First, a look at the picture sleeve of a forty-five:
Then the memory:
Between 2003 and 2007 I had what you might call problems.
I got diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in 2002, and was, not long after, told I had probably had it my entire adult life (which was roughly twenty years at that point). I was then further told I had severe Diabetic Retinopathy which needed immediate and extensive laser treatments, etc.
Then there was a year of seeing what I’ll politely call the “wrong” doctor, after which I was told I would need major surgery and was, in fact, worse off than I had been to begin with (even though my Glucose numbers had long since normalized).
I ended up getting a second opinion and moving on to a real doctor, under whose care I got better, though not enough better to avoid having the surgeries eventually. Too much damage and too much recurrence as it turned out. Something called Vitrectomies ensued. One for each eye.
That’s where they cut an incision in the eyeball, suck out the vitreous fluid, replace it with a saline solution, and scrape any residual scar tissue off your blood vessels.
They keep you awake so you can move your eyes if necessary, which means you can also see them picking the scar tissue off the back of your eyeball.
it’s as pleasant as it sounds.
By the summer of 2006, one way and another, between the disease and the treatments, I had lost about twenty percent of my eyesight, mostly on the periphery, though there was also a permanent hole in my right eye’s field of vision.
I had also been told for a good two years, by then, that I should have stabilized by now.
And I hadn’t.
So I had no reason to believe that I wouldn’t continue to lose my sight at a similar rate in the years ahead.
I had gotten past breaking down over it–had managed to remind myself, yet again, that Faith is not for the good times–but it still wasn’t exactly the cheeriest period of my life. Faith moved the mountain of despair a little, but many more days than not, I was much more afraid than not.
Coming home from my sister’s house in South Florida after a 4th of July visit in that summer of 2006–three years into a pattern of deterioration that seemed more and more likely to be permanent–part of me wanted to just get on home, like usual, which would mean–like usual–I-95 or the Florida Turnpike.
Another part of me wanted to head up U.S. 1 and cruise the old neighborhood where I was born and partly raised, because who knew how many more chances there would be?
That nostalgic part won.
Now, it happens I had cruised my “old” neighborhood (we left in 1974) before.
There were some pretty good reasons I no longer did it very often.
The working class community I grew up in was run into the ground. The space-race jobs that fueled the local economy had long since dwindled to a fraction of their former numbers and left the place on life support. The people I knew (and loved more than I knew, as it turned out) were long gone or, at very least, lost to my circle of acquaintance. The church I was saved in, testified in, sang in, heard my mother sing in and saw my father ordained in, had–according to the sign anyhow–gone from Southern Baptist to some sort of utilitarian symbol which I assumed meant non-denominational though I never researched the matter fully.
Some things are better left undone.
For whatever reason, this particular day, I was willing to risk the company of an even blacker dog than the one that was already riding me to see just how much further things had gone downhill.
No explaining it. Maybe I just wanted to at least feel the place again.
After all, there was no way to know how many more times I would have the option of ignoring it.
Whichever direction I had gone that day, I had music for the occasion–a set of cassette tapes with a lot of my old 45s (none of them bought until I moved away and found I needed something to fill the space left by all the things I no longer belonged to, call it “community” if you like) captured on them.
I had recorded the tapes with no particular rhyme or reason. Just stuff I liked well enough, some time or other, to buy on a piece of plastic, and still liked well enough, all those years later, to record for driving music.
It was a true mix-tape.
All of which meant that I had little idea of what was coming next when I drove over a bridge just south of the hospital where I was born and a beautiful, peaceful view of the Indian River (which, to tell the truth, doesn’t often conjure romantic notions) on an early Sunday afternoon opened up.
Just as that view filled my somewhat impaired vision, what came up on the tape was Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know,” a tribute to the girl group era which she, having been born almost exactly a year before me, must have just missed (like me) and, given the improbable heart she put into both the single and the album it was drawn from (the oughta-be-immortal You Broke My Heart In 17 Places) must have also (like me) regretted missing on some very personal level.
It might have been just a nice moment, except that some combination of that song and that view of the river and that set of memories made me think, unbidden:
“If this is all there’s going to be, it’s okay.”
I didn’t really do much cruising of the old neighborhood that day, or any day since. And a year or so later, I figured out it was the diabetic medicine I was taking that was making my eyes bleed. I had to argue with a lot of doctors, of course, but I stopped taking the medicine. The round of laser treatments-shots-surgeries ended soon thereafter and hasn’t resumed.
To date, I haven’t lost any more eyesight. Well, not much anyway.
Things worked out, in other words. At least as much as they ever do. The mountain moved…just enough.
But those things that eventually worked themselves out–and which I had no way of knowing ever would in the summer of 2006–weren’t what brought me a last measure of peace.
What brought me that peace was driving over a bridge next to the Indian River, just south of the hospital where I was born, and, at that exact moment, hearing Tracey Ullman–a woman who got justifiably famous in the years hence by dint of a sheer, undaunted genius for never taking anything seriously (not even a talk show interview, which takes some doing in the Age of Narcissism)–put everything she had into a song that might have been designed to do any number of less-than-admirable, campy, things (and might have even accomplished some of them, these little bits of genius being what they are), but which she sang as though she fully intended to live up to Mary Weiss and Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love and didn’t much care who knew it.
And for one moment–luckily for me–live up to them she did.
(And, hey, it’s Tracey Ullman, so the video is hilarious…but, for a markedly different experience, don’t be afraid to put yourself in my shoes and close your eyes one time through.)