by Lisa A. Thomas
It started with tiny plankton-like creatures floating across the surface of her eyeball, and progressed to large black spots obscuring her field of vision and eventually ended in near darkness. Grace was 44 years old when she was diagnosed with macular degeneration. She was a mother of 2 and a devoted wife. She was well respected in her community as an activist and artist and practically everyone knew her by sight. She was an elegant woman with an ease of movement that made her appear like she was floating. She always dressed fashionably and immaculately; every hair, accessory and detail in place before leaving the house. Each morning she would rise, feed her children, put them on the bus, kiss her husband goodbye as he left for work then go upstairs, strip down to full nudity and examine her body in a full-length mirror for at least an hour before showering. She knew every single line, crease, and mole that marred the topography of her body and face. Grace was meticulous to a fault. Every detail of her life was thoroughly thought out, examined and executed according to an elaborately engineered plan, whether it was a visit to the grocery store or a holiday party. So when the ophthalmologist gave her the fateful prognosis she stared at him blankly without emotion. She gathered her things, picked up her matching purse and coat and walked out of the office. They told her that her vision would deteriorate gradually over the next 2 years ending in full blindness.
Grace went home and began to memorize every detail of her house, at which point she realized that she had already committed the entire layout of her meticulously organized home to memory in photographic detail. In her yoga classes she would practice with her eyes closed for the entire time. She didn’t mention the diagnosis to her husband or her children, not wanting them to worry or simply not wanting to disrupt the peaceful continuity of their lives. While having lunch with her friends she discussed a recent art exhibit and the opening of a new local foods market around the corner from her, never bringing the topic around to herself. She spoke with her normal enthusiasm and eloquence. She had made a decision. She was not going to share this information with anyone. It was her secret. An experiment.
She had been a professional ballerina before committing herself to motherhood and domestic management. She continued to maintain her health and fit physique with daily yoga and running. As she ran she would memorize the route, closing her eyes for long stretches of time as she sensed the end of the sidewalk, the sound of the nearby traffic, and the smells of the pine trees. Every detail of her life was put under a microscope and this process gave her purpose, it somehow distracted her from the fearful reality of her imminent future. She decided to stop driving early on, which was not strange to anyone because her family was environmentally conscious and had talked about trying to cut out petroleum run vehicles. They lived in a small city, their home within walking distance of grocery stores, shops, markets and everything she would need. She began reducing her life down to as few trips as she could make and committed them to a rigid regimen each day. Every millisecond of her day became an intense study, she examined every tiny detail. Like zooming in on a fractal and finding more and more detail with each magnification. She took pleasure in placing her life under such intense scrutiny. Every eventuality was considered. She began to adjust her behavior and her gestures, such as not making eye contact with people while talking to them; she developed ways to glance furtively their way establishing the right amount of connection. She memorized every detail of her family members and friends bodies; height, colorations, idiosyncrasies and incorporated them into the way she would interact with them. She knew that her children would grow and change and she would have to take that into consideration. She started becoming more tactile and affectionate with her children. Sitting close and snuggling with them and getting down on the floor to engage them on all levels of physicality. Her sex life experienced a new and sensual upgrade as she attempted to memorize every curve and detail of her husband’s body. Her new purpose enlivened her and she embraced her project with religious zeal. Over the course of 2 years she narrowed her life down to only the most necessary events. Slowly she cut out the more daring aspects of her life. No more biking, hiking or activities that involved risk. She had always been a graceful, fluid mover but over the course of those years she became almost ethereal like smoke moving through a crowded room. At her husband’s Christmas office party she mercurially maneuvered through the crowd feeling the warmth and energy emanating off the bodies of her husband’s friends and colleagues. She spent hours of her day with her eyes closed walking through her house acquainting herself with the sensations thrown off by the furniture, walls, and appliances. Out in her garden she would close her eyes as she’d finger and caress every ridge and fold of the leaves of her newly sprung kale. She memorized her space in minute detail and began to spend most of her time before the kids and her husband came home with her eyes closed.
Each day she sank deeper and deeper into the observation of the minutiae of her daily routines. She began to habitually carry a book or a notebook around with her so that while she waited she could bury her head in the book. So if she were meeting a dear friend for coffee she would appear to be immersed in reading before her friend called her name and she gently raised her beatific smile of greeting. The darkness finally consumed her vision but not before she had completely transformed herself into a full-sensing being. People were constantly asking, “Grace, did you change your hair or is that a new dress, something seems different about you?” By her 47th birthday Grace was completely without sight. She floated through her day continuing her routines of yoga and running as if nothing happened. Her house continued to be immaculate. Her appearance was beyond compare. And her family was happy and totally ignorant.
She watched her children graduate from high school, then college, marry and have children. She held her grandchildren and played on the floor with them throughout their toddler years. She held dinner parties and attended functions; always appearing to float through the crowd like an angel.
One day while Grace was vacuuming she felt a tightening of her chest. Calmly and quickly she showered, walked to her closet and changed into her favorite aqua blue dress, put on a pair of earrings that her husband had bought for her on their last anniversary, and laid down on her newly made bed, crossed her arms and quietly died of a heart attack. Her funeral was attended by over 350 friends and admirers and everyone had nothing but glowing words to say about her exemplary life.
6 months after her death her ophthalmologist called and left a message on their voicemail. “This message is for Mrs. Grace Armstrong, I noticed that you missed your last appointment and wanted to check in with you to make sure everything was alright, please return my call at your earliest convenience.” Her husband picked up the phone and dialed the number and asked for the doctor. As he listened, the blood drained from his face, he slowly hung up and stood staring blankly out in space as the shadows slid down the wall with the setting sun.