I awoke this morning drenched in sweat, cold and frightened.
My bedroom was quiet – uncomfortably quiet. The eastern horizon had yet to begin its daily metamorphoses from black to orange to yellow to brilliant shaded of blues that I remember all so well. Not sure what hour of the morning it is right now but it had to be early for the sky to be this dark. There were no shadows, no outlined trees, no hint of my bedroom window, its curtains or even the time of day on my ceiling. I love my digital bedside clock as it has a feature I had grown to appreciate. It projected the digital time to the ceiling just over my head so all I had to do was open one eye to see the time. No more squirming around and craning my neck to see the clock. My ceiling is black right now, no numbers. Maybe I forgot to turn the projection feature on the evening before. I tried looking directly at the clocks face but could not see it. Maybe the electricity was out or maybe its back-up batteries were dead. My mind was randomly jumping from subject to subject so I let it wander while I rubbed my eyes to get the sleep crust out. I was just getting over a cold so my eyes being crusted shut did not surprise me. I tried rubbing my eyes with the knuckles of both hands. That didn’t help. The harder I rubbed did however produce slight pain deep inside both eyes and flashing colored lights racing around inside my eyes.
Funny the thoughts that goes through your mind at times like this. I have had floaters in my eyes since my teen years and I knew the floaters were inside my eyeball. These brilliant flashes of colored lights I am seeing now I knew were not inside my eyeball but somewhere deep in the inter-reaches of the brain. Somewhere in my central processor or as I sometimes say, my Captain Central. Not real sure where the captain stores it but wherever it is in fine with me. Where is not the problem, it’s the working part that is all important – to me.
I remember one time in France I was leaving a friends house very late in the evening and the skyline was almost, but not quite like it is this morning - black, no definition no - nothing. I remember thinking I was in a vacuum. His house was in a suburb of rural Fontainebleau so I wasn’t that concerned as the French were not that much into “urban awareness”. There were no sidewalks, no streetlights and all houses bordering the narrow cobblestone street had their shutters closed and interior lights out. But that was France and to be expected. That night however is a complete void. There was no moon, no stars, no searchlights, no cars on the streets, not even your normal alley cats with flashing yellow eyes. Nothing, absolutely nothing. My mind was yelling void and it was probably right. I remember holding my hand out in front of my face to see if my vacuum was as void as it seemed. It was. The night was so black all reality seemed elsewhere. I know what is said about black is the complete absents of color, but this was ridiculous.
That was then - but it is just like this morning.
I was beginning to feel apprehensive about this darkness.
I guess my mind was still playing with me as it went back to a 1969 day in Vietnam during the rainy season. Temperature had cooled to a balmy 83 degrees but for 0300 hrs in the morning that was OK. Flares had kept the evening hours bright with their dancing shadows on the landscape and Charley (our not-so-friendly VC) hidden in their caves or still trekking the Ho-Chi-Minh trail. Sporadic small arms fire was normal and the green-tailed tracers always told us from where Charley was. It was that time between 0300 and daylight that was the most nerve-racking. The sounds of firing stopped; there was no rain falling and no birds or nocturnal sounds other then your own breathing. Flashes of distant artillery were absent as were the rolling thunder of distant bombings.
Quiet. The evening was so very quiet and as dark as that street in Fontainebleau so many years before.
My mind started telling me something was wrong.
Bouncing out of bed is not exactly what I did next but I needed to do just that. I had to get the body moving and get my day started. This darkness had to end as I was getting more apprehensive, nervous and more panicky by the minute.
I did throw back the top sheet and force my legs out of the covers but by the time they were on the cool flooring my head was bouncing off the wall about eight feet away. I had no balance, there was neither up nor down and my one sensation was of pain in my temple and complete wonderment, “What in the hell is happening??” (I did a National Guard tour in the military and two deployments to Iraq so that is not exactly my words used but is close to the point! Actual words and expressions used would have changed this story to an R rating).
I tried blinking one eye, then the other, then both but I was still in the dark – literally. I had or rather I hoped I had all the night crud out of my eyes from all that rubbing and digging and was pretty sure my eyes were open but the room and my world was still dark, no correct that, my world was black. Completely void of all light. For all intents and purposes I was blind and as wet as if I had just stepped from the shower.
