Bright Lights

An Excerpt from a book I just finished writing titled "The Anomaly". I hope to have it published soon.

It was the summer after first grade. The July heat was on and in the desert where I lived every surface you touched was hot enough that you could cook scrambled eggs on them. Johnnie had been a friend of mine for several years and he had dropped by that July morning to ask if I wanted to go swimming at the Jr High School. They opened the pool to the community every summer. It was something we loved to do and would spend entire summers just soaking up the rays as we floated in the cool clear water. Intermittently we would go out and lay on the hot cement to warm up from the cold water and dry off. We would practically sizzle in the sun like short strips of salty bacon. In the summers it didn’t take long for our skin to turn dark brown and our hair to wash out to very light bleached colors. We had spent the entire day at the pool and were walking home, hair still wet with towels draped round our necks. Somewhere along the way home I decided to say something to tease Johnnie. He took what I said more personally than I had intended and began to chase me. He was a bit bigger than I was and I certainly wasn't going to let him catch me. After an initial sprint I realized he was likely gaining on me so I quickly looked behind me to see how close he was. When I turned around still running my head immediately exploded into a million zillion bright lights. I had collided head first with a light pole. I remember waking up laying on hot asphalt. As I came to from the initial shock, I clearly remember everything around me going crazy. The pain in my head was indescribable and for a moment it felt like my head wasn't even connected to my body anymore. As I slowly regained my senses that seemed to be scattered everywhere around me one thing was very obvious. I was completely blind. Not the kind of blind you might expect though, it wasn't absolute blackness. Just the opposite, it looked like a Spirograph had exploded inside Tinkerbell. Flairs of

color and shapes of every kind swam through my vision making me sick. As I attempted to gain some balance a fire engine screamed by. As it did I saw large swirls of every color you could imagine whip around in gigantic tornado like side way whirls. I Jerked back and forth having no idea at all what was happening to me. Johnnie saw the whole thing happen and was quickly beside me asking if I was ok. I franticly told him what was going on and he was absolutely terrified that he would be blamed for what had happened. “You HAVE to help me!” I said. “There is no way I’ll ever make it home if you don’t!” I assured him it wasn't his fault and I wouldn't even tell my parents. It was summer and I figured I could just wait it out till my sight returned. He helped me to my feet and guided me step by step the four blocks home. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t really worried about my vision. It might have been because I was so distracted with what my head was doing and the throbbing that felt like ten million elephants stomping on my brain. He got me home, in the back door and in bed. He left abruptly not wanting to be anywhere near where he might have to explain his role in what had happened. I just laid there thinking about what I should do next. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was one time I didn’t have control over what was happening. I was going to need some help. Not long after I got home my mom came into my room asking about my daily chores. “I need you to hop up and get started.” She said. The idea of hiding what had happened and “riding it out” dissolved into nothingness. There wasn't any way I would be able to do anything. “Mom, I’m really not feeling well.” “I kind of feel like throwing up.” She immediately noticed something wasn't right. She asked me “why aren’t you looking at me and why were are your eyes rolling around in your head like a couple of loose marbles? “I was running home from the pool today.” “I turned around to watch A fire engine speed by with its sirens on.” “When I turned back around I ran into a light pole” I left Johnnie out of it. I could hear the concern in her voice. “How are you?” “How do you feel?” I told her, which of course led to an immediate trip to the emergency room. I remember being led everywhere, eventually into a room on a table. When the doctor came in, he asked what had happened. My mom said something to the effect of "he's having a hard time seeing right." An absolute understatement. While other tests were being prepared, he asked me to read the smallest letters that I could see on an eye chart mounted next to him on the wall. I couldn't see anything so I said “I'll tell ya what, you tell me where the letters are and I'll give it a shot.” He replied "oh, THAT kind of can't see right." Things seemed to become much more urgent after that and after a bunch of tests it was apparent, I had suffered a nasty concussion. They said I didn't have any bleeding in my head, but it was obvious it wasn't a trivial injury. They gave us a referral to an eye specialist for the following day and sent us home with strict instructions for my parents to watch me closely. That night was absolutely terrible. I couldn't sleep because of the severe headache I had and the strange kaleidoscope going on in my vision. Every sound I heard, no matter how small created shapes of color. The shapes were mostly angular and iridescent. They were there whether my eyes were closed or not so I didn’t really sleep much that night. The next day my mom led me into another examining room. The doctor said he wanted to dilate my eyes and have a look in them. He determined that nothing physical was wrong with my vision and repeated what the other doctors said. That we should watch it for a few days and wait for my head to calm down. On the third day my mom noticed that my eyes were still dilated. She called