Am I the only one?
The thought woke her up. It took her several seconds to realize it wasn’t her own.
Nadine looked at the clock: Eleven forty-five. She’d just gotten to sleep, and she had a test tomorrow. She rolled over and tried to get back to sleep but the thought returned, this time accompanied by feelings of isolation.
She got up and went into the bathroom. She looked into the mirror and saw her blurry face: She was still half-asleep. She splashed some lukewarm water in her face, and went to the kitchen for a glass of milk.
When she got back into bed, the thoughts didn’t return. She needed her sleep for the big test; this one counted for thirty percent of her grade.
The next morning after her shower, she got dressed, put on her yellow cap and carefully arranged her dark, curly hair so it fell around her face, nearly obscuring it completely. She wore no makeup, and only her dark brown eyes stood out.
If I didn’t need to see, I could cover those up, too, she thought.
A quick breakfast and off to the bus.
She sat on the bus in the seat where the wheel-well came up. Nobody ever took those seats, and she would be left alone. The trick to sitting alone is to not make eye contact with the people getting on; they won’t ask you for a seat unless there’s nothing else left.
Hats weren’t allowed in the school, but none of the teachers seemed to mind in the hallways. She usually kept her head down so the bill of her cap hid her face. She’d take it off in classes, of course. Nobody bothered her in the back row, anyway.
Third period came and with it, her test. Math. Integer this, polynomial that. She hated them all; she’d never use algebra in everyday life. But she remembered what she had to to pass the tests, and forgot it when she was done.
She was one of the few students who still brought lunch from home. While everyone else was eating pizza and fries, she had a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich with potato chips. They got soda; she got juice.
It was an interesting paradox: Feeling isolated from the other students, but not wanting to join them. She never passed up a chance to make conversation—but only if someone else initiated: She never went out of her way to talk to anyone else. She was nice to those willing to talk to her, and most people liked her after only a few minutes’ discourse. But she didn’t have anyone she’d really call a friend.
Before finishing out the day, she stopped in the bathroom. She looked in the mirror and saw the dark curls encircling her face were slightly out of place. She adjusted them, making sure nobody could see her face unless she looked right at them.
She heard the door behind her open, and two girls stepped in.
“I wish I had hair like that. I wouldn’t hide it under that stupid hat.”
She watched the girls walk behind her in the mirror. The one closest to her awkwardly looked away when she looked up, but neither one had said a word. Again there were thoughts in her head that weren’t her own.
She took off her hat, ran her fingers through her hair and readjusted the curls around her face. She left the cap on the edge of the sink.
She walked to her next class without her cap. She couldn’t help the smile, but she still kept her head down and tried to hide it.
At home, she stood in front of the bathroom mirror brushing her teeth before bed.
“I guess I read her mind,” she joked. But she didn’t laugh because she suspected it was true. Tomorrow, I’ll try to read someone else’s mind. She rinsed, spat, and went to bed.
The next day she woke up excited, eager to try to master her new gift. She got dressed quickly and skipped breakfast. While waiting for the bus, she closed her eyes and tried to focus on the people around her. She heard intermittent voices, but nothing she could make sense of:
“…bus is coming…”
She looked up the road and saw the bus turning the corner. She saw that only one boy was looking in that direction, so that last thought must’ve been his.
Later, in history class, she focused on the teacher, trying to see if she could hear the answer to the question he’d asked. Instead, she got “…stupid kids, I've gone over this a hundred times…should get…anything…”
Not exactly what she was looking for. But this was the largest fragment she’d been able to hear so far.
Though she tried several times, she couldn’t hear anything the rest of the day.
At dinner, she focused on her father, but all she heard was him reciting what he was reading in the newspaper he held.
Then she saw the paper. It was disorienting at first, and dizzying. She still saw things from her side of the table: Her unfinished lasagna; her three siblings: the younger one to the right of her, the older two across; her parents: father at the end of the table to her right, mother to her immediate left. But superimposed on that was an image of the newspaper. The disorienting part was that her eyes weren’t moving, but the view of the paper was. Back and forth, back and forth, as her father read each line. She was suddenly reading along with him, through him.
His voice: “…police at first assumed they were dealing with a man on PCP, but were baffled as to how a man, even on such a drug, could withstand gunfire and break through walls. The suspect’s name is Dan—”
Then it suddenly stopped. Both his thoughts and his view were gone. For a second, her lasagna went blurry, but her eyes readjusted quickly.
“Nadine, honey, you alright?” her mother asked.
“Yeah, why?” She looked at her mother.
