I’d made it to Darwin; Asia was just beyond the horizon. I could practically smell it. Seeing it was more difficult. Five times a day I put drops in my eyes to calm the inflammation of my corneas; every three or four days I drove sedately into Darwin to visit my optometrist in the hope of good news.
Come on, I said, I’ve got a boat to catch to Timor! I have to be able to wear contact lenses… I have to be able to ride.
The weeks ticked by; I went down to the Gold Coast to help out with a personal matter. It was all a bit of a disaster and I flew back to Darwin, still half-blind from anti-inflammatory ointments, filled with woe and playing Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler on repeat. (Don’t ask.)
I was a few days off my 30th birthday: homeless, unemployed, and now possibly too blind to even be a motorcycling hobo. I was ready to start feeling pretty sorry for myself; but sometimes life gives you what you need.
Brad’s dad, Colin, just happened to be home in Darwin for a few weeks, a relatively rare break between long months driving roadtrains in remote Australia. He isn’t a man used to sitting still; waiting around for a call about the next contract was driving him a little stir crazy, so we were well-matched to keep one another company in our waiting game: him for the next job, me for my eyes to improve.
So there I was one day, moping about the tragedy and injustice of my eye problems, when I looked up and noticed that Colin was looking at me funny. Well of course he was looking at me funny, because he’s got a glass eye.
Twenty years ago, he’s lost the eye in a work accident in remote Australia. He woke up in a hospital in Adelaide, thousands of kilometres from home, a roadtrain driver with a young family to support and only one eye. So he checked himself out of hospital and went back to work.
‘Well,’ said Colin, ‘I can tell you that backing up a roadtrain with four trailers when you’ve suddenly only got one eye is not an easy thing to do. It’s bloody hard. But I learnt to do it, because I had to.’
That’s an impressive intellectual – and probably also neurological – adaptation. What a legend.
I stopped complaining and pulled up my socks. If Colin can put a 53m roadtrain exactly where it needs to be with one good eye, I’m pretty sure I can find a way to be a motorcycling hobo with two bad eyes.
* * *
Slowly my corneas improved and my optometrist ushered my poor eyeballs through test after test. Yes, my corneas sucked; no, under no circumstances was I allowed to wear the type of contact lenses I’d been using before; no, under no circumstances were my eyeballs to come into contact with the fearsome microbe-bearing waters of South-East Asia. No, I can’t have LASIK surgery because my cornea is only 498 microns thick (seriously guys, please stop telling me about how your nan had LASIK and it was great; I’m not your nan). No, there’s nothing much to be done about it now; maybe in 15 or 20 years I’ll be a candidate for a surgically inserted permanent contact lens, but it can’t be done now.
And then… NEW CONTACT LENSES. Yes! Supposedly the best contact lenses available, they’re daily disposables and they cost a small fortune. They’re also not exactly comfortable on my eyes, but I CAN SEE. I can judge distances! I can read road signs! I can use my peripheral vision without getting dizzy!
Oh hell yes.
I emailed the shipping company. I have a motorbike, I said, and it needs to be on the next boat to Dili.