My Sister’s Blindness

I have always known her eyes’ desire to gather light. As a child, she lit a boxful of candles at the first sight of darkness, stood one in each window of the house, and blew out what was left of the flames in the morning. The night found its way to her room.

In 1572, the Treasury of Optics disproved the accepted belief that light pours from the eye, reaches outward to probe the world. The fact was recanted a year later, citing the use of cadaver eyes for dissection.

Diagnosed with childhood blindness, a permanent darkening of the world, she begged the devil to leave her body. The optometrist told her that Lucifer translates to light-bearer. I prayed for her possession.

The Bible references the word eyes 502 times and the word eyesight once. Matthew 6:23: “But if your eyesight is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.”

My mother ripped out every page of the Bible that mentioned eyes or vision or sight. “We pray with our mouths, not our eyes,” she said. The Bible seemed to weigh the same, even with the pages missing.

Rene Descartes proved that the eye inverts the world—a camera obscura—by scraping away the back of an ox eye, placing it on the windowsill and watching the streets of Paris in the retina.

My sister has never been photographed with her eyes open; she says the sudden flash of light hurts.

In 1936, a prison warden in Omaha, Nebraska gave his death-row inmates the option of donating their eyes for transplant surgery after their execution, telling the World-Herald, “Where these men are going, they’ll be grateful they can’t see.”

After a year in total darkness, she began pressing both thumbs into her eyes, saying she saw lakes of light. She pressed harder and saw shafts, splinters. Still harder; the light brightened enough to induce migraines. Her hands left her eyelids a mess of yellow bruises. The optometrist split a ping-pong ball and taped halves over her eyes.

One day you’ll be blind, like me. You’ll be sitting there, a speck in the void, in the dark, forever, like me. — Samuel Beckett

My mother took my sister to the banks of the Mississippi River and told God to show Himself. If He were real, He would bless the river and the water would wash away the darkness. She took her own reflection as a sign without leading my sister to the water.