This is the second half of a short story. If you would like to read the first half, click here: Color.
He called me a liar the other day. We were sitting at the pine study desk, writing the bills. We live in a two-bedroom apartment and we made the spare bedroom a study. I opened the envelope of the dreaded phone bill. “What’s the total?” he asked in his monotone newscaster’s voice.
“Ummm, one-hundred twenty-two.” I glared at the numbers and then took a glimpse of Raj’s tongue through the crack of his lips. Since Raj can’t use his eyes, sometimes I wish he could read with his tongue; lick the ink of the words on a bill. Maybe lick me while he’s at it.
“Didn’t you call your mom, that’s pretty cheap for making all those calls to Poland. How long is she staying there?” he looked towards a steel cabinet behind me as he spoke. Steel is as flat as mirrors. Are mirrors made out of steel?
“Aaaah, another ten days or so.”
“How much is the total?” he asked in his angry voice. I’m trying to pick up on the different voices he has for different occasions, because I’m sure he is aware of mine now.
“Actually… it’s three hundred dollars. I…I” I bring home a check too. I’m a nurse, so it’s not a huge check. If he could have seen my pathetic expression, he would have forgiven me.
“I can’t believe you lied to me. I never told you not to call your mom when she was in Poland. I know about her thyroid problem, I know she might have to get surgery. I didn’t think you had to call her every day for an hour though. How could you lie about something so small? Don’t you respect me?” His eyes moved around randomly.
“I just, I was gonna pay it and forget about it, and…” And I don’t know why I lied or why I’m a liar. I wanted to rip the bill up into shreds and move to a remote village in India where there is no phone system. Is that really too much to ask?
“You shouldn’t get used to lying to a blind man, it’s too easy.” He violently licked the envelope of the insurance bill we just finished. He took a stamp and licked it. “Is it upside down?” he asked before he put it on.
“Yeah.” He flipped over the miniature picture of the American flag. “I’m sorry.” I wanted to lie to him about the stamp too because no one really cares if a stamp is on right side up. I don’t know why we lie about small things when we could save all the lies up and tell a really big one. Like I could tell him I’ve never had doubts that we would both sink into a deep depression because of his blindness. I could tell him I’ve never thought about leaving him. I could tell him it doesn’t matter that he can’t really see my face anymore. I could tell him I didn’t stop wearing make-up.
Raj is fun. Like sometimes out of nowhere, he’ll take me by the hand and start to slow dance with me in the living room or in the kitchen. Sometimes I have to admit that I buy the occasional Cosmopolitan. They tell you tips on how to be sexy. Raj says I have a sexy voice. I kind of wonder about that; like when I’m talking on the phone, am I a sexy person on the phone? Would a Tele-marketer stop trying to sell products to me and just ask me to whisper in his ear? Really, I’m not that sexy. Raj used to say I was pretty, but that was in his other life, the one in which he could see. I wonder though if he misses seeing any other women. I can’t believe I’m actually jealous of invisible women. We have sex every so often. I don’t actually want to count how many times because; well he’s the mathematician in the relationship.
One great thing about having a blind man is that when I get ugly with age, well it just won’t matter as much. We’ll cultivate a love that is, oh God, blind. I know that’s extremely cliché. You know sometimes he looks at me the way he did when we first met. I remember the way he looked at me when he told me he was going blind, three months after I met him. We were standing in his yellow kitchen at his mom’s house. I wonder if he remembers the look on my face. How many different looks does my face have? How many of them can he still remember? How many does he miss?
One night Raj was lying on our beige down comforter and he asked me, “Why don’t you just dance for me sometimes?” Ha, ha, ha.
“Because I can’t dance,” I said as I folded his underwear on our navy blue carpet.
“I would never know,” he said as if knowing and seeing are the same thing. As if I didn’t know the difference.
“Why don’t you ask me to marry you?” I asked as I stared at his beautiful chest.
