A Curtain of Darkness
A Curtain of Darkness
by Matt Briggs
I woke on the Sunday before my work week began after a week off during the Fourth of July with a massive shape in my left eye. It appeared like a hole in my field of vision. That is, it appeared like something that wasn’t.
As I stared at it, I could see through it like a slip of cellophane stained with spaghetti grease. The shape obscured an 1/16 of my vision in the lower left-hand side of my left eye. It disappeared as suddenly as it appeared when I wasn’t staring at the wall near my bed. When I closed my eye I could see a halo of this visual disturbance in my inner eye, on my eyelid, or whatever it was that I was looking at when I was looking when my eyes were closed. I vaguely remember seeing this object before I went to bed, but I couldn’t be sure. In any case in the early morning it seemed to have vanished like other objects in my eyes have vanished before. I thought it has some artifact from my reading light like I had stared into the book light without realizing it. I didn’t want to think about it.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska
During the morning, the shape kept revealing itself. It was as unchanged. I stood in front of the white hallway wall and stared at it. It was a large disc with a kind of margin around the edge. It was like cooking oil dropped onto the surface of sink water. I waited during the day for it to go away. I could not put the shape in my eye out of my mind. Other disturbances in my field of vision, splotches, motes, tracers, and the residue of bright light shifted and moved, but this one remained.
I would close my good eye and look at thing through the bad eye. In the light the I could see through the shape but changed the color of what I was looking at. The shape was like a slip of yellow, brownish cellphone. The shape subtly drifted but was always there.
Reading a book, the shape obscured some of the letters. On a screen like Microsoft Word it looked like a coffee spill. I pinned a sheet to the wall and then drew an outline of my nose and then an outline of the shape to see if it was growing larger or smaller.
I had no confidence in the stability of the chart. The shape was like a cloud.
They say the eyes are the windows of the soul. When they say this, they mean that you can look into someone’s eyes and see their inner most self. When I stare into most people’s pupils, I see nothing except a tiny chamber of inscrutable darkness. And yet the shape in my eye made me aware that I was looking out from inside of myself through the object of my eye. My eyes achieved a degree of transparency where I never interested with my eyes themselves except for the rare occasion when I had tracers or tears or little specs drifting into and out of my vision. I wear glasses and glasses supply a fussy barrier between inner self and my surroundings. When I wear a face mask going to the grocery store, my glasses fog. When I run, my glasses become streaked with sweat. I have a cloth and wipe my glasses. I am also near sighted and often take my glasses off and in this case everything right in front of me is unobstructed, but beyond me the world drifts into a diaphanous field. I can see the frames of my glasses in my vision and gradually tune them out, and yet I am very aware of wearing my glasses. They are the safety glasses to the soul.
Getting a prescription is a pleasure because this is where the contrast between my blurry sight in the far field is suddenly brought into focus. This shift from blurry to sharp is something that makes me giddy. There is a pleasure in finding the sharp edge of the worn letters in the cards at the optometrist. I can follow the starkly black, matte surface to the boundary of the G or E letterform and then the slightly fuzzy off-white color of the empty paper. As a child I had a microscope and would view the barely visible world through the lens of the device. I prepared a slide of pond water and then sliced through it with the focus until I came upon an amoeba and brought its undulating surface into sharp contrast. The amoeba became as solid and well defined as a statue in a museum park.
I had trouble sleeping that night unsure if I would wake to find my entire eye had been subsumed by the shape. I had trouble comparing my situation to the situation of the blind or sight impaired or people who had lost a single eye. I did spend some time during the day staring through one eye wondering how well I could make a single eye work. I wasn’t blind in my left eye, yet. I had my left eye. I had this object and didn’t know what the shape was.
In the morning, the shape remained. I checked against the map and it was the size. I didn’t know if it has been growing there for years and then suddenly, I noticed it. When I had gone to sleep, the shape had been there, hadn’t it?
While I lay in bed I wondered if this was a harbinger of something worse. Blindness? Retinal cancer? Some underlying health condition that attacked my organs, and less conspicuous organs like my spleen or liver were rotted out? This was just the first to go that I was aware of.
I read about the things the shape could be. It could be rod and cone damage and I was just not able to process the color correctly. It could be an infection in my eye. It could be something called a floater that formed from a ripped or detached cornea. This appears without pain, and yet a ripped or detached cornea sounded like something that would be painful.
In reading about the detached cornea they talked about their being a sudden flow of floaters, flashing lights, and the vision fading from the sides and the arrival of “a curtain of darkness” and the loss of sight in your eye that would require a trip to the emergency room.
Yet for interminable stretches of the day, I didn’t notice it all. The shape was gone.
I tried to set up an appointment with the eye doctor. I hadn’t been in to get a prescription in a couple of years. As I thought about it, I realized that in fact I did need new prescription. Things had changed in my eyes. Things had had changed in my eyes because of this event in my eye. I didn’t know. Trying to star at a screen filled me with vertigo and nausea as I tried to stare through this object in my eye. The next available appointment because of COVID-19 was eight weeks way.
I messaged my primary care doctor about it to ask how serious this condition was. My doctor called me right back and said that in fact I should see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible, today in fact. I could have a detached cornea. I could get The Curtain of Darkness. She referred me to a chain with a lot of doctors and I called them and the only available appointment that day was 20 miles away at University Place just beyond Fircrest in Tacoma.