the eye doctor immediately and asked what was wrong. He said that they should have returned to normal much earlier. When she asked what she should do, he told her there was nothing that could be done. He said they might be that way for the rest of my life. That of course upset us both. Before he put the drops in them it was the only part of my eyes that were actually working. I still couldn't see anything either. He said hopefully with time they would return to normal. I had to wear sunglasses for a month to keep the sun from damaging my retinas. It took that long for that part of my eyes to start working correctly again. As for my vision it began to come back on the fifth day. I just began to notice little movements in my peripheral vision. Slowly over the next week I was able to make my way around the house holding my head sideways. Though my vision began to return the patterns and shapes that had appeared after the injury never went away. Everything I looked at was different now. It was like the old world I saw had more to it. Everything seemed to be more colorful and alive. It seemed a grayish blanket-like barrier had been covering the world I had been living in and what I saw now was a more real and intense version of the world I had been living in. As the days passed, I found myself engrossed with average things that never would have held my interest for a second. Everything I looked at seemed deeply connected to everything else in some way, mostly in visual patterns and color. If I spent any time at all looking at anything it would begin to morph into various patterns like those time laps videos of flowers blooming. Everything seemed more alive and interesting. Over the period of about year the patterns became a bit less vivid but no less interesting. Without the headache, I really didn't mind them at all. There was a sense of wonder and euphoria that seemed to come with everything I looked at and experienced. It was like I was seeing something special and sacred that no one else could. It wasn’t odd for me to sit and look at things for hours as they moved, morphed and changed. It was obvious that when I looked at different things the patterns changed. It mostly happened when I focused on something specific. If I watched TV for an hour, I was presented with various versions of patterns that had obviously come from what I had been watching. I remember a moment that happened not long after the incident. We had a cabin in the Uinta mountain range near a place called Oaks Park Reservoir near Vernal, Utah. Every now and again we would take a family trip there and raft the Green River just below the Flaming Gorge Dam. It was the end of the summer and there was one more chance for a small family vacation before school started. I was always excited to go rafting. The sun was bright and hot and the water ran a cool, clear green. It was obvious where the river got its name. With six of us in the raft we pushed off. At that age I wasn't really allowed to do anything but sit in the center of the raft. There were moments of excitement and rapids followed by long periods of calm, slow water. During one particular spot I laid my head back and relaxed, my vision running along the cliff in front of me. As I sat there, it happened. All the lines in the cliff changed. Not a little bit either. Every line, color and crag. It was like one of those stereogram pictures. At first, they just look like a picture of two-dimensional static. They are printed in such a way that if you focus on them for a moment the static lines up and reveals what appear to be three dimensional images. One moment I was just lazily looking at a cliff face, and then it was just suddenly there. Huge hieroglyphic-like patterns covered the entire face of the cliff in front of me. I was dumb- founded. I actually thought they were glyphs and I was privileged to have stumbled onto something everyone else in the world had missed. I yelled for my parents to stop the boat and look. They slowly turned to look at what I was pointing at. My dad looked, eyes squinting. After a moment my mom responded “what are you talking about? My dad followed with “there’s nothing there,” I begged and pleaded for them to stop the raft but it didn’t take long for my parents to give me “The Look”. After that experience I kept what I saw to myself. Because of this event I eventually decided to call the patterns I saw everywhere “Glyphs.” I would just look at things change before my eyes. It happened all the time and just became another way I perceived the world. Unfortunately, the changes that took place were not all wonderful. I found my parents weren’t the only people who gave me “the look.” It was an uncomfortable experience that left me feeling stupid and separated from everyone else. I learned quickly to completely avoid talking about what I saw and experienced. Because it all was such a deep part of me and who I was becoming I immediately began to see and feel the effects of an uncontrollable separation. It was like a huge earthquake had occurred and I had been left standing on the opposite bank of a huge crevice caused by the gigantic tremor. I had absolutely no idea of how to bridge the barrier between me and others. In fact, as I look in retrospect, many of the characteristics bestowed on me by the bizarre incident were mostly negative and they would follow me throughout my life. The whole thing is really hard to describe and explain because it was so, all encompassing. Before the incident I was an extremely social child. There was never a moment when I didn’t have someone over digging in the mud with me in our back yard or climbing one of the six gigantic Chinese Elms that grew on our property. I was a kid who was willing to try anything and most people who knew me knew even at that early age that I was too crazy for my own good. I saw life as an adventure and I was always excited to push my boundaries. I was always out doing something. From