The diagnosis was this: sunscreen bleeding into my eyes and ultimately soaked up by my contacts, which I’d worn for hours in the bright sunlight. That’s what caused a noticeable loss of vision, albeit temporary, after I spent a couple of days in Joshua Tree National Park. I’d thought my contacts were in need of cleaning. This often happens when I drive long distances. My contacts become clouded, and I either clean them at the next rest stop—or replace them with my glasses. But this time, when I finally took my lenses out, I wondered if I had a second pair on, a pair that was foggy. I’d accidently done this once before. It was the first explanation I could think of for the fact that I could not see well with my glasses on.
Denial sinks in quickly when your eyes are threatened. I told myself it wasn’t that bad. How could it be? I tried to drive home and was forced to stop in Palm Springs. I spent the night in a hotel with plans to go to the emergency room in the morning if the problem didn’t clear up (two friends, both former nurses, were on alert). Maybe I should have gone in immediately, but I thought perhaps my eyes were dilated. I thought perhaps I just needed to get to a darkened space, because I’d been in the bright sun for hours. I also thought of snow blindness. Maybe this was like that. After denial comes fear, which blanketed me for a couple of hours until I saw improvement. I was finally able to sleep, and in the morning my eyes seemed fine.
The Oregon Coast, especially during winter break, is the antithesis of the desert. I take my daily walk, summiting Horizon Hill and begin hiking down the other side. The sun rests just above the trees and the dark road. For a brief moment, rays hit my eyes at an angle making it impossible for me to see anything but black where the road should be—how it descends sharply and becomes treacherous on a frosty day. I walk a little further and can make out the pavement, the dark conifers on either side—still presences—and the lack of sunlight beneath them. This same forest buffers the upcoming curve. What cannot be seen in the depths where trees are is loudly present, perhaps beckoning.
I have been given the go-ahead to wear my contacts on a limited basis. I should not apply sunscreen above or around my eyes. Instead, I should wear giant sunglasses in the sun and a hat. Regular doses of fish oil and rewetting drops have also been prescribed. I am glad to have these tiny lenses back—I prefer wearing them when I’m active. Roughly halfway through winter break, however, one lens develops a tear. I have neglected to throw a backup pair into my toiletry kit, something I rarely forget. I am stuck with my glasses until I return to San Diego for the new semester.
I am walking down the other side of Horizon Hill and the rain I’ve been warding off with a slicker begins coming down with a vengeance, drenching me. I put on gloves, the hood (of a hoodie) beneath the hood of my waterproof garment. My pants, defenseless, quickly become soaked. And my glasses are so steamed, it is easier to continue without them, seeing through the astigmatism that prevents my natural view from being sharp. As I continue, rainwater streams around my feet, flowing down the steep incline. Some freshwater will make it out to sea.
Stripped of my wet clothing—now hanging from a ladder, the back of a chair, and the bathroom door—I am cozy in dry sweats and a long-sleeved T-shirt. I put my glasses back in place, recline on the couch, and pause to look out the window. The rain is washing the glass clean, turning into long rivulets that stream downwards. It drums off roofs, pings back into the air in fat drops. And the rest of the world is a palette of grays, black, white waves, and steel green coming in and out of focus, depending on how the clouds are situated—the fog.