Forty-Something Years in Ninaland





This a short story I wrote once upon a time. I’m on vacation so I thought you might enjoy this!


The thing is, I’m in love with a man who’s going blind. Raj has a disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa. His retina is degenerating, if that makes any sense. When he was seventeen they told him he would go blind in five years, that was ten years ago. It’s finally happening now.

My hands freeze sometimes when I’m in the bathroom drying my hair and I watch him in the shower and realize that he can’t see the water. It’s falling all around him. Water is a difficult thing to see. Once I was standing outside the bathroom and I saw him take his finger from his face and horizontally move it to the spot where his reflection sat on the mirror. He rubbed the cold mirror for a good minute. Did he think he was becoming flat, or did he think he was disappearing? Is he worried that he’ll forget what he looks like? After a while details disappear.

I’ll tell you how I know Raj’s seeing days are almost over. One weekend his sister came to stay with us. Raj was standing with his back against the window five feet away from me, next to the white couch. He looked right at me with his eyes wide open. “Preeti?” he said. I swear I saw my reflection in his eyes.

“No, it’s me, Nicole,” I said. He didn’t say anything else. He just stood there with his brown eyes and I wanted to shake him. For one whole second, I pretended that he was sleep walking. In any given room he doesn’t know where I’m standing until I talk, he’s bumped in to me a few times. It is surreal having the man you have lived with for two years bump in to you because he didn’t know his best friend was in his way.

I’ve thought about asking him how much he can still see. What if I asked him and he actually told me? What would I say then? “Sorry?” What kind of a word is that? I have feeling he can see things if he puts his eyes up close to them. I wonder sometimes what he misses. I know I’d miss his hands if I couldn’t see them anymore.

Maybe it started when he wanted to take my picture. He said it was all disappearing and that all he had left was this ability, to take my picture. He said he never wanted to see them, the pictures. He just wanted to take them. And I told him it didn’t make any sense. “Does going blind make any sense?” he asked me, as he fiddled with the film in the camera, I tried to help him but he pushed my hands away.

“It makes about as much sense as being able to see,” is what I told him. And I looked at the pictures and some were horizontal and in some my head was cut off, but there was the carpet. I wanted to tell him, maybe he would think it was all wrong, but I didn’t think that. I thought maybe that was how I would really like someone to see me. And maybe I look more like the carpet, than I look like myself.

He told me to go to Kmart and get the photos developed but never tell him how they turned out. I’m glad he didn’t want to know, but I don’t understand. When I got the pictures back, I cried. I cried because my head was cut off in some of them. I wondered if he ever thought of cutting my head off. And I was crooked in some. One picture was of my left arm and a tree. When I showed my sister the pictures she said that they could be submitted in some Modern Art museum. I didn’t understand what she meant. She said that it seemed that many ‘modern’ artists are blind these days. She actually told me I might be able to make some money off of the pictures so I told her I was really busy so she would go home and we could stop talking about it.

One day Raj let go a little. We were sitting down at the kitchen table and he was listening to the TV news and I was ignoring it. The dishes were piling up in the sink and I was trying hard to ignore that too. It was a commercial break so he muted the TV with his remote and said to me as I was cutting a cucumber, “What color is your sweater?”

“Blue,” I said and looked down to double check.

“Do you know that for the last year I haven’t been able to see any color?”

“Honey, I know.” I was never sure, actually. I knew that two years ago he could see just fine and in these two years he has slowly deteriorated.

“Everything I see is black and white, I mean actually, it’s all really gray. I’m just worried. What if I forget something like maybe the color blue? What if I forget what it looks like?” He started drumming his fingers on the oak table as if he was playing the Indian drum. I loved black and white films until that moment.

“You won’t forget, and if you do I’ll remind you.” I slipped a wedge of cucumber in my mouth. I thought about how he couldn’t see the red on the can of Coke he swigged down his throat. And when we go to K-mart, he only sees gray things at K-mart.

“How? How are you gonna remind me? You can tell me to try and remember what the sky looks like, but what if I can remember the sky but I just can’t remember blue? And blue doesn’t smell, I can’t touch it. It’s just like this thing in my head now.” What about my lips, I wanted to say. They’re pink most of the time. What does pink look like in gray a land? What do I look like, gray?

“I trust your head. It was your head that got you a Masters Degree in Computer Engineering. It was your head that found me. Your head is not as weak as you might think,” I said and walked over to him with cucumber on my breath. His sense of smell has become so accurate that I know he can smell the watery vegetable.

“Don’t confuse my head with my heart because my heart doesn’t remember shit,” he said as I slipped my arms around his neck from behind the oak chair. I wonder how anyone knows if we are all seeing the same colors, since there is no way to describe color, maybe everyone is seeing something different. Maybe there is a color that is in our eyes, in front of everything we see and that’s why different people find different things pretty. Maybe distinction has more to do with the film over our eyes, than our opinion. I put my face in Raj’s thick black hair and tried to remember that song Kermit the frog used to sing, “Why are there so many, songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side? Rainbows are visions, but simply illusions, rainbows have nothing to hide…”

Last week we went to a barbecue at Raj’s home in Ypsilanti, where he grew up. His family owns a pretty red ranch near a man-made pond. We live in Michigan, the Great Lakes. We like to see water where other people might not see it.

