Molly Dektar

Blind Man and Daughter

My father’s going blind, and so will I. He has retini­tis pig­men­tosa, which he inher­it­ed from his father, and which I, being his daugh­ter and unlucky by nature, inher­it­ed from him.

My moth­er is a spokesper­son for the Italian cof­fee com­pa­ny Lavazza. She most­ly works with food stores in New York. She nev­er makes cof­fee for us. I make cof­fee for my father each morn­ing. We have an old Arrarex Caravel espres­so machine. I grind the beans and tamp them into their portafil­ter with a sil­ver disc. My father likes his espres­so black and almost syrupy with sug­ar. I put five small spoon­fuls into his tiny cup. If he knocks his cup over, I make it again. Some morn­ings he knocks it over on pur­pose. My moth­er is small and trim. She has to look Italian at all times, which means skirt suits, pointy-toe heels.  We bought her an apron once as a joke. It said “#1 Mom.”

My father is mak­ing me dri­ve him to Boston for a con­clu­sive assess­ment about his eyes, and to trans­late. What is the point. We had argued about it. I had kicked the wall and made a dent which my moth­er did not notice when she came home.

He leans his head against the cold car win­dow. Breath against the glass like a speech bub­ble. “This isn’t going to do any­thing,” I tell him. “You could just look it on the inter­net. There’s no cure.”

Be qui­et,” he says.

I stay qui­et for a moment.

I’m miss­ing my boyfriend’s birth­day for this,” I say. He’s not my boyfriend, but I’d been plan­ning on giv­ing him a present all year. He calls the sleep in one’s eyes “eye shit.” “You have a lot of eye shit,” he said to a friend in home­room.

And I have to make up a test,” I tell my father. This is true. The teacher is mad.

You don’t have a boyfriend,” says my father.

You don’t know any­thing about me,” I say.

I’ve raised a mon­ster,” says my father.

Temper,” I say.

He shakes but does not move at me.

Once I got him to punch me. He gave me a black eye for say­ing I hoped I’d nev­er end up like him, blind­ness notwith­stand­ing. I have noth­ing to gain from being cau­tious around him.

You,” he says. “You’ll under­stand, my daugh­ter. You’ll go blind, blind, blind, and noth­ing else will mat­ter to you.”

Shut up,” I say. I stare at him, away from the road though I am going fast. His mouth is stretched out in a big mirth­ful grin, eyes squeezed shut.

Fish oil? Fish oil?” I remem­ber my father laugh­ing. It was his Italian doctor’s only advice for how to delay his blind­ness. I was six, right before we moved to the United States.

Fish oil?” he said, stand­ing in the mid­dle of the room, under the kitchen light that cast a shad­ow under his brow. “Fish oil?” His arms were out.

 

At home, I am the only one who cooks, and the maid is the only one who cleans. I often make crosta­ta with our Bimbi. We don’t have mea­sur­ing cups; we have a scale. My father eats per­sim­mons, bury­ing his wrin­kled face into their pulpy orange, eyes open. We nev­er eat veg­eta­bles. My par­ents retain the expec­ta­tion that I, their only child, will take care of them in their old age, but they are wrong.

 

My father works from home. He doesn’t real­ly work. He used to be a banker; now he pre­tends to look at stocks. He has to hold his nose against the com­put­er screen, which must be black with large white type.

I would like to move away,” he often says. “To a bai­ta in the moun­tains with just Luna, bread and gar­lic,” he says. “That’s all I need.”

Luna, our German shep­herd, sleeps on a pad in the hall. She’s stupid—she walks in front of me and trips me—and she farts all night. Sometimes she wakes me up, beg­ging to be tak­en out­side. My moth­er wouldn’t install a dog door because she thought that the peo­ple of New Jersey would get in that way.

Every week my father gets a new bruise. “Too much pride,” says my moth­er. Luna is not a trained eye dog, nor is she smart enough to be one, but my father walks around with her at full speed and crash­es into poles and falls into holes. I often have to accom­pa­ny him. He grips my upper arm when we walk. Sometimes he push­es me around, or moves at irreg­u­lar speeds so I have to fall into step with him.

At meal­times my father’s big hand goes pat­ting along the table until I push into it what he wants—bread, a salt shak­er. You get used to liv­ing with a blind per­son, their needs and rhythm, so that being at some­one else’s house, with­out hav­ing to think about pour­ing the water or mov­ing the shoes out of the way, is uncom­fort­able.

My father has “star­ry eyes” in that there is a burn­ing white light in the cen­ter of his vision. He can only see around it but the bor­ders of sight keep nar­row­ing. I used to pan­ic when I woke up with sleep in my eyes, but no longer. I have at least five more years.

 

I’m not dri­ving very well. I remem­ber once when were dri­ving to a doctor’s appoint­ment in the city, and my father said to my moth­er, “You should stay in the cen­ter of the lane, you keep going out of the lines and scar­ing oth­er dri­vers.”

My moth­er glanced at him, jaw set. “You’re blind,” she said.

You bitch,” he said.

I can’t believe I mar­ried you,” she said, “Deficient.”

I stared out the win­dow. Tree, tree, tree. Trying to store up the look of the trees.

 

We reach the hos­pi­tal. I park far up in the garage, going up and up the spi­ral. My father grips my upper arm as we walk to the entrance. There is a tele­vi­sion with vol­ume and closed cap­tion­ing in the wait­ing room so that blind peo­ple and deaf peo­ple can pass the time. Finally a man comes to get us, and we go to a room with a woman doc­tor. They put my father in a chair, and cov­er his face with dif­fer­ent masks. They only need me for part of the time. I leave when they start look­ing into his eyes with blue and yel­low lights.

