He told me to breathe in and out slowly, and stare into the light. It was blindingly beautiful; little by little, it morphed into a shimmering triangle of light, like a sliver of blue sky with blazing golden edges, the brightest blue sky I have ever known. I thought, this is what the people in Plato’s cave allegory must have seen when they first stepped out of their cave. Or did they never leave their cave in that story? I wondered, as I inhaled another lungful of laughing gas.
There were vague gray shadows all around, and I noted the outlines of sharp instruments approaching my vision with calm detachment, but I felt utterly nothing; there was no sensation at all as they cut my eyes open and inserted the lens.
I wanted to keep looking at the light forever.
The recovery process is not over yet — I have to take pills twice a day, apply two types of eye drops four times a day, sleep with plastic eye patches for one week, refrain from public hot springs for two weeks and swimming for a whole month. A small sacrifice for 24/7 perfect vision. There have been so many moments of shame, fear even, tied to my inability to see, beyond these mere inconveniences.
For example: being a scrawny, overly self-conscious Asian girl, the only Asian girl at middle school, growing up in suburban Indiana. I didn’t need another factor marking me out as different; I was different enough. I will never forget the first time I put on my new, wire-rimmed glasses on the car ride home from the optometrist and the awe that I felt at seeing individual leaves of trees come to life, each aglow in different shades of green and fluttering in the wind. Before then, it’d all been a shapeless blur. I could see now! And yet, I only wore those glasses during class, sitting at the front row and quickly slipping them off whenever the bell rang. The social spotlight disorder was real; my Asianness was more a source of curiosity than my glasses ever were — in fact, nobody ever mentioned them. And yet, I chose to live with the blur than suffer the indignities of being a four-eyed Asian in lily-white Indiana.
(Don’t you feel as if your younger selves are like your own children? They seem separate from me now, but I look at each of them and feel such a rush of compassion and protectiveness over them. If only they knew, how little it all mattered.)
It’s been a strange year, to say the least. I did not become a master chef or baker or yogi or DJ or anything of note during these past twelve months, though I did sign up for a trial pole dancing class in Shinjuku on a whim, only to duck quickly out of view and cancel upon spotting a singular man in what appeared to be tighty-whities in the sketchy, dimly-lit studio — in short, no new skills. I attended a funeral. I cried more than I ever thought possible. I reconnected with old friends and let other friendships fade, or else ended them purposefully. I did meet someone, and felt cautiously hopeful that this could finally become something real, but as per usual, he was an utter waste of time and my dehydrated umeboshi of a heart shrunk even smaller in size. It seems that I have a remarkable tendency to attract and repel the same sorts of people. The patterns are quite obvious; I ought to make a Venn Diagram and chart this out somehow, so as not to make the same mistake next time. (Ever the optimist, I am.)
Personally, I don’t really believe that lessons need to be made out of every failed connection. Sometimes, they simply were a colossal black hole of wasted time, period, and all the pain and hurt and subsequent trust issues they caused strengthened your character, made you more jaded and wiser, sure, but I mourn the loss of my joy and naivety. The negatives cancel out the positives. If I could submit some kind of formal written application for the return of lost hours and receive the total sum of them back so I could spend them more fruitfully on lasting connections, I would without hesitation. I wish I’d never met you, if I may be so dramatic.
The extraneous fell away this year. Even friendships that I’d believed to be strong and lasting faded or were terminated completely, and my circle grew ever smaller. Quarantine, as limited as it was in our country, showed us who we chose to spend our time with. The extraneous fell away this year, I told myself, as I blocked yet another failed romantic experiment on social media. Quality over quantity. What is really meant for me will stay or return back to me, and the best is yet to come. Awfully sentimental, fatalistic stuff for an atheist, but a comforting thought nonetheless.
I lost one of the people that I loved most in the world forever, I lost a dog, I lost more connections than I gained, I lost company spirit, I lost several socks, I lost my dignity, I nearly lost someone to depression, I lost another chance at love, I lost so much this year, the whole world lost so much, but at least I have the gift of sight now. May my newfound vision guide me to a renewed sense of self-confidence and clarity, and bless me with the abilities to see through bullshit, stop chasing validation from people who don’t know me, stop being so goddamned hungry for love and affection, just stop, and to simply be, let my eyes rest peacefully upon my loved ones, look eagerly towards the future and everything it holds in store for me. Yes eye can.