The word was involuntarily running around in my brain. In and out of that brain protected ‘visual cortex’ and jumping from side to side telling me all will be alright in one voice and telling me the difficulties I am now facing at the same time.
My mind was trying to remain civil and logical but that was the left side. The right side was cussing God and praying at the same time and trying to make sense of this darkness…
Walt Stromer in his book 'The Dark, Paradoxical Gift' said “So far as I know, and psychological studies support me, the blind are about as happy or miserable as sighted people and factually their suicide rate is lower.” Those words did me NO good right now. I was not now a happy person.
The sun is now high above the horizon, birds are singing and squirrels are hurting their nuts. I have fornicating ducks right outside my window, seagulls and vultures overhead and snakes and turtles in the lake and I can’t see any of them. I can’t even see the floor I am laying on or the wall I just bounced off. DAMN.
“Maybe this is temporary.” My left mind said hopefully to whomever or whatever was listening. That didn’t help because my right brain seems to get into an argument with itself…and rightfully so.
As I was trying to sort out my predicament I let my mind wander. Over the years I have found, at times, if I didn’t concentrate on any particular subject my mind would take off on tangents and right now I didn’t need that. Sometimes it would come up with interesting data so this morning I tried to relax while sitting on the floor in complete blackness and let it speculate and question.
One corner of my mouth quietly curved upward as my brain told me what it was doing. It may have done that in the past but I just never paid it any attention – then. This morning I am listening to everything as I am bordering on being desperate.
I sat and listened hoping for some kind of answer.
“I am your brain and like the rest of your anatomy, made up of two halves, a left brain and a right brain. There's a big fold that goes from front to back, essentially dividing me into two distinct and separate parts. Well, almost separate. We are connected to each other by a thick cable of nerves at the base of each brain. This sole link between the two giant processors, the corpus collosum is basically the same as your HDMI cabling for your new wide-screened HDTV. Think of it also as an Ethernet cable or network connection between two incredibly fast and immensely powerful computer processors, each running different program from the same input.”
That slight smile inched upward a bit more as the movie ‘Joe and the Volcano’ with Tom Hanks and his ‘brain cloud’ visited the one side that doing the communicating right now. Not sure if I have the same cloud as Mr. Hanks but I definitely had something – sitting here in the dark.
The discussion(s) inside my head continued with, “Remember, Lois the left side of your body is wired to the right side of your brain, and vice versa. For whatever reason nature did this cross-over, it applies even to our eyes, which process a majority of their sensory data on opposite sides of the brain.”
I was subconsciously thinking – BFD but apparently neither brain heard me.
I felt I needed to contribute something but didn’t feel right jumping in on what was sounding like intelligent conversations from my otherwise lazy brain. Somewhere in my past literary life I had heard or read that we can thank Nobel Prize Winner (1981) Roger Sperry for his contributions. Sperry conducted what are sometimes called the split-brain experiments. Here's how it went: A patient suffering from uncontrolled seizures had an area of his brain removed by surgery in an attempt to control his illness. This area just happened to be the corpus collosum, which was suspected of having developed lesions (short circuits).
“Following his surgery, Sperry's patient seemed completely normal -- almost. A series of tests were conducted where each half of the patient was isolated from the other half. Different visual and tactile information could then be presented to the patient's left or right side, without the other side knowing. The results were astounding.
“With their communications link severed, each side of the patient's brain was functioning independently. Although this did not prevent his ability to walk, talk and eat or chew gum some unexpected findings were encountered in some of the higher brain functions when each side was examined independently of the other.
“The right hand and eye could name an object, such as a pencil, but the patient could not explain for what it was used. When shown to the left hand and eye, the patient could explain and demonstrate its use, but could not name it. Further studies showed that various functions of thought are physically separated and localized to a specific area on either the left or right side of the human brain. This functional map is consistent for an estimated 70 to 95 percent of us.
The main theme to emerge... is that there appear to be two modes of thinking. Verbal and nonverbal, represented rather separately in left and right hemispheres respectively and that our education system, as well as science in general, tends to neglect the nonverbal form of intellect. What it comes down to is that modern society discriminates against the right hemisphere.
The Left side of my brain uses logic, detail oriented where facts rule. My Right side however is my sensitive side that uses feeling and is big picture oriented and sometimes the risk taken. I was starting to feel like a spectator at the Super Bowl routing for the underdog but knowing full well which team was going to be the victor. Damn!
