Vision issues have plagued me since my eyes first began to focus. To keep the unabated strabismus in check and strengthen the weaker eye, I wore an eye patch when I was quite young. Or so I’m told. There are no photographs to confirm this. No Instamatic camera was pointed in my direction between the ages of one and three. No Sylvania rotating flashbulbs to temporarily blind the sole exposed eye. You can’t fault my folks, really. Who would they show? I mean who wants to see pictures of a hyperopic toddler, a little girl, no less, ever ready for her close-up in “Popeye, The Musical?”
Throw in astigmatism and we’re ready for glasses at age five.
“Stig-what?” I was too busy staring at my palms in anticipation of spontaneous bleeding to be concerned with drawled schoolyard discourse:
“Shurn four-eyeded now.”
“The skinny one with the patch from Pre-School.”
“Didn’t work, hunh?”
Bucking a cultural norm that had black baby girls’ ears pierced by six months- before memory solidified and keloids were inclined to burst forth in Vesuvian eruptions–I had surprisingly non-pierced ears and that tiny instrument of torture, the clip-on would never do. Along with my dime store bangles and Ardee glitter nail polish, donning eyewear then became just another opportunity to accessorize. With the zeal of Iris Barrel Apfel upon the discovery of her owl eyed signature, I proudly chose my first, a cat’s-eye frame, in the color and opacity of a grape jellybean.
“Four-eyes,” as a jeer was meaningless in my literal-minded way of thinking as I had two eyes (post-patch) and one vibrantly violet pair of glasses.
Back in the day, before soft toric lenses were commonly available for the astigmatic, I tried contacts. The optician commented on how quickly and well my eyes adjusted (as a first-time wearer) to hard lenses, and sent me on my way.
Though I felt a bit naked, seeing without benefit of spectacles for the first time since Kindergarten was exhilarating. Ocular nudity be damned, I bopped down the block and into the library-quiet of the subway station. (As opposed to New York’s roaring IND, wailing BMT and screeching IRT, D.C.’s Metrorail was a whisper.) A gust of wind from the approaching train stirred up track dust, causing a violent sneeze that effectively broke the silence and ejected my fifteen minute-old contact lens onto the track below. Funny to find myself one-eyed again and channeling “Colonel Klink.” Does one contact lens constitute a monocle?
When I got the replacement lens, I popped it in, vowed never to sneeze as long as I live and boarded a plane to I-can’t-remember-where. In the dry, recycled air of the cabin, I blinked incessantly to keep my eyes moist, but nothing could thwart the tightening I felt on my right eye. A vacuum seal had been created and try though I might, I couldn’t pry the offending, ill-fitted lens from my traumatized orb. By landing, I’d cursed the damnable things, never to wear them (nor skinny jeans at Thanksgiving) again.
These days any 6-year-old can discuss the merits of LASIK, but I’ll maintain a Luddite approach to vision correction. Eyeglasses quite suit me, actually. I enjoy searching the trove of vintage treasures at Fabulous Fanny’s. Besides, babies love ’em, gives them something to rip from my face and save for a fleeting ear spear moment, I still don’t wear earrings.