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16. I am not my glasses

November 20, 2011

In a few weeks, my mother, the Change Artist Grande, is having cataract surgery. Like me, the CAG has been legally blind for most of her life. This doesn’t mean that she (or I) hasn’t been able to see, but rather, that she’s always worn glasses. Since an astigmatism ruled out contact lenses, she’s basically had a pair perched on the edge of her nose since she was 11.* That’s…well…let’s just say that’s a lot of years.

Now, her eyesight is deteriorating further – thanks to the cataracts which have been slowly clouding over the natural lens of her eye. So: surgery. In the procedure, the surgeon will remove that natural lens through a tiny incision in the cornea, replacing it with a permanent, artificial intraocular lens. Voila! In less then 90 minutes, sight returns. As the mom of all mom’s, Florence Henderson (aka Carol Brady) gushes “I didn’t realize what I had been missing before I had my surgery. The colors of everything are so much brighter and the improved sharpness and clarity of my vision are very noticeable!”

Life for my mother is about to return to Technicolor. But what’s really interesting is the inadvertent consequence of the surgery.  The artificial intraocular lenses will correct her vision. Permanently. She will no longer have to wear glasses.

I got my first pair in fourth grade. They arrived a few years before the serious upheavels of puberty. And they were a portent of things to come. My school photos mark the shift. In my 3rd grade picture, I have a shaggy Dorothy-Hamill haircut and a huge dimpled smile. I’m a child – clear and simple. By 4th grade, my longer hair is pulled off my face in tight, if messy braids. The smile is smaller – and there are the glasses: two giant moons covering half of my face. By 4th grade, I was hiding in the library at recess, reading and rereading Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. I was getting sick and staying home from school as often as I could – all too avoid the social world developing around me that I just didn’t quite understand. The glasses were an induction into my practicing geekdom. Did they simply fit into my identity – my idea of who I was? Or did they create it?

Later, of course, I, along with the rest of the world, would come to embrace geek. I came to understand myself as bookish. I not only avoided sports, I turned up my nose at them. I wore a lot of black. My glasses, even now, are plastic, square and black – a rectangular swipe across the top of my face. I tend to choose them over my contact lenses, because they are easier, because they look to me like me.

But despite the fact that geeks have become Gleeks, I don’t forget the pain of that initiation. Because geeks may be hot shit now when we helicopter in to our high school reunions (and isn’t that actually only a cliché reserved only for the guy-geeks?). But we, or at least I, continue to live in some small way in the fourth grade, when to be a geek, to be socially inept, to hide in the library – just hurt.

So now, the CAG will no longer need glasses. She says it’s too late – it doesn’t matter anymore. She has, she says, become invisible. She also says, though, that she will need to learn to apply eye makeup. I don’t know. Invisible? I don’t quite believe it. I think she will embrace it, because that’s what the CAG does, and that’s why she’s the Change Artist Grande. Maybe watching her, I can learn to put away some of my 4th graderness, too. Maybe I will start wearing my contacts more.


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