Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for Vision

I played softball as a kid. Well... in high school - are you still technically a "kid" in high school? Guess that depends on your perspective. But, from where I sit now, I was a kid then, and this was my team.

Looking at this photo brings up all sorts of interesting emotions for me, because within a year or so of it being taken a few things happened.

Thing number 1: two of the girls in this picture, we'll call them K & R, were killed in a car accident. In truth, "accident" might be a bit of a stretch. It was winter, and they had gone for a drunken joy ride with their boyfriends.

I think the reports said they were going well over 90mph when they hit a patch of ice and ran off the road into a telephone pole. The guys (who both survived) were in the front, and when they hit the pole K & R were both sent flying out the back window. One was killed instantly, the other died a few hours later at the hospital.

I would like to be able to say that K & R were my friends, but the thing is... they really weren't. You see, they were the uber-popular cool kids, and I was head of the dork patrol.

Still, even though they treated me like shit on a biscuit, I looked up to them and admired how pretty, and cool, and "perfect" they were.

A few months after they were killed, softball season started again. Despite the obvious emotional struggle that we all were going through, we had a good season. Somehow things started to click for me that year, and I was hitting home runs almost every game. Plus, center field had sorta graduated from being the position where you stick the stupid kid who can't play, to an important factor in the game.

I hate to say it, but I was starting to feel like coolness might be within my reach after all.

Anyhow, the season culminated in a trip to the state tournament, and that's where thing number 2 happened.

The tournament was held in little town half way between Denver and the Kansas border that year. Since the town didn't have much to offer in the way of hotel accommodations, we all "slept" on the floor of the local high school gym.

Suffice it to say, rest was not exactly in abundance that night, so when we got up for our 8am game the next morning I was a tad bit drowsy.

So, as I stood out in center field I was being sorta lazy, resting my hands on my bent knees.

If Lou Gehrig can do it, so can I, right?
Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but all my life I've suffered from a condition called orthostatic hypotension. That's a fancy way of saying that if I stand up too quickly the blood rushes from my head and I suffer from symptoms like dizziness, ringing ears, and if it's extreme, I temporarily go sorta blind. And.... it gets worse when I'm tired.

Soooo... there I was in center field, when a girl hit a perfect line drive right to me. "No problem," I thought as I bounced up and lined myself up to catch the ball. Then the head rush hit me and suddenly, I couldn't see a thing.

Fortunately I had lined myself up perfectly to catch the ball before the blackout occurred. Unfortunately, I was holding my glove about 2 inches too low, so the ball sailed right over the top of my glove and hit me square in the face.

You know those old Looney Tunes cartoons where somebody was always getting bonked on the head and the next thing you know they'd have stars swirling around their head? Well, that really happens.

So as I was loosing consciousness the last thing I remember is laughing as I was falling to the ground, because the whole seeing stars thing just struck me as really funny.

Things were a tad bit, ahem, less comical when I woke up. There was blood everywhere and I couldn't see out of my left eye at all.

I ended up with a broken nose and internal bleeding in one eye. They had to let my nose heal crooked and re-break it later (something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy) because they were concerned that trying to set the nose might do further damage to my eye.

Long story short, I spent several weeks in the hospital with a patch on my eye, not sure if I'd ever see out of it again.

I wasn't allowed to do much other than watch TV and think... which I did a lot of.

I thought about how much worse it all could have been if the ball had hit me in the temple rather than the eye, and how lucky I was to be alive and relatively intact.

I thought about my obsession with trying to be perfect - the agonizing over my grades, the hopeless attempts to crack the "cool" code and finally fit in, and how meaningless it all seemed from my new perspective.

I thought about the little old ladies who populated the eye ward of the hospital with their cataract surgeries... were they happy with the way they'd lived their lives?

But mostly I thought about K & R who hadn't been so lucky, and who's popularity and "coolness" had landed them six feet under... dead... gone... no more chances... ever.

You know, there have been a lot of pivotal experiences in my life, I've written about many of them in my "How I Escaped from the Rat Race" series. But for some reason this one stands out as the "watershed moment" that really started it all.

