A Sunday Story About Having One Eye
A long and self indulgent thing about my eye.
Your parents describe your birth as the happiest moment of their lives, followed immediately by the saddest. Your mother holds you and is smiling and happy and your father fawns over you and kisses her on her forehead and she presses your body into her chest and looks down at you and realizes something is wrong. Your eyes are not the same. One is blue, the other is grey. One is hiding under a partially opened eye-lid; the other is extending far beyond it, like a potato exploding out of an egg cup. Suddenly, the doctors are in the room and they take you and rush you out. And when they come back they tell your parents that they don’t know what’s wrong, but something is wrong. There will be tests, there will be lots of tests. Your parents sob. Your father cradles you and tells you that no matter what the tests say, he’ll take care of you forever.
You are born with a rare eye defect called Peters Anomaly. You’re blind in that one eye, but it is only that one eye. Everything else is fine. You are not going to die.
This is not a story about how life is hard. You are very lucky. It struck only your left eye. A lot of people who get this—there are not that many who get it but a lot of the ones who do—get it in both. There is no child in the history of the world who has ever had greater access to medical care than you did. Your father has always had a very complicated relationship with using the advantages of his celebrity, but not here, not in this case. Also, this is just about one eye, you have another, many people don’t have any. And even if you didn’t, you would still have four other senses. People suffer a trillion things every day that are far worse than this. So, this is not a story about life being hard. This is just a story.
Your parents are as naive as you would be in this situation and say, “fine, get him an eye transplant.” Those do not exist. A specialist tells them that there are so many nerves in an eye that to do a transplant would take an entire life to reattach all of them.
The eye goes down in size eventually, fitting underneath the lid, though it remains a cloudy gray and obviously you can’t see out of it. A few years later, around your earliest memories, you start wearing a contact lens to make it look normal. You—people in general, but importantly, you—can’t get a glass eye too early. The face has to grow enough or else it will not work. You have a collection of contact lenses. One has a Batman logo on it. One has a smiley face. But even at that age it doesn’t take long to realize that really what you want is to be normal. So there are then blue contact lenses.
There is a 1991 People Magazine article from around this time that haunts your family.
The cover says “THE POWER OF LOVE” and it is about your parents’ marriage. In the 80s your dad’s career faltered, your mother’s lupus flared up, and you were born, but in 1991 things were on the up and the story (subtly titled “Against All Odds”) is about your father’s resurgent career, your mother’s resilient survival, and your ability to shrug off teasing. You tell the reporter that:
“I don’t like school, because people bother me about my eye,” Ben says, imitating a singsong taunt. ”‘I don’t like you! You don’t have an eye! Ha-ha! Ha-ha!’ So I say, ‘Well, you’re the one that’s being mean, because you don’t know what you’re doing to other people.’”
You are the most evolved 4 year-old in the whole world.
Soon after the story, two things happen: first, you get a glass eye.
The day of the surgery you are scared. You are on the gurney being brought in and your mom and dad are there and you’re crying and they’re crying and you’re telling them you’ve changed your mind and they reassure you and under you go and the next memory you have is him carrying you out of the hospital and bringing you home, and then you spending days in your parents bed watching television. You can’t immediately just put in a glass eye. The surgery is to take out the bad one and implant a prosthesis that has to set and then eventually a glass eye is what you can wear over that. The implant in your eye socket 25 years later is the same one that was implanted that day in 1991. For months, you wear bandages and eye patches. You go to NYC. You were in Bobby Balaban’s apartment on the Upper West Side. Your mom was on an exercise bike in a fitness room that had big mirrored walls. You took off your bandages and looked at the mirror and started to sob and asked her if you had gone through all that to like a monster. Because that’s what you look like when you don’t have your glass eye in. It doesn’t look right. It’s bloody and disgusting and it’s not a finished product. It was the first time that you had ever been shocked by your eye.
The second thing that happens after the People “Power of Love” cover is your parents separate.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Calm Down to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.