“You went pale for a second there and your eyes were glazed over. Looked like you might be ready to pass out or something,” her mother said.
“I’ll be fine. Sorry,” Nadine said. “Dad, what are you reading?”
A little surprised, he said, “Oh, well, there was a guy that went nuts and he killed some people. The witnesses say he was bulletproof and that he broke down walls to escape. They lost him for a couple days, but then he tore apart a diner and disappeared again. They think he’s generally heading east, so they’ve set up checkpoints on the major roads.”
“Sounds weird,” Nadine said. “Where was this at?”
“Well, the diner was a little west of Omaha.”
“So… he’s coming here?”
“Actually, they think he already passed through, so they warned Chicago.”
“How do they know he passed through?” she asked. Now she was getting worried.
“Some convenience stores were smashed open yesterday,” he said.
“Stop,” his wife said simply. She gave him the look and he looked at Nadine and raised his eyebrows as if to say “What can you do?” and went back to reading the paper.
That night in the bathroom, she thought her eyes weren’t so dark. They seemed to be a lighter shade of brown than they normally were. She leaned closer to the mirror, the cold counter pressing against her abdomen. Nearly nose-to-nose with herself, she saw them: Tiny flecks of light color in her eyes. They looked white or maybe silver. They were very small, and only six or seven of them in each eye.
She thought she might have gotten something in her eyes, and opened the medicine cabinet to retrieve her eye-drops. She put a drop in each eye and looked in the mirror again. The flecks hadn’t moved. They looked like they were under the surface, actually on the iris.
“Hm,” was all she said. She brushed her teeth.
She continued to focus on her gift over the next few weeks, hearing—and seeing—more and more. Every time she saw, though, her own vision went blurry when she stopped. It even shrunk down to tunnel vision on two occasions, and she felt like she’d stood up too fast.
And every time she saw through someone else’s eyes, the silver flecks spread.
“Mom?” she said. “I think I might be going blind.”
“Oh, really?” her mother responded, with the tone of a mother who has learned to take her children’s serious proclamations—“I’m starving!” “I’m going to kill him!” “I’ll just die if I have to wear that!”—not very seriously at all.
“I mean it,” Nadine insisted. “There are these weird… things in my eyes!”
Her mother continued preparing breakfast.
“Mom, look!” And she forced herself between her mother and the food. Her mother did look. And gasped.
“Oh my God, Nadine, what happened?”
“I don’t know, Mom, but it’s getting worse.”
“Go get dressed, I’ll take you to the doctor,” her mother said.
“The doctor will see you now, Mrs. Avery.”
Nadine and her mother went into the doctor’s office and waited for him to arrive.
“When did this start, Nadine?” her mother asked.
“I don’t know, three or four weeks ago, maybe,” Nadine replied.
“Three or four weeks? And you didn’t tell me?”
“I didn’t think I was going blind three or four weeks ago,” Nadine said.
The doctor opened the door and came in. He began the examination, asking questions as he shined a light in her eyes, nodding and saying, “Mm-hm.”
When he was done, he said, “Well, Nadine, it looks like your simply losing pigment in your irises. It appears to be a form of albinism, though I’ve never seen anything like this. Albinism is usually congenital. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone having their eyes become albino. As for your bouts of blindness, I see no apparent physical problems. If the problem persists, we’ll call in a specialist to do a more thorough exam.”
“Why can’t you do a more thorough exam now?” Mrs. Avery asked.
“Well, Mrs. Avery, what I mean by ‘more thorough exam,’ is endoscopy. Which is costly and invasive—although minimally. I’d rather give the problem a chance to take care of itself, first,” the doctor said. “Just make sure you’re getting plenty of water and sleep, Nadine.”
After a few more inconsequential questions, Nadine and her mother left the doctor’s office with a sample of eyedrops the doctor had given Nadine. Neither of them spoke on the ride home.
“So,” she said to herself in the bathroom mirror. “I guess I can see with my eyes,” she leaned close over the counter and stared into her own eyes, “or with everyone else’s.” The silver flecks were larger now and more numerous: Almost half of the original brown had disappeared.
She brushed her teeth and went to bed, but she couldn’t sleep for several hours. She was debating her options, trying to decide what to do: Abandon her gift, or abandon her vision? It seemed to her to be an impossible choice to have to make. It didn’t seem fair to have to pick one or the other.
The next morning she awoke to find her blankets crumpled at the foot of the bed. A restless night of troubled dreams, but she had made her decision.
