The jig is up

I had an eye appointment today.

I drove to the strip mall optical boutique that happens to employ an eye doctor.  I reminded myself that this annual routine is mundane, less stress than getting my car tuned. I rarely hear bad news, nothing but a few tweaks here or there to the lens prescription. I buy updated frames or more boxes of contacts and go on.

But today I was cranky about my visit. I had been compelled there by need rather than maintenance. I had spent the last few months fanning papers in front of my face, moving them back and forth as if conjuring fortunes, squinting, lifting my glasses up and down and complaining incessantly of bad fonts and the absurdity of 10 point types. Finally friends and coworkers threatened an intervention, I was to go to the eye doctor or shut up. Silence is more difficult, so there I was.

I have had glasses since third grade. Back then the issue was the chalkboard. I could focus perfectly on the books that I plowed through faster than most kids in my class. But discussions bored me, so I drifted and propped books up in my desk, lifting the top a few inches and leaning back so I could continue to read as the teacher stood up front, my hand occasionally creeping through the crack to turn a page. Inevitably the teacher would ask a question and I would stare blankly. The jig was up. They supposed that my inattention was due to bad eye sight rather than lack of interest, and although the books in the desk continued through junior high, I was carted off to the eye doctor.

My memories of this visit are tinged with romantic tragedy, indicative of a seven year old living more in pages than playgrounds. I did not have the usual myopia; I had a storybook myopia that cast my eyes as heroes in an epic journey of brotherhood and devotion. My right eye might have been a lazy eye at one time, unable to keep up with rigors of growing up my head. Just as the right eye decided to give in and wander in the classic diagnostic manner, the left eye rallied and did more than its share of the work. This allowed the right eye to progress at a slower pace and get back on track, no longer prone to laziness. But the left eye had strained too hard and was now worn out, nearly blind from the noble effort of carrying the right eye for so long. Therefore the bad eye was now better and the good eye was now bad having sacrificed itself for the good of the pair.

I admired my left eye. I could hear it cough slightly at the exertion of looking around, pale, slightly consumptive, yet always thoughtful in the face of gloom. I was proud of my right eye as well, for staying put and persevering so as not to be thought of as a slacker. The right eye was the perky cheerleader to the knowing solemnity of the left. My new glasses were a badge of honor. They were a way of letting my eyes know that I supported their suffering and that we were in this together. It was the least I could do, considering what they had been through.

Whether or not this scenario could be medically supported, that I believed my eyes were martyrs of God tucked quite beautifully with the overall world view of my childhood. I was different in so many ways, of course I would see differently as well. I was not even concerned with teasing. I provided so many targets for the school yard bullies—a stuttering book worm with goofy clothes, fuzzy hair, and scarred bottom lip—being called “four eyes” was almost pedestrian in comparison. My peculiar askew eyesight allowed me to view myself, especially under duress, as special rather than strange.

Thanks to modern technology my left lens no longer extends beyond my frames. Each side is as thin as the other and yet I can see far away with the same clarity as I did with my first glasses, chalk boards lessons still distinct. The problem is I can no longer read the book propped at close distance. I can’t discern a menu, the label on the bottom of a dinner plate, a number in a phone book. With my glasses I can read if I hold the words no closer than twelve inches in front of my face and no more than thirty. I have a horizontal corridor of vision around my head like a ring around Saturn. It is frustrating and worse, has no explanation more dramatic than age. My eyes are getting old.     

I feel betrayed by this development. It is one thing to believe you trudged through snow and hunger and pestilence and battlefields and ache with pain of a hundred sorrows. It is another thing to know you are stiff because you moved the sofa yesterday. My ancient tendency to frame all events through the gaze of a unique and specific fantasy has blurred as time goes on. The jig is up. I am becoming just another middle aged woman with reading glasses.

The doctor was a tiny Chinese woman who asked all the usual questions of A versus B or 1 versus 2. She didn’t wear a white coat, moving with efficient ease. She told me that I have several choices. I can keep using my regular glasses and take them off to read close up. I can wear contacts and use reading glasses as needed. Or I can buy progressive glasses which are like old fashioned bifocals without lines. The first two options mean I am always taking glasses on and off, the third means I keep them on but lose peripheral vision. As if she was recommending treatments for a serious disease, she told me to go home and think about it.

