I knew it. I told her too, but she just wouldn’t listen.
“Ma, I can’t see.” “I need to get glasses.” “I feel dizzy.” “My head hurts all the time.”
“It’s not that important.” “You’re not going to die.” “No seas tan exagerada.” “Don’t make a big deal out of this,” she would say.
The words bounced off the walls and sent me into a spiral.
“…nothing we can do,” “…progressing rapidly,” “I’m so sorry…” “…open-angle glaucoma,” “…not always curable…”
I was furious. The look she gave me was laced with an apology, but I was too clouded with anger to accept it. All I could take in was her betrayal. If only she had listened. “Be responsible,” she would tell me. Well, this time I was. Why the hell doesn’t anyone listen?
It would be a matter of time before the black curtain closed and the world would disappear. I could feel it escaping my grasp, and I was anything but ready for what came next. My little brother stared at me, wondering why I was so troubled. Barely four years old, and still one of the smartest children I know.
“Hermanita, why are you sad?” he looked up at me. “Ma told me nothing was going to happen and now my eyes don’t work.” I tried to explain so he would understand.
“Can you get new ones?” he asked.
“No, I have to keep these.”
He looked disappointed that the solution he had given me wasn’t plausible.
After we had come to terms with what was going to be my life, we had to figure out how I would be able to navigate the world, “before it’s, you know, dark…”
“Ma, you can say blind. It’s fine; I have to get used to it anyway.”
We went to the agency to see if I could get a guide dog. On the way there, Ma and I stopped at the garden. I spotted some dainty little forget-me-nots on a nearby bush and decided to take one. I stuffed it in my pocket and we went on our way.
“Hello, my name is Ariel. How can I help you?” – the receptionist spoke cheerfully.
“We’re here for a guide dog. You see, I’m going blind soon.” – I shudder.
“Alright then, come on back!” She gestured to the entrance. “We’ll need to train your puppy to your specific necessities, and we’ll make sure you’re a great match. Is there any specific breed you would prefer?”
“I just want the dog that’s been here the longest, the one everyone seems to look over.” I smiled, and Ma looked puzzled. Ariel knew exactly why.
Then I saw him. Well, he found me first. I looked to my right and saw the most adorable black Labrador I had seen in my life.
“He looks at you so lovingly already.” Ariel opened the kennel and let me pet him.
His bright blue eyes gave me a look almost as loving as my brother’s when he saw me for the first time. I scratched his little head, and he licked my hand.
“I have faith in you, little guy.”
Orange is one of those colors I’ll never forget. Not because I like it but because it reminds me of my favorite season, fall. Ma doesn’t like to celebrate Thanksgiving, because it’s not part of her culture and, “we should say thanks every day and not spend money on capitalistic holidays,” but Pa does; he was born in the United States and my Nana taught him to celebrate it since he can remember. Since we live in Nevada, we don’t really get orange leaves, but everything else compensates for it. Pumpkins, orange, red and brown decorations on every corner, and my favorite of them all: pumpkin pie. Not too sweet, not too soft… perfectly baked goodness that Nana made from scratch. Orange is more than a color to me now, it is warmth, it is family, it is comfort.
My brother woke up early for a Saturday and dragged me to our community park.
“I want you to play with me ‘cause then you can’t play no more,” he said.
“Just because I can’t see doesn’t mean I can’t play!” I assured him.
“But how you gonna catch me if you see only dark?” I didn’t answer him this time.
I was very mindful of the grass that day. That was the first time I realized that my other senses were getting sharper. I wasn’t wearing shoes, so I felt each blade of grass with the sole of my foot. I could sense the smell of the freshly watered grass and could hear every thump of my brother’s feet on the ground, and surprisingly, it was easier for me to catch him this time, even if he ran outside my field of vision.
I knew right then that I would see green every time I heard my brother’s laugh. I would always remember the fun we had as we rolled down the tiny man-made hills.
