Losing It

Losing an eyeball certainly has consequences greater than misplacing, say, your keys. I am haunted by this fact every time I can’t find something. When I was eight years old and staying at my aunt’s house for the summer in Lubbock, Texas we were in the back yard celebrating the fourth of July when my friend Tyson from the house next door lost his eye.

I still remember sitting in the emergency room wearing my red polka dot bathing suit; my damp braids hanging limply on the sides of my face. My aunt had to bring me and my three cousins along with Tyson to the emergency room because she was babysitting him. We’d been running through the sprinklers all afternoon. As the sun went down we waved sparklers around, enchanted by the power of holding fire in our hands. There was laughter and happiness.

Tyson’s parents were hard drinkers. They liked to party. My aunt and uncle could cut it off at a couple of beers so Tyson was often left to play at my aunt’s house. Her responsible reputation is why I spent my summers with her too.

That summer I’d finally been able to climb to the tippy top of my aunt’s Mimosa tree. From up there I would announce to my cousin Sidney and his friend Tyson that I was Queen Virginia and they must bow to me. Of course they didn’t. Instead they would begin pelting me with small rocks. I would flip from the top limb landing delicately on my feet and command once again that they bow to me which they continued to violently refuse. One day Sidney stayed inside with a stomach ache and Tyson came by to play. Sidney, Tyson and I were the same age. My two other cousins were toddlers and both girls. I explained to Tyson that Sidney could play with only me. That day he bowed to me and claimed his undying love. By the next day when Sidney felt better, Tyson was pelting me with rocks again.

On my birthday, July the first, Tyson presented me with a birthday gift. I remember greedily ripping the paper and finding a stack of three slim volumes of children’s poetry books. They were bound in the most gorgeous blue linen with embossed titles in gold ink. Lovely watercolor illustrations filled the books. Tyson often teased me for reading. I always had a book in my hands. Giving me the gift showed me that he saw me for who I am and appreciated me. When he told me he’d chosen the gift himself I was overcome with emotion. Leaning in to kiss his cheek, I embarrassed myself. He kissed my cheek back. Then he went back to pelting me with rocks.

One of our favorite activities was to catch horny toads and hide them in the coffee can on my aunt’s counter. My uncle came home from work at 5 p.m. and he liked to have a cup of coffee as soon as he walked in the door. My aunt would prepare coffee at exactly the right time so that when he got home it was ready. At least three times a week we would sneak an old coffee can onto the counter. She’d peel back the lid to find a horny toad resting on a nest of lawn clippings. My aunt could scream just like a girl in a horror film. It was the most fun.

Everything that summer was terrific fun. My uncle made a homemade slip and slide using cut up trash bags. Even though we got scrapes and cuts it seemed like we were having a wonderful time. Tyson confided in me that he worried about when his parents got to drinking, how they would holler and fight. I told him my daddy drank too much too. He said I was lucky to only have one parent with a taste for the liquor. Nobody had ever called me lucky before. I was a laughingstock at school because everyone remembered my daddy showing up at kindergarten graduation drunk. He’d peed in the flower bushes and everyone knew it. Lucky was not a name I’d ever been called.

When I think of that Fourth of July night I realize I am lucky. My children have never held a sparkler in their hands or shot off firecrackers at home because I am still traumatized by that night. I remember the howls of my baby cousins when they heard the loud pops and booms and I remember the brown Miller beer bottle whizzing through the air. It was a projectile missile lit on fire and when it landed Tyson howled like a scalded dog.

“My eye! My eye!” He kept screaming.

I’d been spinning in circles performing a fire dance with my sparkler. I stopped. The world went quiet.

“What happened?” Sidney asked quietly.

My aunt had run inside to call the doctor. She came running out of the house shouting instructions for us to get in the station wagon. “Leave the bottle in his eye. Doctor said,” my aunt told my uncle in a hushed voice. My uncle drove the three miles to the hospital so fast that the wheels were squealing.

Tyson had passed out from shock. I remember the doctors rushing out to the car with a cot on wheels to place him on. They wheeled him into the emergency room. An ambulance hadn’t been available at the time. That’s why my aunt and uncle had to drive Tyson to the hospital. I can still see the jagged neck of the bottle planted in his face.

My aunt ushered us in quickly and quietly to the waiting room. It was horrible. A woman who was really a man sat next to me. He was wearing a sparkly sequined dress and spiked heels. I’ve been shot and nobody gives a damn! He kept shouting. His mascara was running. An old lady kept crying that she’d just crapped her pants. A toothless man wearing pants too large for him dropped them and asked me if his private parts looked infected. I screamed. My uncle told my aunt to take us home; that he would stay until Tyson’s parents came to the hospital. Years later I was reminiscing about that crazy night with my aunt and uncle and they explained that they’d taken Tyson to the free hospital.

When Tyson returned a few days later he wore an eye patch. We played pirates for the rest of the summer. I declared myself the mermaid Queen and if Sidney wasn’t looking Tyson would bow to me. His glass eyeball didn’t match his real eye which was an unusual clear, deep blue. His fake eye was a different blue. It didn’t matter. Sidney and I thought he looked cool.

My mother came to pick me up a week before school started. I showed her the books Tyson gave me and she predicted they would be the most special gifts I ever received from a boy. Except for the gift of my children, she was right. And so it is that Tyson remains a landmark in my mind’s map. When searching for what I’ve lost he shows up, haunting me, reminding me, there are far greater things to lose. The impact can be lasting.


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