At the breakfast table, she concentrated harder than she ever had. She focused at first on her father, who was again reading the paper. The back-and-forth of his reading wasn’t as dizzying, since she was prepared for it. The sound of his voice was stronger this time, coming through loud and clear. Nothing interesting this morning, though: Just sports scores. Chicago up by two, but lost at the last moment.
Time for an experiment, she thought. She thought about her mother, and heard her mother’s voice.
“…four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve…” Nadine had to stifle a laugh. Her mother was actually counting how many times she chewed. Then the sight came. Her mother was simply staring at a knot in the woodgrain of the table, while she dutifully ticked off her mastications.
The experiment was a success: She was hearing and seeing both of her parents simultaneously. A strange sensation, though. It wasn’t like seeing two images superimposed on each other; her brain interpreted them as separate images, not confusing at all. The thoughts, too, seemed to be expertly separated in her mind. Each of them droned over the other, but she had no trouble making out what they were saying (dull as they both were).
But she realized that her own vision was obscured. The first time she had seen through her father’s eyes, she had retained her view of her food as well. But this time she couldn’t see what was in front of her. She relaxed her mind, and the newspaper and the knot in the table began to fade into darkness. The darkness frightened her and she reflexively grasped at her parents’ vision. Now or never, she thought—and let go. The darkness only lasted for five seconds or so, but felt like an hour. Her vision slowly faded back into existence.
I wonder how many people I can see through, she thought. Best not to push it right now, though. Not with her mother’s reaction yesterday. If she went blind right now, who knew what the reaction would be? Presumably she had discussed it with her father, though he had said nothing. I’ll try later, at school.
On the bus, she tried one person at a time, which seemed not to hinder her own vision as much, though she still had temporary blackouts when she stopped. But the real test would come during lunch.
She sat at the table mostly alone, only two other students were at her table—social outcasts, themselves. She focused, harder even than she had that morning. The two closest to her were her first targets. Their sight and thoughts filled her mind, and her own sight left.
More, she thought. A third student, this one at an adjacent table, entered her mind. Three sets of eyes and three minds, and still her brain had no trouble sorting them out. It was even clear which mind and set of eyes were connected. Well, don’t they say that the eyes are technically part of the brain, anyway? Yes, she supposed that made sense.
She concentrated harder and harder, expanding her awareness until she lost count. But her brain still kept the images and thoughts segregated, easy to discern. She realized that one of the students at her table was looking at her.
“Something’s wrong,” the boy thought. “Her eyes are glazed over like those guys that hang out behind the cars in the parking lot.”
Out loud he said, “Hey, you alright? You need to go see the nurse?”
She turned her eyes until they were approximately lined up with his and replied, “No, I was just thinking about my next class.” She could tell he knew her eyes were still off, but her effort assuaged him enough to make him not want to press the subject.
She got up and left the room, banging her hip on a table on the way out. She found it was hard to steer while seeing herself in the third person. Luckily, there were three girls chatting in the hallway, and they all looked at her long enough for her to navigate to the bathroom. Once inside, she released her focus and all the images and voices faded out almost as one. The darkness persisted this time, and she felt her way toward the stalls, entering one and locking herself in. She waited there for her own sight to come back. It took five minutes, and at first it wasn’t that clear, as if she had rubbed her eyes too hard, and the vision spread slowly from the center outward. But this blurry tunnel-vision was enough for her to be able to walk around safely, and just in time. The bell sounded and she returned to the lunch room to retrieve her bag before heading off to Biology.
Her vision was still fuzzy when she stood at the mirror that night. She could still make out the image of her own eyes, though, and she could tell that the silver flecks had spread. Only tiny speckles of brown remained.
“I guess this is it,” she said. “This is the point of no return. If I push that hard again, I might not be able to see again.” Her words reverberated hollowly in the small bathroom. “Reading might be a challenge, too.” She didn’t mind, though: She was never much of a reader.
That night she had trouble falling asleep. When she woke up and checked her eyes in the mirror, she found her vision was still as fuzzy as before. Apparently it wasn’t going to get better this time. She thought she was at the point of no return, but now she realized that she had passed it when she pushed her ability in the cafeteria.
At breakfast, she decided just to go all-out and get started on learning how to get by on other people’s sight. She found it was exceedingly difficult to keep track of herself unless someone was looking directly at her; their periphery was usually fleeting. But with the five sets of eyes she was using, she found she could manage. When she got to school, it would probably be easier.
She used her sister’s sight to get her to the bus stop, and the gathered children there provided her enough sight to mount the bus’ stairs without stumbling. Much easier now to avoid eye contact with other bus-riders.
