Every morning, before I open my eyes and sit up, I steel myself. This will be the day. Today I am going to open my eyes and they will work. I will see.
I lost my eyesight so young I’m not even sure if I ever really had it. The first time the school nurse checked my eyes, she had to check them again. They sent a note home to my mother and a few weeks later, they called me down for another test. Was I being stubborn, like my brother had been? He thought glasses would make him cool, or different, so he pointed down when the E pointed up. But all I saw was a bunch of light with a formless shadow they told me was an E. My mom had taken him to the eye doctor when the nurse sent his note home and the eye doctor told her that sometimes kids do this. They throw the test because god knows why, why do kids do anything? They just do. “It’s rare,” he must have said, “for children this young to need glasses. And the problem often corrects itself.” So I waited to see an eye doctor, to see if my eyes might course correct on their own.
When I read books—American girl books, Number the Stars, The Hobbit, Diary of a Young Girl, Angela’s Ashes—I would lay my cheek on one page and fold the book toward my face so that I could see the opposite page. With one eye pressed closed, the other teared up until I turned the page and switched cheeks. If I backed up a bit, the text disappeared into to a whisper of poorly erased ink. I would lean in close again and the letters would loom crisp and sharp in my peripheral vision.
There it was, crystal clear, my sight come back to me. “My daddy’s drinking the dole!” Frank cried, and I saw him standing in the bar looking for his father. I saw him sucking the grease off newspapers from the garbage behind a chippy. I saw Anne Frank hunched over a journal in her annex and I saw the candled greenery wreathing Kirsten’s blondness, celebrating the Feast of St. Lucia.
Books offered me sight. If Ramona the pest was pulling her classmates perfectly coiled ringlets, I could see that better than my own classmate’s tight brown curls. The authors would describe for me and I would see the way the light bounced off water. When I learned to read, I found a world that I could see. It wasn’t unassisted—I needed an author’s lens to bring this world into focus, to cut through the light and shadows and show me something clear.
Sometimes in class, or on the train, or at parties, I let my contacts slip a little. My eyes go blind again behind their lenses and it’s like trying to read a highway sign behind a fogged up windshield. I can’t see people then, or the way their hands fold in the air in front of them as they gesture. My body goes through the motions of living amongst others even as my eyes are elsewhere, seeing something new. I try to record these stories, to bring into crisp technicolor what I see on this side of the veil. The colors of the ocean, the gleam of fish scales, the tilt of a chin as she stares at the unbroken horizon. I have lenses that let me see what you see when you look at the world; my writing is the only way I can show you what I see.
The day my mother took me to pick out my glasses, there still were not one-hour shops for this. I selected the frames on good faith; the man in the store told me they looked nice and my mother liked them. I had to trust in them. I worried that in finding myself a part of the rest of the world, I would have to mourn for the world I had built around me—a world that was surely more full of magic and beauty than the one I was about to become a part of.
I put on my glasses; the world around me shifted.
“You’ll have to get used to them,” the man said. “Your entire perspective is going to be off for awhile.”
I walked out the door as unsteady as I have ever been. My knees felt weak and my chest was full to bursting with some unnameable emotion. I looked at the sky, the clouds dragged sharp across it.
My mother teared up as I looked around at this strange new world, details sharp and waiting to be recorded.
“Oh.” My chest swelled and the rest of the question caught in my throat so that it was strangled as it left me. “People can see planes from here?”