It began on a Sunday evening. We can be certain of that. I am prey to depression Sunday evenings. I’ve learned to accept it, the license it gives me to disconnect the phone, dim the lights and put on some music, preferably Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Dido sung by Lorraine Hunt.
I sit on my comfortable sofa. The window is open. I feel the breeze on my arm, like being stroked with a feather. I play the aria, “When I am laid in earth” and as often happens, tears fill my eye educed by the beauty of the music, the pathos of betrayed love plus knowing that Lorraine Hunt, like Dido, would be laid in earth in the bloom of her life.
The melody carried me into pavilions where thoughts evaporate, a state of bliss. When the music stopped it was disorienting. It seemed I had been gone for a long time but there was no way of knowing. I switched on the light near my chair but the light barely penetrated the darkness. My eyes were closed, the lids sealed shut.
At first it was curious. That simple muscular impulse to open the eyes, that infinitesimal expense of energy, eluded me. A million times done unthinkingly, now I was thinking I had to do something. Another thought. I was in an endless queue of thoughts with no exit. If I could stop thinking, my eyes would open like all the million other times. A hypothesis coalesced: I was adrift in a hypnagogic sea. At some point I would come back to shore.
I also wondered whether my tears had created a kind of superglue.
Frustration started to seep in despite my best efforts to stay calm. I decided to rub my eyes but before I made the move I got a jolt of high-volt panic: what if I couldn’t move my arms? What if I was paralyzed head to toe?
My arms moved, my fingers too, good as gold, but my eyes stayed shut.
There were clearly worse things than shut eyes. In the bathroom I bathed my face with a warm damp cloth, then faced the mirror, gripped by the notion my reflection would re-order reality, get all four eyes, real and reflected, to open.
No luck. It seemed best to do my nightly routines. Navigating was easy. I have lived in my house for many years. I switched on all the lights; together they made a golden effusion in which floated the forms of household objects: houseplants, lamps, book shelves. It seemed my retina was doing its job.
Darkness, once you achieve a deep level of awareness, erupts in colors. Swishing effervescent mouthwash between my teeth I was certain my eyes were open. It was a profound relief but they weren’t open for long, if they ever were.
The exact time seemed the important thing to know though I could not have expressed why. It was night. I got into my flannel pajamas and into bed, pulling the comforter around my chin. It was comforting. I felt safe. I knew that if I slept a good sleep, I would awaken in the former life.
I ventured into the backwaters of dreamland, no memory brought back to share.I heard the mermaids singing each to each. At the shores of consciousness I recalled my predicament. The landing was rough, waves of frustration and desperation. Why was it so difficult to open my eyes? Everything was in place waiting: the lamps, the mouthwash, the comforter; the whole banal miracle.
Again the craving, what time is it, what time is it? Dawn? Looking for my phone I found the TV remote. The weatherperson on Channel 7 ratified my intuition with her forecast for “your Monday afternoon commute.” Rain. In July.
I had meetings I could not miss. I got dressed, uncertain about the colors of socks and shirt and tie. It was playing a blind person in a movie, like Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark, feeling the world through the palms of my hands. The way she flailed to find the electrical cord to extinguish the refrigerator light was how I groped for my phone when it rang,
The office. Where are you?
Food poisoning, oysters. My apology sounded sincere and was sincere. Two days later I reported a communicable virus contracted in Curacao on company business. Curable, but it would take time.
I have enough sick days banked to last a long recovery.
I am not comfortable with asking for help but I called Kaycie. She said on the downbeat that I was doing this to myself or else was under some weird compulsion that I needed to get to the root of. An evaluation I had entertained. She took me to see her herb doctor slash guru. He tried to visualize my lids apart, and when that failed, bathed them in rosewater and massaged them more forcibly than I expected. As a last resort he fluffed up my aura and put me down for another appointment.
I was fluffed for a while. The movement of air. It’s hard to describe how significant this has become. Wealth within scarcity, like being underwater, warmth and coolness woven into a quilt.
I have a different life, one I did not ask for. I don’t miss the old one. I’ve stopped pretending otherwise. I am a blind person. Yet I still maintain a belief, perhaps an illusion, that I will resurface into a sunlit world, out of this violet twilight. All it would take is an immaculate act of will.
I tell that to my shrink. He expresses no belief. neither pro nor con. He has a standard of neutrality I can respect. He says anxiety is the norm for human beings. He wants me to believe—my projection—that until I lose all resistance, all blame and shame, I will remain blind.
I am wasting my time with him.
Tonight (what I call night now is arbitrary since I don’t pull the curtains open) I am going to ask Kaycie to locate my disc of Dido and Aeneas. I am going to ask her to put it on, and to leave the house.