I ascended into the light from my basement, from the smell of damp cement, as if a river ran through it, into the odor of fog. The sun rose over the actual river, and it hovered with me face-to-face.
At the peak of blinding head pain, I kicked the sun from my head. Now we were together again at the watery curb. I walked a few paces down the brick walk, and the sun exploded over my head. With my hands pressed at my temples, I extinguished it–the light, everything. Darkness plummeted.
“Hello?” I called out. “Somebody help me, please?”
I sensed a presence near me–smelled sweat and tobacco and alcohol–a man without a shower since night. And now it was night again. My body stiffened, which occurs in darkness.
“Do you need help?” His voice hacked roughly.
“I can’t see anything. Can you see anything?” The wind off the river rattled my insides and shook my voice. “Can you help me?”
“You want me to call an ambulance?” he asked. “You on drugs?”
He made the call–I heard his rough voice speak. He touched my shoulder, or I assumed he did, because a burning smell crept inside my mind. He was smoking. “What exactly is the matter with you?”
“I can’t see. Thirty seconds ago, the sun was rising, and now everything’s dark.”
He repeated my words. He further interrogated me and again reiterated my no-answers. I reached for him and found his sleeve and plucked at it with my fingers.
“All right,” he said, and he prized my fingers from his shirt. “They’re sending an ambulance. Let’s go sit. I’ll help you to the bench, and we’ll wait together.” He took my hand, and I felt led: sheep to slaughter or back to the flock?
I didn’t belong to a flock. With my hand loose in his palm, I could slip away in a stroke. I clenched his hand, and he must have found comfort in it as so many others did because he moaned at me and told me his story. He had been drinking all night, was still a little drunk, he informed me.
I listened, and that was my place, not part of the flock, but the world’s confessor, even if the circumstances didn’t call for it. Didn’t I need a confessor this time? He was drunk and sad, but I was blind.
The ambulance screamed silently up the street, and I saw it because he articulated the details, the swirling lights, mute sirens. The engine idled nearby. Through the ensuing confusion of questions, I lost the man’s hand and I didn’t know if he was far or near, if he wandered away to nurse his hangover.
No, I wasn’t diabetic, and my sight was perfect less than an hour ago. I suffered migraines, and I swallowed painkillers by the handful, and that was all. They checked my vitals. I was fine, except for blindness. All except for that minor detail, I was perfect. They led me to the ambulance: led again, and surrounded by darkness, and trusting the volley of voices.
I heard a gruff voice, and a conflicting stream of odors surged around my head. “Come with me,” I yelled to my rescuer, and I couldn’t separate him from the others. I didn’t know if he was there, but a hand latched onto mine, and the hand remained in mine during transport. Wheeling through darkness caused seasickness. But I never complained. I swallowed pills.
The man stayed, and his voice softened, and his scent sweetened like cigars. He mingled with me through the signing of paperwork I couldn’t read and the brain scan I couldn’t detect. It was a tumor, he explained, a tumor that pressed against my optic nerve.
Before the others could drug me for surgery, I asked him about God.
“I believe,” he said.
“I’m sorry.” His voice was low with grief. A man who obliterated his nights in alcohol grieved for me.
“I only want what everybody wants. Non-attachment,” I whispered, but they drugged me, and I lost touch and slipped away. My words garbled themselves in a tangled knot of nonsense. “I can’t attach–god I can’t attach to. Can’t play.” But I meant pray.
“To the lamb on the throne,” he prayed for me, and the sound waves disappeared with the sun.
Later, when time returned, I opened my eyes halfway, and the light broke through my retinas.
“Oh, you’re awake.” A woman wearing scrubs peered down at me, blocking the intense light source. “How are you feeling?”
“Where’d the man go?” I asked her. Did I really believe he would wait for my recovery? Yes, I did. I believed.
“What man?” she asked.
“The man who brought me here.”
“The EMTs? You can thank them later.”
“No, the man who rode with me and helped me sign the paperwork.”
“I helped you sign the paperwork,” she said.
Her sensical rebuttal stymied me. I searched for words. “The man who prayed with me before surgery.”
“Oh. Maybe I should call for the doctor. I don’t want to take you off the drip, but hallucinations aren’t a good sign.”
My head lolled over the pillows. “The man who held my hand.” My lips sagged strangely, and the words dripped from my mouth.
“There was no man,” she said, nurse-knows-best, and she padded away in her hospital shoes.
When I looked after her, my periphery restored, the light glowed at me, locked deep within the waxen floors. I imagined he stood in the light, the man I couldn’t see.
They’d explained the risks to me, and he’d helped me comprehend their words: permanent nerve damage possible. Permanent damage to optic nerve. But the sight I needed most could be forever damaged by sun, and how had he failed to inform me?