lizard hunting in the desert next to our home to showing off to whoever would give me attention. In my parents’ words I was someone who “had more energy than any ten kids” and was “smart as a whip.” I had control of my life. I loved living and being me. Being young, I guess my parents expected me to grow and change. They never even considered what happened to me after that summer to even be connected to the changes that quickly took place after and frankly, neither did I. The change was fairly dramatic. It took me the better part of ten years after it had happened to learn what I needed to exist in life with other people in what others might consider a “normal” way. The first three years after were the worst. I became extremely anti-social. I felt like everyone was constantly looking at me weird. I was happy being alone and really wasn’t interested in being around other people. I guess several things had changed but again were never associated with the accident. After school had started, I had one teacher pull me aside and ask if everything at home was ok. Mystified I said yea, why? Mr. Brown told me I was constantly shaking my head like I was trying to shake something off that was happening. He told me I did it so often he was worried something was really wrong at home. Now that I can look back on it the fact that I was alone kind of made sense. I did all kinds of odd things that probably separated me out as that “odd” kid. I had to be careful how I touched things. If I rubbed against something one way, I couldn't help the feeling that I had to make the identical movement in reverse. I couldn't ever get it exact though so I would stand there rubbing at a wall with my elbow or whatever I had rubbed against for hours or until I was forced to stop. Even then I felt like I had left something undone. It would bother me all week sometimes. As time passed the gap just widened. I would listen to what people and my peers would say and most of it just didn’t make sense. I struggled to agree with and accept what other kids did and said. I also felt their eyes. In a way I had never felt them before. I began to notice the smallest things. It wasn’t hard at all for me to tell if someone liked me or not. It didn’t matter if people tried to hide their feelings. I just knew how they felt. If they were sad or angry, if they liked me or not. It was just obvious to me. It wasn’t just kids, but adults also. I found it very hard to communicate because it seemed for the most part people didn’t really speak or say what they truly meant or felt. If I ever brought things up or pointed out what people were really feeling they seemed to get very upset and even angry at times. I just started avoiding everyone I could and would spend entire recesses out alone in the field watching the patterns my mind would create out of whatever it saw. It wasn’t long after school started that my mind began doing new and different things. I actually remember when it first happened. It was like an itch deep in my head, like I was missing something. It happened with some regularity until it had me walking outside and around the house looking for whatever it was that was missing. It would stop when I would pick something up and take it apart. Not long after that I remember just having the urge to make something. Not a want but a need to make something. That need was limited by my understanding of the world around me but I found that all I had to do was understand how something worked once and it was always there. Even if the object wasn’t anywhere around I could look at it anytime I wanted, take it apart and examine it. As time passed Anything I looked at that was mechanical in nature, which was practically everything, would fall apart in my vision. Sometimes it would become a pattern and sometimes my mind would put it together differently than it was originally. Like the patterns it was completely engrossing and I found it much more pleasant than trying to get to know other kids and people. I sat quiet when teachers asked for volunteers. I stood behind when I could and I kept my thoughts and ideas to myself. It was better that way as most people weren’t really interested in who I was and what I did anyhow. The only comfort I ever really had from it all was perusing a drive I had deep inside me to understand mechanical things. It seemed to ease my emotional pain and the weirdness I constantly felt around others. The temptation to pull things apart and get my fingers into things was crazy! If ever there was a spare moment, I could be found pulling something apart. It started innocently enough. I would just look at things and they would slowly come apart in front of my eyes. Screws would unscrew and parts would separate in my vision. The whole thing was absolutely wonderful to me! It was the only time I felt good and confident in myself. I enjoyed the experience and became addicted to it. The more it happened the more I entertained it. The more I did, the more time I spent separated and alone. Models seemed to be my least destructive outlet. I really didn't care if they were painted or not. All I cared about was the process of putting the three-dimensional puzzles together. Many times, I didn't even use the instructions. I just knew what went where. It just made sense. It didn’t take long for it to develop into a deep obsession. I had so many models they littered the floor of my room. They hung from my ceiling and walls and when there were too many, I would just crush them up and throw them away to make room for more. I would spend weeks just putting models together. I began to notice that, just like my mind would take the forms of what I saw and arrange them into patterns, it did it with puzzles and anything else I put together. I could never ever get enough and eventually stopped putting the puzzles and models together the way they were meant to be put together. I would just see things in my head and I would make whatever I