“The choices of which brain is in control of which situations is what forges our personalities and determines our character” says Sperry.
Right now my brain had just launched “The War of the Brains” and I was sitting in the dark, on my bedroom cold floor, seemingly facing the rest of my life in the dark and I am scared. I was pretty sure outside was in bright sunlight but here in my bedroom and inside my head was still very dark. For no apparent reason I thought about two movies from years past, Johnny Belinda and At First Sight. Of my five senses I would have a hard time living without any one of them but like the movie if I were deaf and mute I think I would survive. Being blind I could not.
So much discussion but still so little data to help look for a light solution.
My mother use to tell me of the one thing she was afraid of – Dark Waters. As a young girl she used to have nightmares of being in deep dark water and couldn’t get out. She never drowned in her dreams but she never got out of the water either. The Dark Water was all consuming to her in her dreams. The dark waters must have all been in my mother’s head because she never went swimming or fished. In her later life the closest she got to dark waters was washing her face with a dark face-cloth. Seems her right side brain ruled my mother.
BUT – One thing my mother did contemplate and finally accomplish was suicide. My mother and her Dark Waters feared drowning to the extent she tried to drown herself in a bathtub, a kiddy pool, and even while washing dishes in the kitchen sink. My mother owned and operated a beauty school and salon. On more then a dozen attempts over a dozen years she tried accidentally dropping electrical curling irons, hair dryers and hand massagers in the hair washing sink as she cleaned the shop for the evening after everyone had left. She tried running into a bridge abutment at 100mph but the old Ford blew a retread tire and she missed her target and ran out thought a corn field till she got stuck in the mud. She tried to make my dad angry enough to do her harm, that almost worked when one evening dad came home so drunk he missed the toilet when trying to pee and mother helped him zip his fly without bothered to put his penis back inside. He walked bowlegged for weeks and mother and I use to grin remembering. Mother grinned; I grimaced remembering the absolute pain on my fathers face.
How did she finally meet her demons in her Black Waters? Eagle Brand condensed milk. Mother was diabetic and a can of Eagle Brand three times a day for a week finally killed her.
I must have stayed in that sitting position on the floor for a long time. My bottom was numb, my head still hurt and I felt I needed to go to the bathroom. Just about then my cheek was being warmed and my first thought was "from the sunlight?" I could feel my eye lids fluttering as if they were squinting but the room was still so very dark, or was it?
As an icy chill racked my shoulders and body I realized I was wringing wet. My hair was hanging in my face, wet and stingy; my nightgown was wet and clinging to my breasts and back. I felt as if my mother had thrown me into her lake of dark waters.
Both sides of my brain did come to an agreement. I would not continuing living if I were blind. I tried listing the things I could not do; drive, cook, read, write, use the computer, see a movie, read a newspaper or watch my husbands face when he was happy. The list is endless but you get the point.
I am sitting alone on the railing of a very high balcony wondering if I would have much pain when I hit the ground. How should I hit the ground; face first, on my back, feet first…. I was trying to decide if I should do a half or full gainer, swan dive or just jump and let the wind currents decide when….
“Honey… you OK?”
A voice in the deep abyss of one side of my brain was speaking but I could not hear nor understand. I was confused, wet and blind. BLIND – God Damn it. I was hurt, confused and angry and above all – scared.
I heard that voice again. It echoed a bit before I recognized it was coming from within my world.
“Honey… are you having your dream again?” There seemed to be a long pause and the same question was repeated but with much expression as Frank added, “Looks as though you had another soaking night sweats again – you feel better now?” The questions were the same as he had asked so many times in the past he knew the answers, he was a good man. He retrieved a large towel for me from the bathroom and I knew he was bringing me a steaming cup of coffee. He always does.
My brain cloud or brain discussion finally got together and let me fully open my eyes to a warm sunny and bright morning. My head still throbbed but I could now see the room, my husband, the window and bright blue sky. I was finally awake after a VERY long and exhausting night.
Every evening as bedtime approached I dread laying my head on the pillow and closing my eyes to sleep, to rest, to rejuvenate my body for the next day. As I towel my shoulders and hair I know tonight will be the same as I am just awaking from and I know full well tomorrow night will be the same…..
…and the next night and the next and the next….