Magenta is a color that I wish I didn’t remember. God, I despise that color. My room was magenta. Well, it still is, but I can’t see it anymore, so I no longer care. Ma had picked out this paint for my ninth birthday. Don’t get me wrong, I was there with her when she chose it, but I had no say in the color of my OWN room. I’m telling you, no one ever listens. I told her I wanted a soft pastel green.
“But mija, you’re a little girl! Don’t you want magenta?” she said in the squealiest voice I’d ever heard.
“Ma, I don’t like magenta, I told you.” I rolled my eyes. “Oh, come on, you’ll love it.” She bought the stupid paint.
Pa painted my room, even though I didn’t want him to.
“You’re so ungrateful! Your mom tried really hard to pick a nice color for you room.” He said. He forced me to smile through it and thank Ma for picking the paint.
“Thanks, Ma,” I said, with the most unamused face ever.
“See? I knew you’d like it.”
I did not. I hated it. But no one ever listens to me anyway.
Abuelo, Ma’s father, had told us once that his favorite color was yellow. He came to my house one weekend with Abuela for my uncle’s wedding. It was a small ceremony in my backyard, but there were lots of family members there. That day while we were sitting in chairs having a barbeque, Abuelo braided my hair, which was strange, because it wasn’t something he would usually do. This was the last time I saw him.
When I was eleven years old, he died of Pancreatitis. My brother was only three years old, so he really doesn’t remember much, but for me, it’s a day I will never forget. We had yellow flowers at his funeral, ones we assumed he would like… I could not stop crying. My cousins and I were very close to him. At his funeral, I found myself grabbing at my hair, trying to keep his memory alive. Years after that, I refused to get my hair trimmed, because I felt like I was cutting away the last memories with my grandfather.
I looked at myself in the mirror and was saddened by the image staring back at me. My eye color, something that I had always liked, was slowly fading. I did some research and learned that it was probably due to my medication. I stopped looking at the mirrors in my house, they were a constant reminder of my condition. As if my worsening eyesight wasn’t enough of a reminder.
The first time I went outside with my guide dog after I lost my sight, I told Ma that I was going for a walk in the neighborhood. She wasn’t happy with it at all.
“Mija are you crazy? You can get hurt, you’re not used to being on your own yet.”
“Ma, come on, that’s why Charlie is trained to help me. You think I’m hopeless, don’t you?”
Her face crinkled with pain. “No. I don’t. Go then.”
I slammed the front door.
The second I walked out, I felt overwhelmed. I was relying heavily on my hearing, but there were so many sounds I didn’t know what to concentrate on. I tried to focus on cars and people in front of me, but it was extremely difficult. I could hear birdsongs and conversation and my blood rushing through my veins. Maybe Ma was right. I was lost in thought when, out of nowhere, I heard tires screeching nearby. The driver honked their horn, and it kept getting louder. Then I felt a tug, it was Charlie pulling me out of the street. I guess I wasn’t so far out when I heard a scream.
It was Ma. I was okay, but it was still terrifying.
Maybe sometimes I’m the one that doesn’t listen.
When I was three years old, Pa came home from work with his arms behind his back and a big smile on his face.
“I got you something.”
He handed me a little brown bear with a hilariously large purple bowtie, and I was ecstatic. You might think this is childish, but I still sleep with that bear every night. I can feel the fabric deteriorating but it still holds as much value as it did when I got it. I used to take it on every vacation. Once, when I was five, I forgot it on the dining room table. We were twenty minutes into the drive when I realized I had left him home. I made Pa go back and get it. Even though I could see he was annoyed, I know deep down he was glad that his gift had become so important to me.
When I was young, before any of this happened, I had always been an avid reader. I would read bedtime stories for my little brother, I would read labels of things in the kitchen when Ma still had a hard time understanding English, and I would read to myself. I’ve always preferred to read by myself because I can’t concentrate when someone reads to me.
I thought I would lose the ability to read entirely, and that saddened me. Pa then told me that I would still be able to read, but with my hands. He explained that there is a written language made of small elevated dots that spelled out words. I marveled at this invention.