 

Two years ago, my moth­er and father went to Germany to vis­it a doc­tor, a “par­tic­u­lar” doc­tor, my moth­er told me affect­less­ly. He knew ancient tech­niques, she said. They came back in a week. My father was angry. “He was a dirty fake,” said my father. “He had pine resin all over his hands.” He was a witch-doc­tor. My moth­er told my father to wait and see. My father said that things got worse the more he wait­ed and so he could not wait and see.

Once I asked my father if he could still see clear­ly in dreams. He ignored me. What does “mind’s eye” mean? Is it pos­si­ble to see any­thing well in a dream? I haven’t—everything is bleached out or the wrong col­or, or seen through slats like Venetian blinds. Can you see any­thing when you close your eyes in a dark room? Maybe big dark blooms like camel­lias, which dis­solve into dark sil­ver spots. Do you ever blink float­ing cells into your eyes, star­ing at a blue sky? Or let the light refract through the sleep in your eyes? Can you see trees of blood ves­sels when you look away from a bright light? When I squeeze my eyes almost shut the world looks black and white. There is no glass you can look through that will turn the world black and white.

It is not pos­si­ble to remem­ber the way a view or a face looks. For a face, at least you can describe it in words that you can mem­o­rize: big fore­head, wide nose. But even a face described this way is a blur. Where most of us, wak­ing from our sleep, look­ing away from a page, engage hap­pi­ly with sight. But my father’s face is an abyss.

 

For some rea­son, the exam­i­na­tion of my father takes hours. Finally the man comes to get me from the wait­ing room. My father is lying back in an exam­in­ing chair.

Your father is legal­ly blind,” the doc­tor says.

She says, ‘You’re blind,’” I tell my father.

Ask them about stem cells,” he says.

I ask.

Some promis­ing research has been done with mice,” the doc­tor says.

I ask her what promis­ing means.

Well,” the doc­tor says, like I won’t under­stand. She men­tions British mice, light recep­tors con­nect­ing to the nerves in their degen­er­at­ed reti­nas. “This was an unex­pect­ed suc­cess,” she says.

I try to explain this to my father.

However, the British exper­i­ment only shows a poten­tial first step,” says the doc­tor. “Researchers in Japan have also been look­ing at pro­teins,” she says. “But a real treat­ment has yet to be found.”

And so?” I say.

The best way to deal with it right now,” says the doc­tor, “is to take fish oil gel caplets. DHA. Sunglasses are always a good idea. Vitamin A is also help­ful.”

That sounds good—Vitamin A,” I say.

Yes, Vitamin A,” says the doc­tor. “It caus­es severe liv­er prob­lems.”

I don’t both­er telling my father about the Vitamin A.

I could ask her how things will be in twen­ty years. I could tell her I have the same dis­ease.

She writes a pre­scrip­tion for DHA.

Sunglasses,” mut­ters my father in English, over and over.

 

One of my socks may be a dif­fer­ent col­or from the oth­er, junk in my teeth, hair on my coat, but at least some­one might point it out to me, fel­low­ship no longer offered to my father, who has passed the point where things become too bizarre for strangers to note.

 

We are dri­ving home. We say noth­ing for an hour. The road is a blank. The sky is a blank. Then my father speaks.

You’ll nev­er have a real life,” he says.

Shut up,” I say.

We’ll be in hell togeth­er,” he says.

Shut up,” I say.

Then you’ll remem­ber—”

Shut the fuck up,” I say.

—How well I did and you’ll beg God you could be as strong as me,” he says.

I keep one hand on the wheel but I wind back with one fist and punch him as hard as I can in the nose, just for the hell of it. Since he is blind, I have the advan­tage of sur­prise. Blood pours out of his nose right away. Some is on the wind­shield. He lets out a stran­gled groan and punch­es me so hard in the ear that my head bounces off the side win­dow. My head rings like a bell. I swerve left, almost hit­ting the con­crete divider, and swerve back. Cars honk. He punch­es me in the right eye, which didn’t quite close in time. I yell and punch him in his left eye. His neck stretch­es like a spring then bounces back to place. Going all over the high­way now. I try to point the car towards the shoul­der, but my face is beat­ing out so hard I can’t real­ly tell where I am. In a sec­ond, though, it’s all right again, and I’m point­ing straight down the road, and we’re both laugh­ing.

 

I’m not snap­ping out of it, I’m going way back. Back to a train trip with my father, back when he could see enough that my moth­er would let him go alone, a train trip to my grand­par­ents’ old farm in the moun­tains, before I had ever heard English.

I had for­got­ten that he had ever been able to take me places by myself. I had for­got­ten that he ever thought he could live in the moun­tains. He grew up in the Alps. He had to leave because of his eyes. His par­ents had no one to care for them. They died young and ashamed. Then my aunt owned the farm, and my grandfather’s green hat from the war, with its jaun­ty feath­er, hang­ing alone in a closed-off room.

On this final trip I must have been six. My father slept in his blue seat, head so heavy on his shoul­der his neck looked bro­ken. I walked through the train’s shift­ing aisles try­ing to find a toi­let through which I could not see the bright sun­lit tracks speed­ing below, because I was afraid. I passed men play­ing cards and women with chil­dren in their laps. I passed a bath­room with blood on the floor. I entered a car which was entire­ly emp­ty, but all the win­dows were open, and all the blue cur­tains were blow­ing so hard their flap­ping over­whelmed the sound of the tracks. As I watched all of them on the left-hand side broke off their rings with a great shriek and tore out of the win­dows and over the moun­tains beyond. They scat­tered like birds. I could see every tree, I could see every branch. I could see every leaf and every nee­dle.

~

Molly Dektar