20/20

tatyana-tolstaya

My grandfather Aleksey Tolstoy, a famous Russian writer…committed himself wholly to literature… I didn’t start out a writer, and had no plans of becoming one. Although I happily swam in imaginary expanses, I had no words to describe them. Then one fine day, when I was thirty-two years old, I decided to correct my myopia by undergoing surgery in the famous eye clinic… This was in 1983, before they used lasers for the procedure, as they do now, but instead made corneal incisions by hand, with a regular razor blade. The incisions took three long months to heal. All this time, while the eyes recuperated, you could see things only poorly, approximately, through tears that constantly streamed like rain on the windowpane…You had to sit in complete darkness… any light caused insufferable eye pain…The agony was so great that no analgesics, no sleeping pills brought any relief…At dusk my eyes were ablaze, and the temporary respite of night was interrupted by accidental glances at the stars, their light burning like fiery needles. Finally it was all I could do to sit at home wearing dark sunglasses, the black drapes closed, living by touch. Not a single word—neither handwritten nor typed—did my eyes take in during that prison sentence; only music, invisible in its essence, saved me from this existential desert. All that was left of the world was music and pain.

Gradually, something unfamiliar began to happen to my mind. The blindness was still near-total. I didn’t yet dare take off my sunglasses to peer outside, but in my mind’s eye I began to see bright visions from my past. They were not simply visions as before, similar to dreams—no, these were words, phrases, pages of text, plotlines; it was as if someone awoke in my head, a second me, one who had been slumbering until now. Visual experiences now came with a narrative; in fact, they were inseparable from it. If the wording wasn’t exact, then the imagery it conjured seemed obscured by dust or fog, and only the right words cleared it away…

My external eyes were still awaiting the sunrise, while my internal ones were looking around, seeking out details. Here is one. Here is another. Here is a whole bunch. As soon as I was able to emerge from my room into the dim light of the table lamp, I typed up my first-ever short story in great haste. I knew just how to do it—what to write, what not to write—and I understood that what remains unwritten possesses a special kind of power, a certain gravity by absence, similar to a magnetic force that can both attract and repel, a force we can’t see but that is nonetheless there.

This heretofore invisible, hidden world was now within my reach. I could enter it at any point, but it had particular doors—with keys of sound, with lock picks of intonation. The doors could be opened with love. Or with tears.

One day, all of a sudden, my sliced-up eyes could see again; my vision returned completely and immediately, 20/20, as promised. And this was bliss! Meanwhile, I found that the second world, having first appeared to me in darkness, was here to stay; it turned out to be a multifaceted underside of so-called reality, a dungeon full of treasure, an aetherial world through the looking glass, a mysterious box with passcodes to all enigmas, an address book with the exact coordinates of those who never existed.

I don’t know its geography, its mountains, or its seas; it’s so vast, it must be limitless. Or perhaps it’s not simply one world—perhaps there are many. They are unpredictable; they can show themselves to you, or not. Some days they may not let you inside: Sorry, the doors are locked, we’re on holiday. But to the patient and the devoted, they will in the end always yield. The doors will open, and you won’t know what you will come across until you enter.

~ Tatyana Tolstaya, excerpts from “20/20” in “Aetherial Worlds: Stories” (Knopf, March 20, 2018)


Photo of Tatyana Tolstaya at LitHub April 6, 2018

Comments

  1. “….a dungeon full of treasure, an aetherial world through the looking glass, a mysterious box with passcodes to all enigmas, an address book with the exact coordinates of those who never existed.”

    I can’t wait to get my hands on this.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Wow 😯..how does one comment after reading this, other than to nod if someone asks if you want more.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. This took my breath away….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. what we see in the dark is amazing. she has embraced this –

    Liked by 2 people

  5. She writes so well, explaining in detail what she went through. I was hanging on her every word. Thanks for sharing this, DK.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This: ❤ ❤ Cher xo

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “…I understood that what remains unwritten possesses a special kind of power, a certain gravity by absence, similar to a magnetic force that can both attract and repel, a force we can’t see but that is nonetheless there.”~wonderful and insightful post. Thanks David!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Breathtaking… I was totally swept away…
    “This heretofore invisible, hidden world was now within my reach. I could enter it at any point, but it had particular doors—with keys of sound, with lock picks of intonation. The doors could be opened with love. Or with tears.”
    I could not even imagine the fear she was going through as she awaited the return of her sight…
    Thank you, once again…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This.is.it….. I can’t believe I’ve never ever read this – so incredibly well written, well conceived, you are sitting there with the writer, blind and not blind, seeing inside and later on seeing ‘outside’ too. Sheer terror and beauty. I had a pair of the first contact lenses, hard ones at a young age too, they were so great and yet, they also damaged my corona for good, as they scarred the surface of the eye – then my mum had AMD, she sees now 4%, then I got AMD…. I SO see and feel with TT.
    Thank you for this BEST of BESTest…. post. It is engraved in my eyes & heart.
    PS: Thank you also again and again for sending my the eyesight/view-related articles I asked for. They are printed, devoured and stored in my brain and mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The book sat on my desk for three days, no chance of opening it. Finally, today, I’m lost in it. And can’t peel myself from this treasure. Thank you for this share, again!

    Liked by 1 person

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