This photograph is from the book Habitar La Oscuridad (Inhabiting the Dark). Over a period of many years, Cruz photographed the blind and visually impaired in Mexico.
I will be responding to the photograph on the right.
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” (Job 1:21)
Sometimes I cannot tell whether I’m awake or not. I try to keep note of when I go to bed but after a while I lose track and question the validity of what is happening around me. Hence why I laughed when my doctor told me that there was a cure for my blindness. I must have been dreaming. I must have been. And yet there I was, feeling the cushion of the hospital bed in between my fingers.
“I’ll give you a few days to think about it,” he offered, something in his hand clicked.
“What time is it, Doctor Zhou?”
“3:15 pm, Mr. Deary. You should try to invest in a Braille watch. They’re rather inexpensive at the moment so I think it will be a perfect investment…”
So it is day. Sometimes I cannot tell. Yes, I feel the sun’s warmth but who says that the moon doesn’t give off a sort of…tenderness as well? I had no time to consider this as a felt someone’s arm around mine and begin to unhinge me from the bed.
“They’re always clinging onto things. Mind loosening your grip, sir?”
“If you were living in constant darkness, you’d clutch onto anything to stabilize you, Garett.”
I thanked the doctor for his service and allowed Nurse Garett to help me off the bed and lead me to the door.
“We’ll call you on Friday, Mr. Deary. Don’t forget about my offer.”
I believe I am near the school now. I hear children squealing and the impact of small shoes against pavement. Their sounds become louder and I keep following them until I am a safe proximity away from them. Or at least I think so. My son had called me after my appointment and asked if I could gather my grandson from school. I may be blind, but I’m not incapable. My weight collapsed on my cane and I stood- absorbing every vibration into my skin, pulling apart every frequency.
“Sir? Why are you staring at me?”
“My bad, champ. Can’t blame a blind man. Do you know a Phillip Deary? He’s my grandson and I’m here to pick him up.”
“I’ll go get him.”
I wonder how many people look at me in a day. In an hour. I wonder if someone is looking at me now. Suddenly, I felt a tug at my pant leg.
My hand landed on a soft tuft of hair, and with his hand in mine he placed it behind his neck, where a small, textured strip of flesh resided.
“ It’s me, Grandpa. It’s Phil, see? I mean, feel?”
He had a birthmark the shape of a pine tree on the back of his neck that I often used as an indicator that it was Philip. It seems pathetic not being able to identify your own grandson, but it’s more of a cautionary procedure than anything. Some kids out there don’t make a sound, can’t risk accidentally taking a stranger’s child home.
“I know it’s you, Philly. How about you and I go to the park with some ice cream, huh?”
And with his arm around mine, we stumbled west.
There are times when I wish I could see. Times such as these only inspire me when I sit at the park and hear the ducks ruffle their feathers, bicycles rushing past, leaves rising in the wind, and Philip. At least I am given the gift of hearing his giggles and thoughts. After a stroll we ended up on a park bench, my mind deliberating what the doctor had told me.
“What did you want to be when you were little, Grandpa?”
“You mean what I wanted to be when I grew up?
“Well I definitely didn’t want to be blind.”
He was silent for a moment before letting out a sigh. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.
“You want to hear a funny story, champ?”
“Oh, yeah I do!”
“One time, we took the kids to the carnival in town before I went blind. They had the whole get up with-“
Cotton candy stands, and hot dog stands, and make-your-own stands, and games, and roller coasters, and a petting zoo, and a ferris wheel and a fun house, and thousands of fairy lights and…Fortune tellers.
We had come to her as a joke. Madame Prudence and her Gypsy Wagon.
“This stuff is all phony, y’know?”
“It’ll be harmless, Jack. For the kids?” My wife had thought it was cute. To find out what she already knew. That’s the way life was in Missouri. Anything you needed to know about your future was written in your parent’s birth certificate and pay check.
I had decided to go first to get it over with, so brushing past the tangle of breads and tassles, I entered. The wagon was only lit by a few kerosene lamps, and was fully furnished with vintage bohemian tapestries.
“Oh, bonjour, Monsieur. Twitching to see your future, yes?”
“I guess so.”
“I already see that you’re quite uncertain. Hopefully the future has clearer results.”
She had motioned towards a low stool behind a round table- practically empty except for a thin embroidered cloth.
“May I have your dominant hand, please?’
“You’re not going to look into a crystal ball or anything?”
“I do palm readings. They’re more accurate.”
I had let her cradle my hand and trail the crevices of my palm. Her eyebrows had fought with each other, the right one raised above the left as if she was a tourist confused by a road map.
“What is it?” I hadn’t appreciated her covertness when it came to”my future”.
“Do you see this line here?”
Her fingernail had scrapped my skin as she outlined the thin line curving around the ball of my thumb and ending at the base of my palm.
“Do you see how there are breaks in its progress? It breaks off here,” she had jabbed the middle of my hand, “and here,” her finger had landed near the end of the line.
“This is your Life Line. It reveals information about your relationships, health, and physical and emotional well-being.”
“So? What does that mean?”