It's like when that ball hit my face, it didn't just break my nose and damage my eye, it somehow put the first crack in my emotional armor, and allowed me to begin to veer from the path that my life might otherwise have taken.

I still had a LOOOOONG way to go in terms of living life on my own terms rather than those set for my by my parents, or teachers, or by society at large. But the sudden realization that I was, in fact, very mortal - and that mortality could rear its ugly head at any moment, really gave me the courage to take life by the horns in a way I'd never been willing to do before.

When the bandage finally came off, I was indeed able to see out of my left eye. It still doesn't quite work as well as the other one... the pupil is slow to contract, leaving me with a bit of a zombified look and making my vision go a bit wonky when I transition quickly from dark to light.

But you know what, when I look around me at the people whose lives turned out like mine was "supposed to" - with their high power jobs that they hate, their big houses full of stuff they'll be paying off until they die, their overbooked schedules leaving them no time to breathe, and their kids who they are busy pressuring to make up for all of their shortcomings - I have to say that I am more than happy to trade the small deficit in my eyesight for the deeper vision that the events of that year helped me to acquire.

They say that those who leave this life in an untimely manner give us a great gift... that they are teachers for the rest of us. Apparently that's true, even if they weren't people you could count as your "friends." So I am forever grateful to K & R for the gift they inadvertently gave to me.


  1. That is a very powerful story which gives us all pause to think about our own lives. Thanks for sharing these very personal experiences.

    Now on a less serious note. When I looked at your team picture, I wondered if having a Farrah Fawcett hairdo was a requirement to be a member of the team. :)

    1. Ha! I think it was a requirement for being a teenage girl back then!

  2. What a thought-provoking post. I've always thought of people who meet an untimely death doing something stupid as "object lessons" rather than teachers but I guess it's just semantics.

    live and learn - The Farah Fawcett shags were the first thing I noticed, too.

    1. Ha! Well, "teacher", "object lesson" - pretty much the same thing. I do feel grateful to have survived all of the stupid things I did in my own youth though! :-)

    2. I use people like that as "object lessons" for my kids--I want them to have empathy for the victims of bad choices, but I also want them to develop critical thinking skills so they can avoid similar scenarios in their own lives ... is that possible for adolescents?

      Add me in as your third person chuckling at the Farrah hairstyle. You were more cool than I was--I had no athletic skills whatsoever, had a short 80's style hairdo and those HUGE glasses with the bows at the side (the part of the glasses that hook over the ears) that were in the twisty-turny style that was so popular then. And I wondered why it was so hard to get dates ...

    3. Ha! Well, I think this photo was taken about a year or two before the Farrah hairstyle gave way to the shorter 80's dos - because I had one of those too! Fashion is such a ridiculous thing, isn't it?

    4. I was at my friend's 50th b-day party a few weeks ago (I hit the big one in a couple of weeks ... ) and I got a kick out of her school pictures from high school. My own outfits and hairstyles from those years looked eerily like hers ... the blouse with the ribbon tie around the neck ... the peasant-style, huge sleeved blouse ... and HER mom was more hip than mine--she allowed my friend to have those peel-n-stick initials on her glasses lens (the glasses were sooo big back then that you didn't have to worry about them obstructing your field of view).

      I think style is fascinating. A few months ago, I saw of clip on tv about a male news anchor who wore the same suit every day for a year just to see if any viewers would notice ... I don't think anyone did ... his point was that viewers watch female anchors with a highly critical eye but pay almost no attention to male anchors if their "uniform" is socially acceptable.

    5. Wow... that's fascinating and a bit disturbing about the news anchor thing. Whenever I watch the news, I tend to be... what's the word... "curious" (maybe?) surprised? horrified? about what the women are wearing - I especially notice it in the weather department, but maybe that's just because that's the part of the news I pay the closest attention to.

      Some of the clothes they choose seem almost bizarre to me - plunging necklines, figure-hugging dresses, heels so high I couldn't walk in them, lace sleeves & bodices, giant pieces of jewelry - like they're dressed for a cocktail party or something.

      Perhaps the fact that I notice makes me just as bad as everybody else, but I find it really distracting. Wouldn't it be better to just wear something simple and professional? Maybe our culture just hasn't adopted a "uniform" for professional women like we have for men.

