Julia woke up in the dark, to the smell of bleach and antiseptic, and the sound of somebody turning pages somewhere to her right. She was still and took it in for a moment, not sure if this was a dream, or some half-waking state that she could easily drift back into sleep from.
Tentatively, she raised a hand to touch her face. Her cheek was rough with acne and tiny hairs that she thought about more than anyone else. The hand slides further up. Bandages over her eyes? She tried to pull them off.
“Don’t!” said the person to her right. She recognized the voice as her father’s. He pulled away her hand and put it back at her side. “They’re not supposed to come off for a few more days.”
“What?” Julia asked, sitting up. Her eyes darted around, painfully. But she saw nothing. It was only just starting to creep in, the realization.
“Do you remember what happened?” her father asked.
“I don’t even know where I am,” she said. She assumed, at this point, that she was in a hospital, but couldn’t know for sure, as without her sight nothing around her seemed quite real.
“You’re in the hospital,” her father said. “You, uh. You were at a 4th of July party with your friends. Tom was shooting off fireworks, and one flew into your face.” As soon as he said this, Julia realized she was feeling burnt. It was the most intense pain she’d ever felt.
“How long have I been here?” she asked.
“About a day. They gave you a lot of pain meds, so I’m not surprised that your memory is fuzzy.”
She ran her fingers along her arm and realizes that the uncomfortable prick in her arm was an IV. “When do I get these bandages off?”
“Probably soon. You didn’t need skin grafts, luckily.”
“Skin grafts?” Julia muttered under her breath. None of this felt real. She was convinced it was a dream but couldn’t seem to wake herself up.
“Yeah, the firework did some…damage to your eyes though.”
Her heart sank. “How much?”
“We don’t know yet. We’ll know more in a few days.” There was a moment of horrible silence. “They think…they think you might have lost your vision.”
Julia immediately pawed at the bandages, desperate to check, to prove to herself that she could still see. Once again, her father grabbed her by the wrists and pulled her hands away. “Don’t. If you take them off too early, it might cause further damage.”
She felt tears come to her eyes. The salt made them burn even more. A sob escaped from her mouth. A hundred thoughts of all the new struggles she might face flitted through Julia’s mind.
“Hey,” her father said, putting his hands around one of hers in an attempt at comfort. “Keep your hopes up. They still don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, and modern medicine is amazing, right? Don’t assume the worst just yet.”
As it turned out, Julia was right in assuming the worst. She spent five dreadful days drifting in and out of sleep in her hospital bed, waking up every day to a parade of visitors, including relatives she hadn’t seen or spoken to in months. The whole time, she thought of nothing but the day the bandages came off, and what they would reveal.
The day came. She was restless. Without being able to see a clock, the day seemed about four times as long as usual. It was 10 AM when the doctor came in, but it felt like it was about 4. She didn’t know.
The whole room was silent as Dr. Adams unwrapped Julia’s head. She felt the weight of the bandages getting lighter and lighter on her head. She felt the last of them fall off. But she still saw nothing. No light. No shadows. No shapes. No colors.
The tears that rolled down her face and her blank, directionless stare gave it away. “Oh, honey,” Julia’s mom muttered, sweeping her daughter up into a tight hug. “There, there,” she said, because she couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Julia reached up and touched her face. She felt the wetness under her sightless eyes. She felt the roughness of the burned skin, which stung to the touch. She felt the dread of her entire life stretching out before her.
She could do nothing but sob.