We’ve all heard of defining moments in one’s life. For me, and perhaps the most impactful came about when I was four or five years old.
My brother, who is one year and four months older than me, and I were playing inside the house by ourselves while my stay-at-home Mom was in the backyard washing and hanging clothes. My Dad was most likely at work, while my other siblings were probably in school. My brother and I were playing in the living room, and we began jumping on the couches, and one of the cushions came off. Underneath one of the cushions was a bullet. I don’t know the type of bullet it was, but I remember it seemed like an ordinary standard-size bullet, whatever that means. My brother grabbed the bullet and decided to take it outside. Naturally, I was curious about the bullet as much as he was, but I never actually touched it. Even though we were young and didn’t know the significance of a bullet, we were excited that we had one in front of us and that no one was around to tell us not to play with it. It was a shiny toy for us. Not sure if he had this back then, but I do remember one of my older brothers had a collection of bullets in a large cup. He had bullets of all shapes and sizes. Most likely, the bullet was his.
As my brother took the bullet outside and me following behind, he placed the bullet on the driveway concrete. I decided to get on my hands and knees and just admire the bullet about a foot above where it lay on the concrete. Something about the look, shape, and mysteriousness of the bullet made it so fascinating to me. I knew deep down that we probably shouldn’t be playing with it, but as a kid, how could you resist. As I continued my focus on the bullet, my brother goes back inside the house and comes out with a hammer. He walks over and stands across from me, crouches, and strikes the bullet. All the while, I’m still on my hands and knees. The moments after this are flashes of memories I have of this accident.
I don’t remember hearing a bang. I don’t remember feeling any physical pain. The moment after the strike to the bullet felt like that one scene in Saving Private Ryan where Tom Hanks’ character is on the battleground, and an explosion goes off near him, and all his senses are gone for a moment. He doesn’t hear anything but slowly starts to regain those senses. His character was in shock, and I was the same. I remember looking up at my brother and seeing blood splattered over his shirt. My immediate thought was that he was hurt. When I started to regain my senses, I felt a liquid coming down my face, almost like a waterfall. That was when everything snapped back for me, and I realized that the one that was hurt was me. I began to feel blood coming out of my left eye. I ran inside the house, into the bathroom, and placed a towel over my eye. The next thing I remember, I’m in the back seat of my neighbor’s car with my head laying on my Mom’s lap, looking up at her. I have no recollection of what happened when I was in the bathroom to when I’m in the back seat of my neighbor’s car.
I’m now in the hospital on a gurney, being rushed to what I assume was surgery. After that, my memory in the hospital consists of the staff bringing me jello, wheeling in a TV with VCR, and watching Voltron. The staff at Kaiser (the hospital I was in) really took care of me. Not sure if I had more surgeries than the initial one. Later on in my life, I found out that my Dad was given a choice when the surgery was taking place to either replace my left eye with a glass eye or leave it as is. He chose to leave it as is. I was now completely blind in my left eye and had a disfigured left eye. The way I would describe my damaged eye is to imagine pressing on a grape and what that would look like. I was born with brown eyes, but my damaged eye now has a color of grey with green. My eye has minimal movement, and so it’s permanently looking to the side.
Interestingly enough, to this day, I still get eye pain in my left eye. I would have thought that along with my vision being gone; I would also lose feelings there. So, if an eyelash or piece of dirt gets into my left eye, it hurts just as much as if it got into my good eye. Before I left the hospital, I had to wear an eye patch, and I was fitted with non-prescription glasses. The reason behind the glasses was to protect my good eye. As a kid, I didn’t think too much of my eye and having an eye disfigurement. But as I grew older, I became more aware of how I looked and how others reacted when seeing my eye. Slowly I became more anti-social and didn’t want anyone to look at me. Frankly, I didn’t like looking at myself either. Wherever I would walk, I would walk with my head down and with an angry face. It’s not that I was angry, but my thought process behind looking angry was that it made my eye disfigurement less obvious. One time in middle school, as I walked towards one of my classes, I was stopped by a classmate, and she asked me why I always looked angry. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the truth, and so I told her that I wasn’t and moved along; this probably made me seem angrier. I hated taking pictures, and to this day, if I can avoid being in a picture, I will do so. The reason I avoid taking pictures is I tend to look cross-eyed. However, I should note that I’ve been wearing a prosthesis since 15 years old. Even with the prosthesis, it doesn’t hide the fact that I have minimal movement in my left eye, and I have to make an effort to keep focus and stare at a single object in the direction of the camera to make myself look more “normal.”
Funny enough, kids would make fun of my name more than tease me about my eye. In elementary school, when the teacher would say that we were going to read a fable, the kids in the class would yell out Abel, fable, table, cable, and anything else that rhymed with my name. I only remember one instance where someone made a negative comment about my eye to my face. I’m sure people made comments, but they never made them in front of me. The negative comment happened while I was at the grocery store with my Dad. A little kid saw my eye and immediately was disgusted. His reaction was to say “Ugh” and turn around and tell his parents about my eye. I don’t blame him as he was a small kid; nonetheless, that moment has stuck with me ever since.
I wasn’t the only one affected by this accident. My brother, the one who struck the bullet, was also impacted. I can’t speak for him or speak to whether the accident has affected his life or not, but in my opinion, I do believe this to be true. Even though the accident has been such a large factor in my life, I feel that my brother has suffered greatly from this as much as I have. Growing up, when I told the story of what happened to my eye, he was always looked at as the bad guy. People would comment that if they were me, they would take revenge and take out one of my brothers’ eyes. At times, one of my older brothers would be really hard on him, and when my brother involved in the accident would mess with me; as brothers do, my older brother would be overprotective and overreact towards him. I have never spoken to him about this, but I feel he suffered as much as I did. I can’t imagine it was easy growing up and constantly hearing that it was your fault for something that wasn’t meant with harm. I don’t know if the accident correlates, but my brother doesn’t go out much. I don’t remember the last time he dated someone, and he’s always struggled with his weight. Because of what people have said to him about the accident, he probably feels I blame him or have resentment towards him, but I don’t. I’ve always seen the accident as two kids playing, and unfortunately, something bad happened. It would probably be good for us to speak about it and tell him that I’ve never blamed him, but in our family, we have a terrible track record of communicating with each other.
My left eye has and will always be a reminder of the accident that happened to both my brother and me. I wonder how my life would have been different if the accident never happened? Would I be as understanding or at least try to be as I am now? I believe I’m a nice person. Would I still have those qualities? They may not seem to go hand in hand, but I do think they have a relation. Undoubtedly, it’s affected my confidence, which affected my love life, which is a different story altogether.
At the time of this writing, I’m 39 years old. I still hope to have more defining moments, and I’m excited about what those will be and how they will shape my life moving forward. I wish for those reading this story that you have positive defining moments, and if they’re not positive, that you could somehow flip the moment and use it as an experience either for yourself or to share with others.
Thank you for reading, and on to the next story.