When I was a small baby, I have been told a million times over the story of how I was crying in my crib, my mom rushing over to see my eye pouring out blood. I was rushed to the hospital where my mother sobbed as my dad got in the helicopter with me, the doctors certain I would lose my sight from a rare eye disease, the miracle of how I ended with just scar tissue as opposed to not losing an eye is a story I have heard my mom tell Opticians so many times, all looking and asking, as if they are witnessing medical genius, while I wiggle in impatience in the chair.
I am a stubborn little thing, even at 5″2, and my mother said the first thing out of my mouth was, “I’ll do it myself,” and I remember more than anything, I came here just wanting to be like everyone else.
I remember moments as a child like a screen play flashing, sick terrifying stomach aching moments of knowing I was not like everyone else, not knowing where my class was after weeks, a shame that made me hold my pee till I almost wet myself.
I couldn’t find my locker, a hole in my brain always went blank and then panicked as I watched kids fly to their own, my awareness growing with each grade that I had been born not just imperfect, but perhaps even retarded, and so I made a decision to lie to cover this overwhelming pain, a life set up for the beginning of my entire adulthood struggle with anxiety.
I would follow the girl with the blond hair to know which way to go to math, sat next to the boy with yellow sneakers who knew all the answers to questions I didn’t understand written on the board. I let my shoulders throb from the weight of books rather than try to find my way to the locker, and the best way I discovered to handle my shame over being stupid was to announce it first, as loudly with as much humor as possible, that when people laughed first, the pain eased. The most excruciating times were always when doing problems in front of everyone, looking at the board, or whenever I had to navigate. I would break out into sweat every time school got let out, certain this would be the day I couldn’t find my bus, my shame and anxiety rushing me to constantly form partnerships with the people I needed to lead me, and it worked. Well, almost.
I remember one parent in particular decided to drive me home, his cold critical tongue lashing, the severity of impatience and irritation at how stupid I was, and so I lied, saying I had only lived in the area for a short time, my friend directing him, my tears covering my pillow like a warm salty bath, and so I made a pact to get better at hiding, that I had not perfected the art.
Hiding and lying so that I didn’t feel this again meant I worked tirelessly to be on honor roll, to dart and avoid all matters of travel, even turning down invitations to fun parties were the only choice than admit this deep shame or feel like I might die or choke from lack of air.
I was 12 years old when I received my first pair of glasses, coke bottle blue, a cringing added crisis to my already panic driven young life. My mother insisted and so when I put them on, I will never forget that moment in my whole life.
I saw leaves, real leaves! I had not known trees were not big cloudy colors but had beautiful defined lines and were attached to long skinny sticks. I stood at a tree, as if it were art, my heart racing, tears forming in my eyes. This joy and shock of beauty was dismissed however for at the age of 12, my glasses went straight into the pocket, a survivor of shame knows you let nothing draw close attention, even branches and leaves, a harsh sacrifice at the time.
And so, being with “The Collector,” a man with a genius mind made him a fierce competitor to my hidden secret, unconscious at 33, the lies so deep and long I doubt I even notice them forming shape around me.
He was insistent that I not use my GPS, it not taking me the shortest route and so I argued angrily, while he questioned and questioned, innocent observations left me seething with irritation and anger.
He always seemed to be questioning me, and no one questioned me, my answers of “I’m a terrible driver,” “I’m ADD and will kill someone,” and “You have no idea how many wrecks I’ve had,” have always worked. I only started showing up to places when the GPS was invented, my life was for most of the time spent in the car with my best friend, on the beach by bike, or Divorcee driving me from town to town, my statement that I had a phobia of 285 certainly was a truth.
He didn’t seem to care.
I was not going to be treated stupid, not now, not by a man.
And so, the blizzard came, and I always wait till people leave before I drive off, or say I am on my way to really get gas if they ask where I am going, which is the clue to turn around, one of many coping strategies I have learned.
This was followed by the asking of more questions, him certain there was something I had been hiding, my stomach began to ache, the little girl looking for her bus wanted to die from the fear.
He said that he knew I wasn’t stupid, not even close, as intelligent as him, but..
As he spoke, I felt like the world might drop from beneath me at this moment, my fear rising, my hands trembling, his last sentence being something like,
“Could it be that your possibly blind?” He said it kindly and certain, as if this were the most natural conclusion in the world.
I don’t think finding my Dad in pink panties cuddling a Koala bear could have been as hocking as the reality of this, this moment, a statement thrown in the air like nothing at all.
I don’t think I spoke.
Anyone who knows me can say that rarely occurs.
Blind? No way. I’m stupid, and have ADD, I argued profusely, while he objected, pointing out his logic.
Then, the tears started to come, choke, and deep sobbing layers of shame came with them, stored in all my DNA, that the realization I had never been retarded or stupid, but blind were the reasons I got that F, just because I couldn’t read the board. Could it be I didn’t know how to get home because of the street signs and house numbers and blurry yellows and reds that looked all alike?
I didn’t know what bus was mine because I couldn’t see the numbers, not read them, which is why I found the perfect guides, lied my way out of navigation, pretending to be sick if I found myself in a position I didn’t know how to get back from.
He said if I could see him, taking off my glasses, I would see his tears, but he let me feel them instead, and he wondered if he put a tape recorder up with the short route I could go the way he wanted me to, since the GPS operated by sound, another shock to my system, my dependence on it requires I have it even when I have been there 100 times. I just thought I had OCD.
What I always wanted was to be smart more than normal, and we all know I have proven to not be normal. If I am really smart, and this beautiful man was my guide, who was really smart, like a genius, a part of me believes maybe it could be true.
I cry over this sometimes, this unbelievable irony and possibility, but mainly I laugh, the beauty of leaves brilliant today as they were on the first moment I wore glasses.
No wonder my brothers called me “Tree Hugger.”
This may be a stereotype but for me, hugging a tree is as close to God as it comes, except for “The Collector,” a man who in just weeks, saw I was brilliant, and didn’t give up proving until just I knew why.