“Alright!” Mr. Manwell shouts, “first English paper of high school! I’m looking forward to hearing all of the stories you’ve reached out to from your past. Who’d like to read to us first?”
The class is still and no one budges from their desk.
“Don’t be shy,” Mr. Manwell jokes cheerfully, “You’re all going to read eventually.”
I tentatively raise my hand, hoping he won’t see it and call on me, but of course he does.
“In the back, with your hand raised, what’s your name?”
“Sammy,” I reply quietly.
“Oh, your Sammy,” he says acknowledging me as if he’s heard of me but never met me before, “Well I can read yours allowed to the class if you’d like.”
So he has heard of me and he knows I can’t see.
“Sure,” I say as I hear him walk over and help me up from my desk to the front of the class.
I stand next to him and hand him my crisply stapled stack of papers to read aloud. He takes them and begins.
The most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen, came the day after I lost my sight.
The music boomed, echoing in my heart; pulsing through my body. It felt exhilarating and powerful; unstoppable. I turned next to me; towards my brother Mikey, and motioned for him to turn up the music. He turned the small dial around and around until my ears throbbed from the compelling sounds. We started to sing together,
“It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight; rising up to the challenge of our rivals,” we sang loudly. We were screeching at the top of our lungs so we were able to hear ourselves above the music. As the song drew to a close we shouted some more until our voices became hoarse. Finally, the music stopped and we just laughed. I gazed out the window to the other side of me and watched the trees and bushes fly by; the whole world illuminated by the pure fluorescence of the moon. The streets were empty and I felt as if Mikey and me were the only two humans in the world; driving along together; laughing and having a good time.
It wasn’t often that I appreciated Mikey and how great of a brother he was. But right there in that moment I felt it; I felt lucky to be sitting next to him. As the radio channel switched to the new song, I turned to Mikey in the driver’s seat and smiled. He looked at me and smiled back. I moved my eyes away from him and stared out my window at the beautiful scene and acknowledged the simplicity and eeriness of the darkness.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a piercing light coming towards our car. It moved at a tremendous speed. And it wasn’t stopping. It came closer and closer and closer and then:
I heard the shattering noise before I felt the impact. My eyes shot up with pain and my body throbbed. My head started to spin and I could make out other noises around me; voices and screaming, voices and screaming;
“Sammy,” I could make out Mikey calling, “Sammy, Sammy, Sammy…………….”
Nothing. I was surrounded by complete nothing. There was no light and there was no color. My mind was tangled and I was bubbling with confusion. My head spinned as I tried to comprehend my perplexing state. My brain was cloudy and I was not able to think in complete thoughts. Every time I thought of something my mind seemed to shut it down and make me lose my train of thought. My remembrance of the last couple of days was limited and I was completely unsure of my past, my present and my future.
I began to hear voices in the distance and my brain tried to make sense of what they were saying. My ears perked up and I listened intently to the conversation, catching little bits and pieces of sentences. I tried to fit the pieces together but I realized that I wasn’t conscious enough to have that ability. I heard the slamming of a door causing me to regain more consciousness.
I forced my eyelids open expecting to see vivid colors and images that will help me understand my scenario but instead the nothingness remained. I tried to open my eyes wider but no matter how strenuously I forced my eyelids open, I was still in a pool of nothing. It wasn’t black or white, it wasn’t light or dark, it wasn’t clear or blurry, it was simply nothing. Nothingness as I always imagined it was black and dark, but the nothing I was experiencing was not something I would have been able to imagine.
I lifted my left hand to my face and felt around my eye. A piercing pain shot through my eye and into my body. A small noise escaped from my mouth; a screech, soft but expressing all of the emotions I was feeling at the moment; the confusion, fear, pain, sadness and the utterly apparent unawareness of my surroundings.
“Sammy?” A familiar voice called, “Are you all right?” “Sammy?” I now recognized the voice as the voice of my mom. As I thought of her, a smiling, happy image of her formed inside my mind. If I thought of images in my head, they were vivid, detailed and colorful; but in my world they were nothing. Color existed within my mind, shapes were forming pictures for me to analyze; dimension brought expression and illustration to my thoughts, but nothing outside of my bubble made any sense.
