I had just turned twenty-four years old, and I walked into the DMV to renew my driver’s license. I walked out a half-hour later with a mandate that changed my life. I’d flunked the eye exam and would now be required by The Man to start wearing eyeglasses. At least if I wanted to keep driving under legal sanction.
I don’t think I’d been so close to throwing an all-out tantrum since I was ten. I remember stomping out of the drab institutional government building that afternoon pissed off at everything I could think of: the DMV, the State of Utah, the uncaring bureaucratic functionaries who’d delivered the news, the soul-crushing reality that, even at 24, I was getting older… I was mad at the entire fracking universe, really. I hated the idea of having to wear glasses, just hated it. Glasses didn’t fit my self-image or my idea of “cool.” Sure, Indiana Jones occasionally donned a set of readers when he wanted to study a Grail tablet or something close up, but that was different. Not like wearing the damn things all the time. None of the action heroes and matinee idols I, in my naive insecurity, wanted to be more like wore glasses. (This was the early ’90s, before they became a near-ubiquitous fashion accessory.) They still carried the taint of bookish nerdism to them (the fact that I was a bookish nerd was irrelevant; I didn’t want to look like one), and in my mind I could hear every playground taunt of “Four Eyes!” I’d ever overheard.
In addition, they were an added expense I didn’t want to pay (I didn’t have a lot of money in those days and was very conscious of where it went). Yearly exams, frames, lenses… I didn’t know how much exactly those things cost, but I figured they were pretty pricey. (That’s the one thought I had that day that turned out to be correct.) But I think the thing that most troubled me was that I hadn’t realized I needed them at all, and I was embarrassed about it. What kind of a schmuck can’t tell his own vision is going? Hell, in my job as a movie-theater projectionist, I’d been getting a lot of calls recently from ushers down on the floor that the movies were out of focus, but I’d dismissed them. The movies looked fine to me. But it was true. Apparently, my vision had deteriorated so slowly that I just didn’t notice. And now I had egg on my face. A lot of it, in my mind.
In short, being told I needed glasses had bruised my ego. And I’ll be honest… I never really got over it.
I’ve been wearing glasses for nearly 22 years now, damn near half my life, and even though I long ago got used to the idea, I still don’t like it. Oh, sure, it was like some kind of miracle the first time I put them on and saw that there were, in fact, trees on the mountain ranges that encircle my valley home — I’d long believed they were just bare rock — but somewhere, deep in the back of my mind, some little part of me still thinks “this isn’t really you…”
It’s not that I think I look bad in glasses. Quite the contrary, once I figured out that spending a little extra money on better quality and more fashionable styles was worth it, I’ve been relatively content with my appearance. But it’s not how I want to look, if that makes sense. And the glasses themselves are a pain in the butt. I’m always conscious of their presence, always. I worry about losing them, breaking them, scratching them. When it rains or snows, they get spotted. When I kiss my girl, they get smudged. I risk the frames getting bent if I hug somebody at the wrong angle, or fall asleep on the couch with my face down on the armrest. I can’t easily back up a car the way I was taught, by looking back over my shoulder, because I end up looking half through the lenses and half over the top of them, meaning my depth perception is all screwed up. I hate how they fog up when I come inside after being outdoors on a cold day. I hate how they hang off my face when I bend over, and sometimes will jiggle a bit and make me dizzy. I hate how, when I’m doing yardwork on a hot day, they’ll slide down my nose or catch droplets of sweat in the lenses. I hate that I have to spare a second (and a hand) to pop them off when I’m putting on or taking off a t-shirt. When Anne and I went on a snowmobiling expedition through Yellowstone a few winters ago, trying to wear the glasses and a helmet was uncomfortable as hell. And I haven’t enjoyed amusement park rides in years, partly because I’m getting old and everything makes me woozy now, but a big issue is worrying about my glasses flying off.
I realize these are all petty complaints, especially in return for being able to clearly see, a gift that many people in the developing world — or even poor people in our own first world — don’t have the luxury of complaining about. But I won’t apologize for complaining about this. And assuming everything goes well today, I won’t have to anymore.
I’ve been thinking about getting LASIK corrective surgery for years, but I kept putting it off for various reason. It was too expensive, or too inconvenient to take a couple days off work for the recovery, or it was just plain too scary to think of some quack firing an energy beam into my one and only pair of baby browns. On some level, I think I felt that I didn’t really deserve to do it because my motivation was vanity. I’ve always thought cosmetic surgery was largely unjustified, and what is this if not another form of cosmetic surgery?
Then a couple weeks ago, I opened the dishwasher right after it completed its cycle and got a faceful of steam. Naturally, my glasses fogged over, leaving me completely blind for 30 seconds or so… and that was the final straw. I didn’t get angry or anything, but I just decided right then and there that I was sick of wearing these damn things. My optometrist had mentioned on my last visit that I was a good candidate for LASIK if I wanted to consider it, but I hadn’t followed through on his referral. Now I was ready. So I scheduled an evaluation with Hoopes Vision, the most-often namechecked LASIK provider in Utah, and — to cut at long last to the chase — I’m going in today at 1:30 to have the procedure.
I’ll be honest, I’m nervous as hell. The first image that jumped into my mind once my appointment was confirmed was this:
Followed closely by this:
I’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve had LASIK — it’s funny how once you start talking about something like this, fellow travelers seem to come out of the woodwork — and with only one or two exceptions, nobody has reported any problems at all, and even the ones who had a setback told me they didn’t regret doing the surgery in the end. But still… lasers… in the eyes… I don’t really think I’ll end up with smoking craters where my eye sockets used to be, but…
Sometimes a vivid imagination is a real curse.
Funny thing, though: the day of my evaluation appointment, a few hours after I got home from the clinic, I was leaving the bathroom and reached out to turn off the lights when I heard something clunk into the waste basket and suddenly my vision went blurry. It turned out the frame of my glasses had spontaneously snapped and one of the lens had tumbled into the trash. Now, if that wasn’t some kind of a sign, I don’t know what is…