When I was in kindergarten, sitting cross-legged with my classmates at the foot of our teacher’s chair, I dreaded being called upon to name the animal in the picture she pulled like a mean magician from the deck of flashcards. The lines were imprecise, the colors bleeding into each other. I squinted to make sense of it, but the image refused to coalesce into something recognizable. I sat up on my heels and leaned forward. I scooted on my knees to bring my face as close as I dared to the elusive creature on the card and then I guessed catfish, when in fact it was a platypus.
So, yes, I got glasses when I was five.
I didn’t wear them full-time until I was in fourth grade when they became my identity. The world saw me as four-eyes. I saw myself as a captive behind those things on my face with the pink, cat-eye frames which seemed to be the only style available in that era. They separated me from the world and they allowed me to see it. But not without posing an ongoing nuisance.
On hot days, I had to them push back up my sweaty nose with my index finger. It was hard to wear a Halloween mask over glasses— or glasses over a mask. Once in a four-square game, a kid served the ball right between my eyes, effectively sundering my glasses in two, the pieces landing on the asphalt and me groping wildly to retrieve them.
For sixth-grade graduation, we were paired boy-girl. The alphabet betrayed the boy who ended up beside me—he the best-looking kid in school and me the skinny, four-eyed girl. I was mortified for us both.
In eleventh grade, I got contact lenses. Seeing my face without glasses was a kind of rebirth. It was the ugly duckling story, the caterpillar transformation story, the toad becoming a prince story. For thirteen years I was gloriously glasses-free until dry-eye syndrome made contact lenses feel like sand in my eyes.
So for most of my life, I have worn glasses. I’ve run and biked in the rain while wearing glasses, done yoga while they dangled down my nose in downward dog, and accidentally dislodged them from their perch many times when all I meant to do was relieve an itch on my face.
I have photos of me over the years in various sizes and styles of frames, not all of them flattering. Choosing frames was always a shot in the dark. Because my vision was so poor, I couldn’t see my image clearly in the mirror to judge how the frames looked on my face. It was like guessing catfish when the answer was platypus.
As a writer, I’ve had author photos taken for each of my books. I’m in different glasses each time over this span of ten years. The other thing that’s different of course is that I’m older in each photo. And if the changes don’t seem stark, well, photos can lie. But in real life, glasses erect a screen in front of my face, hiding a portion of it, half-obscuring the lines, sags, and bags around the eyes. An easier solution than expensive anti-wrinkle creams.
Recently it became clear (unavoidable pun) to me that the cataracts that had been gradually occluding my vision needed to be dealt with sooner than later. I hadn’t really considered what this entailed. When I learned that with the removal of the cataracts, it was possible to implant lenses that would provide far and middle-distance vision plus near-vision correctable with drugstore readers, it seemed miraculous to me. After nearly a lifetime of wearing glasses, I would be free of them for the most part.
Cataract surgery is one of the most common operations, with only a small percentage of cases with poor outcomes. Still, it’s impossible not to feel nervous about eye surgery. But my surgeon, the genial, kind, and boyish-faced Dr. Brant Carroll, whose ophthalmology services I began using over twenty years ago when he looked like a kid, is likely among the most skilled and caring in his profession. That rebirth I felt at seventeen with contact lenses is surpassed by this most wonderful confluence of advances in technology and medicine, and an expert surgeon.
I can wake up in the morning and not have to reach for my glasses. I can look in the bathroom mirror and unambiguously see my naked face and appreciate the signs of aging now plain as day to me. A year and a few months away from turning seventy, I have a sharply focused view of the multiplying and deepening of the lines to come.
I will see myself a little differently and others will too and I wonder if any of this differently seeing will influence how I see the world and how I write about it.