“What’s happening?” I heard myself whisper softly. I heard a gasp erupt in the room and my mom became hysterical.
“You’re okay, you’re okay,” she repeated continuously, reassuring herself as she bent down and clutched me tightly. I felt her hands stroking the top of my head as I asked her nervously why I couldn’t see. She becomes quiet. The silence in the room stirred into the absence of my sight, making me feel alone and uncomfortable.
“Do you remember what happened?” She asked tentatively, placing her tender hand over mine. “You were in a crash, with Mikey, last night,” she told me as if I should remember. Another car, crashed into the passenger seat side, where you were sitting. It could have killed you, we’re immensely lucky you’re even alive.” She took a moment to pause as I digested the information she had just explained to me. I can hear her sniffle as she puts more pressure down on my hand. “Unfortunately, a few shards of glass flew into your eyes, and that’s why you can’t see.”
The memories flooded back, bursting through my brain, soothing my confusion but adding tinges of nerves to the pit in my stomach. I remembered driving back from dinner at my grandmother’s house, ready to meet our parents back at home. I remembered the total darkness except for the magical reflection of the moon across the world, brightening the earth before our eyes. I remembered the music, pulsing through me, pain to my ears but comfort to my body. I remembered screaming the lyrics to Eye of the Tiger as if Mikey and I were the only two humans in the world. And I remembered the small moment of appreciation where I recognized how lucky I was to have Mikey as a brother. The car ride comes flooding back into my mind, illuminating my dark nothingness the way the moon illuminated the dark landscape on that fateful night.
“I remember,” I told my mom, “Is Mikey okay?”
“He’s fine,” she reassured me, “A few bruises, but the impact was stronger on your side of the car.”
“Okay, well when are they gonna fix my eyesight? When will I be able to see again? Because I don’t know how much longer I can take this nothingness, its painful and depressing.”
Again with the silence. The only noises in the room were the beating of my heart and her sniffling, quiet but sharply constant.
“Sammy,” she said with a tenderness I’ve never heard her use before, “the doctor isn’t going to be able to fix your eyesight.”
A rock dropped to the bottom of my stomach and I didn’t even try to hold in the tears. I felt the water running down my cheeks and dripping onto my clothes. I imagined never seeing color, shapes, and dimensions again. Never being able to see life’s simple beauty’s that make it worth living. I’d never see myself in the mirror or watch myself change as I grew older. I’d never see the face of my mother, my brother or my father again. The world would become a pattern of sounds and feelings, not colors and pictures. I felt like there was nothing more to look forward to in life.
“There isn’t anything that the doctor can do? There isn’t a surgery that can fix it?” I managed to say in between gasps and tears.
“He already tried, Sam; I’m so sorry,” she explained to me. I could not imagine that my life could get any worse. I was going to be blind for the rest of my life. As she tried to reassure me that it could be worse I snarled at her. I’d rather be dead than blind. How was I ever supposed to figure out how to live without my eyesight?
The next couple of hours went by in a blur. The doctor came in and gave my mother piles of paperwork to fill out. Once she had signed everything we left the hospital and got in the car to go home. For the entirety of the ride home I was not able to stop thinking about how much the night before had changed. I reached my hand out to touch the window, moving my head to face that way, imagining the colors of the trees and bushes flying by and the swoosh of the cars rushing past. I tried to imagine the world and its beauty. But I knew it would never be the same.
Once the car stopped and my mom told me that we had arrived at home she opened my door and began to escort me towards the house. As we arrived at the front door I felt the tears stream down my face, knowing I would never see the outside of my house again. Maybe eventually I’d forget what my house looks like, what color my bed sheets are, what my shirts looked like. I’d even forget the simple things like the colors of a pepperoni pizza, or the way the world looks after it rains. All of these simple beauties that I had never appreciated have slipped from my grasp; completely apparent one day and hopelessly gone the next.
As we walked inside the house, I was bombarded with comments from my father and Mikey, “Sammy, Sammy, your okay,” they shouted as I felt them come near me and try wrap their arms around me. I felt overwhelmed and upset that I could not see their faces, I did not know where to place my hands so I could hug them back. I didn’t want them to see me, to pity me, to make me feel better. I didn’t want them to encourage me that it was all right and I was fine, because I was most definitely not fine, I was blind for the rest of my life.