My daughter drove me because my daughter and wife said that I would have displayed pupils and would be unable to drive myself home. They didn’t want me to take a Lyft because of COVID-19. She drove me and then I was examined.
We rode in the car down to Fircrest where we had been going when she had bass lessons with a bass instructor who had been the bassist for a famous new age musican. The bassist had even a session mission in LA. He owned the upright, minimal bass from the Thompson Twins, one that had been in one of their videos. He had a variety of guitars and six string guitars on his wall. We would drive down there twice a month. I would do work on my iPad while Riley did her lesson and then we would go to the Yeti Yogurt. The yogurt place closed down right around the time my daughter stopped her bass practice.
One the way to my appointment, we passed the closed down yogurt shop. And then we pulled into the clinic. I went inside and checked in. I passed through the lobby and went up a flight of stairs. The lobby had vaulted wooden ceilings and there were a few patients sitting here and there in chairs within their gas masks. I stood behind a line marked out in tape and then the clerk called me, and I gave her my information and filled out a form and then waited. Finally, I was led into a room where I had one of those eye machines lifted to my head and I read numbers. I had trouble seeing the numbers through my left eye because of the shape. After a while even this motion and movement began to come alarming because of the mask. I felt like I couldn’t breathe even though I knew I could breath. The medical assistant wore a mask. He seemed friendly and we move through the questions. The room was sparse with various eye related charts and warnings. There was innocuous art on the walls like seascapes and folk-art style painting. The soundtrack was a cheery light FM music that was like refactored Paul Simon and the light rock of Neil Young slowly draining of meaning. After the assistant had taken my measurements, reviewed my sight, and then applied a sequence of eye drops that he warned me would sting and didn’t actually sting, he left and I thought about who might listen to this music beside people forced to listen to in an eye clinic. He came back and took me to a room labeled dilation room that also had charts about what would happen. There was a Dr. Foo and she might it seem diagnose and fix whatever was wrong with my on the spot and it might take a couple of hours. The dilation room was really an alcove. There was an incredibly old woman who was doing anti-anxiety exercise by counting on her fingers slowly going up and down. She didn’t look at me. And there was a black guy with a big beard that came out of the sides of his mask. He was on his phone, a largish Android tablet. He glanced at me and then went back to whatever he was doing on his phone which seemed like video game. I was worried about the battery on my phone and I could barely see anyway. And so, I just sat and looked at the art and waited. Someone came and took the black guy to a room. And then the older woman had her named called out and she collected her things and then carefully walked down the hallway. The assistant who has seen me passed through the dilation alcove a couple of times. I was struggling with anxiety myself feeling like I could barely breath and wondering what had happened to my eye.
The margins of my eye site began to become luminous as my eyes dilated, Finally they were sparking and the entire world seemed l Ike it was wrapped in glowing sheets of white plastic. I was led to examine room that had Dr. Foo’s medical credentials on the wall. A particularly brutal light rock came on the soundtrack and I waited.
Finally, a trim and short man wearing hospital blues entered the room and introduced himself as Dr. Dollhauser. He asked me about what was going on and nodded and didn’t say anything and then he had me sit back and he shined some lights in my eyes. I think I know what is going on, but need to confirm it, and see what else is happening. While he shined the light into my eyeball. The light was bright, and the shape was a solid object in my eye like a silhouette. He examined things for about three minutes and then said, “just as I thought.”
He said that my eyes were healthy and then he explained what my doctor had explained to me. That as near-sighted eyes age the virtuous fluid may settle and the shape of the eye changes. This is what happened to me. And so material from my retina came out. The debris floated in the virtuous fluid. The material could have ripped my retina. The rip could be so severe that, as one doctor explained it, like wallpaper coming loose from a wall.
“What can you do about the floater I asked?”
“You don’t need to do anything about the floater he said. You will tune it out in about six months.”
This it seemed improbable to me. It was a large object that blocked about 1/16 or 1/8 of my vision. If I closed my right eye and looked onto a clear field, it was just there.
The doctor cautioned me. He said that if I suddenly see more floaters, stars, or if the sides of my vision start to close in, I should contact them at once. “You have a five percent chance of my retina ripping or detaching. But that since that hasn’t happened yet, the chance of it happening will lessen over time.”
I said thank you and had more questions, but he was on his way out the door. I thanked him and said his explanation was clear. And he looked at me and didn’t make any sort of expression. He just looked at me and then left.
I was alone in the room again with the light rock soundtrack going on and on. I wandered outside and could barely see now my eyes were so dilated. My daughter was there in her car, I sat down, and I kept my eyes half closed as she drove me home.
In the aftermath I became depressed. I called it sad. My vision felt wrecked. I could barely see a screen while I typed. I named the floater Dollhauser. The thing was there the next day at the edge of my vision. It was harbinger of my coming infirmity and death. While it wasn’t painful it was a nuisance, a visual disturbance, like burn in an expensive TV only this wasn’t a TV but my actual eye, my actual vision.
I learned there were things I could do to fix this vision, but they all came with risks. I could get a doctor to shoot a laser into Dollhauser. It would break it up into smaller floaters. Or I could get them to drain my eye of virtuous fluid and replace it. In both cases I risked getting more floaters or even The Curtain of Darkness.
I would bide my time to see if I could tune out this flaw in my vision. Yet the next day I woke depressed. The shape followed me. The depression only lasted a couple of days, and yet the shape was still there.