Family in the Dark

2 06 2011

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A few weeks ago, my family came to visit.  No, not my biological family, but my Pennsylvania family.  The eclectic group of friends I met during my time there that embraced me for who I am and made me feel at home in a place far from home.

Well, a few of them came to visit Montreal for the first time, and they drove eight hours or took a long, expensive flight just to come for a weekend.  They all have work and children and partners and gigs and busy lives to lead back home, but they all took the time to visit me nonetheless, even though they only had three days.

That’s family.

Even though there was limited time, I feel like we did a lot together.  Mostly we chatted the day away and cramped our abdominal muscles from the constant laughter, but we also shared some new experiences.

O. Noir is a unique dining experience in complete darkness, where you order the meals beforehand (with the option of ordering surprise dishes for those adventurous types!) and then follow your blind wait staff (by putting your hand on the person in front of you and walking slowly) into the darkness.  You go from being able to see…to not.

When I lost my vision in this way, I started having trouble breathing.  I kept looking around the room as if there was some light that was hiding in a corner somewhere and if I just looked hard enough, I would find it.  It was difficult to get used to the idea that, contrary to my usual beliefs, working harder and trying harder was not going to help me out of this situation.  I experienced what felt like a panic attack, and I was ready to dash out of that room even though I knew that I would probably run into people and chairs and still not find my way out.

But then we sat down and during one of my shortness of breath episodes, I grabbed the hand of my friend next to me.  And suddenly, I could breathe a little easier.

She did not seem to care that we were no longer able to use our vision.  In fact, she found it pretty darn cool.  And her infectious and optimistic energy started warding off my fear.  My fear that losing my vision meant losing an integral part of who I am.  I started talking to my friends at the restaurant, and they were joking and laughing, just like we had been when we were outside at a bar.  Nothing changed other than this new dimension of experience.  In fact, it was fascinating to experience bread for the first time without vision: really appreciating the interplay of texture and taste.

My friends helped me realize that we were no different even if we did lose our ability to gauge facial expression and body language.  Even though we became unaware, at times, that we would be shouting to compensate for not being able to visually gauge whether someone had heard what we said.

I also realized that I felt better when I shut my eyelids.  It was about being in control.  When I closed my eyes, I could tell myself that I chose to not be able to see, rather than face the reality that I was unable to.  I could tell my brain that this is a condition that is normal – i.e., what I do during sleeping or blinking – so there was no need to panic.  My friends did not have this issue, but it certainly helped me to keep my eyes closed for most of the meal.

After tightly grasping my friend’s hand for quite some time and chatting nonsensically nonstop as a manifestation of my panic, I eventually calmed down and joined my friends in formulating a scenario where one of us would pretend to loudly propose to another in the restaurant, but the person being proposed to would say no, because he/she is in love with someone else, who just so happens to also be at O. Noir that night.  What a delightfully ridiculous farce that would turn out to be, right?

Ohkay, so I know that joke probably only makes us laugh, but that’s my whole point.  Being silly with my friends helped me stop worrying about my fear and start concerning myself with the uniqueness of that evening, really sampling the surprise food items that my friends chose (I could not choose surprise items myself…), which were all delicious, by the way.  I finally stopped trying to extrapolate the experience outside of the contained time and space that it was kept, and I just enjoyed an incredibly fun evening with my friends.

It’s good to have your family with you when you are scared to do something you’ve never done before.  You know a whole team of capable individuals is there to catch you if you fall…or in my case, try to run out screaming and fail miserably while breaking many things in the dark.

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