An Unfinished Book

Finally the day came when I left the hospital for good. As my mother opened the front door she said, “Welcome home, honey.”

“Thanks, Mama,” I said. “It’s good to be home,” I added, without a great deal of conviction because I just wasn’t sure.

To say that it felt strange to be home would be an understatement. I felt reasonably sure that nothing had changed, but I felt equally sure that absolutely everything had changed. It was like starting all over again. There were no half-finished projects to which I could return. There was no half-finished book lying on my bedside table just waiting for me to pick it up again. I didn’t even know if there were cookies in the tin on the counter waiting to be eaten. It was as though I was entering the house where I had lived for twenty something years for the first time. I had a history in this house but that history seemed somehow irrelevant.

Hesitantly I asked, “Where should I go?”

“Let’s go in the den,” my mother answered.

Inhaling the familiar fragrance of home I walked slowly forward. Sensing my hesitancy, my father placed his hand under my elbow and guided me through the entrance hall, across the hall that ran the length of the house and to the top of the two steps down into the den. Here we hesitated. Neither of us knew exactly how to manage the steps.

Daddy asked, “Do you remember the steps into the den?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Are we at the steps now?”

“Yes,” he said. “Step down now and I’ll help you.”

My father stepped down one step and sort of turned sideways in an effort to help me. I hadn’t yet located the edge down to the first step and was hesitant to proceed. We were both silent for a few seconds and then we both chuckled. It felt good to laugh and even better to laugh at the problems resulting from this new thing called blindness. Eventually I slid my right foot forward until I definitely felt the edge of the step and then moved down into the den.

When I was settled on the couch my mother put the talking book cassette player in my hands. As though she had read my mind when I had thought of an unfinished book on my bedside table. She asked, “Would you like to continue reading your book?”

“Yes, that would be great,” I replied. By now I had learned that the talking books played at half the speed of a normal book and had four sides instead of two. You listen to the first two sides like a normal tape but then you flip a switch and flip the tape and get side three. The tape is flipped one more time for the fourth side. It took me a while to figure out that the reason I wasn’t able to follow the first few books I had read in the hospital was that I had been reading only half of what was on each tape. I’m an avid reader and it distressed me when I couldn’t follow the books.

I was grateful that my mother had suggested I read. That meant I didn’t have to think about anything else. Later, my brother Jimmy came over for dinner and I managed to eat in front of him without any major embarrassment. It was one thing to eat a meal sitting up in a hospital bed with no one around. It was quite another to be sitting at the table with my family. How many evenings had we sat around the table discussing school, gardening, politics and who knows what else? We were all there together as a family as we had been for many years. Yet it was different. I tried to follow the conversation but found it took way too much energy to do that as well as trying to figure out whether my fork was aimed at the spinach or the potatoes. It was a relief to climb into the protection of my bed that night.

My bedroom was on the front of the house, facing the street. Each morning I heard cars, most of them driving from right to left as they passed the house. People were going to work. It gave me an empty feeling to know that life was going on around me as though nothing had happened. I felt wistful as I listened to the cars rushing past. Would I ever go to work again? I almost always awakened early before anyone else was stirring. I would lie there, wishing I could sink back into the oblivion of sleep. Eventually I’d hear my parents moving around. Hating to leave the safe haven of my bed I’d drag myself up and try to face the new day. Entropy seemed to have me firmly in its grasp. Whether I was in bed or sitting in a recliner reading I didn’t want to move. It took a huge effort of will to initiate any activity.

Each morning I struggled to figure out which shirt was which and which socks matched which. After dressing there was that long trip down the hallway to the kitchen. My parent’s bedroom was at one end of the hallway and the kitchen at the other. I usually managed to walk to the kitchen without too many bangs on doorjambs, although I did sometimes brush against those little spring door stoppers. When I did this the spring would boing with its silly sound. I tried to laugh when things like this happened but it wasn’t easy. When we were young my friends and I used to pull those springs back and turn them loose with great glee. But this wasn’t fun. If just walking down the hall was such an ordeal, what did that mean for the rest of my life? Were things that used to be fun but weren’t any longer going to haunt me forever?

I had a conformer in my left eye. It was just a blank piece of plastic that I needed to keep in the socket until all of the healing from the surgery was over. I could then be fitted with a prosthetic eye. At first, the eye was bandaged but by the time I left the hospital, they were able to take the bandages off and give me a patch to wear instead. They told me not to get it wet. That meant that I couldn’t take a shower but had to take a bath instead. My mother offered to help me the first time I took a bath. I thought this a little ridiculous but didn’t possess the fortitude to decline the offer. It was horrible. My mother knelt beside the bathtub and both helped and spoke to me as though I was a child. I was so humiliated. I was just hating this.

The next time bath time came around, I summoned up some courage and independence from somewhere and just took a shower. I washed my hair and everything, getting my left eye quite wet during the process. My parents were alarmed but when I told my latest psychiatrist what I had done he simply said, “Good for you.” It ended up causing me no harm whatsoever. From this experience I learned that rebellion is sometimes a good thing. Most importantly, I learned that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me intellectually or spiritually. By spiritually, I mean that my strong and independent spirit was still alive and well. It had been cowed, certainly, but it was still there. I could nurture it.

I could build on this.