Thursday, August 3, 2017

Max the Floater

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a skinny black bug skitter across my desk. I jumped. But when I turned to look at him again, he was gone.

Then he showed up on my laptop screen, along the left margin of a blank Word Document.

The insect had a dark circular body and two curved legs, one on each side. When I tried to stare at him directly, he’d skitter around, like a water bug skating across the top of a pond. Then, he’d disappear.

“I have an insect in my eye,” I told Tom, and explained what I was seeing.

“It’s a floater,” Tom said. “I have tons of them.”

Tom has a condition called Krukenberg's Spindle. He explained that it causes his eyes to shed pigment, which then floats around his field of vision in various shapes. As we grow old together, Tom’s eyes will get lighter and lighter, slowly turning baby blue.

Tom seemed confident that my floater was no big deal, but I was still nervous.

That night, when I was turning down the sheets, I watched half of an insect run across my white pillowcase. I screamed and Tom investigated. There was nothing there.

“This sucks,” I said.

“You’ll get used to it,” Tom said.

I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. My floater danced along the porcelain.

“YOU again!”

The flitting bug said nothing.

I looked up water skippers on Wikipedia, and was redirected to a page about the Gerridae family of insects, also called pond skaters. These crafty creatures have literally learned to walk on water. What chance did I have in battling something like that? Obviously, I had my work cut out for me.

I went to the eye doctor and told her about my problem. She dilated my pupil and peered inside, examining my retina.

“Your eye looks fine,” she said. “It’s just a floater.”

Everyone seemed totally okay with the fact that an aquatic predator had taken up residence inside my left eyeball.

“This is the new normal,” I told myself.

Since the scary shape was here to stay, I figured we should get better acquainted. I named the floater Max.

The next morning, Max appeared in the shower.

“This is my private time,” I said. “You’re not welcome here.”

Max ignored me.

After a week of heated one-sided discussions, it became clear that I was fighting a no-win battle.

I changed strategies and tried to make peace.

“I guess we’re in this together,” I told him, staring at the sunrise.

Max flitted along the horizon. There were no words.

I tried to put myself in his position. If I were a pond-skating floater stuck inside the vitreous fluid of someone’s left eye, what would I want?

I made several sincere attempts to foster the relationship. “What would you like to see today?” I’d say calmly.

But of course, he would never respond.

In researching pond skaters, I learned that it takes 60-70 days for them to reach adulthood. Since Max was only a few weeks old, I had clearly been trying to talk to a nymph, which in human terms is similar to trying to strike up a two-way conversation with a sullen teenager.

I would just have to be patient and wait for Max to mature. I couldn’t take his behavior personally.

After a month of frequent daily exposure, I got used to having Max around. Despite the silent treatment, there was something uniquely comforting about having a constant companion, a witness who was intrinsically a part of you.

“Did you see that?” I said, pointing out a particularly impressive kite boarder at the beach.

Very faintly, I heard an answer. “I’ve seen better,” he said.

As we grew closer, I asked Max where he went when I couldn’t see him.

“I have places to go, people to see,” he said. “It’s not all about you.”

It seemed that Max, a skittery floater with two legs and an attitude, had a much more active social calendar that I did.

One night, when Tom was at an orchestra rehearsal, Max showed up on the side of our white lacquered drop-leaf table.

“I would like to see the full moon,” he said.

So we put a leash on our Pomeranian, Phoebe, and walked out to the grassy area next door. The eerie bright orb in the sky was magnificent.

“Thank you,” he said, hopping around on a crater.

A few weeks later, Max started to fade.

“Sometimes floaters go away,” my Mom said.

I asked the eye doctor about it.

“Your brain learns to disregard them,” she said. “They’re still there -- you just don’t see them anymore.”

The whole thing struck me as profoundly sad.

I’d read about the migration patterns of pond skaters. Sudden increases in salt concentration can trigger a biological urge to move on. I had been sad about my multiple eye problems over the past few years. Now I wondered if my tears had literally pushed Max away.

Several months have passed, and every now and then, I’ll still catch a glimpse of him, the shaky shadow of his former self. Sometimes I wonder if he’s still floating around in there, silent and unrecognized.

When Max is gone for a long stretch, I try to imagine him off in the ether, having a wonderful adventure, seeing the world from a million different perspectives and doing whatever makes floaters feel happy and content.

Still, sometimes late at night, I think about Max and hope that he’s not lonely -- that despite what the ophthalmologist said, he will resist the urge to fade away. That despite being tethered to a brain that might eventually dismiss his entire existence, he will find a way to make his presence known and refuse to disappear.