Here and there, 1984-2004
I wanted to see more. And clearer, and further.
To see without my glasses preciously placing a frame on every moment. Or else preciously getting crunched under greater weights like my car wheels or even under my own shoes.
To see without poking my eyes out every morning, placing in lenses that made me feel like I was placing acid tabs on my eyeballs- everything everywhere always in too much detail. But a visual orgy with eye condoms is a lonely act of perception. I wanted to see naturally, without filters.
To pass acquaintances in the street and acknowledge their names, rather than answering a surprised and muffled “oh, yeah, HI…um..” to their distant familiarity. Shyness and stutters masking my myopia.
I kept losing my little brothers at the beach among the multitudes of blurry human forms. I wanted to have my own child and see that child, no matter the distance, no matter the crowd. I was ready to cut myself at the risk of going blind, so that I could see, maybe, that child. A small risk and yet it seems greater when you willingly place yourself in harm’s way. And laser! How could slicing open your eyeballs be safe? Isn’t that the image that haunts all self-respecting surrealists? Well, the statistics and testimonials were convincing, so, like childbirth, if so many had done it before me, why couldn’t I?
To see, that was the answer.
Barcelona, Winter 2004
The first clinic could easily have been a failed teleport station with its lonely modern furniture, fraying from cheapness. The long strips of swivel-closed beige blinds enhanced the sensation of floating through space. Wan tunes wafted fuzzily from somewhere else that was also empty. And deep inside a dark room within the mushroom-shaped building, a sweating accountant tried to toggle the jammed knobs, desperate to send the next client into the next century. The secretary kept looking and smiling at me- not a good sign. Shouldn’t she be otherwise occupied with obscure tasks? There was nothing much to look at after a while and I was losing my motivation.
This was not where I wanted to experience my visionary renaissance but I stuck with it, as one does when committing blindly to finding out the proverbial light within the darkness.
“How many people have you operated?”
“What are the dangers?”
“How long does the operation last?”
“How long do the new eyes work for?”
“Have you ever been sued?”
Oops, poor red-faced chap. One question too many. The wrong one to ask in Europe. The indignant eye-surgeon did not answer my question. “Either you trust me or I can’t operate on you.” Phew: relieved of the sales pressure. Start over.
I finally found a place that conveyed to me the promise of skill and the best choice of intentions. There was beautiful original paintings all over their modernist office walls. Dark wood wall panels and deep green carpeting muted the crisp bustle of the clinic. And the leather-clad waiting rooms were clean, well-stocked with entertainment and packed with people. I was seen on time and all my questions were attended to. I was examined, tested and approved.
Okay. Before christmas. Let’s do it.
My bigger little brother brought me to the grand hospital on the hill. He was to be my guide on the return trip. Balty is younger, but it was his usual princely poise that made me get stoic. I smiled as I left him and faced the operating room of five professionals all there for my eyes only.
The rest of my body faded away from consciousness as they isolated my eyes. ‘Clockwork Orange’ clamps were applied. Machines whirring and spinning around the periphery of my sight. An injection in the eyeball. Eyeball anesthetized and immobilized.
One machine purrs as it slices a hatch around my cornea. Everything goes blurry as the flap is lifted. Okay, okay, breathe. Good, I can’t feel a thing. The laser comes in at an angle, soft red. IS THAT SMOKE COMING FROM MY EYE?
Buñuel, eat your eyes out! I am the living future of your surreal dream come true! Grandmother! I will avenge your blindness and leap out from the darkness, with eyes fuming!
Flap down. Next eye. Slice, flap, laser, smoke, flap.
My intricate body machinery being tuned and soldered. God forbid they mess with the hardwiring- mistakenly wiping out my childhood dreams. 10 minutes later: eyes bandaged and I’m out. My brother laughs nervously. I must have looked fly-eyed and Oedipal. Adrenalized, triumphant but somehow… wrong. We come from a family of vision worshippers. Does he think me strange to do such a horrific thing to myself?
Balty takes me on his arm through the subway. Smells are promoted to the forefront of my senses. I am practicing being blind, just in case. The smell of urine means a wall. The smell of newspaper means a person. The smell of chewing gum and rats means the traintracks. The gust of wind means the subway is arriving: step back.
Half an hour later and home, my bandages are off. I can see. Perfectly. God, my apartment is dirty. Naturally. Thanks to microbots, seeing naturally. This seeing is just as good as the first day of the rest of my life. No one will escape me now. Not even me. I have no more excuses to be anti-social, drive badly or live dirty. Balty looks relieved the potential drama was not played out. The answer has been answered and the suspense is over.
When I go to my check-up later that week, I can see all the paintings in glorious detail. The effect is like that of a reunion with long-lost loved ones. It is possible to love again as before, to be close even from far because I can see every excruciatingly wondrous detail of life painted into matter, just sitting across the room, spying on all my brain desires.
They give me a video tape of the procedure which to this day I have not looked at. What a peculiar parting gift for my vulnerable new eyes. They work. That is all that matters to me. I wouldn’t have minded if they operated on me with chopsticks; as long as the science works, my trust remains whole with the world. Before, we saw and we conquered. Now, we are made to see and we are conquered. Enlivened by energy.
A curious coda: my three year-old son insists on changing my eyes every morning. Something he picked up after seeing the movie “Wall-E” where a robot replaces his own broken parts. I happily accept the daily eyes and really do see better after I am reminded that I have a child to look at and to look after. What I envisioned has come to be.
How much further beyond the event-horizon can we truly see if we are willing to take the risk of reviewing ourselves? How are we surviving in a present that knows so much about the past? How can we get to the now with such a weight as the then? Reviewing my current present, just where CAN I see myself ending up?
I can see myself, surrounded by a thousand lasers, carving into me, refashioning me into a glowing smoking sculpture of my former self- changing my nature, burning away my discomfort, placing me in the garden of lights.
Beyond form, there is intensity. And beyond intensity, there is impulse.
I think you will find me there, my heart beating out a regular stone-wave of ultraviolet flashes reverberating amongst the vibrant jasmine and the glowing coconuts of the disco in the night jungle. Other ecstatic wave-forms dance beside me beneath the chaotic skies.
And you, in what future can you see yourself appearing ?