It is silly really—changes in eyesight are as natural as grey hair and sagging skin. And hopefully I am still peaking in my timeline, not yet closer to the end than the beginning. But today, sitting in the parking lot, holding a funny pair of purple cat eye magnifying glasses, I had a very clear glimpse into the next era of my life. As a kid I wanted to see myself and my contributions as separate from the fray and utterly original. As I mature, I can’t help but notice how very much like other people I really am. This insight is not heroic or comforting. I may share this shifting, altered vision with many, but I am new to such connections. I see my peers not too close, not too far, best at arm’s length.

8 responses to “The jig is up”

  1. Kevin S. says:

    As always funny and smart. I only wear glasses when I drive at night. That way I can tell if I am going to just clip your bumper or fully T-bone your vehicle. Some say I look more intellectual with my glasses on but I am sure that is just an optical ilusion. Peace. Kevin

  2. Hi, P (and other friends who may be reading) — We’re back from our trip as of last night and recovering well. More on that later. What a great week’s worth of reading to catch up on!

    I have to admit I was a little grumpy when I read your post about eyesight/glasses and (implicitly) aging — two things I’ve been mulling over for posts of my own. Damn you! On the glasses front, I had a wild experience last year that I’d wanted to write about. At my last glasses purchase/eye exam, I found out that for over ten years — maybe longer — I had been wearing a seriously misdiagnosed prescription. The reason was similar to what you describe about having a dominant eye: My left eye is dominant, and so even though my right eye had been seeing through the wrong prescription all these years (when I cover my right eye, I can’t see well out of my left, even with my glasses on), it didn’t really matter, because my left eye overcompensated. This problem may go all the way back to middle school when I first got glasses.

    My first reaction was anger at my other doctors, but the eye doctor told me it probably wouldn’t have mattered–that my good eye would have overcompensated anyway. Maybe if they had caught it when I was younger they could have done some corrective therapy to strengthen my right eye, but the doctor didn’t seem to think it was a big deal.

    So I asked for the correct prescription. She said it would be a mistake — that I would wind up with headaches, because my bad eye was used to the bad prescription. She gave me the accurate lens on her machine so I could see what she meant. It felt like someone had stuck a thumb in my right temple and twisted my head to the right. It seriously hurt. So I kept the bad prescription.

    It still makes me mad to think about it. And to add insult to injury the doctor (who was a couple years younger than I am) told me that if I were younger it might be worth it to correct the problem, but since I’m so fricking old I should just ride it out. Zoiks! Where do I pick up my senior citizen card?

    Loved your post — and everyone else’s this week!

  3. Lisa Tremain says:

    hooray, friends, Bryan Waterman has returned.

  4. PB says:

    Yeah with Lisa, Bryan, we missed you.
    So sorry to take your idea, we are on the same wave length. But I am so happy you took the time to share your own vision woes. I say you go for a post anyway. There is never enough to say about sight and variances there of, it is a literary staple.
    I think it is interesting though, about your glasses, they have always been so good looking on you, to think all this time they were wrong. That in and of itself is intriguing.
    Thank you for commenting.

  5. when I cover my right eye, I can’t see well out of my left, even with my glasses on

    oops. i think i switched left and right in that sentence. you got the gist, though, obviously.

    wow, do i feel loved. i should take a week off more often. i hope my students felt the same way.

    while we were gone dave and i actually stopped into an internet cafe around 2 pm monday to post a notice that we were out for the week. we wrote up the notice, posted it, then realized that rachel already had a post up for the monday slot. boy were we happy. that was the last we saw of TGW for the week, though. nice to be back, but that was indeed a fun trip. more soon.

  6. Stella says:

    Pandora – I am so with you. I’m very borderline so I can generally get away without them, but I have now armed myself with reading glasses for wearing with my contact lenses — sort of brown and smart — and reading glasses for when I’m not — and with encouragement from my v. cute optician I went for black with rhinestones. Hell, if I’m going to wear reading glasses they might as well be fun.

    Although I’m happy for this to progress slowly, I have spent plenty of time practicing using the glasses with the hope of communicating an air of sultry sophisication and seductive maturity. Or maybe I just look old.

  7. Rachel says:

    Pandora–delightful post. I have always loved glasses. Maybe it all comes back to the sexy librarian thing.
    Bry–Hey, I said I’d fill in. what did you expect?
    Stella–“Seductive maturity” or “just old”? I’m sure it’s the former (see above).

  8. MB says:

    I’m there with you, sister. I’m happier now than I was 10 year ago and wouldn’t go back for all the money in the world, but I didn’t appreciate enough the days when seeing was easy, there was no such thing as grey hair, and if I was in a pinch I could lose 5 pounds in 5 days. And you’re right, too: getting older is such a great equalizer. It happens to us all. It’s definitely left some of my own mythology of uniqueness in it’s wake.