“Mom, why does that kid have a patch on his eye?” It was a question Alan heard dozens of times, but it was parent’s answer that always bothered him.
“Because there’s something wrong with his eye,” the mother would say nonchalantly. Something was wrong with his eye, therefore something was wrong with Alan.
Every night Alan’s dad sat him down at the long black coffee table, forcing him to trace dot-to-dot puzzles with an eye patch on his good eye. Dot-to-dots where supposed to be fun. Instead it felt impossibly frustrating. He would veer away from the dots and his dad would huff in disappointment. Alan’s whole body would tense up. He usually ended up crying until his mom told his dad to let him stop.
“I’m afraid it’s not working,” the Doctor sighed. “There’s really no reason to continue with the eye patch.” Despite the Doctor’s frown, Alan felt a thrill in his belly at the thought of no more eye patch. Was he dreaming?
That was when he noticed his mother was crying. The Doctor moved away from Alan to console her. Alan had disappointed his parents yet again.
Soon after, the nightmares began. The worst one took place in an unfamiliar backyard with an ominous pool. The water was inky black and the sides of of the pool were steeply slanted. For whatever reason, Alan was alone in this haunting place. He called for his parents, but no one came. Then a slimy tentacle reached out from the bracken to take hold of his leg. It dragged him slowly toward the pool. He screamed loudly and hit it with his hands causing it to recede back where it came from, but it was too late. Alan was on the steep side of the pool and sliding uncontrollable toward the murky water. It was then that he noticed a thousand yellow eyes waiting for him in the pool.
Alan jerked awake with his heart pounding. He ran to his mother’s room. Angrily she turned the closet light on for him. She did this every night. But the nightmares still came.
Alan and his family moved, and Alan had to go to a new school halfway through the first grade. A new teacher. A new class.
Alan was an easy going kid, and making friends was never hard for him. Inevitably, the questions came: “What happened to your eye?” In answer, he usually shrugged his shoulders.
Alan was a pretty good artist, so he drew pictures for his new friends. He drew things to amuse them. He joined the cub scouts because he liked the outdoors, but he would not play any sports. His lack of vision in one eye made it too difficult. Both his brothers excelled at sports. Alan could only watch them play. His brothers would practice throwing and hitting with their dad, but not Alan. His dad went through the ritual of buying him a mitt. Dousing it with oil. Wrapping it with string. Letting it dry. The mitt sat in Alan’s closet unused. It was another tangible example of how he was different. How he was not normal.
“Not normal.” That was how Alan’s inner dialogue began to define him. It feed into his school performance. His grades got worse and worse each passing year. In fourth grade, he was earning Ds in spelling, reading, and math.
It didn’t help that his mother also didn’t believe he could get good grades. “At least get Cs,” she would tell him. At least get by. As if average was all that he was capable of.
The eye doctor prescribed him glasses. Not because it would help his vision, but to protect his one good eye. “If you lose that one, you got nothing left!” the doctor grinned.
Alan refused to wear the glasses, despite his mother’s pleading.
Alan’s family moved to a new town again. Once more, Alan was forced to leave behind his friends and everything he knew.
In the past, friendships often began with a kid asking: “Are you cross eyed?” Alan’s answer became: “In one eye.” His tone was as if to say, at least both eyes are not crossed. The friendship would go on with neither ever speaking of it again.
The new kids he met in sixth grade were more brazen, less accepting. “What’s wrong with your eye?” some would frown. Others would cut to the chase and proclaim: “You look like a re-tard!”
Alan’s parents became less strict about what he watched. They had just gotten cable TV where you could see movies like Jaws, Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Alan’s nightmares got worse. He was abducted by aliens, swallowed by sharks, consumed by mysterious pod people. He dreaded the night.
Alan fell into misery.
Alan’s new eye doctor believed their was a chance he could “cure” Alan. He gave Alan a contact lens for his good eye that made his vision blur. He made Alan do complex puzzles with his good eye covered.
None of it worked.
At about this time, Alan had developed a strategy to hide his crossed eye. If he titled his head a certain way, or if he looked at someone through the corner of his eye, it seemed less noticeable. He also became acutely aware that his crossed eye would be something that he would have to deal with for the rest of his life. Like a missing limb, or a oddly shaped skull, it could never really be totally hidden.
Alan became use to the way people would give him strange looks. He became use to the ones that would subconsciously itch at their own eye when they saw his. He became use to the way people would become avoidant of him, or even suspicious.
Yet another new eye doctor recommended that he get cosmetic surgery, “to correct the problem”. But there was a chance it could become worse.
He refused any kind of surgery, mostly out of fear.
Alan went to therapy for four years and for the first time learned that he was actually better than average. That in some many ways he was normal. In some ways he was not. Just like everyone else. Of course there were unique things about him, and one of those things was his eye.
After four years of therapy, Alan finally got a career where he was helping others.
Alan’s mother died of cancer. It was a shockingly fast death. Diagnosed one month. Dead the next.
Alan began to question everything. Mostly he questioned himself. His life choices. The place that he was in his life.
At one time, he was proud he had not let his eye get in the way of his life. But thinking back, it had been his excuse to not do the things he really wanted to do the most. Things like art. And writing. And creating.
His mother was dead, and he had no more excuses. So he started to do the things he had lost. The things that he loved most.
And he gained uniqueness back. He gained back what had made him different.