Two Peas in a Paranoid Pod

15 Feb

by Maribel Steel

It was easier to ignore the dimming of objects, the blurring of words, the discomfort of puberty as sneaky changes were taking place right before my eyes. I was reluctant to say anything to the girls at school for fear that my new glasses would attract ‘‘special’ attention – or worse, be ridiculed and seen as the teacher’s pet.

It was a new school year, and I had not yet found a group of friends to confide in. The home teacher noticed my squinting tendency while I peered hopelessly at the blackboard and moved me from the back of the room to sit right in the middle of the front row, where she could keep an eye on me.

“Did you bring your glasses to school today?”

I cringed deeper into the chair. At thirteen, my life was being turned upside down – all due to a riotous collision of hormones.

One Italian-Australian girl sitting next to me in the front row didn’t seem to mind my ever-growing peculiarities. Antoinette was a kind and studious girl, who ignored the antics of the immature drama queens in our class and achieved high standards in her school work.

On one day, in the second floor classroom, rowdy girls snickered.

“What are you doing?” asked Antoinette, amused as I fumbled around my bag under the desk.

“Be quiet,” I snapped. 

Show me!” she said.

I put on the new gold-rimmed frames and pulled a ghastly expression, and then hid my face on the pages of a French textbook as dramatically as if I were before Marie-Antoinette at the court of Versailles. 

Tres magnifique! Those glasses suit you.”

With a playful pinch to her leg, I was relieved my new friend still liked me.

Sitting at the desk beside her, our shoulders nudged together warm and close, so close that her black hair brushed across my cheek, the fragrance of her perfume sweetening our friendship.

On some days, fuzzy writings at the far edges of the chalk board still eluded my vision, so I turned my failing eyesight to copy Antoinette’s neat handwriting. Watching her craft clear, precise strokes  to form words and sentences, was like watching a magician produce something beautiful from out of a blank space. One minute, an empty page – the next, an army of black ink-soldiers standing with military precision upon faint lines.

She often interrupted the private show by tugging at thin strands of her black hair and whined,

“I’m going bald, you know?”

“You are not,” I laughed.

“See?” She held out a long strand of invisible hair, and studied it closely before tossing it away.

“Just stop pulling it out, then,” I teased, and continued to copy her writing.

Two peas in a paranoid-pod – with Antoinette critical of her lack of hair, and my embarrassment with all the new bodily changes stealing vision – we soon became inseparable confidantes for one another.

Maribel Steel is a freelance writer, blogger, mother and vocalist. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her partner and teenage son. She was diagnosed at fifteen with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). She is currently drafting her second book, The ART of Being Blind, and hopes to use her three month residency at the Glenfern writer’s studio to complete and revise the first draft of the manuscript.  Maribel recently appeared on an International Radio Australia breakfast show. The 15 minute interview can be heard on her homepage at:

Other nonfiction stories appear on her life blog:


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