Later that day, he bought me my first braille book. Even though I was around fourteen, he said it would be best for me to start with an easy book. Years later, I realized he said this because longer books were expensive, and this was the cheapest one he could find. The first page had each letter printed out, with its respective braille letter beside it. I was starting fresh.
I’ve never really fit in anywhere, even before I became blind. The kids at school would make fun of me for my accent, they would call me ‘immigrant’, they would steal my snacks… At a very young age I learned that I was better off on my own. After people started to realize I was losing my sight, things got even worse. I thought it couldn’t get any worse… until I started learning to type braille.
A couple years after I learned how to read braille, Pa gave me a brailling machine he had been saving up to buy. I had to carry it to every class, and while other kids carried their small notebooks, I carried two or three large binders of braille every day.
Going to school was an extremely exhausting experience. The amount of people that would think I was dumb for not being able to see was almost ridiculous. These are the things I try to block from my memory.
I remember the day my brother was born. I was eight years old. Pa came to pick me up from Nana’s house and took me to the hospital to see him. He was so small. Ma is a short woman, so this didn’t surprise me, I wasn’t tall myself either. I smiled at him and touched his little hand. He grabbed onto my finger and looked at me curiously. His skin was light, like Pa’s. I suppose that’s why he looked so pink when I saw him for the first time. I have Ma’s skin. “His name is Alexander,” said Ma, with a tired smile. “Hi, Alexander,” I said softly. I thought he didn’t really look like me at all. “Look dear, he has your eyes!” I stared at the tiny brown eyes and found myself in them. Ma and Pa were right, he did look like me a little.
Pa had also given Ma a bouquet of red roses that day. She smiled and told him he didn’t have to do that. I got a single pink rose too, and a card that read: ‘for the big sister.’ “Be a good example for him,” said Pa. I certainly hope I have been that these past sixteen years.
I’ve spent so many years blaming Ma for letting this happen to me. But I’ve started to see her side of the story. We were never wealthy. I guess she was saving up for my eye exam. Saving up for the glasses she thought I needed. It’s been twelve years since the fateful day. My family has been so supportive. They pushed me to finish high school, helped me through the process of training Charlie to be my guide dog. They have done their best to listen to me more.
Yes, we could’ve diagnosed my glaucoma earlier if Ma had taken me to the optometrist earlier, but… would I have recovered? I had only waited a couple of months, and it had already progressed so much that it was irreparable. Would it really have made a difference? I look back on it now and realized that I’d tried to find a culprit. It was easy to blame her.
Black is the only thing I see now. The images in my memory are slowly fading away, becoming darker. The color has now been completely drained from them, and it has happened in my dreams as well. I remember my first dark dream. It was 5 years after I was told I had open-angle glaucoma. I was startled at first, there was a voice that sounded like It was right behind me. I wasn’t prepared for the voice, because I could not see the person it was coming from. I knew it was Pa because I’d gotten into the practice of recognizing voices by then.
“Keep walking,” he had said.
I suddenly realized that Charlie wasn’t with me. I was walking aimlessly, and Pa wasn’t directing me anywhere either. I could feel the wind blowing against my skin, and a chill ran down my spine. It was strange, even though I had never had a dream like this, it was the most real one yet. I could smell the cupcakes from the nearby bakery. I could hear the leaves moving in the air…
Suddenly, it stopped.
No, my dream wasn’t over, I was still asleep, but conscious, all my senses just… disappeared. I was in a black space. I couldn’t hear a thing. I could not feel my body. I was floating. Alone with my thoughts.
My brother climbed over my bed, and that was what made me wake up. My senses were back, and I let out an enormous breath. Losing the only four senses I have left was a hundred times more terrifying than it was to learn I was losing my sight. I hugged Alex, he kissed my cheek, and a big smile crept its way to my lips. He was nine years old, and soon, I thought, he would be a teenager, and wouldn’t want to hug me anymore. It’s been seven years, and he is still there. He’s the strongest piece in my support system.
I know my family is there for me, I know Charlie is there for me…
I don’t need colors anymore, I don’t need to let the past hurt me anymore. I can still feel, I can still smell, I can still hear, I can still taste, I can still love. I am still alive.