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s and barely spoke. His mother had Pick’s disease, which scrambled her thoughts and sentences, but she never stopped talking: “The flowers. The waving flowers. And then the wind, and we went, and, why, the colors. The jewels were there, and everyone, and once they had the blue and yellow and . . .” Her words unspooled without pause. And then suddenly she looked at me and said, “You have beautiful eyes.”
I’ve long been told that people who are suffering dementia sometimes suddenly become lucid and speak the truth, in words that the listener most needs to hear.
Kesaya E. Noda
Plainfield, New Hampshire
Two years ago my son was diagnosed with a genetic disease of the retina called “Stargardt.” It is eroding his central vision and has already made him legally blind. He wears sunglasses all the time, even inside, to slow the progression of the disease. To our giggly, bright ten-year-old the shades are a badge of honor. He gets to look like a celebrity, which is in keeping with his goal of becoming a rock star someday.
Though I am grateful that he has embraced the glasses, I desperately miss the sight of his eyes, which are a captivating blue with a hint of gray. I sometimes get a peek at them during baths and at bedtime. My son has the knowing gaze of someone who has endured too much at a young age. He has already undergone dozens of surgeries to address an unrelated defect of the esophagus. And now this.
When I learned that our son would slowly lose his vision, I was unable to sleep or eat. Twelve years earlier my husband and I had lost our first son, who’d been born premature with bad lungs. I feared I could not handle another medical crisis.
Perhaps, I thought, God was punishing me for engaging in premarital sex. I even thought that my son’s loss of eyesight was payback for my own struggle with vanity.
For my husband the diagnosis was even more intense and personal. He is an ophthalmologist, but he can do nothing to cure his own child. He, too, has thought that this is a punishment from the Divine, although he has never said what his perceived transgressions are.
Our church friends have assured us that God is using our suffering for a bigger purpose. Our oldest friends have reminded us that our son is extraordinary and has overcome every obstacle put before him. Our son has asked us to “please stop crying, because it’s really not that sad.” His favorite teacher has told me that our son will be fine simply because of his strong character.
My son has lamented the loss of his central vision to me exactly once. We were walking in the woods, and, out of habit, I pointed out a cardinal, his favorite bird. His color perception is poor, and red is especially hard for him to see. He said he thought he could hear it, however. “I wish I could still see well,” he said. “I really miss seeing cardinals.”
When we got home, I pulled out a recording of birdcalls so that we could learn to recognize them. He indulged me for a while and then suggested we play Legos.
Last month, while I was studying the effects of age on my face in the mirror, my son ran into the house yelling, “Mom, you’ve got to come and see this!” A tree in the backyard was filled with birds, he said. I followed him to find that the limbs of the tallest Georgia pine were completely covered with birds.
“You can see those?” I asked excitedly.
“Nooo,” he replied as though I had said something stupid. “I heard them. There must be a hundred of them up there. Aren’t they gorgeous?”
“Yes,” I said. They were.
Bridget Murphy Brown
About a half-hour into our first telephone conversation, Bill told me he was legally blind. The call, which was in response to my personals ad, lasted six hours. I’d never talked on the phone that long, even as a teenager.
Bill had retinitis pigmentosa, which causes a loss of peripheral vision. He said it was “like looking through two cardboard paper-towel tubes.” The disease would continue to progress as he aged, he told me, but hopefully not to the point of total blindness. He was fifty and still able to read, watch TV, and go to the movies. He was a cinema buff, and I shared his passions for movies, books, music, nature, and animals.
We eventually decided to meet for coffee. That’s when I first saw Bill’s beautiful blue eyes. We ended up at his house, where we talked all night. Three months later we were married. I had found my soul mate after being a widow for sixteen years. I was forty-eight.
About twelve years into our marriage, Bill’s vision began to deteriorate. He started using a magnifying glass to read the paper. He would ask questions during TV shows or on the way home from the movies. He finally quit trying to read in bed. We made an appointment with an eye surgeon, who did several tests. His final diagnosis was that Bill had “outlived” his retinas.
Bill went on to become totally blind. He bought a white cane and learned to use it. He got a “talking book” machine from the Braille Institute. He also has a talking clock and a talking thermometer. He remains fiercely independent and insists on doing some of his own cooking, laundry, and even yardwork. I’m amazed at how his sense of touch has allowed him to tackle seemingly impossible tasks. We recently celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary.
Earlier this year I lost vision in one of my own eyes. With gallows humor I told Bill, “Between the two of us we have one good eye.” The eye surgeon said I had a hole in my macula that could be corrected by surgery. I was relieved, but I would have given anything if it could have been Bill checking into the hospital for a procedure that would have given him his vision back.
Bill once told me, “I know when I am dreaming, because I can see perfectly.” Whenever I catch him napping in his chair, I tiptoe out of the room so as not to wake him. I want him to enjoy his rare time in a world bathed in color and light.
Armida S. Thomson
Costa Mesa, California