Marc Chagall, America Windows (1977), Art Institute of Chicago. Photos taken by author.
I used to play a little game with myself in the early years of having diabetes. When I brushed my hair or took a shower, I used to close my eyes and try to do everything without peeking. I told myself that if I went blind, at least I could dress and bathe myself so I wouldn't be embarrassed by needing help. Of course it was easy to open my eyes a few minutes later and puzzle at the mismatched earrings or crooked lipstick. It seemed like a distant fate that would happen to someone else.
In my 29th year of diabetes I sweat the annual retina exam like the rest of my DOC brethren. Will I have problems? Is this how it starts? I kicked myself good and hard this year because my A1C is up a full percentage point from last spring (7.4%). In Florida the strong sunlight - as well as the unforgiving glare of the fluorescent lights in my office - have my eyes in a tizzy some days. The floaters I've had for years seem darker and stick out like exclamation points. On the train to my doctor's office, I held my breath and hoped, just like I do every year.
How would I remember brown? I thought, sitting in the exam chair. Would I think of the touch of my niece's kitten-soft hair? When I feel the sun on my skin, will yellow or orange come to mind? What about red? I laughed to myself because the first thing that came to mind was the Diet Coke logo. Green would be a visual memory of my husband's eyes, and kelly green the color of my mom's. I could smell steel grey and black on the train, the ozone odor in the subway immediately recalling miles of smooth metal. For blue, there were too many shades. I thought of the lake in winter and the ocean at all times, the constant wash of wave and wind sliding up and down a scale from navy to cerulean to indigo. I thought of the flat slate stillness of the lake in winter, and the implacable blue-black ocean depths, or the neon aqua in the shallows. I always tell myself that I could live without my eyesight, really, as long as I could hear. Music has always been my friend and would be my great solace in this solicitude. I could even walk with my great friends, my books, again in the dark thanks to audio versions. It wouldn't be the end of the world. The drops took effect, and soon I went in. Moments passed.
"No evidence of diabetes," he said, putting the Star Trek headgear aside. I let out a sigh. He looked at me and nodded. He knows, I've been seeing him for over 15 years. "You're good."
After the exam I took a walk to the Art Institute of Chicago, since it's only a few blocks from his office. The bright blue sky and benevolent spring sunshine warmed my soul. Once again I came out of the darkness into the light. I vowed to get my A1C back down, to exercise and eat better. To be grateful for my relatively good health. And I went inside to see an old friend - a stained glass work by Marc Chagall that hadn't been on display in years. Kids like me grew up in Chicago going to the AI on school trips, standing in the glow of America Windows not knowing but somehow understanding that we were surrounded by such great beauty. I stood in the hallway squinting, my dilated retinas taking in every shape and shade of their glorious, happy light. I reflected on the gift of sight at noon on Good Friday, and said a silent prayer.
And this is what I want burned into my retina, sighted or blind, when I think of the color blue.