Here’s the next excerpt from my memoir, a series I began with The Pit. I left off in Brook Part 2, with a shadow entering my field of vision. After that comes the chapter, “Courage Comes to You,” copied in full here, describing my four months in English hospitals as surgeons fought to save my vision. Three days after being released from Moorfields Hospital, my mother and I flew to join my father and brother in America. The following three pages describe that trip and my first two days in the country we were eventually to adopt as our home.
I sat in the airliner’s cabin at Heathrow. The summer before, when Dad had told us he’d been offered a job in New York, my misgivings had transformed into excitement about our move. Now, as the aircraft taxied, it seemed to make no sense to leave England behind. Mum sat between me and the porthole, which cast her profile in gray. Even with diminished vision, I saw she’d squeezed her eyes shut. She was feeling it, too.
Then we were in the air, gravity pushing on my insides. Despite all the model planes I’d made, this was my first flight. Tilted back, I imagined looking from the ground at our climbing plane, visible only by a smoke trail.
Then the sky brightened. Leaning around Mum, I made out white and gray layers of cloud gleaming beneath us. I thought of the raw geological formations, those grassless hills and plunging canyons, in the desert landscapes of cowboy films. Below the clouds would be the Atlantic, which I’d last seen from Lands End as I’d stretched my imagination out toward America.
A uniformed woman trundled a cart down the aisle. Did I want something to drink? Coca Cola? For all the advertisements, I’d never had any. She put a gigantic plastic cup on my lowered tray, and I sipped through the straw. It tasted rich, beyond sweet, sharpened by a mountain of ice. America was going to be a country of vivid sensations. I thought of a television image in a letter Dad had written from America of a hundred thousand people in the Rose Bowl parade offering up a pattern of colored cards to the sky.
Hours later, the banks of stratus behind us, the ocean appeared below. Blobs of blue and yellow rippled in my vision. The pilot told us we were over Long Island Sound.
A long hour crept by before the plane taxied to a halt. We retrieved our bags from the luggage rack and inched toward the exit. Descending a metal staircase into startling midday light and cold, dry air, I stepped for the first time on foreign land. We raced inside with the crowd and through long corridors to join a line. The customs official’s slow speech failed to conceal tense concentration. Then he smiled and said, “Welcome to the United States.”
At the luggage wheel Dad rushed through his greetings. Finding our bags, he picked them up, one under each arm and one in each hand. Beyond was Mrs. Skipton. I remembered her hair and glasses as severe, but in her own country, her hair was softer and she seemed more at ease. Maybe it was my dim vision. Her husband was on assignment in Tokyo, where she would soon join him, and they were giving us the use of their New Jersey home until we found our own.
A policeman guarded the exit. At his hip was a shape that had to be a holster. American policemen did carry guns; it wasn’t just in films. I angled away to the door farthest from him.
I got in Mrs. Skipton’s car at the right side, and Dad took the seat in front of me. That forced me to make two more adjustments. The driver sat on the left in an American car, and the person taking that seat was Mrs. Skipton. I’d never known Dad to take a passenger seat.
The New York we drove through on the way to New Jersey had no skyscrapers. Drab patches of disused land clumped with snow ridged the road sides. Dad pointed out Shea Stadium, and I recalled a film of the Beatles performing before a sea of girls ecstatic for music their screams drowned out. In the blood haze that a car’s motion would send through my vision ever since my surgery, I looked out at a stadium bathed in red.
Next morning, with the red dispersed, I went out and looked around. The Skiptons’ house was on a rise, its walls made of horizontal strips of wood and its roof curled toward the sky. New snow lay in the bright sun. Trees were everywhere, but there was no hedge or fence to show where the property ended.
Back in the kitchen, blue light came through windows on two sides, and a long counter trailed toward the living and dining rooms. Mrs. Skipton poured me a glass of orange juice and set it on the counter. I let it stand there, a flame in the winter morning.