“Your Life is broken in two places. The middle, symbolizing the middle of your life, and the end, symbolizing the later years of your life. Each break in the line represents a traumatic experience linked to serious illness or disease.” I had pulled my hand away from her.
“What are you suggesting?”
“Nothing, Monsiuer. I merely recite what I read.” This woman had spoke with her hands, flicking her wrist with every syllable she recited.
“How can you say that to a person and not give them details? How do I prevent this from happening?” There was a part of my heart that had drowned in anxiety and despair.
“Monsiuer, again, I do not know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? Am I supposed to walk on eggshells for the rest of my life?”
I had felt a slight twitch in my right eye, and suddenly my entire forehead began to ache.
“Please, Monsiuer, you are taking this too seriously. Can you go see if someone else would like a reading? We are done here.”
Once I was out of her wagon, a rush of paranoia and uncertainty had engulfed my senses. Everything became too loud. Too colourful. Too putrid. Too claustrophobic.
“How was it, Dad? Did she tell you that you’re going to win the lottery?” My son eagerly jumped up at me.
Instinctively, I had placed both fists to my frontal lobes.
“Is everything alright, Jack?”
“Yes. I just need to take a walk. I’ll, uh, I’ll meet you near the fun house.”
The air was thicker in the outskirts of the festival. Almost opaque in the distance. There was no way the psychic knew me or my life. Nor my future. There’s no way a palm can dictate that.
Or maybe it can.
Nonsense. All that gypsy knew were prospects. No way she knew anything for certain.
I had stood there for maybe half an hour trying to dismiss my migraine. Convincing myself that it had nothing to do with what the fortune teller had said. I could hear my wife calling out to me from across the park. With one last look at the fog, I had turned around, expecting to see a world full of life, vibrant, prominent-
And I had turned to see more fog. Somehow it had traveled from the fields to the festival. I had tried to wave it away to try to see my family, yet, there was no wisp of mist nor change. Maybe there was something in my eyes? I had rubbed at them, feeling the tug of my eyelashes.
And when I had opened my eyes, I was met by a perpetual, indistinguishable, darkness.
“Three weeks after, I went temporarily blind, and the doctors had diagnosed me with Luber’s disease. I would go completely and permanently blind in a year”
He was silent again. For longer this time. I began to worry if he had run off or got stolen.
“That wasn’t a very funny story.”
“Phillip, you can’t go quiet like that,” my heart started to slow in my chest, “you almost gave your gramps a heart attack.
After a sigh of relief, I continued, “Anyway, the funny part is that now I can say I went to a psychic who said she could see into my future, and left not being to see in front of me.”
Phillip let out a pained groan and then joined me in my laughter
“I wanna be just like you when I grow up, Gramps.”
“Nah, I’m no hero. Just a blind old man who loves to spend time with his grandson.”
We sat like this for a while. Phillip and I. Laughing and telling stories.
“Look what the tooth fairy brought me last night!” He placed a small metal disk in my hand. I scaled the coin with my thumb.
“A dollar,” I though of my son, “lucky boy.”
“I lost my front tooth. Twenty-Five more before I get all my adult teeth.”
“I wish I could see your smile, Phillip.” I felt his hand in mine and together we made our way south. Throughout our walk, Doctor Zhou’s offer remained stagnant in my mind.
“We can make you see again.”
To see Phillip would be to see the sun.
The procedure lasted 45 minutes. 30 minutes were spent coaxing me into the operation room. The night before the surgery I was restless due to a thousand questions that were glued to my conscience: What was I going to see when I open my eyes? How much has the world changed in the past 40 years? Will I like it? I wanted to see the wonders of the world again , but I knew of the horrors too. I’ve heard about the terrorism, the injustices, the bloody children, the hanging men-all broadcasted for the world to see. Would I be able to take that?
“Maybe I’m better off blind. Nurse Garett I don’t think I can do this procedure. I’m too old anyway. Old and blind go together.”
“Mr. Deary, the operation will take no more than 15 minutes. And if you don’t like having vision then I’m sure Doctor Zhou can make you blind again. Now please, let me escort to the operation room.”
And he was right. In 15 minutes they had made a tiny incision in the white part of my eye and extracted the clouds causing my blindness.
I requested to be alone when I took off the bandages. Again, I hesitated-not wanting to walk into another gypsy’s wagon. Most importantly, I didn’t want to be disappointed by what I’d see. But then I remembered Phillip. And the colours of the festival. And with my shaky fingers, I untied the bandages.
Within a blink, life became saturated with light and swirling shapes and colours. I felt for my cane and then remembered that I could merely glance down and grab it. I scanned every space in the room, marvelling at how every reflection felt in my pupils.
Phillip surfaced my mind again. He and my son were waiting for me in the lobby of the hospital. Even with my cane and sight, I slowly made my way down the hall. I gazed at the checkered floor and intricate railing. Out of habit, I stayed close to the walls, trailing my fingertips over its smooth surface.
I reached the end of the hallway and breathed, for I had never felt something like this before.
The feeling of embracing the unknown.
The feeling of rebirth.
The feeling of seeing my son after 40 years.
The feeling of seeing Phillip and his blue shirt and loose teeth.
The feeling of remembering that blue is my favorite colour.
The feeling of being awake, and knowing it.