From Two to Four


I have very complicated feelings about glasses. Not the kind you drink out of (I like those), the kind that slip down your nose.*

I got glasses in second grade. About a week before my adored teacher, Mrs. Gay, who had a huge-throaty laugh and huge pillowy breasts to match, told my parents she thought I needed to see an optometrist, I was riding in the back of my parents rainbow-colored station wagon, looking far out over the green horizon and thinking what great eyesight I had. I could see EVERYTHING.

Which meant, of course, that I could see nothing. At my first eye doctor’s visit — which, as a sidenote, I believe was at the same practice where photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard worked (he was dead by then) — I could barely read the giant letter at the top of the chart. (It’s an E, always an E!) Eyechart_1

Anyway, I ended up with my first pair of uber-thick glasses, with light peach glassy rims. They were TERRIBLE. I got called all the names — worse, because by then my dad was principal — and was painfully self-conscious. The best way to capture this would be to show you my third grade photo. Since it’s not handy, I’ll describe it: I’m dressed in a red buttondown shirt and a black sweater vest with one of my dad’s giant black ties (the sticks’ version of Annie Hall chic), my hair’s held back in a half-ponytail by one of those elastics with the big plastic balls at the end, and I’ve taken off my glasses, causing me to look kinda cross-eyed. I’m sure I was just trying to find the camera. It may be the most horrifying picture I’ve ever taken.

Soon after we got the picture back, I replaced my glasses with a new pair, prescription worsening and all that. Why anyone thought that a kid my age should be allowed to get the first generation "self-tinting in light" glasses is beyond me. What I can tell you is, whatever humiliation I had with the peachy Hubble telescope glasses was much, much worse with these puppies. They turned odd shades of blackish brown, reddish brown, or the worst, light brown, under whatever kind of light happened to be available. They would not stay clear. I looked like an undercover child cop from the 23rd century, as if I’d been wardrobed by someone who had studied my time period but not understood it.

I started misbehaving purposely so I could stay in during afternoon break. It wasn’t solely because of the glasses. Most of the cute boys got in trouble a lot and that meant you got to sit inside with them during afternoon break, usually unsupervised. After a particularly vicious taunting by a boy I would punch in the face in eighth grade and leave with a scarred cheek** (he actually wasn’t a bad guy), I demanded my optometrist prescribe me contact lenses. So he did. 

As a fourth grader, I was by far the youngest kid they ever put in contact lenses at that practice. My maturity was cited confidently as a reason… And I held my breath and put those stiff, hard lenses in for years. My one act of defiance to their rules was that I always put in the left before the right (still do). Disappointingly, it turned out the mean kids were still little assholes who sucked, but at least I didn’t look like Magnum P.I., Junior Miss. Life went on and eventually I got floppy soft contact lenses.

So I’ve never really liked wearing my glasses. For starters, they were thick as a hand even in thin mode. I wore them only before bed or putting in my contacts in the morning. But the past couple of weeks, I’ve had to embrace my demons, squint into the mirror an inch away to put on make-up in the morning, and wear my glasses. (Which are, in fact, the nicest glasses I’ve ever had — not in itself much of a distinction. The lenses are aspheric and I can see almost as well as with contacts in.)

GlassesAnd no one’s taunted me, which is what I still half-expected. Which just proves it’s hard, hard, hard to slough off some things from childhood. I have gotten a few "professional" and "smart" comments, which clearly are the polite, adult version of "four-eyes." But I’ve finally made my piece with wearing glasses (in daylight, in public) and it only took a couple of decades.

Of course, I can’t wait until my contacts come in. The one-inch thing, the smudging — dear god, the smudging, how do you stop it? — and, generally, I’ve worn contacts so long they are more comfortable. Still, it turned out that my prescription has been too strong for years. Or has it? Maybe I do have the mutant healing factor. Maybe it fluctuates. Maybe in that one week interim between when I believed I could see everything and they said I was closer to blind, there was some other option. I probably blinked and missed it.

*I like them just fine on you.

**When we were in high school, my grandmother sat next to the by-then-scarred-for-life boy’s mother at a basketball game he was playing in. My granny asks, as she would, what happened to "that poor child’s face, a cat scratch him?" To which the mother replies, "Your granddaughter." I can never remember if that’s the end of this story, but I’d be willing to bet my granny said something snappy back. She’s just like that. (If you’re wondering about the scar, it came from a giant ring; a boy scarred by heart-shaped costume jewelry.)

Semi-related links:
Tokyo Eyeglass Museum
Vintage Eyewear
Picking Out the Best Eyeglasses on Slate (very helpful)

2 thoughts on “From Two to Four”

  1. I feel exactly the same about my glasses, and have been following the progress of laser eye surgery since third grade.
    my opthomologist recently told me that for nearly-blind people like me, the best option is interocular implants. What do you think about that?

  2. Hey Shana — My doc tells me I’m a perfect candidate for lasic, but one)I don’t have the $$ right now and two)I’m terrified of ending up blind. I dunno though. I might do it.
    What’s up with the implants? I haven’t heard much about those yet.

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