When I was a little kid, I used to love to close my eyes and press the palms of my hands to my eyelids. I found that if I kept applying pressure, I’d see all of these colors and patterns. They’d emerge slowly at first, but after a few seconds it would be like wave after wave of interesting shapes and designs. Of course, just as things got cool, my eyes would start to hurt, the pressure of my hands on my eyeballs would build until I’d have to let go, so I’d wait a few seconds and start all over again.
I just tried doing it right now, but it’s not nearly as fun as I remember it being when I was much younger. It began similarly enough, I leaned my elbows on my desk and pressed my face into the bottom part of my palms. The darkness of my closed eyes gave way to a deep yellow, glowing slightly, with a round circle of black in the middle.
After a second or so, the yellow started breaking up into rectangles. I couldn’t really focus on any single rectangle in particular, but if I didn’t try too hard, if I stared straight ahead, I could see the various lines and ninety degree angles constantly shifting, almost like a living plaid on the inside of my head.
But then it kind of fizzled out, back to the regular black that I see when I shut my eyes and go to bed at night, a few red squiggles in the periphery of my vision. When I was a kid, I remember it used to be so much more vivid, it would almost look like a fireworks show, coming at me, like moving toward my face.
I didn’t want to give up, so I increased the pressure on my face, it started to hurt, but I wanted to see something else. And yeah, the colors picked up a little bit. This time it was royal blue lighting strikes spreading from the center outwards. This was cool, it was like they were moving. But it was still that same dark background. I couldn’t replicate the neon reds and greens that I remember being able to get to if I could only hang on a little longer.
But I couldn’t. The pain was starting to spread past the back on my eye sockets, I imagined all of this irreparable harm that I was causing to my eyes. What if I cut out the circulation for too long? What if I did some serious damage? What would I tell the ophthalmologist?
OK, I just tried it one last time, I really didn’t want to give up on making my eyes do for me what they once did for me when I was much younger. I really pressed down hard this time, right away, and I saw the plaid, I got to the blue lighting, and then, yeah, I guess I did get to the next level. Everything turned a sort of beige, almost like a really whitened mud color. It looked like it was pixelated, even though it was mostly solid, but I stared at it for the few seconds that it revealed itself to me. I thought, OK, I’m definitely seeing a color, and there’s clearly a texture that I’m making out.
Was this real? I mean, I know it’s not real, real. But am I really seeing something? Or is this just me imagining what should be there? I held it for way too long, and when I finally let go of my eyes, the blood rushed back all at once, it was almost like I could feel it charge toward the eye and bounce off the lining of my eyelid. And yeah, that hurt. Now I couldn’t really focus my eyes. And there’s this weird shape in the center of my vision, almost like a pineapple ring, and it’s sort of making whatever I’m directly looking at look a little discolored.
It’s like, you know when you’re looking out a window, and you can see those little translucent stringy things right outside the center of your vision? They’re almost floating in there, like I’m imagining whatever is in my eye to be a fishbowl full of these things. When I move my eyes from side to side, they move too, they’re three dimensional. If I circle my eyes around, they’ll respond accordingly, almost like I’m shaking up a snow globe.
But I can never get them to fall right in the center. I’ll try to get one to fall just so, so I inspect these things floating around I know that they’re there, I know that the colors are there when I put pressure on my eyes, but I can never get a close look. So much of what I’m describing has to be clouded by imagination, right?
I think about my grandfather, how he suffered from macular degeneration during the last ten or so years of his life. I’ve read about that disease, it’s always described as a sort of blind spot that develops from the center of the vision outward. So by the end, it’s like you only have peripheral vision. How terrible that has to be, everywhere you look, the whole world is just a little further to the left or the right, and you have to make your eyes stop chasing the visible. Like if you want to watch TV, I guess you’ve got to cock your head at a forty-five degree angle, you’ve got to stare at the wall and hope that those little jelly things in your head might stop moving so you can just chill out and watch some Jeopardy uninterrupted.