Oh Say Can You See

I suppose most people find out they need glasses when they go to the eye doctor, but as an overseas Army brat, I didn’t see the doctors a whole lot.   The military medical establishment is set up to treat soldiers.  Dependents come second.  As a result, we didn’t go to the dentist or optometrist on a regular basis – only when and if needed.

Senses are funny things. There is no way to know for sure that you see things the same as I do – that what you call “red” is “red” to me. As a color-blind (or red cone weak) person, I’ve had a lot of reason to think about things like that – the differences in how we each perceive the world around us. For instance, what you “see” as blue I may “see” as yellow – but we’ve both learned to label that particular part of the visual spectrum “green”. I know it’s a hard thing for some folks to wrap their heads around – but after learning that certain colors are “brown” – though I may see them as green (part of that colorblind thing) – I’ve come to hold most people’s perceptions as somewhat suspect. And I suspect that how we see things differs to some degree for each of us.

Which brings me to my point. Vision is perhaps the trickiest sense of all – in part, perhaps, because we rely so heavily on it. We often assume that everyone sees things the way we see them (and not just physically, but metaphorically as well). But I was to get my first taste of just how untrue this was when I was eleven.

My dad had always wore glasses, and sometimes my mom wore them, too. As a kid I found glasses desirable – an adult apparatus, much like cigarettes, coffee, and beer. So, as a kid, I found myself wishing I had glasses, thinking they would make me that much more ‘grown up’ looking. Never mind that other kids wore glasses and it didn’t change my perception of them – I figured that having glasses of my own would “mature” me in some way. How little I knew!

I was sitting in the bedroom of our military apartment getting ready for school – the bedroom I shared with my brother – when I noticed I couldn’t read the words on a card taped on the opposite wall. A thought started tickling the back of my mind, and I asked my brother to read the card.

“Happy Birthday,” he said. I looked at the words. They were a fuzzy blob. I glanced towards the kitchen where my mom was getting our lunches ready.

“Mom!” I yelled out, already knowing what the problem was. “I think I need glasses!”

She stopped what she was doing, came in, and with a puzzled look asked why. I pointed to the card.

“He can read it,” I said, pointing at my brother. “But I can’t.”

She quickly had me look at a few other things in the room, asking me to identify them. Some I could, some I couldn’t. She frowned. I was happy. I was about to get my wish!. (Silly child!) Little did I know what my wish entailed, not truly.

A few weeks later I was tested, and it was determined that yes, I needed corrective lenses. I could have told them that. They said if I wore them consistently, perhaps in a few years I wouldn’t need glasses anymore. I was thrilled with the prospect of wearing some. But the Army wouldn’t provide glasses. That was up to my mom, so we ended up going to a German optometrist and getting my prescription filled.

I’ll never forget getting that day.

It was winter, damp and snowy outside, and the inside of the small shop was warm and humid. It felt good after walking the cobblestone streets outside where the wind blew drifting snow down the narrow roads (more like alleys). Tackling the language barrier, the optometrist and my parents fitted me with a nice pair of brown turtle shell brown glasses with lightweight plastic lenses. After checking the fit over and over, they had me get up.

I felt like I was walking on eggshells as I walked across the carpet towards the door. The world suddenly looked much different – stranger, smaller, and sharper than before. Apparently I had needed glasses for some time, and I felt dizzy as we approached the door. I was happy as a clam, proud of myself (like the little fool I was). I had finally got what I wanted after so many years.

It wasn’t until we stepped outside that I began to realize what a horrible thing this could be.

Those warm plastic lenses, hitting that cold clammy air, immediately fogged over. I couldn’t see a thing. Complaining, I turned to my mom.

“You’d better get used to it,” she warned, taking them off and showing me how to wipe them. Then she warned me in that sharp voice how to take care of them. Turns out plastic scratches quite easily. “And you’d better take care of them. You’re gonna need them for a few years.”

What a lie. I ended up ‘needing’ them for another fifteen years, up until I got “The Gift of a Lifetime”. And I hated wearing glasses. When you work sweat falls on them; in the rain everything turns to a blur. They needed constant cleaning and wiping, and if you weren’t careful, they’d get so scratched up that eventually they’d need replaced. There were a few times when they saved my eyes – keeping foreign objects away, absorbing liquids and blows – but for the most part they were just a huge pain in the ass. And now I’m needing them again – mostly for reading, though I can tell bifocals aren’t far off.

Just goes to show: be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.

There’s blessings in curses, and curses in blessings, too.
And you don’t always need glasses to find how they apply to you.