Thursday, April 9, 2015

Brave new world of color

Growing up, my dad had to have my mom or me or my sister help him pick out socks. He is severely color blind, and normally it didn't interfere too much with daily life. My dad didn't really talk about it. I knew that his favorite color was yellow, because he could see it.

When I had my first son, Jackson, I noticed that he, on rare occasions, colored his sun green instead of yellow. It was hard to tell if he was color-blind, because he could read very young and so picked out the crayons by name to color things what they were supposed to be. It wasn't until Kindergarten that we had him tested and found out that I had passed down the color blind gene to him.

Fast forward a few years...I meet John. Some of our early conversations as we started dating and falling in love made me realize how much I focus on color. John could barely see anything. Where my dad and son had limitations, John had a complete block on seeing most variations. I had to work to reframe how I referred to almost everything; I couldn't use color as a descriptor anymore because John couldn't see it. I joke that he's got dog vision; I imagine his world has always been seen through a sepia lens, with anything orange, green, brown or red pretty much looking the same and blue and purple indistinguishable.

It hasn't been easy for John and I think being around me made it worse, his longing to see the world as I see it growing with every sunset we watched on our beach and every road trip we took through the beautiful California mountains. One night, we took the kids to get frozen yogurt and his universe ripped apart. He asked me what color something was, and I replied "it's kinda tan, brown like peanut butter." He froze for a second and asked, "Peanut butter is brown? It's not green?" And he reeled because he had thought peanut butter was green his whole life.

Can you imagine if everything you thought about the world was filtered through a lens, only allowing certain information through? I imagine it must be like how Roddy Piper felt in They Live when he put on the glasses that let him see the subliminal messages aliens were using to control humans. What if everything you thought you knew was wrong?

A couple weeks ago, John found this video from Valspar and their Color For All campaign. They have partnered with EnChroma, a company out of Berkeley who have developed glasses that allow color blind people to see color. When John started reading about it, I could tell he was excited. Nervous, but excited. We read that the glasses only work for 80% of people. John took a color blind test that said his chances were actually worse, only 50/50 that the glasses would work for him. I told him to buy the glasses. He hesitated. At $400, they aren't super cheap. I told him to get them for my birthday (still extravagent, but still...) and my present would be watching a sunset with him. He still hesitated.

The next day, after he had posted on the Color For All page about his experience of being color blind, he IM'd me, excited. Valspar was sending free glasses out to some of the people who had posted on their message board. He waited a few days and was disappointed that he didn't get picked. I told him to just buy the glasses. He didn't.

Then last week, he IM'd me again...Valspar had contacted him. He had posted again on the message board and this time they picked him to send glasses. As excited as he was, I could tell he was nervous. What if they didn't work? What if he got excited and ended up disappointed? How would he deal with that, his dream of seeing color unfulfilled?

Earlier this week, I had a meetup with some friends at our house after work. John came in later; there was a package there for him. My friends were leaving around 6 and John casually mentioned that the glasses had arrived.

I freaked out. "Let's go to the beach! The sun is setting!" John was doing some dinner prep and seemed in no hurry. I all but pushed him out the door. We drove to the main street in Carpinteria and I realized that he wouldn't see as much if we just went to the beach, so I parked a few blocks away so he could walk and see more colorful shops and flowers before we saw the sunset.

This is John when he first saw the world in color.

The first look
Fascinating shrubbery

I don't know what I expected. Watching John look around, I realized that his brain was trying to process everything he was seeing. He didn't talk. He just stared, somewhat in shock. Definitely overwhelmed. He stopped to look at bushes and plants that color-abled people walk past every day, not impressed by their variation of green and red leaves.

He stared at a brick wall, literally, examining the differences in brick color. He saw orange flowers in someone's yard, and said, "I think those are the most beautiful flowers I've ever seen." But mostly he was quiet, wide-eyed and staring. Just like a baby that just found her hand, John was fascinated and curious and intensely concentrating.

Looking at a reddish succulent, he asked, "Is it always that color?" And I said yes.

We finally made it to the beach. It was really windy, but luckily there were some clouds to decorate the sky. It wasn't the prettiest sunset I've seen on our beach, but it was by far the best. John just sat and stared. He said he liked the blue of the sky the best, the brightest blue he'd ever seen. He looked really deeply in my eyes, seeing the weird green/blue/yellow swirl that they are.


Before sunlight was completely gone (the glasses only work in daylight), we walked back into town, stopping to take pictures in front of that shrub that John was impressed with. He kept the glasses on as we drove home, eeking out the last of the daylight. He'd been so quiet that as we approached the traffic light, I jumped when he yelled out "Holy shit! Is that light green!?!" And we laughed because everything in the world is brand new and miraculous, seeing it through John's new glasses.

I remember what it was like when Vardan got his hearing aids and could hear S and H for the first time. He was little, but he was wide-eyed with wonder. And now, my husband is as well seeing the world for the first time. I can't wait to let Jackson try them too (although I think he's going to need his own pair!).

It's going to take some time for John's brain to make sense of all of this new color information. It will take some time for him to take it in stride. I love this part, this intense learning and excitement and curiosity. The world is brand new. I want to see it all with John.

Thank you EnChroma. Thank you, THANK YOU, Valspar. What a gift to give my family. What a gift to give the world.