“Because I don’t want to ruin your life.”
“But I want to ruin yours.” And what about when your mouth dances in mine? What about sex? Why don’t we have sex the way we used to, anymore? Wasn’t that a dance? Hasn’t someone, somewhere written that in a song?
I’m a nurse; I take care of sick people. I help my patients and they’ve got a lot of problems, but then they go home and they can see. Raj isn’t sick, he just can’t go home and see. There would be no point in bringing him to my hospital and taking his temperature.
One day I was reading this book on transcendental meditation that I got from Raj’s brother. I’m starting to believe in reincarnation, like the Hindu’s do. Some things make more sense if you think this isn’t our only shot at life. It isn’t fair that some people suffer while other people laugh. I do believe in God, but not the one I know about. I think there’s another God, a God that doesn’t operate like us.
Anyway, I tried some of those breathing techniques they talk about in the book. They say you shouldn’t try to concentrate, but you should try to let go of your thoughts. So I was sitting cross-legged on the brown carpet of our living room floor. I thought about God and wondered why he is so mean. I was trying really hard to let my thoughts go when Raj came home. “What are you doing?” he asked as I still had my eyes closed. I heard the front door shut.
“Because, it might help my ulcer. You know there are higher states of mind than just this,” I said with my eyes still closed.
“Are your eyes closed?” he asked and his voiced cracked a little. “Because you know what, I don’t know why they tell you to close your eyes to reach a higher power. You know what? God would never want you to close your eyes. Why would he throw us on earth and then say, ‘OK now close your eyes?’ Why would he want you to look at nothing?” I opened my eyes and stared at his messy hair. I wanted to remind him how important nothing is. How important the number zero is in math. How important I am even when I look like nothing to you.
I once read a book about Zen, a sect of Buddhism. Apparently, Buddha said that we as individuals should strive to be empty. I have a feeling we are translating Buddha wrong. He was probably talking about a place between emptiness and fullness. A place between seeing and not seeing, closing your eyes and feeling what you used to see. He was probably talking about peace.
Raj doesn’t like using his cane, he only uses it at work because he has to get around alone and everyone knows that he’s blind. But in public, I think he thinks everyone will stare at him if he walks around with a white cane that has a red tip at the bottom. But I’m proud to walk by his side, with the cane or without it. I am his cane. I’ve always known deep down that I would make a great inanimate object. Raj holds my hand and I take him through the aisles of Farmer Jack. I make sure he doesn’t bump in to the cereal displays and little kids. I take him to the red apples and he feels every one that goes in the bag. It’s funny, I think people think we hold hands because we’re so in love. We went to the grocery store one time and I forgot my checkbook, so we used his. I put my hand over his and directed him to the exact spot where he had to sign the check. We’re trying to get off the credit card habit. The woman at the counter asked for a driver’s license. “I don’t have one, but I have a state ID,” Raj said to the woman and pulled it out of his wallet. I think I would make a really good wallet.
“Um, we only accept driver’s licenses,” the checkout woman whined.
“What?” I asked then thought seriously about punching her.
“It’s our policy. I’ve never heard of a state ID,” she said as she fiddled with her red nails and her hair sprayed bangs. I should have told her the Eighties are over.
“Why don’t you get your manager and let’s see if he’s heard of it,” I said in a really nasty tone.
“OK,” she sighed and pressed her hands down on her red apron.
She bumped in to a Formica counter in the back. She went to a back room and I put my hand in Raj’s, we didn’t say anything to each other. The manager came out, “Is there a problem here?” Actually, the problem is that you and her are morons.
“Yeah, I think there is, my husband doesn’t have a driver’s license so he’s using his state ID. There is actually a law that says that you have to accept state ID’s.” I believe I was sweating.
“Aaah, I’ve never heard of that ma’am,” he snarled in a Midwestern accent. He looked at the ID, “Sorry, its store policy that we only accept driver’s licenses for checks.” Well it should be state policy that I am allowed to hit you.
