I followed the map in my head to Midnight's food bowl, then slid two wide steps to my right and opened the door to the pantry. I found the sealed sixty-quart storage container that housed hard kibble dog food. The good stuff. I took off the lid and felt for the measuring cup inside and doled out two cups into the bowl. Breakfast.
I reversed my trek and set Midnight's bowl down on the hardwood floor. Found his water dish next to it and checked the water level with my fingers. Still full from last night. I traversed my way back to the sliding glass door and let Midnight inside. A sense of movement in a dark background. I felt a faint vibration along the hardwood floor in my feet when he sat on his haunches.
"Breakfast, big boy," I said and heard his toenails clatter atop the kitchen floor, then kibble crunching between his teeth.
I navigated my way back into the kitchen and got eggs, bacon, and orange juice from their established areas in the refrigerator, a skillet from an undercounter storage drawer, and made myself breakfast.
I took the food out to the round table on the deck in my backyard. Twenty-three steps from the kitchen door. I angled my head toward the sliver of a view of the ocean two miles away as the seagull flies. The view was one of the chief selling points for me when I bought the house six years ago. It would still be today, even though the view was just a memory. I felt the ocean's cooling breeze feather my face and whiffed a hint of salty tang hidden behind the exhaust fumes and road grease from Interstate 5 between me and the beach.
At least, I convinced myself I could smell it from my sanctuary in the dark.
The morning sun crawled up the back of my neck. Its warmth spread throughout my body. I pictured it climbing over the roof of my house on its journey to the sea. I turned and faced it. Shards of light, not really light, but something less than dark, danced around the edges of my nothing. This was fairly new.
I first noticed it two and a half weeks ago. I didn't know what it meant but let my imagination off its leash and allowed myself to dream that my sight was coming back. But just for an instant. I didn't tell Leah about it because I didn't want her hopes to soar up there with mine until I knew what the occasional lightening bursts in my endless night meant.
Doctor Kim, my ophthalmologist, dashed my escaped dreams. She thought what I was experiencing was a visual hallucination or CBS. Charles Bonnet Syndrome. The brain's stored memories of sight playing tricks. Kind of like an amputee still feeling his lost appendage. A visual phantom limb.
I turned away from the sun.
The surgeon who saved my life in Santa Barbara, along with the ophthalmologist he consulted, thought that the swelling near the optic chiasm caused by the bullet fragments he removed from my brain would eventually go down and I might regain my sight.
Nine months. Still blind. Nothing had changed except my mind now played visual tricks on me.
My vision was gone, but the pit below my eye from the bullet that exploded my cheekbone remained. A nasty reminder that wasn't fixed at the time of surgery because the surgeon was just trying to keep me alive. Facial reconstruction surgery was an option that I couldn't afford now, even if my insurance covered most of it.
I'd lived. That was enough. For now.
My voicemail pinged at 8:00 a.m. I found my phone and listened to the message.
"Rick, my miracle man. Each trip north without you is harder than the last. This one is especially difficult. I pray for a time when I can live under one roof with you forever. And Midnight, of course! You two are my family and my heart aches for you when I'm away. I'm excited for our future together and know better times are ahead. I'm proud of the man you are and love you more every day. I'm counting the hours until I can see you again. Love you."
The emptiness in me filled with warmth. It always did when Leah left me a straight-to-voicemail message on a Santa Barbara trip. A verbal love note left under the pillow. Each message reminded me how lucky I was. I lost my eyesight in Santa Barbara, but I found Leah. Yet, each recorded message from her was also a tacit reminder that such deep professions of love were rarely verbalized by me.
I did love Leah. More than I'd been able to express.
* * *...