I can see clearly now the year is gone
Two months into COVID the retina in my left eye detached. I was jumping from one project to another asking myself what was important. What did I care about? Life was perilous. Bone-chilling scary. Who knows how many times I might have picked up the virus at HEB? Stuck it up my nose, breathed it, ate it even. I imagined I had trouble breathing and died, or worse, got very sick for months.
I called for zoom meetups on how to thrive in the new normal. Made notes on how to flourish. Maybe my eyes were tired. I shut the computer and rested for a day. The next morning everything was blurry. I felt like someone sucker punched the side of my head. I covered one eye, looked right, looked left, looked down, looked up. Then the other eye, when, Whoa! I saw a black curtain. I called my optometrist who sent me to an ophthalmologist, who referred me to a retina doctor, who zapped my eye.
The next three days I sat with my neck out looking down at my toes. I slept hunched over four pillows. Instead of the motion and commotion of before, me “getting stuff done,” I sat still and did one thing – helped my retina stick back to my eyeball.
My vision was at stake. I was grateful it was 2020, not 1620; I would have gone blind in one eye then. And it was the good eye. I willed my retina to stick and dreamed of gooey things; frog eggs, earthworms, snails, slugs.
My sanity was at stake. In the middle of the night, every muscle in my neck and shoulders screamed. I wished to rest my head on a pillow and lie down. Instead, I sat and breathed into forming knots and exhaled.
Four days later my retina healed eighty percent. Time for more laser. Dr. Mason said no injection. No numbing the eye, because, well, he would be able to see better. Incandescent spider webs flashed dzzz red, dzzz green, dzzz gold as the laser seared my retina. Like when Mathew McConaughey went to Saturn in Interstellar. It smelt like smoke and scorched hair. It felt like a burning stick on an open wound.
I gave birth to three children with no meds. In 2001 I had back surgery. The next day I walked a mile with no pain killers. I know how to breathe and send oxygen to muscles in my body. I had no clue how to send them to thin jelly in my eyeball. Stop I said, and Dr. Mason stopped. Then, dzzz, Interstellar. Interstellar. Interstellar.
My eye will heal. I am grateful for the gift of sight and thankful for the days when I was quiet. COVID revealed that thriving is important to me. To be, and to feel alive. The knowledge in itself wasn’t enough to get out of old patterns, long-established memory paths on autopilot that mistook busy work for work. Not enough to change, to carve new paths, create new connections in my head, and new muscle memory in my body. The new overlays I formed were mere tracings against well-trodden ruts. I need to rewire my brain and muscle retention. Slowly, so it sticks. I need to stay still. Be here.
But how does sitting quiet feel? What is unbusy in the body? Here’s a smote in the eye to help. (Thank you)
Will this new-found awareness last? There’s a Malaysian saying; hot, hot, chicken shit. Chicken shit gets cold fast compared to bear shit say, which is substantial and keeps its warmth all winter, like the inside of an igloo. You discover drawing with charcoal. You buy reams of rice paper, all the coal in New Castle in every shape and size. You jump from one drawing to another for two weeks. Six months later you really need to cart them all to the Salvation Army. Hot, hot, chicken shit.
I started StorySistas five years ago, a community of women who connect through stories. Sharing stories connect humans to our inner selves and each other. The connection makes us resilient. Makes us grow. In the first years, I told a story at every gathering. It was how I made sense of my past. How I reached out and warmed up to me. It is not about the story; it is the journey to you for the story. Orpheus descending to Hades for Euridice except you are both Orpheus and Euridice. You go back and bring yourself out. Look forward.
By the third year, I stopped. And … nothing. When you are 64, years can go by like that, with no stories. You try to remember, pull at threads but they are dry and they crumble, fall apart, and you end with nothing. Years of it.
Seeing a black curtain instead of the living room turned my feet cold, my heart hurtling. Did I have a mini-stroke? It was the first thing the ophthalmologist asked. Was “did you have a mini-stroke” a standard question? Was he joking? Did he chuckle? I had been wondering how and why “this” happened. Did he read my mind?
2020 has been a nightmare — I would love a clean slate for 2021. But it’s not going to happen. Not till spring when most of us have been offered the vaccine. I will be first in line. I can see clearly now the year is gone. Almost. I need another surgery, gunk (the doctor’s word) has built up from the last two procedures and needs to be scraped off my retina. I see through a speck of dirt.
No matter. COVID and my eye helped me focus (so help me God). I have twenty to thirty more years, or maybe I have ten or two – I want to live, tell my story. To anchor the present and reimagine the future — stories do that for me. What about you?