When I was eleven I couldn’t see the chalkboard.
So I got glasses.
When I was twelve I wore them part time. I would carry them from class to class and put them on when I needed to.
By the time I was thirteen I was wearing them all the time. Just in time for my teen-age years. Just in time to eat away at my self-confidence like a particularly potent brand of sulphuric acid.
Sometime around twenty-one or twenty-two, after much consultation with friends who’d already taken the leap, I got contacts. I loved them right away. They took my disability and made it go away. It required some practice but in no time I had no trouble putting contacts in my eyes. There was the odd mishap, like the time my lens got too dry and scratched my cornea, and the time a lens split in half in my eye and rolled up under my eyelid. (I freaked out at that one, until I reasoned that the lens couldn’t get lost behind my eye, that it had to be just under the eyelid, and sure enough a doctor flipped the eyelid back and got it out.)
Once I accidentally washed my contacts down the drain (I got mixed up and thought I was rinsing out my contact lens container). No problem, I resorted to glasses. But by then I had developed a loathing for glasses, and on the subway I took them off to get a break from them and set them on the seat beside me. Then got up at the next station stop and left them behind. They never showed up at Lost and Found, so for three days, while I waited for replacements for both my contacts and glasses, I was forced to live life with my natural-born eyesight.
Because I always had some form of vision correction, I hadn’t noticed how badly my eyes had deteriorated. I wasn’t exactly blind — I could still see close up, but what an eye opener, pun intended. I still had to go to work. I remember editing audio tape with the tape machine inches from my eyes. I went to the zoo with my girlfriend and was unable to see any animals. I couldn’t watch television, there was no point going to movies, and I couldn’t even read a book or magazine with comfort. I realized for the first time in my life how much of a disadvantage I would be at had I been born in a time without vision correction — in other words, for most of human history.
But other than those incidents I had a good twenty-six years wearing contacts.
Until a couple of years ago. When I started getting headaches.
I have an astigmatism. I can’t see far away and just about all distances are blurry to me. In my mid-forties, as I think is the case for just about everyone, I started to develop far-sightedness, or an inability to see close up. My eyes began to lose their elasticity. My contacts couldn’t correct all my vision problems.
I persisted anyway. I loathed glasses, I told myself. It was inconceivable that I should have to wear them all the time. I dealt with the headaches. I worked through them, lived with them. Never felt completely normal — unless I wore glasses. I tried different contacts, but none of them made the headaches completely go away. Some days were worse than others. You might think, why would he put himself through that? I would refer you back to the part of this essay where I mention loathing glasses.
Still, the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve made my peace with glasses. They allow me to see, after all. They are a miracle product — not as elegant as contacts, which allowed me to pretend that I didn’t have a disability, but thank God for them.
Because last weekend the headaches were so bad that I was practically in tears by the end of the day (I wasn’t actually in tears, mind you — I am a man, and as such I have never cried, and probably never will.) It was obvious that the end was nigh. I knew this would be the case someday, but I thought that day would be when I was seventy, not forty-eight.
I have worn glasses every day since. Twice I have put the contacts back in but haven’t been able to stand them any longer than an hour. I am looking at a future of glasses and no contacts.
My optometrist tells me she has one more trick up her sleeve. Something called “monovision”, which involves correcting for distance in one eye and up close with the other eye and letting the brain try to make sense of it all. I’m not optimistic, but I’ll give it a try. I’d sure like to be able to wear contacts again.
Still, if I have to wear glasses full time I will accept it with grace. Why wouldn’t I? There are people who suffer much worse fates — loss of limbs, chronic pain, what have you. What’s having to wear glasses compared to that? Nothing more than an annoyance.
So if you see me with glasses and wonder what’s up, that’s it. Get used to it.
I intend to.