dead center.

Photo: Nathan DeFiesta

Years ago, he got a tic in his eye that he couldn’t control. He was at a party, drinking. Figured maybe he’d had too much. (He probably had.)

Hours later, he woke up to find it worse. Figures swam before him, not blurred, not moving, but liquid in this re-vision. He made it to the bathroom, figuring he’d had too much last night. (He probably had.) He saw in the glass darkly a fright — the face in the glass was often a fright after such nights.

For a quietly panicked minute, he blinked, rubbed, even prayed. But he couldn’t right his crossed eye, nestled now like a thick bead heavy against the bridge of his nose. A round persistent sightless weight dead center of his disbelief.

That day & the next, he made do with a patch from the drug store. Shrugged it off to anyone that asked. (Everyone asked.) He kept it on until the doctor removed it, gripping the paper sheet rolled across the examining table, hoping the bead would roll right.

In a swift ten minutes, the doctor moved with the kind of sanguine approach and gently urgent pace that you’d expect from a young professional practiced in hour after hour of these fifteen-minute appointments, one after the other, from one not well person to the next not dying person, from one end of the hall to the other and back. She moved a light around. She asked him about his drinking, about his weight, about his eyes, and those of his family. He answered everything.

For days & weeks, he answered even more, in other offices, crinkling paper on table after table, test after test. Each time, a penlight moving laterally, searching out the pupil of his eye now fixedly lightless. His wife right there with him now, noting everything, repeating the questions and responses and hopes to every person who called. (Everyone called.)

One day, they found something.

A walnut-sized tumor deep in his skull. It had probably been there his whole life, they told him. What a relief, he joked, for a minute, I was worried someone had left it there by accident. His wife slapped his shoulder, not softly. They repeated, Probably growing his whole life, micromillimeter by micromillimeter, now just large enough to just push just enough on his optic nerve just in time to ruin that party that night.

In a couple of weeks, they said, they’d saw part of his skull open to enter his brain through the ear canal and arrive, dead center, where the tumor was. You’ll lose your hearing in that ear, but you’ll also lose the tumor. There was no other way.

The afternoon before the saw and the scar, before the great cleaning (as he called it), he moved the living room speakers to either side of his easy chair, the cords stretched taut above the frayed rug. On the side table, three fingers of mescal and a stack of LPs. He sat down and listened, the stereo turned up like it was the last time. (Which in some ways, it was.) Tupelo Honey. Eydie Gorme y Los Panchos. Taj Mahal live at the Fillmore East. Tom Waits On the Nickel. His wife & the kids could hear the Julio Jaramillo album as the car pulled into the driveway. He welcomed them home, smiling, tears darkening his eyepatch.

After it was all over, after it was all out, they stapled shut a long pink rainbow of a scar over his ear.

It’s been years. He’s okay. Sometimes, he even forgets which is his good side.

13 responses to “dead center.”

  1. Wow. I was going to say poignant, but apparently, the meaning of the word is slightly different than the descriptive I am looking for. To chase a bunch of metaphors and cliche, this reading was both a meat and potatoes kind of meal, and a light veggie and hummus kind of snack. It left me with a pondering and wanting more. Perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Joel and a warm welcome to SOL. First, may I congratulate you on how succinctly, yet powerfully you related your story and even added a dash a humor. Secondly, I must tell you that your tale really hit home. When our youngest son was 17, he began to lose the vision in his right eye. It began with a loss of peripheral vision and even after several bouts of steroids, visits to Wills Eye and John Hopkins, no reason was determined. He is blind in that eye because he lost the blood supply to his optic nerve, due to an undetermined reason. Today, he is 39, a husband, father and accountant, leading a happy, successful life in spite of his disability. Thanks for sharing your story, especially the very happy ending.


  3. holy. shit. joel!! this gave me chills. I ADORE your writers voice here. I want to share this widely. Can I?!?!? My heart was thumping throughout. Also: do you KNOW THIS HAPPENED TO MARK RUFFALO!?!?!?!


  4. The use of third person is so clever here – makes the story seem somewhat detached. And the parenthetical comments add humor. But, when I got to the part where he is listening to his music, full blast, “like it was the last time”, the weight of the story hit me full on.


  5. Wow. You are a fantastic writer! The repetition of the 2 word phrases in parentheses is what really stood out to me — maybe almost an avoidance when one encounters challenging times? I love the trepidation of the feel of the entire piece…a toe in the water; not quite letting oneself sink into the fear. Bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

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