The doctor said, “One of the doctors in our practice was able to identify what you have.” My mouth fell open; time slowed; seconds stretched to days, weeks, to the swirling galaxy light years away. I was so small amongst these ancient stars, my entire planet just a thin dot on the horizon, my world this microscopic lesion. Somewhere a toddler cried as their toast tumbled to the floor, and a father bent to retrieve it.
“It’s called UAIM,” he said.
Of course it’s a terrible idea to diagnose your disease on google. But I had to know what was wrong with me. Before I could lose my nerve, I typed “eye issues” into the search bar on my phone. A cascade of results appeared.
“Where to start?” I thought to myself. I felt like I stood at the edge of a waterfall, doubtful if I should throw myself into the pounding current.
I held my breath and clicked…
“It’s my news to tell,” I said.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know it would bother you,” he said.
“We haven’t even told our families yet!” I said.
“I’m sorry,” he said. We sat in silence, staring at our plates. Jeremy scratched at the uneaten food on his plate; my eyes felt hot.
“I’m just scared,” I said.
Jeremy sighed and touched my shoulder. “I know,” he said.
“I can’t believe this,” Jeremy said.
“Yeah,” I said thickly. “They don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“I never expected that,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You okay?” he said, stopping to look at me.
I sighed and buried my face in his chest.
In the silence that followed, I heard what he was not saying: my retina is irreplaceable, one-in-a-million. Which means there’s no reversing the carnage already enacted on my ratty retinal layers, and in fact, it could get worse. There was no going back.
“Hello again, Elizabeth,” Dr. Patron said as he sat on a black rolling stool.
“Hi,” I said, as I stood to shake his hand again and then raced into the exam chair in the center of the room, perennially the straight-A student and now, aspiring perfect patient.
“Let’s just take a quick look at your eyes before we discuss the results of these tests, alright?” he said.
“Okay,” I said, willing myself to smile but aching inside – here he was with the answers, and I needed to wait for him to fiddle with a machine or two before he tells me what he knows?
Need death be what wakes you at 3AM, agog and panting,
like you’ve fallen beneath a wave and drunk its foam, sputtering and begging for relief?
I turned my nose up at my weed-smoking neighbors. I described them to friends as “old hippies,” I rolled my eyes at them, and I wondered, “Do they even have jobs? What do they do all day?”
I even tried to root my feelings in my Christian faith. But Christianity has this sneaky core tenant about loving your neighbors, even the ones you don’t like. I actually believe that Jesus died for people who hated him, so I could not escape the pang in my gut that told me I was straight-up wrong in feeling so great about myself and feeling resentful toward them — I could not escape it, that is, unless I simply chose to ignore it.
That’s what I did: I ignored this gnawing expertly, just magnificently, until the day I actually met my neighbors.
For most of my life, I assumed Jesus was an effeminate white guy. Of course, that had something to do with the fact that every depiction I saw confirmed that: shoulder-length brown hair, blue eyes, creamy skin, clean-shaven face, slim figure. Basically, Jesus looked a lot like me.