Luminous clichés hide the truth that we refuse to acknowledge, out of hope or mere apathy. Surfaces absorb them, morph them into perspective and reflect our personalities like mirrors. Sure, we’re afraid of the dark, but we should be afraid of light; its illusions and misdirection. We ignore the reflections, maybe because they travel deeper within us than we’re comfortable with. But it’s not the light that binds us–light is invisible.
Grandma was blind; simple cataracts really. She was old, so no one was surprised. We were shocked when she refused of surgery, though. “I already have a lifetime of palettes,” she defended, but only once. At first, lines blurred, then whole images. Soon after, her vision diluted into Starry Nights and eventually blinked out entirely. She never seemed to notice, but I did.
From then on, piles of quilt work covered her as she worked, strictly from memory. Frail hands picked expertly at the cloth, as if she’d never once saw her own work. They tremored slightly with each push of the needle, but never faltered. Each night, mom would help her to bed, setting her work aside for the next day.
I couldn’t look into her eyes anymore. Her flesh, though wrinkled, pulsed with life, but her eyes, clouded with gray cream from the cataracts, buried the her I knew. The light from her lamp used to shine into her pupils, forming tumblers of wisdom that she poured back into mine. I could never remember the intricate details of her stories, but I always felt fuller after each tale. We used to talk every day after school, for at least a few minutes. I’ve avoided her room since. It’s empty and grey and void of substance. Someone foreign lurks within, boxed up, wrapped in old newspaper and tied shut with black twine. I knew that the box was empty; I could see it from her doorway.
* * *
I justified grandma’s passing in every rational way possible. Numbed behind logic and fear of the unknown, I marched systemically into and out of the proper functions, exercising rehearsed decorum. Shake hands, head down, say thank you, try to remember her friend you met two years ago, who still wants to know how her cookies tasted, tell her they were great. The routine distracted from reality, but the absence of loss hurt the most, and I blamed her for closing the levee–for hiding the her within.
A couple of weeks later, I snuck into her old room. There was no reason, no search. It looked almost as I expected: grey and dusty. Her life, however, filled every corner. Pictures from past vacations and births of my brothers and me, antique dolls with fading red lips and cheeks, and a rainbow pile of knitting materials in a basket hid the emptiness, I thought; illusions. But something rattled in the box, so I decided to rip it open.
In her closet, quilts lay stacked up to my waist. Each one a myriad of different colors; each one spilling a story of which I’ve heard a thousand times but ignored the details. On top lay a single piece of loose leaf paper with the fringes still attached. It was folded in three parts with a bright purple string of yarn tied into a bow over the top of my name, which was written sloppily in pencil. As I untied the note, I thought about how she used to smile when she told her stories. Even the sad ones, she reflected on how they led her to these moments with me, which she said she wouldn’t trade for anything. I started to realize that she saw more color blind than I did in plain sight. Her shell reflected upon me, and I chose to see grey. It turns out it wasn’t her shell in the first place, but my own, and it was colorless, grey, and empty.
I lay the note on the stack of quilts. Grandma’s lamp shined over and around my shoulders. The sloppy letters, framed by multihued fabric, reflected back into me in black and white, “Have a lifetime of palettes.”