As of a week or so ago, I became the owner of two pairs of (different) prescription eyeglasses and one pair of contact lens. I also have a set of non-prescription reading glasses. My life is defined by which of these I wear when, as well as by how many cases, bottles of various fluids, and the like I need to remember when I’m doing whatever.
I’m not complaining. (Okay. I’m complaining, but only a little). I mean, I live in a day and age when my vision problems can be corrected. My vision is so bad that if it couldn’t be corrected, I’d be joining the ranks of “Blind Lemon Jefferson” and all those visually-impaired musicians whose career choices were often dictated by their inability to see.
No wonder so many of them sang the blues.
An interesting side-note is that in a day and age before affordable prescription lens, “blind” didn’t always mean “total inability to see” as is the case today, but what we would call “severely visually impaired.”
I started wearing glasses when I was eight years old. It was a traumatic experience. I went from a mental image of myself as someone who could do anything anywhere, to being the kid in glasses. I remember being told to be careful what I did or I would break my glasses. I guess I must have broken them one too many times, because there are a lot of pictures of me with glasses mended with tape.
For a while, my eyes grew worse year to year, making me wonder how long before I didn’t have any vision left.
Moreover, as anyone who has ever read fiction knows (and even at that tender age, I had read a lot), the kid in glasses is always second string. Harry Potter is the first glasses-wearing kid I can think of who played lead. All the rest were seconds: the clumsy kid, the bookish best friend, the sincere but not very attractive girl who organizes the school events but never gets a date.
Wearing glasses recast my mental image of myself – and not for the better. When we went swimming, I couldn’t see the balls and frisbees being tossed around, so I didn’t play those games. Sports? Forget it. No one picks the kid with glasses. Even gym teachers sneer. Jump-rope was really popular. I couldn’t see well enough to jump in and out.
When I was fifteen, my parents offered to get me contact lenses. Despite the limitations – there’s a special agony involved when you get sand or dirt under a hard contact lens – I was thrilled. The change couldn’t have come at a better time, since high school is when dating becomes a big issue. Everyone knows that, as Dorothy Parker said, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” I didn’t want passes, as such, but I sure didn’t want to be a wallflower.
Contact lens took me out of a prison of my own mental making. I didn’t wear glasses for the next couple of decades. If I couldn’t wear my contacts, I just felt around. I’m a whiz at navigating by memory.
Then age conspired to put me back in the cage. Somewhere in my forties, Jim noticed that I was having trouble wearing my contacts for as many hours at a time. He coaxed me into getting a pair of glasses for late hours. I finally gave in but, seriously, I would have rather walked into a lion cage stark naked than start wearing glasses again.
For years after, how comfortable I felt with a person could be defined by whether I’d wear my glasses in front of them. I’ve gotten better about it. You no longer need to be a blood relation to see me wearing glasses.
It doesn’t help my unwillingness to wear glasses, rather than contact lens, that glasses don’t correct my vision sufficiently for me to want to wear them for many activities. I have so little peripheral vision I wouldn’t drive wearing my glasses unless it was a matter of life or death.
This last year I’ve begun to edge into the bifocal zone. The impairment isn’t bad enough that my doctor wants to do bifocals proper, but I need separate glasses for distance, mid-range, and close-up. Joy! For a variety of reasons, eye surgery isn’t an option I want to entertain until I have no other choice. It’s tempting but, with new improvements coming every day, I think I’ll wait.
How very nice to have the option. How very, very nice to no longer feel I’m destined to someday be “Blind Jane.”