based on a true story
fear (n.) an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
Each of us has a different conception of fear. My fears are not just unpleasant emotions; my fears are dreams turned to nightmares. I’m swimming in the open ocean ready to come up for air, when I can’t. My lungs are on the verge of filling with water, and I shoot up out of bed breathing heavy with a quicker than normal pulse. My fears don’t frighten me; they suffocate me, growing from a tiny drop of water to a full-blown lake encompassing my conscious and subconscious.
That is how I’ve always felt about losing my eyesight. My vision, that’s my sense. I’m a visual learner, I rarely forget a face and a good conversation becomes great with eye contact.
For years my greatest fear was not being able to see, to wake up one day and see vast darkness. But then I met Leslie…
It was a subtle hint, that day the blinds looked curvy as she walked toward them down the stairs. She wrote it off as a dizzy spell and slid the glass door open to her backyard.
She walked barefoot across the freshly cut grass to the wooden picnic bench and lit a cigarette. Leslie closed her eyes and tilted her head back, as the August sun overtook her face.
On a Thursday evening in October, she was driving home from work in a downpour when everything in front of her looked like the yellow and black “slippery when wet” road sign.
To this day, Leslie doesn’t remember how she got home, or which streets got her there.
She refers to it as “The Night.” The night she lost vision in the center of her left eye.
“I cover up my right eye, so everything I can or can’t see is through my left. As I look at you, I see your two arms, your hands and a little bit of your hair on your shoulder, but I cannot see your face. Instead of your face, I see grayness, a void. Well, I just don’t see anything.”
Imagine if we couldn’t see faces, we just saw shoulders, and limbs, maybe toes. If we couldn’t look someone in the eyes and say, “I love you.” We couldn’t even catch a glimpse of their lips. How much more powerful would words be?The doctors told Leslie she had macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina. They expected she would be blind in both eyes in twenty or thirty years.
“You hear what the doctor is telling you. You comprehend the severity, and yet you aren’t scared?” I asked.
“You’re not scared because this is your fate, something comes over you. I don’t wanna say it’s peace, may be the right word is acceptance. You accept the cards you’re dealt.”
And just like that, Leslie’s entire life began. I say began because she told me to say “began,” in that hospital room, with that ophthalmologist on that Monday morning.
Today, Leslie fills up the baby pool in her courtyard for her neighbors, who are raising two toddlers. She can no longer drive a car or work full-time, but she does babysit the two little ones next door. Her right eye, deteriorating at a much slower pace, allows her to see their vibrant angelic faces squinting from the sun.
“I now see things for what they are; I used to see things for what I wanted them to be.”
According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, “Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans – more than cataracts and glaucoma combined.” To learn more about the disease or support research initiatives, please visit: www.macular.org.