Strange to know now what they thought when they saw her not looking. It wasn’t at all what she thought, something like, “I can’t ask if you don’t look.” In reality most of them thought almost nothing of it: They glanced at her and moved on.
In fact, she was surprised to find out how much people did without thinking at all. Most of their activity was pure instinct, habit, or routine.
At school, she found it easier to see what was written on the boards at the front of the class, because nearly thirty pairs of eyes were focused on them at once. And although all those eyes were generally focused on different parts, she found she could resolve it perfectly in her mind. Unlike her first attempt, she found she was also able to glean the answers to most of the problems from her teachers’ minds.
Then came the part that she dreaded: A written quiz. She decided to try to approach her teacher and try to get an oral exam instead.
“Mr. Quincy?” she whispered.
“What can I do for you Nadine?” he responded without looking up. The T.A. stood behind him, looking over his shoulder at the papers he was correcting.
“I was wondering if I could take some kind of oral exam on this one.”
“What? Why?” he asked. Mr. Quincy glanced up at her.
“I’ve been having trouble with my eyes lately, and I can’t see the paper. If someone could read me the questions or something, I’m sure I could do fine.”
“Alright,” he whispered back, “just wait here after the bell and I’ll read them to you. You know, I thought your eyes looked different.”
“Thanks, Mr. Quincy,” she said, and used the sight of several people who were staring at her to return to her seat. She spent the rest of the class listening to the other students’ answers.
When the end of class came and the other students filed out the door, dropping their papers on Mr. Quincy’s desk on the way out, she remained behind. The only other person in the room was Mr. Quincy’s aide, who sat silently beside his desk. As expected, she got the answers entirely from Mr. Quincy’s head, so she hadn’t needed to listen in on the other students. She made sure to intentionally get two of the answers wrong, to avoid suspicion.
Ten minutes after the bell had rung, she was finishing up the quiz.
“Thanks again, Mr. Quincy,” she said as she walked out the door.
She stopped in her tracks when she exited. There weren’t any students in the hall; she had no way to see.
No problem, she thought, I know which way to go. She turned right and headed in the general direction of the main entrance, trailing her hand along the wall. But the wall fell away where another hallway intersected the main one. She kept walking in what she thought was a straight line, but where she expected the wall to return, she felt nothingness. She took two steps more, and still felt nothing. Panic and terror set in sooner and stronger than she would’ve liked to admit. She knew it was irrational; how lost could you get in a school?
For the first time in her life, she wished she were in a crowd. She wished she were in the largest crowd she had ever seen, so she could see through them. Nobody was here; she was truly blind.
She let her power go, releasing the useless views of the school buses outside, and the few classroom interiors from the teachers. But her own vision wouldn’t return soon enough. And who knows, she thought, maybe it’s gone for good this time.
Just when she felt tears stinging her eyes, threatening to spill over the edge, she heard a voice. Mr. Quincy’s voice.
“You alright, Nadine?” He asked.
Eyes, was all she thought, and she directed her power at him.
“It just dawned on me that you might need help getting outside. What with your vision problem and all.”
Nothing. She could hear his thoughts, but couldn’t see through his eyes. She realized now that the aide was the only one she could see through in the classroom. But with her power extended, she saw through the eyes of two students who emerged from a classroom farther up the hallway. Through them she saw where she was, standing in the middle of the hallway, equidistant from any wall she might hope to touch. Just as the sight came back, she saw Mr. Quincy’s hand leave the wall, and he walked directly toward her.
“Come on,” he said, and took her elbow. “You made it halfway, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
When they’d nearly reached the front doors, the two boys still following them, Mr. Quincy said, “How bad is it? Are you completely blind?”
“Getting there,” Nadine said.
“Here’s the door. I think you can get to the bus on your own, right?”
She said she could, and she did. Several more students were outside, and once she’d gotten on the bus, she could see through all of the occupants. She had trouble navigating, though, because as she moved down the aisle, everyone looked away, so she couldn’t see herself. She thought, Guess I’m not the only one with that trick.
She found the last available seat, two-thirds of the way back, over the left wheel-well.
She didn’t even bother to try and see the mirror that evening. She just brushed her teeth and hair by feel, then went to bed.
Strange day, she thought. She fell asleep relatively quickly but for some reason a certain image stayed with her until unconsciousness.
That moment when she’d started seeing through the two students in the hall. She thought she saw Mr. Quincy’s hand on the wall. When those two had entered the hall, he’d made a straight line toward Nadine.
I’m not the only one.
© 1996–2009 JCRogers