I Spy with My Little Eye was a game my dad used to play with me when I was a little girl. We’d go out to different places and try to find new and interesting things. If one of us found something, we’d holler, “I spy!” We did that for several years until I turned twelve.
That was the year the doctors diagnosed me with primary intraocular cancer; the kind that starts in the eye. I wasn’t just lucky to have one eye diagnosed, but both. The doctors never knew why, and no amount of praying could give us the answers we needed or wanted. The only good news was that with an early catch there was a 30% chance I would survive, and a 15% chance the cancer wouldn’t resurface.
With my life measured in mere percentages, my dad did something spectacular that summer before they removed my eyes. He took me on a road trip around the U.S. to show me as many amazing things as he could in just two short months.
In those few weeks, we saw the Tulip fields in Washington, the velvet ones were my favorite. We climbed in Zion National park, but my father protested most of the time with heaping breaths. I got to see the Prismatic Spring in Wyoming, which reminded me of the mood ring I used to wear back then. We also went to Thor’s Well, because he was my favorite hero. Turns out, being there in all these places made me realize who the real hero in my life was, and that was my father.
We saw many more things, and when we returned, they admitted me to the hospital. A few hours later, I woke to a black world, which was the worst thing imaginable. There are varying degrees of blindness, and because they completely remove my eyes, there was no chance for me to see anything. No blurry images. No snapshots of light if I look into the sun. Absolutely nothing.
It was hard at first, but I adjusted as well as anyone could at that age. By the time I was a freshman in high school, people started to accept me for me. To some, I was No-eyed Nora, but to the people who truly mattered to me, I was still just plain Nora. I didn’t deny that I was special, and everyone still treated me as if I needed special attention. And it was true. However, they continued to talk to me like I hadn’t changed, and that’s all that mattered.
I managed to graduate from high school, and with a little help, college, too. This was in part due to my father who had taught me to fight for what I wanted. He told me that I was the same as everyone else, and the only difference was that I had to work a little harder. It paid off, of course, because I almost made valedictorian and was offered (but declined) a job offer for a well-respected company. Instead, I built my own business to help rehabilitate the visually impaired.
A few months after the launch of my company, my father became ill. Apparently, cancer was a destiny that burdened our family. Unlike me, however, they didn’t catch my father’s disease in time, and he suffered several months until finally passing. It was hard on all of us, but it was especially difficult on me because I had him to thank for all the wonderful visual memories he gave to me in the time leading up to my blindness.
After that, I became busier than I ever imagined. I would have never guessed that a blind woman leading a rehab company for the blind would take so well to people. Business boomed, and by twenty-nine, I had seventeen clinics around the country with three more to be opened later that year.
Despite all that I accomplished, I still felt like something was missing as I sat in my office one morning. My fingers played along a scratch in the wood of my desk, and I thought about how I had exceeded many of my own expectations. The problem was that there was an emptiness eating at me. This lead to a sudden and inexplicable depression, which was something I was not familiar with. So, I resolved to head to the break room to grab a cup of Joe and perhaps find my way out of that unfortunate funk.
As I walked through the office, I heard the soft sound of the air whistling through the vents. Employees talked to patients over the phone, and some talked to each other. A few of them had music playing at their desks. With everything dark, the place was damned colorful.
About halfway to the break room, something caught my attention. My chest thumped hard, and the swell of blood in my ears pulsated loud, deafening the world around me. At that moment, it wasn’t anything I heard. Neither was it anything I felt. It was something I saw.
Light. I hadn’t seen light in seventeen years, but there was no denying it. When you lose your vision, there are few things you forget. After a while, colors blend or fade from memory, faces of people you know and love become strangers, and recollections sometimes betray you. Not that day.
I turned my head left, and walked with my hand pushed out. Normally, I walked through the office without a problem because I took a path with which I was entirely familiar. Just then, however, this light drew me away from my comfort and instead to a window. I put my hand upon the cool glass, and I felt every bit of that connection: the smooth surface, the way it spread my skin, and the warmer spots where my knuckles didn’t quite touch the glass.
I could smell it, too. It smelled dull, but clean. Then, suddenly, there was another smell. It was sweet, like honeydew or… tulips. It was the smell of a flower, but it was so much more than that. The smell was colorful, and if I had to guess, it was the smell of violet. A fresh scent of color, which soon turned into a vision I was not prepared to see.
It was as if my eyes had returned. Ahead of me I saw a thick row of violet tulips playing gracefully in the intermittent summer breeze among other rows of yellow, red, orange, and green. The sun hung high in the blue sky, and joined with it were clouds so thin they were like threads of smoke.
I looked down, and in my hand was one of the flowers. The wind blew, and a single petal wiggled and took flight. I watched it twist up into the sky, and pass by my father’s smiling face. He looked down upon me, and it was then I realized I was a little girl again. His lips moved, but I heard nothing but the thumping of my own heart. He put his hand on my face, and I felt streams of tears pour from my eyes.
He moved his hand to my shoulder, and knelt down. He laughed a little, and his eyes laughed with him. Those upturned crescent moons were portals to his azure eyes, and they, too, cried along with me.
I thought for a long time I would forget the time he took me to Washington to the see the flowers, but I hadn’t. I remembered the moment perfectly. It was the moment I started crying because of how beautiful it was and that I would never get a chance to see it again. I remember my father crying with me, and we did that for some time.
After a while, I felt another hand on my shoulder, but it wasn’t my father’s. The light, the tulips, the sweet smell of life faded, and everything returned to black. Everything became as I had known it for so long.
I grabbed the hand holding onto me, and I felt the small mole near the knuckle. It was Rose.
She said, “Are you okay, Nora?”
“I—I’m okay, I think.”
“I guess I was just remembering something,” I said, and felt a smile stretch across my lips.
“That’s great,” she exclaimed as she helped me stand. “What was it?”
“It was what I’ve been looking for this whole time,” I said, and squeezed her hand finally feeling complete. “I know what I need to do, now.”