He assumed he was sitting in another examination room following the MRI, bathed in that familiar fluorescent light despite not actually being able to see it. It was easier without seeing anything this time, Steven thought, fidgeting in his seat while he waited for someone to come back into the room. The nurse had left him here, saying that the doctor was going to be with him soon in her sweet, reassuring voice. I wish they would have left me a magazine or something, thought Steven, before he chuckled for the first time in the two days since his mysterious affliction began. He felt actually content, sans his inability to see. Following the MRI, the nurse had brought him something to eat; he hadn’t been able to, and his hunger pangs were a great discomfort to him. With a full stomach and feeling adequately hydrated, the fear gnawed at him less. The isolation remained, but not nearly as terrifying as he remembered earlier. He held his quiet contemplation until a knock at the door made him jump up in his chair; he had fallen asleep.
“I’m sorry to wake you, Steven,” the doctor said, Steven recognizing the soothing voice almost immediately. He heard her walk across the room, rubbing his shoulder again as she sat down next to him. He nodded slowly, wanting to say something but his voice caught in his throat when he realized that she had the results of the scan. He felt himself trembling, and the doctor noticed it too, rubbing her hand gently across his back. “The test results came in, and I have good news, but it’s coupled with some perplexing news. Luckily, the scans were all inconclusive; we didn’t find any tumors, nerve damage, or anything at all. Unfortunately, that means we don’t know why you’ve lost your sight. I’m going to assess the situation with some specialists, and we’ll figure out a course of action to take, ok?” She kept her hand on Steven, noticing the tears forming in his functionless eyes. “Now, until all the details and a few more examinations performed, there’s no guarantee of what exactly we’re going to do next. You gave the emergency personnel your father’s phone number, and he’s been alerted. In fact, he’s downstairs right now filling out your discharge papers because you’re going home with him. We’re going to try to get you all the assistance you need until we figure out what’s going on, ok?”
Steven nodded, thanking the doctor for the help. He heard the nurse again in the hallway, right before feeling her hands helping him back into the wheelchair. On the walk toward the elevator, she stopped talking just long enough for Steven to ask her name and how old she was. Her name was Joan, and she was twenty-six. Steven swallowed hard, and continued to make small talk, trying to quell the uncertainty in a different way. When he heard his father’s voice, he knew what was about to happen.
“Are you faking it?” His father first spoke in the car, long after the hospital. They rode in silence for what felt like an eternity, but Steven still could not adequately tell the passage of time; every minute felt like hours and every hour, only a few minutes.
“No. I can’t see anything,” replied Steven, in a cold, almost distant voice. He swallowed hard, and felt himself blinking back tears as rapidly as he could. The admittance of his blindness caused more despair to well up inside him, but he desperately wanted to keep it at bay. He did not want to let his father see him cry. As he tried to compose himself, his father reached out and slapped him across the face. Steven let out a shriek, and began to sob: “Why did you hit me?”
“I had to be certain. Sorry.” His response was gruff and unapologetic, and Steven knew he still didn’t believe him; he also suspected that at some point, his father would try to disprove his condition again. There was no helping it, despite anything Steven would say: his father believed in empirical evidence in nearly everything Steven did, and would not be content until the tests performed by the hospital proved the blindness was real or that he had successfully gotten a confession out of his son. Steven knew that if he could see, he would notice that telltale sign of his father’s mind at work, with his jaw set forward in a rictus smirk and his nostrils flaring with each rhythmic breath. He said nothing the rest of the drive home.
Adjusting to his new sightless world proved to be easier than Steven expected after a few initial hurdles. He found himself enjoying the senses that remained more, requesting silk sheets from his mother and sitting in the dark of his room with noise-canceling headphones connected to an outdated mp3 player. He would do this for hours when not in therapy: the player on shuffle, running through his large catalogue of music. His father had agreed to a monthly music budget despite his no-nonsense attitude toward music in general; despite being a hard man, he knew his son needed something until the braille lessons progressed. Music was his sanctuary from the world of darkness, as his memory preserved the image of the world around him: the soft colors of spring became even more vibrant as he remembered them when he first could smell his mother’s lilacs blossoming in the warm breeze as he sit out on the deck. The scans had long since stop, and other than learning to read with his fingers instead of his eyes and learning to walk with a cane and a seeing-eye dog, Steven had little to do with the medical mystery that had unfolded. There were no signs of a tumor, he learned, and his optic nerves continued to function, even to continue to allow his eyes to dilate when exposed to light. Enough tests had been ran that the doctors attending him recognized that his lack of vision was legitimate, but, fearing as doctors often do, they perceived that it may be a symptom of a deeper psychological issue instead of physiological. This did nothing to help his issue with his father, a man who refused to believe in therapy and other “bullshit” as he eloquently put it one evening during dinner. Either Steven had a tumor or he was faking it for attention.
Steven, however, had come into his own in his sightless world. He was no longer the introverted homebody that he once was, even despite his blindness. The opposite had occurred, where he relished the time he spent walking outside with his seeing-eye dog, Chase, at the lead. The park seemed more vibrant and alive when he perceived it through his other senses. He had reconnected with old acquaintances, with whom he had no real contact with since his days at college. During one particular outing, he had run into the nurse who he had met during his initial hospital visit, right after he had lost his sight.
The relationship between the two blossomed from coffee meetings and walks through the park into an actual romance. Steven found that his blindness had eased his anxiety in dealing with others, calmed the words of fear that echoed through his head during conversations. His thoughts became much easier, and he was able to accept Joan easier without seeing her with his eyes: his hands conferred that she was beautiful and soft, and her voice calmed him in ways he never had experienced. He felt an innate connection to her, like he truly understood her.
These feelings of ease and comfort still spread a darkness through his thoughts, deep into the recesses of his mind that psychoanalysis were attempting to tap into. He knew it when he woke from fitful sleep in the middle of the night; he knew his new fear the bred through his thoughts at night and had begun to poison his waking mind. He feared that if he had regained his sight, that connection to Joan, and ultimately to the world, would fade. The words of doctors, meant to be encouraging, cut through his mind like a knife. It began to burden him, burden his recollections of the world around him; colors drained from flowers, kind voices became condescending, and even Joan seemed distant and away. He could not escape it, which meant that the day his eyesight inexplicably returned was thought to be the worst day of life, even far worse that the day his eyesight disappeared.
He woke in the morning with an eye flutter, where he expected nothing but darkness. Instead, he saw the familiar paint scheme of his childhood bedroom, the light blue intensifying in the bright morning light. He gasped and closed his eyes before he quickly opened them again. The room was visible. He could plainly see the off-white of the paint on the walls, bathed in a cool glow of light from the morning light cascading in through the uncovered window. It was fuzzy at first, as he focused in and out on the meticulously organized albums lying in their milk crates. He blinked, rubbing his eyes furiously, as the room around him came in clearer and clearer focus. He felt nauseous and dizzy as his eyes adjusted; he stood up, and felt a rushing sensation in his head as his brain adjusted to the flood of new information. Silent tears fell down his cheeks. When his head cleared, Steven carefully picked his way downstairs, without his cane, but with his seeing-eye dog carefully following him with a sense of concerned loyalty. The light caused his head to throb slightly with the beginning formation of a headache.