is a forest.
I am losing my sight. Not harshly. The colors do not bleed, they only have rounded edges. The loss is that of a certain visual acuity, the objects pulsing dimly out of their forms. It is soft focus. Everything in peach fuzz.
It could have been the dirt. When I was five I wanted to be Cleopatra, in the fashion of Elizabeth Taylor—the eyeliner as thick as the eyebrows. And so I created a paste of dirt and water. I thumbed a hole into the ground and let my fingers undo the earth. Through the gravel crust and to damper territory, the soil moist in a way that seemed ancient to me. It was the body of a time before mine. I hardened the lump between my hands and placed it in a silver gravy boat because gravy boats seemed elegant and I was going to be elegant as well. The water was measured and added. The paintbrush went soft against my eyelids, spreading a paste that was chunkier than I would have liked but the feeling of it against my skin gave me the same pleasure as reaching ancient dirt with my hands, and that was wonderful. The subsequent infection was thick under my lids. A lacy pus that draped over lashes. The doctor bandaged me, rendered me sightless for two weeks. When the bandages were removed the air felt piquant against the pulp of my eye and my vision seemed veiled, as it is now.
Lena has been helping me for some time now. She takes my hand to the rail. And because my movements are slow and deliberate, her movements are slow and deliberate. We are synchronized. The placement of my body in movement must be exact. Her deceleration in order to align herself to me undoes her. The body has a natural inertia and to delay it, to make velocity stagnant as she does – it takes the charge out of a person. Her head is always at the pillow before mine. And because my vision mimics morning fog perpetually, I lie awake, not being able to distinguish between the condition of my eyes and the condition of fatigue. She has a muscular smell when she sleeps, softly greasing at the joints. I don’t know what happens to that scent when she wakes up. Does motion shake off the scent? Maybe we smell most like ourselves when we are still, allow it to settle onto us and then spread.
We’ve developed a small language. It’s formation was never recognized in any official sense, it is -- more instinctual than that. We often forget to talk, our tongues well preserved behind our cheeks, but our bodies are constantly in response. Her body senses that mine has grown tense, an unsure step or an obscured obstacle in my path perhaps, and her hand tightens against my waist. As my vision worsens, my body grapples for hers a little more, in coy increments. When we met we held hands and then I was holding her lightly at the wrist. Now I hold her almost under the armpit, feeling the muscles breathe. When she makes hard breaks while driving, her free arm darts in front of my chest, materializes in an almost miraculous way. I see a slip of flesh colors with startling immediacy and for a second I wonder whether my sight is returning. I like to imagine that even when no one is riding in the car with her she still extends her arm instinctively, protects her phantom passenger. I cannot think of anything more generous than an act of instinctive concern.
We do not go out often. Mostly it is my fault. I cannot make the adjustments for the lifestyle of the visually impaired. I will not learn Braille. I will not carry a walking stick. There is something final about these things, the act of investing in your blindness. It seems perverse in a way, the anticipation of the worst case scenario. If I were to buy a cane, my eyes would understand this as a signal to stop trying, to let go completely. And my eyes would comply because my body is compliant and because I have never been one for resistance. Lena and I participate in our own personalized sense of space with my sense of speed. My hands always at a wall or under Lena’s armpit. It is extraordinary what one feels when in constant slow motion. I feel cracks in the walls before they have surfaced. The stucco constructs a constellation of animals when I linger long enough. And Lena’s arm, her arm has dry patches in all the wrong places. Her elbows are waxen and only superficially creased but the skin grows clumsy towards the shoulder, raw and uneven in texture. I like to rub the skin off with the pad of my thumb when anxious, it makes me feel vaguely purposeful. She shrugs and I know to stop.
I know that it is morning because my left side feels bright under the heat. Morning heat is particularly searing and my body twitches against it. I blink. I blink again. There is a curl of light, I think. But I blink again and it is gone. Lena is still sleeping, flexed under her own wing and knees bent against my back, poised to spring away from me like a readying swimmer. My arm reaches around until it finds the back of her knee cap, it is soft and a little wet, the tissue there, delicate. I say sorry into that space. To her cavernous parts. To her armpit. To her navel. To the space between clavicles. To the finger scooped dimples on her lower back. All the punctures that will listen.
My head relaxes back into the pillow, my face looking directly up and through the ceiling, at the sun that I know is there. My face feels enormously open and I can feel the air under my lids, it cuts through the milk of cataracts. I am running, an uninhibited sprint. That part when the brain escapes and I become the breath, the piston motion, a body that has forgotten how to recycle--leaves nothing for the saving.
-saehee cho, january 2009