“Take me upstairs, now,” I yelled to my mother, through sobs.
“Honey, don’t you want to greet your father and brother?” She asked me.
“No, please take me to my room, I’m begging you,” I screamed in hysteria.
“Okay, okay,” she agreed and led me up the stairs to my room. I walked in and through force of habit, managed to make my way to my bed. I threw myself onto my comforter and felt myself sink into my sheets.
“Please, leave, I want to be alone,” I told my mother with frustration.
“No, I don’t want to leave you alone,” she told me gently.
“Stop treating me differently, stop reminding me that my life is never going to be the same,” I yelled at her. “I know my life sucks and I don’t need you reminding me of it every second,” I sobbed harder than I had all day, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, I still don’t really know what’s happening. I’m confused, I’m mad and frustrated, I’m upset and I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do now. I don’t know what I want to do now. I can’t read, write, watch TV or anything. What am I supposed to do for the rest of my life?”
“I’ll leave you alone, but you should understand that your situation could be worse. At least you have a loving family who will do whatever it takes to make you happy and always have your back.” With that she turned around and left.
The rest of my day passed full of listening to music, crying, and talking to my friends about my situation. Everyone was extremely sympathetic but it wasn’t making me feel any better. I didn’t want sympathy; I wanted things to be back to normal.
After 5 hours of being cooped in my room, my mom walked in. She came in and sat down next to me on my bed, placing a placid hand on my back.
“I just received a call from our neighbor, Mrs. Coltonas; the one with the yummy cookies,” she said happily, “well her very good friend’s granddaughter, Rosie; became blind from a car accident last month as well. She is an only child; only 6 years old, and both of her parents died in the same crash that blinded her so she lives with her grandmother. Mrs. Coltonas thought it might be nice for both of you to talk to each other and to have someone you can both relate too.”
“I’m not in the mood to go do charity for some girl,” I responded snottily.
“Honey, it might be nice for you too. Who knows? Maybe meeting someone else who is going through what you’ve gone through will help you feel better about it? Well in any case, I’ve arranged for you to meet her in the park tomorrow.”
“I’m not going,” I said stubbornly.
“I’m sorry Sammy, but you are,” she said forcefully, “whether or not you have a good attitude is up to you. But you’re going.”
Once again she left my room shutting the door behind her and I was left alone on my bed. I didn’t want to meet this Rosie, this little girl who’d been through the same thing as me. Was I supposed to reassure her that it would be fine when I didn’t even believe that myself? Was I supposed to comfort her and tell her all the good things that will come out of this when I firmly believed that none would ever? What was I expected to do? Why had this happened? As all these questions swarmed in my head as my exhaustion compelled my brain to take a rest. I lay there trying to answer my own questions, trying to make sense of it all until I felt myself drift off to sleep.
The next morning I woke up to the sound of the thunderous booming of a thunderstorm. I heard the pitter-patter of rain falling onto my roof and I imagined the water dripping off my house onto the wet grass below. I sat up in my bed and called for my mother to help me get dressed and make my way downstairs. I wanted to be able to do it myself, but I didn’t feel like frustrating my mind even further, discovering new things I would never be able to do again.
My mother forced me to eat a rushed breakfast, a quick bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice, making a huge mess every time my spoon missed my mouth or I dropped some milk on the table as I was carrying a bite up to my mouth.
As we walked outside to the car, the rain poured down on us, soaking my hair and clothes and making me unhappy.
The car ride to the park was quick. I had been to this park many times, whether it had been to play sports or to just sit around and enjoy it’s peaceful beauty.
My mother led me on a small concrete path until she told me she saw the little girl and her grandmother. I had a feeling that she was going to be annoying, unusually happy and cute, annoying and bothersome.
“Hello!” My mother shouted.
“Hi!” An unfamiliar voice of an older woman called back. “ You must be Melissa and this must be Sammy.”
“Hi,” I said forcing myself into a fake happy voice. The old woman reached out and patted me on the shoulder and I longed to see what she looked like.
“This is Rosie,” she said, taking my hand and reaching it out to a very small and sweaty little hand. The little hand squeezed mine tightly and she shook it very forcefully.
“I’m Rosie,” she said, “nice to meet you.”