“He’s blind, how the hell is he supposed to write a check! He doesn’t have a driver’s license because he can’t drive! How the hell is he supposed to write a check?” I almost screamed. I was definitely sweating.
“OK, let’s just calm down, let me see that ID again.” The manager shifted his blue eyes to the people standing behind us in line. An old woman with orange hair stared at us. “OK, I apologize. We’ll accept this.” He handed the ID back to Raj but Raj didn’t see that the ID was in front of his face, so I grabbed it. Raj just had this stoic expression on his face. I wanted to cry. God damn it, I wanted to scream some more and then cry.
I’ve started practicing being invisible. You know, to practice what it will be like when he absolutely can’t see even a trace of me anymore. The last time I knew an invisible person was in first grade; her name was Jenny. I hope I don’t become Raj’s imaginary friend. So I was talking to Jenny, who hasn’t changed much in twenty years, and she told me that it’s OK being invisible. She felt OK about it. I started walking around the kitchen blindfolded, and bumped into the refrigerator, the end table and the phone (if you can believe that). I decided it would be better for me to just sit blindfolded.
So as I was sitting alone, blindfolded, pretending I was a princess imprisoned in a castle and I was thinking about how people lived their lives before there were mirrors. They didn’t even know what they looked like. If I didn’t know I had pink lips my entire life, well I would be totally different. Did the mirrorless people think they looked like all the people they saw, or were they sure they looked different? The first person I probably saw was a doctor. I wonder how long I thought I looked like that doctor. Did I think I was the first teddy bear I saw? I know at some point I have believed in myself as a teddy bear. And who am I to him when I look like nothing? Am I still the same person?
So as I sat in further contemplation, seeing black darkness. I wondered what Raj would give to see again. I would have given a lot just to take that blindfold off. I wonder if he would trade me in, for his sight. When Raj dies he’ll be able to see the world again it’s just that we won’t be able to see him. I’m a pretty bad person to think so matter of factly about Raj’s death. I’m pretty twisted in general though.
Some people wonder why I’m with him when we’re not even married. Raj used to read my hand and he told me I had two lifelines, he said there was duality in my life. That’s because there’s two of me, one standing right here and the other in his body. I don’t know if there’s one of us, but I definitely know there’s two of me. Raj doesn’t read hands anymore; he says it’s just too hard.
One time he got angry. I don’t know what came over him. I left a chair in the middle of the kitchen by mistake. He bumped right into it. “Damn it, Nicky.” I remember reading Descartes and he asks, is the chair really there or are we just living in someone’s dream? Maybe Raj is just waking up from the dream. Plato swears that there are chairs on Earth, and there are perfect forms of chairs in Heaven. So that’s the attraction in Heaven?
“I’m sorry,” I said as I plucked my eyebrows in front of the hallway mirror.
“Do you know how many times I stub my toe, like in a week? I’m not gonna have any toes left and then I’m not gonna be able to walk anymore. I’ll be like a blind man in a wheelchair.” He stood so close to me that I could smell potato chips on his breath. He’s been having a hard time gauging people’s personal space lately and I don’t know how to tell him.
“I’m sorry. Don’t say things like that.”
“Don’t say things like that? What are you gonna control my speech now?”
“I’m not trying to control anything, you need to calm down,” I said as my shoulders tensed up and he moved out of my personal space. I wanted him back in it.
“Calm down, are you crazy? How the hell am I supposed to calm down when you won’t listen to me? It’s not gonna work anymore, you and me. It’s just not gonna work.” He walked backward on the hard tiles as he spoke. He stopped before the back window behind the kitchen table. He wasn’t wearing any socks.
“What do you mean, what are you talking about?”
“I can’t handle a relationship right now.”
“After two years, all I am is a relationship to you? You bastard.” I threw the tweezers on to the black kitchen tiles.
