I don’t remember when I started losing vision. But I do remember the time I drove twelve hours from South Dakota to Indiana and I couldn’t read any road signs the entire way. Around hour eight or nine I thought, huh, I probably should go to an eye doctor, this sucks.
“Which is better?” my optometrist asks. “One…or two?”
I squint and lean my forehead hard against the headpiece. “Gosh, I’m not really sure,” I start.
“One….or two?” he tries again. The rows of letters morph slightly on his command. “One, or two?”
“Well, they’re both pretty blurry…”
He clears his throat. “One…or two?”
“The same?” I say.
“One…or two?” Is he changing something here? “One, or two?” he repeats. I mean, I think he’s changing the rows of letters on the screen, but…is this a joke? Is this what optometrists do for laughs?
“One or two?” he says, again, again.
This is a lie.
“I mean, maybe two?” Another lie.
“I am so sorry,” I finally blurt, “but I just can’t read either. It’s just totally blurry.”
“This one is blurry?” he asks.
“Yes.” I say.
“And this one is just as blurry?”
Is he cueing me? What am I supposed to say?
I feel like I’m going off script and it’s causing some tension.
He goes back to his table and looks at my file. He sifts through papers. He goes to the computer and does a little clicking. For added effect, no doubt.
“Well, I’m not sure what to say. No matter what I do I can’t get you to see 20/20 out of that left eye. It’s just not responding to anything I’ve tried. I just, I don’t know…”
I am no expert in optometry, but I quickly and efficiently translate this jargon to mean, roughly,
“You are going blind and we can’t help you.”
The panic that hits is enough to summon tears, instantly.
But nothing, nothing, dear friends, pales to the terror that ensues following what he says next:
“No more contact lenses. You must wear your glasses.”
It was like getting blasted by a gust of wind on a -30 degree day in a South Dakota corn field.
“Glasses?” I whimper.
“Absolutely,” he says, confirming that my world was officially coming to an end and the sun would never shine again. “From now on, until we can figure out what’s going on here, and then probably for awhile after ’til we getcha healed.”
“Forever?” I squeak.
“For awhile, yes. Unless you want to go months and months without 100% vision, which I don’t think you do. And here’s a list of the drops you’ll need to pick up.”
He hands me a piece of paper marred with his ugly scrawl. I hate you eye doctor man! I think. Your handwriting sucks! I silently jeer.
But inside, I knew who was really to blame.
Nice work, Vanessa. Re-wearing your one-day-only contact lenses day after day for 12+ hour days while working at a smokey, dusty, grimy (and beautiful!) summer camp in Colorado. Nice work.
Later, I unearth my glasses and put them on with shaky hands and shallow breath.
It’s okay, Vanessa. Only wear them when you absolutely have to. It’s okay.
I institute the following routine, effective immediately:
Leave house in the morning, glasses on. Use glasses to see keyhole to lock apartment door.
Take glasses off.
Use glasses to see if ‘WALK’ sign is lit, safely cross road.
Take glasses off.
Use glasses at train station to read how many minutes until next train.
Take glasses off.
Ride blind to yoga. Smile at all blurry people, everywhere, just in case it’s someone I know.
Use glasses to find little woman symbol to ensure entering the correct locker room at yoga. Use again to find correct studio.
Wait. Crap! I realize my error just as I am entering what would’ve undoubtedly been a truly therapeutic child’s pose. Crap, crap, crap, I mutter, removing the lenses from my face, all the while wondering if I hurry if I can make it–
“Welcome to class! My name is Zeamarious and this is your 60-minute C1 class…”
I set down my glasses next to me on the floor in defeat. I force myself to breathe out everything in one cleansing breath of community, the whole situation, the stupid glasses. Ujjayi Pranayama, breath of victory, breath of fire, here we go.
Sometime about mid-class, Zeeamariousjz (whatever his name is) comes over to offer some hands-on assists and adjusts.
“Breathe,” he coos.
I awkwardly half-nod in my downward dog. Oh yes, how I need to breathe!
Or something. Some horrible, wretched noise. I don’t even know. Are there words for such sounds?
“Oh my, oh my I am so sorry!” he says, panicking. “Oh gosh, oh, oh dear! I am sorry, I am very, very sorry!”