I was right. This girl’s voice and personality was annoying and happy; full of innocence and excitement; two qualities that I was not in the mood for. I would just have to suck it up and figure out how to get through the next half an hour.
My mother started to talk to her grandmother and I just stood there anxiously waiting the moment when my mother would say we needed to leave. But she and Rosie’s grandmother kept talking. They wouldn’t stop.
The rain continued to fall harder and I snuggled up closer to my mother under her umbrella. I imagined the little girl clinging to her grandmother under her umbrella. After the two women had been talking for over fifteen minutes, I felt the raindrops become softer and the chaos of the storm seized to a close. Moments later, the drops became nothing and no water was left falling from the sky.
I could feel the sun beating down on me, its luscious light illuminating the vibrant colors of the park. It’s brilliant beams scattering spots of sunlight across the entire world as everyone gazed up at the pure blue sky and smiles in happiness.
I felt Rosie shifting around and bending down next to me. I felt her small hands, patting around the soil as she accidentally patted the top of my foot.
“That’s my foot,” I told her, wondering what immature activity she was doing on the ground.
“Oops, sorry!” She said with a giggle and a hiccup.
She finally stood up and asked for her grandmother’s hand. She must have placed something into her hand for I heard her ask,
“Grandma, what is it? Is it a flower?”
“Mhm,” her grandmother replied lightly, “it’s a rose.”
“ A rose?” Rosie asked innocently, “a rose for Rosie,” she explained confidently.
“A rose for Rosie,” her grandmother replied,
“Here, Sammy, feel it, its so delicate,” she told me with excitement.
I stuck out my hand and reluctantly felt around the air for her small clammy hands holding the delicate flower. She placed it carefully in my palm, and I brought it towards my body. It was wet with raindrops, soggy and droopy but yet its delicacy seemed to make it beautiful, even without being able to see its vibrant colors and it’s perfectly structured petals.
“It feels nice,” I said halfheartedly.
“Grandma,” Rosie gasped, “I wonder if there’s a rainbow, will you look and tell me?” she said full of enthusiasm.
“Actually,” her grandmother replied, “there is a rainbow, how’d you know?”
“ I felt it, I guess,” she replied happily, “I bet it’s beautiful, don’t you think Sammy?”
I stared up at the sky, envisioning a beautiful rainbow stretching across the sky as far as my eyes could see. I imagine gorgeous colors, perfectly formed together to create a magical glow, catching the attention of anyone walking by. I imagined a rainbow far more beautiful than any one I’ve ever seen. And that’s when I realized that Rosie’s happiness and innocence wasn’t a bad thing. It wasn’t annoying. It was perfect. I realized that Rosie’s small innocent mind knew how to deal with tragedy far greater than my experienced and schooled one had. I realized that by meeting her on this day, in the middle of a rainstorm, in a park with amazing and beautiful things I could not see, I hadn’t been doing her a favor; she had been doing me one. I stuck my fingers out to find her small clammy hand and squeezed it. I felt the soggy rose still in her palm, imprinting a small dot in the center of my hand.
“I bet it is,” I told her. And for the first time since the accident; I felt myself smile.
“Well that’s the end,” Mr Manwell announces the class. “Good job Sammy, that was a very good story you wrote and it taught all a very important lesson, right class?”
A few mumbles come from the rows of students in front of me. I bet most of the students are lying across their desks resting their heads, tired from an overload of homework from the night before. Maybe a few even managed to catch some sleep during the essay. Then there are probably the good kids who are sitting looking straight ahead trying to kiss up to the teacher and start the year on a good note. Maybe everyone listened. Maybe no one listened. Some people probably cared and some people could probably care less. I bet a few kids are looking at me curiously, wondering what its like to be me, not to be able to see. Some probably cringe at me, so sympathetic of me that they’re scared of me. I bet they’re all judging me. Maybe it’s selfish to think that but maybe its just curiosity. I’ll never know what they are thinking, I’ll never be able to read their facial expressions or to see the glances they pass back and forth to each other. I’ll always be trapped in my nothing and that will never change. But maybe in some circumstances, my “nothingness” is actually a good thing.
Ally Lathen, Age 13, Grade 8, Trinity School, Gold Key