Amazing Grace

Short-listed Entry: Non-Fiction Category

By: Donna L. Kuust

Instant, utter blackness strikes out of nowhere. Not a glimmer of light can be seen in any direction. After voicing an UGH of surprise, my initial reaction is a groan. The power’s gone out.

Then my thoughts deal with the situation and its ramifications. I need to turn things off, to guard against blowout surge when the power returns. If it returns before I’ve taken what precautions I can against things getting ruined, I might have to face some very expensive replacements. Lamps and fans are really no big deal, but the big appliances are. I HAVE to get moving.

The main problem is that my pupils don’t dilate and constrict normally. In this blackness, I might as well not have any eyes at all.

Lights are out all along the street, so I can’t even just open an outside door for light. And, naturally, the moon is nowhere in sight on this clear sky summer night.

Panic sets in. I can’t just keep standing there, yet I’m totally blind and don’t even have the experience or expertise of a blind person to aid me. Add in the fact I’m a coward when it comes to the pain of stubbed toes and bruised shins and you can sense the scope of my distress.

My two teenage boys are spending the night at their friend’s house. It’s all up to me, and I experience a brief urge to cry in protest.

Stop it! I scold myself. Like it or not, I have to deal with this.

I head toward the bedroom, my sanctuary. There are some matches in my desk. With them, I’ll be able to see well enough to locate the candles I always keep on hand.

Stooped over, arms outstretched, and hands feeling ahead, I inch forward, trying to locate a piece of furniture or, better yet, a wall. The layout of everything is clear in my mind, but I keep moving and groping long past when it seems I should have found something and it unnerves me. It’s as if everything around me vanished when the light did and I’m groping in a total void.

Calm down. Quit letting imagination have control. Take a breath and review.

I had been reading the paper by the footstool, facing the fireplace on the west wall. I had turned one-quarter around and thus should be facing north, down the hall. After having moved forward perhaps four short strides, there should be a chair to my immediate left.

Ouch! Yes, there’s the chair. It IS the chair, isn’t it? I tactually examine it, feeling a bit silly for experiencing such relief over finding something solid in that vast, dark emptiness. Yes, that’s the chair. Funny, the image I get from feel is so different from looking at it.

I feel for the china hutch, which is right behind the chair. Yes! Contact! It should be a clear shot down the hall now, but I still explore the empty air, fearing I might again veer to the left or right and bump into a wall. I’m moving so slowly that I can’t be more than a couple of strides down the hall when my stupidity hits me. I should have gone directly to the kitchen. There’s an emergency flashlight on top of the microwave. Why mess around with first finding matches?

I abruptly turn back and freeze. With an adrenalin rush of panic, I suddenly experience total disorientation because I’m asking my befuddled mind to change course, hold onto a different furnishing layout.

This must be what it’s like for someone who is newly blind. I make a mental note to remember it for future writings.

Easy now. It’s okay. Take a breath.

The china hutch faces the kitchen doorway. Just back up that far and turn east.

Okay now.

The buffet is far enough to my left to be no obstruction problem. Likewise is the dining table, to my right. I should be able to walk straight ahead.

Geez, I hate this! I KNOW the pathway is clear, yet I can’t shake this panic. I feel like an idiot, groping the empty air as I inch forward.

Finally, my left hand contacts the fridge, sitting just inside the kitchen doorway. I turn right to face the microwave stand in the opposite corner, taking care to avoid the cat’s water bowl. I explore through what seems an endless assortment of things stored atop the microwave and pray one of the kids hasn’t moved that flashlight.

Yes! Success!

My hand closes on the familiar plastic shape. I fumble with anxious fingers for the switch. Where is that darn button?

Found it! I push the rubbery knob, but not hard enough, and try again. A beam of light is my reward and I take my first relaxed breath in what seems like hours.

While I’m standing there, I pull the plug on the microwave and coffee maker. Maybe I should instead flip the circuit breakers off. I’m not sure. Where’s an adviser when you need one?

Then the worst panic of all hits me. The computer had been on when I went to fetch the paper to review an article.

Sick with worry over possible damage, I hurry to the bedroom. My finger depresses the off switch while I pray the expensive equipment will be okay.

There isn’t a thing I can do about the writing that has been lost, except try to recall and rewrite it, assuming the computer isn’t fried. I wish I knew more about how it works with computers and power outages.

Considerably calmer now, with flashlight in hand, I go around turning off lights, fans, everything that I can remember was on. Then I look for the candles I keep ready in a kitchen drawer. No sense using up the flashlight batteries when I have candles.

No sooner am I prepared to wait it out than the power returns. I heave a sigh of disgust. After all I went through, all that distress, it hasn’t lasted even half an hour! Of course I’m grateful it’s over, but it’s still disgruntling.

Retracing my steps, I turn on this and that, plug things back in. But, just in case, I’m carrying the flashlight. I’ve experienced outages before where the power returned and then went out again very quickly afterward.

I’m remembering the panic I felt and how hard it was to find the courage to move through that blackness. Maybe I should leave things turned off awhile, just to be sure. Then I realize there’s no way to BE sure.

I set the flashlight by my alarm clock, which now has to be reset. That done, now I’m faced with an even greater challenge to my bravery.

I move to the desk, biting my lower lip nervously, as I reach out to turn on the computer. I have to make sure it’s all right, but I’m terrified it won’t be.

The screen lights up with its royal blue background. Well, that’s a good sign. At least it came on.

White words splash across that surface as various beeps sound above the steady hum. I anxiously hold my breath as I watch those words flow down the screen, informing me this and that is being checked and this and that is okay and it’s finding the mouse installed and so forth.

I heave a deep, heartfelt sigh of relief. Nothing but my three or four pages of writing was lost. Everything I’d written before that was already saved on a disc, to which I’d intended to add the lost pages.

Well, it’s all still fresh in my mind and, as soon as I get it retyped and saved, I’m going to sit here and have a good cry. Then I’m going to bone up on power outage procedures and precautions, using the manuals I should have been intelligent enough to study long ago.

I’ve learned an important lesson here. From now on, I will never leave writing in progress on the computer, not even for a quick pit stop, without first saving it to the disc.

I was lucky this time. The next time, I might not be. After all, you never know when some fool will crash his car into a power line pole. A line from an old favorite hymn comes to mind…was blind, but now I see…and I just can’t help chuckling. So appropriate!

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