I think I’m DJing the show of my life when the headache starts. I take a sip of water and stare out at the crowd. I can only make out the closest few faces, but the shadows behind the smiles all seem to be dancing. I have no idea how many people are here. The lights focused on me are so bright.
I look back at the computer screen situated over two turntables and try to cue up the next track. The song titles blur together. I look back at the crowd, then back to the screen. The words shape-shift even more. I remember I can rely on my headphones to identify which song is what, but I don’t know how I can keep this facade up for two more hours. I’m trying not to panic.
My mind darts to that article I skimmed about people losing their sight from spending too much time staring at their phones in the dark. Something about their retinas being dislocated. I turned on a light in my bedroom as I read it, but turned it back off as I clicked over to watch a video. I’ve always had a hard time sleeping, and the devices I surround myself with at night have been helping lately. Just enough to distract me from the fact that I am alone.
The headache intensifies. Childish Gambino is singing “stay woke.” I wipe the sweat from my brow. That light on stage is so bright.
Cue one song, look away from the screen. An entire window in my Virtual DJ program starts to blur. I remember the bottle of mango juice in my bag under the table. I scramble for it thinking a sudden dose of vitamin A will magically heal my eyesight. Am I actually experiencing a sudden onset of blindness? I turn my back to the crowd and chug the juice. I turn back to the screen, and the lights, and my head is still pounding. The words are unrecognizable. I try to look with only one eye, and then the other. I rub both eyes. It doesn’t help.
What will happen after the show? Is this the last set of a short-lived DJ career? How many careers does one aging musician have to master? I have no idea how many eyes are on me. Solange is singing “I tried to drink it away.” I curse every addiction and think of every blind musician I used to look up to growing up. I always thought Stevie Wonder could see better than most people.
If the world stops being defined by shapes and lights and becomes something I can feel more than I can see, will I gain some type of superpower? I curse myself for having ableist thoughts while still wondering if anything is worth not seeing another sunset. And how will I get a Lyft home if I’m unable to type my address on the phone at the end of this show?
Something from Songs in the Key of Life would be a good next track. I daydream about playing music into my old age the way Stevie does, but no one I know had the start that Stevie did. I can count on one hand hip-hop artists I love who have continued to make music I love past their mid-30s. I’ll be 37 next month. How will I invent a new life for myself when I can’t even see?
I can’t find the exact Stevie track I’m looking for and the mix sounds like a train wreck. Hope none of my DJ friends heard it. I turn my back to the crowd and rub my eyes again. The sound person comes on stage to ask if I need anything. I ask if they can shut off the spotlight because my head is pounding and that light isn’t helping.
When the lights go off I start to see everyone for the first time. There are fewer people than I thought, but everyone is lost in the music and the moment. I breathe a sigh of relief. My train wrecks always sound worse to me. I take a moment before looking back at the screen, and the words finally start to come together. It feels like my body is remembering how to see again. Nothing was wrong except for that spotlight shining on my face. I thank every God from every religion for the darkness.
Being in the spotlight always was a limitation. I first stood in one to connect with an audience—and after so many years there felt more isolated than when I started. It’s an addiction not unlike social media. I don’t want to waste another moment worrying about me. I ask the sound person to keep the spotlight off for the rest of the night.
I look out one more time at the people I’m playing for, realizing that my vision was impaired even before I thought I was losing my eyesight. Tonight reminds me that music is never about one person, but about the shared moment of everyone in the room.
What a gift it is to actually see each other.