By Aaron Aradillas | Press Play April 1, 2014 at 1:50PM
The procedure went well. The doctor got rid of the “trash,” and it looked as if my retina was still attached, but we didn’t know to what extent the damage had been done to my eye. I had come to realize that Dr. Mein never tipped his hand in getting your expectations up. Every piece of good news was delivered with a cautionary warning. The retina was attached, but we had to also make sure the cornea didn’t reject and my eye pressure stabilized. There were a lot of moving parts that needed tending to. (At one point I was told that the eye is one of the slowest things to heal in the human body.) My family became like the family at the end of Silver Linings Playbook: we were excited with scoring a 5 instead of a 10. We had to wait a few days before determining what else could be done. It turned out I had what is known as a choroidal, which meant that the connecting tissue between the retina and the sclera had torn. This required a gas bubble to be injected into my eye. The purpose of the bubble was for it to push the tissue back up against the retina. This meant I had to bend over at a 90 degree angle every 15 minutes out of every hour I was awake. (Think getting prepared for impact when a plane is going to crash.) I could also kneel over a footrest to achieve this position. Luckily I didn’t require a full gas bubble. If I did, I would’ve had to lay on my stomach 45 minutes out of every hour for weeks. The bubble I got took up about two-thirds of my field of vision. The bubble consisted of a neon-pink border surrounding a darker circle that surrounded a central circle that is supposed to provide a hole to see out of. It’s like looking through a circle of dirty water. Before the bubble I couldn’t see anything. Now, all I could see was this bubble.
And so it went. I developed a new routine that gave me a little bit of structure. January went by slower than a Bela Tarr movie. It became Good Morning America followed by Live with Kelly and Michael followed by The View followed by CNN. Sometimes I would change things up and listen to The Price is Right. I say “listen” because I couldn’t make out anything on the TV screen. The afternoon consisted of The Ellen DeGeneres Show followed by Jepoardy!. The end of Jeopardy! signaled that evening was about to start which meant nighttime. With my brother and sister-in-law at work and my niece at school, I had to rely on my memory to remember which channels were which. I surfed for anything that would distract me. I became an armchair expert on the Michael Dunn trial. (Sadly, I called the verdict the moment I heard his bullshit testimony.) I looked for movies to listen to that were light in tone so I wouldn’t have any dark thoughts or images in my head. Stripes was a good one. I had seen it so many times growing up that I could practically see it in my head. One night my brother came across The Shining and I made him change it. I didn’t need those endless tracking shots swirling in my head. I remember thinking is this what I have to look forward to if my vision doesn’t improve? The thought of going out to the movies and attempting to be part of the critical conversation became an alien notion. What’s the point of going to a Scorsese or a Fincher or a Nolan or a Malick if you can’t see it? I called my sister at one point, and trying to put a positive spin on the situation, I said, “I guess I can become a rock critic.”
The weekends were marked by awards shows and the NFL playoffs. I listened to the Grammys, the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, and the SAGs. I became detached from the proceedings. Not being able to read or type meant I was unable to engage on social media. I wondered if I ever would again. I knew technology for the blind allowed for talking computers that read the onscreen text, but things like Facebook and iTunes were not very blind friendly. Would I ever make a playlist again? I know there are more important things than managing your iTunes library, but the prospect of not being able to do the things you do without thinking was the first thing that popped into my head. Some friends would call and let me know what was happening in the real world. That’s how I was able to keep up with the yearly Armond White fiasco and how the Ebert doc was being received at Sundance. I thought about Ebert a lot, and how he managed to preserve his critical voice long after he lost the ability to speak. Would I be able to do the same? I had cornered the market on blind movie criticism, not realizing it was a one-of-a-kind skill set.
I tried to visualize what I was hearing. The new seasons of Girls and Justified started, and the very verbal natures of these shows allowed me to construct the blocking and settings in my head. On the days my dad would come over to keep me company, we’d watch Justified and listening to Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder do his soft-spoken intimidation of people provided some fleeting moments of relief. True Detective was more difficult. With its Sam Shepherd-meets-Jeff Nichols “poetic” dialogue, its back-and-forth structure, and its backwater setting, I knew I wasn’t experiencing the whole story. I intuited that the pregnant pauses, the sideways glances, the visuals were a major part of the story. (I stopped watching after three episodes.)
I then remembered an essay by my friend Ian Grey about his recovery after a major accident and how movies and music saved him. I grabbed my ipod, and after using the sound of the clicking wheel in order to guess which “Artist” I was selecting, I started to listen to music. The media coverage of the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles coming to America prompted me to revisit Beatles for Sale and my personal favorite, Rubber Soul. The Stones’ Emotional Rescue and especially side two of Tattoo You were on a constant loop. (The Prince-like ballad “Worried About You” from Tattoo is a particular favorite.) I reconnected with The Kinks’ second record, Kinda Kinks, with “Nothin’ In This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ “Bout That Girl,” “Never Met A Girl Like You Before,” and “When I See That Girl of Mine” being highlights. One day I stayed in bed and switched from Syl Johnson (“Let Them Hang High,” “I Can Take Care of Business”) to mid-‘60s Joe Tex singles (“I Want To Do Everything For You”), and Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Supper Club, with a performance of “Bring It On Home to Me” that is so overwhelmingly powerful it can make anyone into a believer. Listeningng to the Cooke performance made me think of Michael Mann’s Ali and how it was used as the bedrock for the movie’s stunning opening sequence. I then suddenly realized that my love of music and movies is pretty much equal, yet I chose to concentrate my writing on an art form that is, shall we say, more challenging than the other. I don’t know why. I may never know why.