“You think I need you, you think I can’t live without you. I can you know, I can do things for myself. I have to learn how to be independent; I rely on you too much. I want you to leave.”
“I, I can’t believe this, I can’t believe you just asked me to leave. Just like that, we drank coffee this morning, and oh, this evening you ask me to leave. But really you’re leaving me.”
“Yeah, that’s right, I’m leaving you.”
“Fine,” I grabbed my suede coat and headed towards the door. I didn’t know where I would go. “Fine,” I mumbled again. Maybe I could go to Marie’s, she would understand.
“So you’re just gonna leave?” he mumbled. “It was that easy huh? I always knew no one would want to live with a blind man.” I couldn’t see the look in his eyes because he was facing the window. I can’t believe he said that, just like that.
“Don’t test me,” I said and walked over to his sweating forehead. I looked out the window at the white-bricked apartments across the way. “You’re not God, don’t try and test me.” Remember? God’s in charge here, not you or me or the manager of Farmer Jack.
“Do you know about the theory of the speed of light?” he said with a dead expression. “It goes something like this. Everything you see is a light reflected on things. The light or the picture of everything we see still exists, we just can’t move as fast as its speed. If we could catch up with the speed of light we could see the past again; if we can go faster than the speed of light we can catch up with the future and then see that. When I die, I’ll be able to look at what you looked like right now and the whole time we are together. Do you know that I would kill to see your face, the expression on your face?” He hung his head down. And this was me, the woman who wanted to go back in time and see what the doctor who pulled me out of the womb looked like. That’s me.
“Honey,” I put my hand on his face. “I love you. Tell me what can you still see?” He was silent. Please don’t tell me.
“Gray objects that look like nothing, I barely know the size of them, I don’t even know where they are anymore,” Raj calmly replied. “It’s getting darker.” And when it all gets dark, I won’t disappear. I’ve seen the other side, sweetheart, it isn’t any prettier.
“Oh, I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure. I’m sorry,” I said and rubbed my hand on his cheek. I felt the stubble and closed my eyes.
“You remember when they were doing those experiments with microchips; they put microchips in people’s eyes, to make them see. Well, the experiment has been pretty successful on fifteen blind people. Those people can see shapes and read large print. But you know what, they still can’t see color.”
I stared at his green sweater. “But they will, they’ll come up with technology to make people see color. Oh my God, do you know how great all of this is? I told you, I told you they would find a cure, I protested.” I rested my hand on his right shoulder. Cure? Would we have to involve God? I don’t ever want to have to thank him.
“I don’t believe in miracles, the only thing I believe in is science.” He leaned his head down again. Magic, what about magic? I believe in magic.
“This is science. Science. This is real. This is good.” I shook my head and folded my arms. Gestures, simple ones.
“What if it doesn’t work in the end, what if this is my life?”
“It’s still good. Were you happy before you were going blind? Probably not, so losing your sight can’t make you unhappy.” A man with a brown cat in his arms came out of his car in the parking lot behind our building. I wished that I was a director and I could force that man to go back in the car, because we were at a point in the conversation where he and the cat weren’t appropriate. I wish I could direct Raj and tell him to stop saying these things. I should be in charge.
“I wasn’t depressed. I have this pain I can’t get rid of, I’m sure it’s contagious. I just; I don’t know what to do. I know how much you hurt because of me.”
“Do you know how happy I am because of you? Do you know I’ve never been this happy before I met you? Do you know you’re the only person I love? I never really knew what that meant until now. You don’t love someone because they can see; you love them when they can see you after everything else disappears.” And I hugged him and thought about that song, “If you could only see the way she loves me, maybe you would understand…If you could only see how blue her eyes can be when she says, when she says she loves me….” That’s when I decided Jenny was right, it’s not bad being invisible, because then you can make up yourself again. I could give him the new version of me. Remember my face, while I’m still young, Raj. Look at me before I fade.