My maternal grandmother saw a swamp in my elementary-age eyes. We suspected many years later that she may have had iritis, too, but none of us ever knew it, officially. My mother was more than unhappy when they wanted to test me for congenital syphilis, a medical request made owing to the fact that iritis is in a constellation with rheumatoid arthritis and syphilis. Although affronted, she perhaps let them run the tests, but I don’t know about that, for sure. Despite the many work-ups, allergy tests, and whatnot, my case was idiopathic.
After each visit with the ophthalmologist, my mother and I walked around Manhattan, near the doctor’s office. It was a time when folks were still permitted to sell toys, books, and electronics at sidewalk tables lining the streets. My mother was famous for allowing me to pick one thing. A special thing, to help distract me from the light burning my dilated little kid pupils. I think we sometimes had a snack. We often went to Azuma, a tchotchke paradise co-mingled with functional wares and food emporium, where we ambled among castles of lacquered bowls and plates near thick white spoon spires. There were cans of everything one might want or seek to avoid. I loved the differently printed Japanese folding fans with their black metal enclosures and rectangular clips.
I chose wee wooden animals, handcrafted in India. The turtle was either first or second among my selections, and I picked him because—as my mother pointed out, delightedly—his limbs and head moved when met by a slight breeze. I used to blow gently on him and smile. She did this, too. I didn’t think much about the springs. It was a baby magic. His head broke later on, or maybe, technically speaking, it was his neck. Since then, his face has been perpetually tilted skyward.
My mother painted the outermost edges of a printer’s box a favorite blue shade of mine; it became a treasures’ display case in my room. I carefully placed the turtle therein. To this day, he resides near two Azuma comrades: a tall brown and yellow owl and a scratched red bird, each with its tiny, built-in platform. Later on, fossils, rocks, shells, glass pieces, and metal figurines accompanied the Azuma animals in the printer’s box. There were other Azuma animals, but I don’t know where they have traveled. In a local antique store, recently, dear friends and I found a grouping of animals like the ones I had; I wondered, again, what became of my elephant, tiger, and camel. I hope someday for a reunion.
The glare outside from the clear, dilating eye drops happened regularly for a number of years. An awful, orangey dazzle matched the stains under my eyes, from other drops—Fluorescein—used with a blue light to check for corneal tears or damage and to assess eye pressure.
My iritis, its etiology remaining unknown, stopped in around sixth grade, and I hoped it would never come back. I was in remission for over 30 years. It returned when I was teaching in upstate New York, and left again with treatment. I worried less and less about another outbreak until I learned that iritis occurs often in the aftermath of cataract surgery, but then subsides with healing.
At 34, I found out that I had bilateral cataracts and would likely need surgery twenty to thirty years sooner than most people who tend to develop the regular kind of age-related cataracts. I eventually developed that kind, too. The first duo was the result of the long-term steroid drops that stopped me from going blind when I was little; the second set—well, that happened.
When I was a kid, and well into adulthood, I didn’t think much about the fact that I had blue eyes in early photographs. Iritis made them hazel, in two different shades. As I grew up, I thought it was cool to have Bowie-esque eyes, but it was not cool to have severe myopia, astigmatism, light sensitivity, or pupils of unequal sizes. Not to mention the four eyes chiding all through school, made worse by being smart, skinny, flat-chested, flat-footed, lacking in athleticism, and bucktoothed.
A portable bully-me ad, my anxiety was compounded by worrying, sometimes, that eventually I would lose my vision. I was more worried about lots of other things. An understandably nervous kid, I didn’t eat much, except at my maternal grandparents’ apartment (especially when my grandfather wasn’t home), around the corner from my parents’ house.
I sure liked it when my parents took me to the Roll N Roaster, Burger King, or Roy Rogers. While we sometimes ate at nicer places, fast food was a real treat. We had our phases of kosher 24/7 and kosher only at home. Two reasons to celebrate at these places: we were out of the house, and I might get holster fries (although if I wore the holster to school, that contributed to the teasing and brutality). The roast beef gravy seeping into the bun was a thing of delicious beauty, at both Roy Rogers and Roll N Roaster, although I preferred the latter. It was always better eating out when my parents weren’t arguing, but that scenario became increasingly rare. My mother was a great cook. That was beside the point. However food avoidant I was, I always liked fruit.
For the first time, I roasted peaches tonight. I started by boiling Brussels sprouts, then combining the precooked sprouts with sliced zucchini, small sections of eggplant, and the thick peach slices. Just a little garlic and onion infused olive oil goes a long way with freshly ground black pepper at 450 degrees, but I also applied a thin coating of coffee infused maple syrup. Spooning the veggies over a bed of light orzo with a hint of butter, I added a sprinkling of local goat cheese with herbs. Those peaches were a mouth party.
The fruit no one wants ripened recently on the right. The first time a doctor told me that mature cataracts are called ripe, I kind of wanted to puke. The iris cattails will stay brown-edged, flecked amber, asymmetrically wrapped around their moss water. The doctor will shatter and vacuum the culprit, then pop in some new stuff, maybe add some plankton. Another procedure will happen at a later date, disrupting the secondary cataract and preventing opacity of the new lens. No more pizza laser slicing, these days.
I’ll dredge this swamp, soon.