Friday, August 18, 2006
Back in the 1980s, there was this eye doctor from Chicago who would come to visit Iowa City once or twice a year. He'd stay with a friend, and you could make appointments to go to her house and have him test your eyes. His theory was that if a pair of glasses corrected your eyesight to 20/20, the resulting lenses would distort your natural perceptions: e.g., colors would not be as bright, people would look bigger than they really are. He said this had a very subtle effect on how you relate to the world around you--that is, you'd be scared (of people coming toward you, especially) without even realizing it. Anyway, one summer, maybe in 1986 or so, I made an appointment to have my eyes checked the next time he came from Chicago.
To get the "correct" strength for these glasses, the eye doctor started out with lenses the same strength as the ones I was wearing at the time, then he took away strength until I could still see things, but just not as sharply or clearly. When we reached the point where I would say, "No, that's not enough," he'd go back up one notch, and that would be the setting. He explained that I would not be able to see EVERYTHING as I could with my regular glasses, and he asked me what I'd do about it.
"Go up closer," I said.
"And what if there was a fence in the way that you couldn't get around?" he said.
"Ask somebody about it," I said.
"What if there was nobody around to ask?" he said.
It went on like that, until finally I admitted that I really didn't know what I'd do if I couldn't see something at a distance.
He said, "Well, there is one thing you can do that you haven't mentioned. You can just let it go."
I laughed. There was not a lot of talk in my life at that point about letting things go. It was a novel idea to me, but I paid his fee and walked away with a prescription for glasses that would be just strong enough to keep me from crashing into things, but not strong enough to distort what I was seeing. The eye exam cost $75, and the glasses cost another $100, which was a bundle to pay for glasses back in the 80s. Now a pair of glasses cost upwards of $700. Still, these definitely have been worth the cost, even though I didn't know when I got them just how or when they'd pay off so generously.
So, here they are: 1980s-style windowpanes that remind me of the black-framed glasses the woman wears in the first Old Navy ads. I've worn these glasses occasionally over the years when I wanted to give my eyes a rest. I especially used to wear them on sunny weekends in NYC when I was alone. I'd walk around the Village and enjoy the bright, beautiful colors that seemed so much richer. New York is, among other things, a very beautiful city if you just LOOK at it.
Now I'm wearing them all the time. The new glasses the opthalmalogist prescribed to adjust to my newly cataractless left eye do not work at all. But these work fine.....if I'm willing to let a lot of things go: what my boss is signing over there at a meeting, what the TV captions read if I'm sitting on the couch. I'm also learning to identify people at a distance by their shapes if i can't quite see their faces. People do look not exactly smaller, but they fit the environment better, and that's comforting in many ways.