As a child, you told your mom that you were afraid of ghosts, but you are pretty sure she knew you were lying. It wasn't ghosts that you feared as a child—it was the dark and the unknown terrors it concealed. 

You don't remember what she said to you that night, but you’ll never forget what your mother did. In the electrical socket beside your bed, she plugged a little night light, just bright enough to scare away your fears or any ghosts that wanted to do you harm. 

You think about your childhood more often than you used to. You don’t know if that is because back then big problems had easy solutions or if you long for that little night light to comfort you in the dark. But unknown terrors have come to life in the form of an ophthalmologist who seldom smiles and smells of antiseptic. 

“Your visual acuity is 20/200. I’m afraid your macular degeneration is progressing.” 

“Isn’t progress a good thing?” You attempt to make the eye doctor crack a smile, share a laugh with his patient who faces the specter of becoming blind. Instead, your mother covers her face with her hands, eyes red-rimmed and watery. She feels the pain for both you and her. 

“Your test results show severe damage to your macula,” the doctor continues.

“Should I wear garlic around my neck?”

The ophthalmologist continues scribbling notes in your file. “Not Dracula. Macula. The central part of your retina.”

You are more disappointed at failing to make the doctor laugh than any prognosis about your vision loss. 

“I can still see quite clearly out of the corners of my eyes,” you say. You shift your eyes side-to-side to demonstrate. “Perhaps there’s some hope after all?”

The doctor shakes his head. “Although your peripheral vision is still intact, your ability to see shapes and movement has profoundly decreased. Perhaps using magnifying glasses and bright lights will help you see things in your remaining time.”

My remaining time. 

As if a nineteen-year-old man should be worried about time. 

You have worn glasses since you were little. With each new pair,  the lenses thickened as your chances with girls thinned. Before your diagnosis, all the pretty college girls said no, but afterwards? The ugly girls said no, too. 

You have thoughts about blindness since the day of the accident. The light was red, everyone said so. You didn’t see it. Even though you only hit an old oak in the center of town, your only friend hit his head on the dashboard, ending up with a dozen stitches and a concussion. He never talked to you again. You lost your driver’s license and best friend on the same day. 

Afterwards, your mother took you to the eye doctor for the damning diagnosis: juvenile macular degeneration, an eyeball’s death sentence. There is no known therapy to slow the development of the disease or prevent vision loss. Every day, you inch closer to eternal darkness.

Your family is so helpful, so supportive to the point that you are resentful at being trapped in their suffocating world. They blink blankly at you during dinners with their two healthy orbs and you come to hate them even more. 

You wear dark glasses and tap tap tap with a white-tipped cane. Women and girls touch your arm and ask if they can help you cross the street. Instead, they could laugh at your jokes. That would help, but they don't laugh when you make them. No one thinks that a nearly-blind man should be funny. 

“You know what the light at the end of the tunnel is?” You tell your mom jokes to break the heavy silence while she makes dinner. “Darkness!” You blurt out the punchline, not giving her the chance to answer.

“That’s not the slightest bit funny,” she responds in a strained voice. 

You laugh for her, then whip your head around.  

 “What do you want?” You shout, loud enough to startle your mom. She drops a pan of rolls, hot from the oven.

“How did you know I was here?” your younger sister asks, standing directly behind you. 

“My ears work just fine.” Almost too well, you think.

The truth is becoming more obvious to you. When you lost your sight, you developed a sixth sense. You know when someone is staring at you, and you can feel when people stare. 

It enrages you, as you can feel their pity. 

“What does it look like when you can’t see?” your sister once asked.

She’s not the first one to ask you what going blind looks like. 

“You know what it looks like when you can see everything perfectly well?”

“Yes,” she answers, naïve and sincere.

“It’s exactly like that—only the opposite.” 

She doesn’t laugh.  You don’t blame her. That one wasn’t really that funny, but she rarely laughs at any of your jokes.

What you don’t tell her is that going blind makes you the god of your own world. You see things in a new way, not like a scared child who begs his mother for a night light. You begin to realize that no matter how bright or dark the room is, the ghosts are still there. And sometimes when you listen, the ghosts talk to you. They tell you that the disease eating the colors and shapes from your sight isn’t your fault. It’s genetic. Except your pretty sister didn’t inherit it—only you did. Just like your father’s overbite and your mother’s penchant for nail biting. 

Things like this just happen, the ghosts say, lying in the darkness and telling you truths that no one else will. Where one child has to learn braille and undergo adaptive training, the other can go out with her friends and fool around boyfriends in the basement. 

Your blindness is no one’s fault. Not really. Except for your parents who rolled the genetic dice and damned you to a lifetime of being coddled and watched. 

How easily fear turns to anger, you think.  

With each passing day, the light grows farther and farther away, but just like eyes in the dark, your mind adjusts. You see more clearly now that you can’t see.  

It wasn’t hard, not really. Not even for a blind man. Especially not for a blind man. When you can’t see others, they can’t see you either. 

No one even considered it was you, and to think you were jealous of your sister's eyes before they became yours! 

At her memorial service, you wonder if she still sees the value of being an organ donor.  

“Why did your brother cross the Rubicon?” You whisper by her grave. “So he could see what was on the other side.” 

You blurt out the punchline, not giving her the chance to answer.

You no longer think about your childhood. You have no need of little night lights because you are no longer afraid of ghosts.  

Why should you be?  

You are the terror in the dark.

January 09, 2024 20:13

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