  3. Let's be grateful for what we have achieved so far!

  4. What a beautiful story! I just found my way here from The Eco-Grandma, and I will definitely be back. It is strange, the moments that stick in our mind as times of change and realization. I can think of many such times in my own life.

    1. I often wonder if it's the moment itself that had the impact, or if it was just the grain of sand around which stuff that was already brewing could crystallize. Either way, I'm grateful.

  5. I can relate to the effect K and R's deaths had on you. I had a similar situation although for me it was stupidity that lost the lives of friends but the same disease I have. So many of my close friends died before their mid teens. most between the ages of 11 and 14. I was heartbroken when the parents of one of my closest friend's asked that I not attend the funeral or visit them for a while because it hurt them too much to see me still walking when their child had died. Between the loss of close friends from this disease and my grandparents fears that I wouldn't have a long life they encouraged me to experience everything I wanted while I could.

    So I did. I didn't let any thing stop me from doing the things I wanted. The problem was at home I was receiving mixed messages. They wanted me to experience life, but they had these expectations of what I was supposed to do with the life I had. I spent so many years living two lives. One my family saw hoping I would gain their approval and the other, the real me. It was hard to keep them separate and I felt like an actor much of the time. It wasn't until I was in my 30's that I realized they were never going to be happy with who I was and gave up the pretense and just figured the heck with it.

    I never thought before that maybe it was losing so many close to me so young that helped create the person I am. I just always saw it as a constant would that kept reopening each time another died.

    As for the hair styles. I had the Farrah hairstyle briefly. I was studying cosmetology so all my friends had me do their hair the same. One night at a football game I happened to realize that the group of friends I was with that night all had the same hair style. I went home and cut it off. I always wanted to be different. :-)

    I just noticed on your sidebar how few times you normally blog in a month, or for that case in a year. How are you holding up with the challenge of blogging every day?

    1. Oh Lois, I can't even begin to imagine what childhood must have been like for you. The constant loss, always wondering if you were gonna be next. It must have been very difficult.

      I can totally relate to the double life thing. It's ironic, my mother came from a very strict family and spent most of her life rebelling against them - so she always had this idea that she wasn't "that king of parent." My father also prided himself on being an open parent. But the thing is, they both had HUGE emotional investments in how I lived my life - and the fact that they wouldn't own up to it didn't make the pressure any less. In a funny way it made it worse, because I always felt like I had to protect my parents from the truth about who I was.

      Anyhow, I do think that being confronted with the death of those your own age when you are young has a profound impact on people. K & R were actually not my first experience with it. In the fifth grade one of my classmates was struck by lightening and killed, and a neighbor girl a few years younger than me died from brain cancer.

      Did you ever read the Carlos Castenada books? I read them in college and the one thing that I've always remembered is the idea that you should always keep death close to you and remember that you are mortal because it will guide you to live your best life. Somehow, I think there is great truth in that.

      Anyhow, I must confess that I'm looking forward to the month being over, but I do think that blogging so much has helped me to take each post less seriously and just write - which was part of my goal - so I'm really glad that I did it! It also gave me a chance to pull a bunch of half-finished ideas out of my drafts folder and make them a reality - like this post. Not sure I would have done that otherwise.

  6. Are you my long lost twin? I've never had a name put to it, but I think I have orthostatic hypotension, too. (A couple years ago, I discovered my father has always had the same thing, too, and he was diagnosed with a, probably congenital, artery in his neck that didn't close properly. I haven't bothered to talk to doctors about it since it is just an inconvenience, never sent me to the hospital.) I have the being blinded stuff, so I can totally understand how this happened to you.

    1. I think it is genetic because my dad has it too. I had no idea it could have something to do with arteries that don't close properly though... I'm actually not even sure what that means, but it's a little bit disturbing!

  7. Wow! That had to be rough to lose two people your age like that. What a valuable lesson to learn so young, though. Isn't it interesting what being faced with our own mortality can do for us? I had a pretty big health scare right around my 31st birthday and that definitely changed my attitude about a lot of things, including aging.

    1. Perspective is a very powerful thing, isn't it? I hope it was just a "scare" and nothing serious! :-)


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