Of course I hallucinated my eyes had fallen out. My dad lost his left eye to a rare disease when I was a child.
And of course that first major breakdown came one month shy of college graduation. My dad died one month after I started college.
But patting my bedroom floor, feeling for my eyes, I couldn't see the significance of my hallucination.
I couldn't see my eyes.
"So you could see everything else," a doctor asked me, "just not your eyes?"
"My dad had a glass eye," I said.
The doctor, despite clipboard and pen, wrote nothing.
I tried again.
"So the hallucination makes sense," I said, and he started scribbling.
I told the doctor that my dad had died. Then I told another doctor. And another.
I told the doctors that my dad had lost his left eye to a rare disease.
"He had a glass eye," I said.
It seemed relevant, a metaphor that explained my grief for my dad: How did he see me? Could he see me?
I told them that he'd lost a daughter named Jeanne. I tried to explain that her death at sixteen almost destroyed him, and that his death was destroying me.
"He added the letter i to my name," I explained.
I repeated "eye, i , I" to them. I had solved the equation that was my identity: eye + i = I.
"Do you see now?" I said. "It's all related."
But nowhere do my medical records mention his eye. Nowhere does Jeanne's name appear.
Instead, the doctors focused on my eyes:
"Attractive, slim woman with long eyelashes carrying three books including the latest Paris Review. Cooperative, yet avoids direct eye contact."
"Pleasant but looks frightened. Her affect is blunted and eye contact is poor. Social worker just shared that the patient feels strongly she does not want her mother to know she is here."
"She looked down most of the time during the discussion today and seemed less open in the one-to-one meeting today than in the meeting where there were four of us yesterday."
I tried to talk about my feelings.
"This is grief," I said.
The doctors said grief operated differently.
"Had you known him," I said.
But instead of asking about my life with my dad, they asked how he died.
"I don't know," I said. "He was eighty. He had a lot of things wrong with him."
Natural causes? they asked.
The coroner wrote "throat cancer," I said.
When did he die, they wanted to know.
I told them again and again that he'd died the fall of my freshman year.
"I was eighteen," I said. "Why do you keep asking when ?"
My memory tells me I was hospitalized a few weeks. My medical records tell me a few days. I slept mostly. I have no cinematic scenes. A friend brought me a stack of old Paris Review s. Another patient grabbed mashed potatoes off my plate with her bare hands. My roommate, a middle-aged philosophy professor, never said a word (electroconvulsive therapy). At the medication window, a nurse spoke to me in French, and I thought I was losing my mind again—the Paris Review s caused her confusion, she later told me. I wrote, and rewrote, the same lines of poetry: "Massaging his iris, a dab of brown, in a soapy film, / cleaning my father's eye in my palm / while he lies between the silver rails of his bed: / this is what the end looks like." And then, in the margins: "But I never touched my father's eye."