|Here in the crowded retina clinic, we’re waiting to have pictures taken of our macula with marvelous cameras, the backs of our eyes are about to be zapped with lasers or, like me, our central retinal veins have occluded — fancy term for a blood clot — and the retinas have swollen. The result is blurred and distorted vision. Luckily, only my right eye is afflicted.
I’ve already read the chart — could barely make out the large E at the top — and have had dilating drops put into my eyes, so now I’m waiting for my pupils to become pie tins, big enough for someone to look all the way into my soul.
While I wait, I try not to think of the worst possibility of my condition: the loss of the eye itself. I try not think of the Bunuel film Un Chien Andalou in which a woman, in screen-filling close-up, has her eye slit with a straight razor like a ripe plum. I try not think of one-eyed men or men completely blind — Borges, Milton, Samson — but of course I do. And I can’t help thinking, especially, of my father, who lost an eye to a tumor when he was 17 and who wore a patch the rest of his life to cover the moist vermillion gash where his eye had been.
The patch was flesh-toned and seemed like a crude erasure of his eye done by a child. The thin elastic band grooved his forehead. He did not look rakish, heroic or anything like a pirate. He was a man with a patch, a man with one eye that you could never quite read, mirth and rage and despair all the same in it. He acquired the nickname Jimmy Patches from his fellow inmates in the House of Correction, where he spent a month for petty theft during the last weeks of my mother’s first pregnancy. Often, he was called, simply, Patches.
The patch dominated the rest of his features, his thick nose, angular jaw, thick head of hair, so that when you looked at his face the patch is where your eyes tended to settle.