saw. I began to butcher Christmas lights and little motors from tape recorders. Even though I had never really used any of it before I had opened things and seen how they were connected, and that's all it took. I automatically just knew how to do it. I would put lights in my model airplanes and put props on little motors so when they were switched on, they would fly in circles hooked to string on the ceiling. Everything I did now was different than the way I did it before. I would spend endless hours drawing on whatever I could get my hands on. The only class I excelled at in school was art. My art teachers seemed to really like me. No matter the assignment I would spend hours and hours in school and at home drawing the patterns that had become so familiar to me. That and I diagramed everything I saw in my mind. I had never in my life seen a real gun or how they worked but when Star Wars came out when I was eight, I was fascinated with the blaster Han Solo wore at his hip. I drew a detailed diagram of one including how mechanisms would have to be made and set in order in relationship to each other for them to work. I drew blasters with cutout views from the sides that revealed all the various internal parts I knew would be needed. Springs, levers all drawn in detail, how they could and would move in synch. I drew schematics of many, many different things. I remember seeing Star Trek the movie when I was ten and within just a few days had drawn pages of my own version of one of the ships. Pages and pages. Some on regular paper and some on graph paper I got from a craft closet my mom had. I diagramed where every room and door was located. The detail was extremely important to me. I didn’t know how people could be beamed in and out of the ship but I knew there had to be places for the mechanisms to work on top and underneath the transporter pads that I guessed would use a great deal of energy. I had detailed diagrams of conduit lines for wiring as well as pipes for water. I even had designed the exact placement of a fire suppression system throughout the ship. Doing these things and being alone became more and more comfortable. When I was alone, I could watch the world go by as I saw and understood it. I wasn’t being forced to look at it in a way I didn’t understand. It was very difficult for me to start or have a conversation with anyone. People my age seemed to be obsessed with clothes and what nicer clothes represented. They were interested in football games and toys. I’m not saying I never enjoyed toys. I had many but it seemed that to other people my age it was these “things” that determined a person’s worth. It was something I just couldn’t grasp. My toys invarably ended up in pieces mixed with pieces of other toys doing things that neither was ever meant to do. I got along much better with my teachers and adults than children my age but of course if given the option I would just rather be alone. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have the desire to talk and be close to my peer group. I lied to myself constantly telling myself I was fine but truthfully deep down inside I was crushed that no one seemed to accept me for who I was, who I had become. Along with clothse, sports and toys everyone seemed to associate value with the grades we were given on report cards. It was evident to every kid I was around that I fought to read, write and do math. It was always a fight to understand any of it. Deep down inside I wondered what it would be like, to be able to talk normally and not feel like people were secretly and openly perceiving me as stupid. At times I was ok by myself and others I was so tired of being a social outcast I believe I would have taken the opportunity to be normal in a heartbeat if it was givin to me. It really didn’t matter who or how I wanted to be though. I was who I was and had to live with it no matter how stupid, dumb and lazy I felt or was described as by others. By now my problems at school had become acute and every time I came home it was a fight between me and my parents to do homework. The battle never ended and home began to be just as uncomfortable as school. I dreaded going to school and I dreaded going home. By the fifth grade I had enough. I decided I didn’t want to live at home or around anyone anymore so I climbed up into the highest boughs of one of the elms in the front yard. I took a saw and started cutting. By the time I was done, the tree was almost like a straight pole with a few large branches left at the top. I took the branches, twigs and leaves that were strewn across our yard and wove a gigantic nest in the tree top with a thatched roof. It was big enough for a hammock and I declared it my home. The only way up was a rope that hung from a single outstretched limb well above the height of our house. It seemed to solve some of my very real problems. It was my answer to my parents’ statement of "when it’s your home you can make your own rules." If my parents came looking for me all I had to do was not answer when they yelled up to the tree top. The topic of not being able to find me was ignored more and more until it just wasn’t a subject of discussion. When I got home, I would just go to my room and stay there. Most times I wouldn’t come down till the next day. I would go to sleep to the quiet swaying of the boughs around me. Of course, during certain types of weather, heat, cold or lightning storms I was forced inside but if ever I had a chance or choice, I lived in that tree. This type of behavior affected everything in my life but I had to find some sort of normalcy for myself. I just couldn’t live in the constant pressure cooker of school and home. I was too young to understand anyone, let alone myself. I did my best to find balance but it eluded me no matter how I did things. I used what I saw and did to distract from the truth. I was very unhappy and very alone.

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