When the doctor took the patch off my left eye, I was flummoxed. The world I encountered was not the one I usually see upon opening my eyes; this new world was dazzling, intense, lustrous. My eyes were still dilated and my vision cloudy from the surgery. Nevertheless, the difference between the vision in my two eyes was spectacular. I spent the next several days, covering first one eye and then the other, trying to make sense of the bright reality of the left eye compared to the duller, yellow-green world of the right eye, the world I had been living in for some time.
I first began to recognize that I needed cataract surgery when I went out to dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. My friend had an unhealthy pallor about her; her face looked almost green in places. I didn’t want to question her, but I worried a little. A few days later, I was sitting around a table with four other friends and I noticed they all had that same wan, green look. “Oh,” I thought, “It’s me, not them.” The eye doctor had been telling me for several years that the need for this surgery was approaching. He said I would know when it was time. I hadn’t driven at night for several years. Lights were often surrounded by two or three images of themselves. My friends looked green. It was time.
I am happy about the lightness and clarity of my new environment and excited about being able to see so well; still, interestingly, sometimes I cover up my “good” left eye for a short time and lived in the familiarity of the world as seen with the right eye, the world I am leaving behind. It is a relief to see things as they have been, as I am used to perceiving them, cloudy and colored or not. It is comforting, a world I know.
Perhaps I feel this longing for the already known because we are getting ready to move again. This is a small move, the last in a series of moved that came with aging. Last year was a year of downsizing. I was taking on only a few small projects, and Rosemary had begun working three days a week. It was time to consolidate, to learn to live on a leaner budget, to think about things like the proximity to trains and one-floor living. We sold our house in Maine and moved into a condo in Connecticut. Now, as a final step, we are swapping our apartment for a smaller pied-á-terre in the same Brooklyn neighborhood. As long as Rosemary works, we need a place in the city. This move, unlike our earlier one, is not an emotional one; our current apartment is a rental and we have only been here a year.
Nevertheless, I will be happy to be settled. We found a one bedroom on a low floor that we could afford, but it needed a gut renovation. We had done some extensive renovations on our Connecticut condo before we moved in last summer, and we were both tired of the headaches of construction, but we couldn’t find a better option, so we went ahead. The renovation was even worse than we had anticipated – asbestos in the floor and ceiling, impossible city regulations, over-budget changes, and a contractor who does excellent and diligent work, but is poor at planning. So we are happy that (hopefully!!) the apartment is finally ready.
This apartment is small, but it will be our design, and it will be fresh and clean. I will have space for a desk and we look out on a garden. There are doormen and porters downstairs to turn to when we need help. We have friends who live a couple of floors above us. I will be grateful to have time to spend on writing rather than selecting bathroom tiles and getting estimates from moving companies. I can give up my daily relationship with Zillow. I will be rattled for awhile, trying to find light switches in unknown locations and struggling to remember which direction the bathroom is in the middle of the night, but, we will be settled and I won’t have to think about moving. Still, every once in awhile, I long to close my left eye and live in the familiar past.
When my mother was still alive and in assisted living, I used to visit her pretty much daily. As her dementia became more serious, she would often say to me toward the end of my visit, “OK, let’s go home now.” I would explain to her that this was home; this was where she lived, and I would point to items in the room that had been hers for many years, her favorite chair, the pictures on the wall.
I wasn’t sure which home she longed for – the stately brick mill housing that both she and I had grown up in, the suburban garrison that we moved to when I was in high school, or the white-carpeted condo where she lived after my father died. I’m not sure she knew. She wanted the familiar, a place where the world around her was known and comfortable. I imagined that she yearned for a time as much as a place – a time when she felt more at home in her own body, an era when her husband, her parents, or her siblings were around her, and an era when possibilities lay ahead. Sometimes, it is that world of the familiar that I long for, probably the world of my childhood with only the good parts showing.
Truthfully, I am eager for the second cataract operation on my right eye to bring balance back to my vision. I know that the whiter, cleaner world that I see with my left eye is where I want to be, as I know this new, smaller, more manageable apartment is where I will happily settle down to my new writing life. Sometimes, I just want to shut my left eye and be home again. But, this is where my tomorrow is, and I am eager to step into that future.
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