Saturday, September 7, 2013

What We See

It was a topsy-turvy twelve hours or so for me—roiling evening, some peace at sleep—and I woke up twisted in the comforter with wild hair and the unfamiliar sense of being rested. Half-sat, rubbed my eyes, extricated myself from the bedding. Pushed aside enormous cat, rearranged the pillows, pulled up the bedspread, and felt something hard underneath, near the end on the side away from the wall. Lifted it to find my glasses, prim little package, smug as though resting on burgundy velvet in a long glass case. I picked them up, contemplated them briefly, and set them on the kitchen counter, where they remain.
            This doesn’t mean anything unless you know that they’ve been gone for over a week, and for 18 years or so I’ve worn them almost every day. I looked in the bed, of course; it was the obvious place. It’s so rare you can pinpoint when and where something is lost, rarer still that knowing so, the thing stays lost. I had been lying in bed with my little one, in that half-awake state you get when you put your child to sleep, intending to roll out when she’s out and find yourself hours later opening your own eyes wondering if it’s day or night. My glasses were pinned to the pillow by my face, and I picked them up and, as I’ve inadvisably done so many times before, tossed them to the end of the bed. I didn’t hear them hit the ground, so assumed all fine, until the actual morning, when I searched through and under the bedding, enlisted a search crew with better eyesight and, irritated, decided I’d find them later. Where could they have gone? The trajectory arc had been six feet long.
            But somehow, at the end of that day, after a cursory pat down and quick peer around the baseboards, I didn’t look anymore. And the day after that, and the day after that, and even yesterday evening, as I walked alone up Park Avenue, just past rush hour as the sky turned milky and the lights came on around me up to the sky like stubborn fireflies, blinking, one by one, I reached up and stroked my own cheek to feel their absence. Grand Central loomed larger in the foreground as I walked, the street signs unintelligible, the light exquisite, nothing clear around me but my own hands, in focus and distinct, like the pavement under each step forward.
            All week I’ve been aware of this contrast, the sharpness of my immediate surroundings, the silvery-white of my nail beds, the yellow streaks in my eyes in the mirror, the dust dancing in the faded light through the Madison Avenue side windows, and then the vast, soft, vagueness of everything else. I’ve been walking the streets looking up—skyscrapers with rounded edges, watercolor trees and storefronts, no brushstrokes, no primary colors, even, the whole wide world through a filter of silvery-grey.
            And I, pushing through the weighted light half-seeing, have felt unseen, in a strange and even glorious way. Not anonymous, or one of the teeming masses, or whatever people say about being an ant speck in a city of millions, but unseen, and the relief has somehow changed everything. Where are you? a friend I’m meeting asks on the phone, and I look up, first, and then around me. I can see the green, the vertical lines of the poles, but no numbers or words, not even the existence of numbers or words. It’s midtown, so suits, shinier shoes, briefcases like a forties movie—nobody’s young, even out of focus. I stop on a corner and look at my arms, still brown, fine etched lines, golden hairs glinting a little in the dying light.
Where exactly? she asks again, and I cross the street, music playing in my head for the first time in a long time, teeth not clenched, shoulders not tight, eyes ahead on a chalk-rubbed horizon. I don’t know, I finally say, although I know of course I have to stop up close to answer, close enough to see the 36th or 38th, or 39th Street sign, stop because we’re meeting, stop because I have to, because even in this iridescent bubble I’ve been moving in I know that everybody isn’t in there with me. But in that instant—that single shard—I don’t know where I am and I don’t care where I am and I can see that in not knowing, not seeing, letting things recede, accepting the lack of clarity, I have somehow found myself again.
And when my little one—soft-focus, pink and tan, no edges, inside or out—looks at me this morning when life starts up again, after spotting the found glasses on the countertop, and asks me if I’m never going to wear them again, I am startled. Why would she ask that? I think, squinting at her hard, although she always asks the questions you would never think of, forcing me, so literal, to circle back and wonder how she ever got there. And I look at her, and see her very clearly, see the white webs in the black countertop, the fly on the lid of the sugar bowl, my own lined hand reaching out to stroke her soft, soft hair. The glasses rest on the counter, neutral.
I don’t know, I say, which is the truth, and she walks off, satisfied, always, with the indefinite response. And I look at the glasses again, and pick up my lukewarm coffee cup, and follow her out of the room. Without looking back. For right now anyway, I can see enough.

1 comment:

Liza said...

So funny to read this the day after my glasses froze over while I was shoveling. For the first time in forever, I took them off and moved around relieved, because for once, I could see better without them.