“It’s okay. It’s okay!” I say, refusing to leave my downward dog. The best. damn. downward. dog. ever. oh. my. gosh. he. just. stepped. on. my. glasses. everyone. stop. staring! please. just. go. away. downward. dog. focus!
A few flow sequences later, I venture a terrified glance while in a convienent forward fold. There are multiple pieces. This is not good.
After class, Z-man offers to pay. And since yoga teachers are obviously the top 1% of our society (right ahead of casting administrators), I kindly decline his offer.
It rained on my blind walk home.
Which was fine, because I couldn’t see with or without the rain, so whatever.
Go ahead. Pour.
And pour it did.
At home, I call half-a-dozen places until desperation sets in. “I know I don’t have an appointment. I know it’s Saturday. But I can’t see. I don’t even know how to get to your little stupid store, please say you can help!!”
“I’M FROM SOUTH DAKOTA I DON’T KNOW WHERE ELSE TO GO.”
It was getting ugly.
I did, eventually, find replacement glasses on that Saturday thanks to a shady little shop in a shady little neighborhood with very young but very friendly front desk folks. I contemplate driving to get there. I take a taxi, instead.
You’d think, at this point, I would have a newfound appreciation for those pesky glasses of mine.
But even with fixed frames, I was still absolutely hellbent against wearing them. Yes, even the slightly-better replacement ones. In the weeks to come, I went to blind coffee meetings. I went to blind shows. I even did a blind dinner date. Blind casting? You better believe it.
“You look nice!” said my coworkers. “Sexy secretary!” a friend tried.
But I couldn’t be convinced.
How ridiculous am I?
Even I was beginning wonder.
You know how childhood feels forever ago? Even when you’re in your 20s. Your ‘high school you’ feels like a total punk who you don’t really want to meet again. And whoa, that elementary you? Ha. She can stay on the playground where you last saw her and her matching sweatsuit, the side pony tail, the Kool-Aid mustache.
But when I was forced to wear glasses gain, I felt like I was a kid again. I felt that time of my life. Is that crazy? But I did. All at once I remembered those years of being made fun of for having lenses three-times the size of my eyes. (Which for owl eyes herself here, is saying something!)
Now, even as a 20-something, with glasses, outfits that I thought looked pretty dang good suddenly looked awful. With glasses, I was pretty sure I gained 20 pounds each time I put them on. I might’ve even lost braincells, increased risk of disease, who knows. My face shape entirely morphed.
Needless to say, I didn’t want to bump into you on the street unexpectedly. Sorry.
And yeah, it was pretty pathetic.
But so many years of being teased when I wore glasses–whether in good fun or not–was apparently still in the back of my brain. That was elementary school. My speech impediment and big glasses.
I was carrying that with me. All of that.
As a 20-something walking the streets of Chicago.
Sometimes personal growth happens and it’s so slow and so subtle no one else notices. You don’t even notice! You just look back one day down the road and think, wow. I’ve grown up. Huh. That’s good.
And other times it hits you in the face. Well, right in the eyes, actually.
Other times life makes you put back on your glasses, literally change your vision, change your perspective, and see, whether you want to or not, the baggage you’re carrying around with you that you really, truly don’t need.
What else is there? I wonder. What else is there that I can let go of?
What else should I work through before some other organ becomes inflamed and forces me to figure out my insecurities, ready or not?
Here’s my thought of the fall, for you. Exciting, I know.
Take a moment and look back. Use your vision while you have it. Consider where you’ve come from and what that means. Then let it go.
Process. Reflect. Let be.
I think sometimes even just realizing is enough. Being aware is something. It’s a step in some direction.
Or do what I do, and wait until you have no choice but to step back and put on your old frames.
My eyes are getting better, by the way. It was just inflammation, nothing permanent. I still deal with headaches, etc., but I’m optimistic a couple more visits to my beloved optometrist and maybe a change in prescription will do the trick. Gosh, how terrifying it must be for those who do deal with serious eye loss. They have all my empathy and all my respect.
In short (here’s the secret moral of the story–HA! And you thought you already knew it!), we need to hang out again. Especially if we just met this fall…It is very, very possible I still don’t know what you look like. Sorry.
(Oh, and heads up, don’t put your glasses on the floor at your next yoga class.)