In the wee hours of a June wedding celebration, I watched dancing lights in the thick darkness by a river: fiber-optic strands cradled in the palms of little girls who jumped and twirled to the music. Deep in the rains of early July, after fighting sleeplessness one moonless night with a meditation CD that urges me to visualize the benevolent presence of loved ones, I opened my eyes to see a green gold light on the ceiling directly above my head, flashing. It was a firefly, speaking – reassuringly, it seemed -- in its native Morse code. These two events were prequels to a coming change.
I was in an outdoor restaurant when a gnat flew into my right eye with that familiar bap I get when it happens. Summer gnats love my eyes. “Pat,” I told my husband, “You’re going to have to operate with a Q tip when we get home.” But there was no bug this time, though I kept seeing brown things that looked like insect carcasses sailing through my vision. Then I began experiencing flashes of light in the corner of the eye, followed by the descent of a dark thing, like a wing. Later I started calling the wing thing a record needle, coming down.
The eye doctor labeled these new sensations Flashers and Floaters. If someone told me when I was 20 that at 64 my life would fill with Flashers and Floaters, what would I have expected? Raincoat clad people exposing themselves at sports events, maybe, or inner tubes for floating in pools on lazy afternoons.
The doctor showed me how the vitreous humor, in its tidy sac, turns from gel to liquid and then begins to separate from the lining of the inner eye. The brown insect legs I saw were blood from this tearing away; the flashes were distress signals from the optic nerve. Looking at the diagram of the perky round vitreous that resembled a younger me’s breast, I wondered irrationally if I was going to need a sports bra for my morphing eyeball. Was it going to start sagging out of the eye socket, like a Spielberg special effect from Raiders of the Lost Ark?
No, said the doc. Imagine a beach ball filled with gel. The gel liquefies, but it is still the same volume. The internet told me to imagine a piece of Jell-O that is left out of the fridge and starts to pull away from the dish. Both images disturb. I was assured that separation of the humor is normal for older people. (More women than men, statistically.) A fellow writer said, “Oh yeah, I call them (the floaters) my family. Some mornings I wake up and tell my husband we have many new family members.”
Within ten days the tearing away was complete. The eye doctor was satisfied that the retina had not detached during the process, in which case I would have had to have immediate laser surgery to save my eyesight. That was good news.
One night last week a firefly, resting on the screen door, flashed me. My eye flashed back, and the wing/record player needle descended. The firefly and I repeated the communication a couple of times. I’ve always secretly believed I could learn to talk to the animals. I didn’t know it would be like this, quite. I return to a prayer that rises during meditation: Let me see things through the eyes of spirit. Will I see more clearly through a liquid than a gel? Firefly, the world is full of mystery.