His family is not that in to me. They wish I wasn’t white. I wish I could understand Hindi because then I’d know when they’re talking about me, what they’re saying about me. I don’t understand why they still hold a grudge against me after two years. I’m a nice person. They think I’m trapping Raj because they believe that I am not like the nice Indian woman in their dreams. Maybe it’s because I have blond hair and blue eyes. It comforts me to believe they are racist rather than believe they just don’t like my personality.

His mother always smiles a really fake smile at me when we walk in the door. I hand her the brownies I baked compliments of Betty Crocker. She’s wearing a beautiful maroon silk sari. I feel very underdressed in my Jean skirt, but I thought this was a barbecue. “Thank you, Nicole,” she says with a heavy Indian accent and takes the plate of brownies out of my hands. I look around and notice everyone else is dressed casual. “Why don’t you get something to eat?” she says and tries not to look at me for too long. Then she hugs Raj as if they’ve been separated since his birth, “Bacha I missed you, you don’t call. You’ve forgotten about me.” Did she say forget? I’ll remind him. She takes his hand and then hands me a glass of orange juice from the table as she walks by. I don’t have the heart to tell her orange juice irritates my ulcer. Yeah, I have an ulcer. I take a sip anyway.   I can see gray coming out of her head as she walks towards her yellow kitchen. I want to tell her that her son can only see gray. His mother hugs him and doesn’t even realize that he can longer see the color of her brown skin.

I can smell Indian food. I think they’re skewing tandoori chicken on the grill. That’s definitely my favorite. I tried to make daal the other day, which is kind of like lentil soup. Raj said it was good, but I have a feeling he was lying. I called his mom for the recipe. She gave it to me, but she’s still angry that Raj and I are living together.

So I stand there in their foyer that’s covered with mirrored wallpaper. I can hardly see myself in the paper mirrors. I look like a blond blob. So this is what Raj sees. Blurry people are really hilarious; I hope Raj laughs at blurry people. Monet used to paint blurry people and blurry places, because that’s what he saw. He was a genius.   Hanging on the mirrored walls are old photos of the family visiting India. Raj is posing in front of the Taj Mahal in one of the pictures. He doesn’t let me take pictures of him anymore. He said he never wants to go back to India because when he went there all the blind people he saw were beggars.   He thinks you can’t do anything but beg if you’re blind in India. In America they can’t fire Raj from work at GM because George Bush passed the Disability Act. That’s a big deal for a Republican. GM can’t fire him for being blind and they even gave him a talking computer. I think the machines in his office will have an easier time talking to a blind man than some of the people.

All of a sudden it occurred to me that I should be at Raj’s side. Not everyone can understand how to assist a blind person, especially if they forget he’s almost blind. I find him standing in the backyard next to his brother Sagar and some aunt who’s wearing a flowery Indian dress. He’s OK, but I still go up to them. We’re standing on the cherry wood deck beneath a large maple tree. They all say “hi” to me and then resume their conversation. “Can you believe they’re making us all take our two-week vacation in July?” Sagar said. His brother is remotely attractive only because he’s tall and has good skin. I hate July but I can’t believe Sagar is complaining about a two-week vacation. The sun is pounding on the left side of my face. Sagar and the random aunt walk away after a few minutes and I’m standing alone with Raj next to a table full of soft drinks. “Are you doing OK?” he asks and shifts his eyes back and forth a little. He’s been moving his eyes around a lot lately. I watch his full lips move as he talks. Sometimes I want to take notes when I’m looking at him, and then later give him the details, when he can’t remember.

“Yeah, I’m snacking away. Do you want anything?” I say as I shove a somosa in my mouth. If I grew up knowing how to eat a somosa, I’m sure I’d be a different person.

“No, thanks,” he says and waves his hand through his hair. “I don’t recognize some of these people’s voices. I had this long conversation with a guy about wheat production in Punjab. I still don’t know who the hell he is,” Raj whispers and then inhales his fluorescent Mountain Dew. Mountain Dew is a very obscene color.

“Do you really want to know?” I put a curl of hair behind my ear. A man wearing a black turban walks by us, folds his hands to me and smiles. I smile back and nod my head. He folds his hands to Raj and smiles, but Raj doesn’t reply. The man crinkles his eyebrows and walks away. And I think Oh my God, he thinks Raj is a snob. He hates Raj now and it’s all my fault. I should have signaled Raj that someone was giving him the Indian salute. I didn’t want to tell him afterwards that he just flat out ignored someone, snubbed a man with a turban. I have no tact, that’s the problem.

To be continued…tomorrow


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 August 13th, 2016  
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