It’s All Fun and Games ’till Somebody Pokes an Eye Out

Defining moments. We all have them.

Moments in our lives when things changed and the multitude of choices for our future dramatically dropped in number. Sometimes it can be the moment the right woman walks into your life or when your child is born. I’ve had many in my life… the milestones that mark a life lived and the events that happen while you are busy “planning for a rainy day.” Accidents are frequently life-altering events and mine was a doozy.

Little seven-year-old me was playing football in the neighborhood on New Year’s Eve 1975, got tripped up, fell into a bush and a stick about an inch long went under my right eye. Yes, it did hurt, but I don’t remember that so much as getting the wind knocked out of me and not being able to breathe. And the blood.

After two hospital visits and a doctor stitching up the bottom of my eye, I learned what “severed the optic nerve” meant. Blindness.

I remember closing my eyes in the hospital room and pretending I could still see out of my bad eye. I remember getting tons of magazines and comics during that time. I remember going to get my first pair of glasses for protection. I remember having polycarbonate lenses before anyone had ever heard of the stuff. I remember putting on a pair of Kareem Abdul Jabbar-style goggles to do just about anything outside. And, I remember the embarrassment that last one caused distinctly.

You have to remember this is a time before the term “rec-specs” and major league baseball and basketball stars wore cool looking (and color matching) goggles. I had big plastic bubble goggles. I looked silly and the kids my age never let me forget that. Many kids in my neighborhood knew about my accident, but their juvenile slings and arrows were still sent my way. A parent who was obviously ignorant of my accident thought I wore the goggles because I liked them. Um, no. One nice thing I do remember though is that none of those cruel names flung my way ever stuck. I never got a nickname that stuck until college, but that’s a story for another day.

About the only time I thought it was kinda cool to be wearing the Jabbar goggles was when I rode my bike. Then I was as cool as Evel Knievel and I jumped my share of bridges, skateboard ramps and dry creek beds. I tore the hell out of my bike and enjoyed every minute of it.

I played grade school basketball with many a player on the opposing team thinking I was trying to be Jabbar with my goggles. At five foot nothing, I certainly wasn’t. I played grade school baseball, but as soon as the pitchers started throwing curve balls that was it. With my lack of depth perception, hitting a curve ball was about as easy as Chinese Algebra (or in my case just regular plain old algebra). So I traded basketball and baseball for cross-country and track. Don’t need two eyes to run three miles in sixteen minutes.

What’s the point? Well, my accident limited my choices down the road; but then again it opened many other doors. My father was a pretty good football and baseball player. There is no doubt I would have played high school football and maybe baseball if the accident never happened. That in itself could have changed many things about my life. Because I was never as good as the other kids at some of the traditional sports, I found alternatives. Cross Country and track of course, but also books, music and movies.

I got into music and relished in the 80s decade of music. Laughter is optional here. My freshman year in high school I was exposed to Iron Maiden and Journey during a particularly long cross country road trip, which really shaped (or warped) my tastes and interests ever since.

I read a ton of books by Asimov, Clarke, Ellison, Bradbury and other science fiction giants. I read lots of comics too. I learned what “invulnerable” meant at ten. I knew that laser was an acronym. I knew what FTL meant. I knew that Fe was iron. All information gleaned from comics. No other fourth grader could say the same.

I also had a life changing moment a few years later when I walked into a theater and saw Star Wars for the first time. There aren’t many movies I can remember where I was when I first saw the film, but that’s one. Actually, Star Wars started a passion for movies that resonates today.

The bottom line is I found other things of interest. I never made my accident an issue for the rest of my life. It never defined me. I defined myself.

Right or wrong, the choices we make affect everything down the road of life. So, I ask you to not let your circumstances stop you from achieving dreams. Grandma Moses painted into her 90s. Shakespeare didn’t need a $2,000 computer to write his plays and sonnets. Jeff Healey didn’t need his eyes to play blues guitar.

Ignore whatever is stopping you be it fear, ridicule, money, whatever. Define yourself.