A couple months ago, after 24 years of living in a blurry dreamscape occupied by vague nebulous shapes who sometimes talk, sometimes don’t talk, and are sometimes chairs — I finally bought glasses for myself. Why did it take me so long to buy glasses when I can’t tell a dog from a velociraptor from far away, when I need fast food menus read to me by the drive-thru operator? If I had to guess, probably apprehension at the idea of plastic frames carving up the delicate geometry of my face like a superhighway through a state park. I have seen other glasses wearers though, and they seem fine, I think. They seem okay. People aren’t generally ridiculed for wearing glasses these days, so that’s good.
When I visited the glasses store, a nurse/saleslady directed me to a waiting area. In this waiting area was a television screen showing looped close-up footage of an eyeball being vivisected while a narrator described all the gruesome maladies the doctor might discover lurking in your peepers: glaucoma, corneal ulcers, snow blindness, retinal hemorrhage, cataracts, etc. — like Un Chien Andalou if directed by Eli Roth. I watched this while compulsively eating hard candy from a glass dish. Across from me, four elderly women with bifocals whispered amongst themselves while glancing in my direction, probably discussing how much candy I was eating if I had to guess. ‘I will be one of them soon,’ I thought. ‘After this, I’ll be another person with glasses, walking around, looking at things, recognizing people, reading street signs, growing old, looking like a bug, like a praying mantis, then dying.’
After a few minutes, the nurse led me to an eye testing machine. She wiped off the chin rest and said, “Place your face right up against here and look at the hot air balloon.”
I said, “Is this, um, the thing where you blast my eyeballs with air?”
“No, that’s the next machine.”
“Have you seen The Phantom? With Billy Zane?”
“There’s a scene in The Phantom where Treat William asks a guy to look through a microscope at something, and the guy goes to look, and then spikes shoot up through his eyeballs into his brain. Then…dead.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
My eyes had already started tearing up. “Just please tell me before you shoot things into my eyes.”
The hot air balloon looked like a shimmering mess no matter how hard I tried to focus. I wanted to wipe the tears from my eyes, but the machine was whirring, adjusting, clicking, obviously deriving important ocular data. If I wiped my eyes, I might invalidate the results or worse, disappoint the nurse, so instead of asking for help, I emitted a short plaintive squeak, which, justifiably, received no response from the nurse.
After the machine finished, the nurse then directed me to the next machine, saying, “Okay, this one will shoot a light puff of air, but don’t worry. It doesn’t hurt at all.”
Immediately, tears gushed from my eyes, a salty deluge streaming down my cheeks, soaking my burning red face. “Cool,” I said. “This’ll be awesome.”
“Do you need a moment?”
“I don’t know. Yeah maybe. Probably yes.” She handed me a tissue, and I said, “How atypical is this reaction? Am I being completely unreasonable right now or do you occasionally have people like me?”
“Uh, it’s pretty abnormal,” she said. “Because, you know, it’s just a puff of air. But it’s no problem — you can sit there and cry for as long as you need.”
“I’m not crying. It’s Pavlovian. My eyes are conditioned to water when anticipating trauma.”
“Just a puff of air, I promise.”
“That’s fine. I’m fine. I’m a grown man, you know?”
After my eyes ran out of fluid, I placed my head against the machine and received my air puffs without incident. She then led me to the doctor’s office where a tall bearded man with an Australian accent administered tests with the cyborg spider-monster goggles. For a while, he talked to me about Google glasses and laughed at my tear stained face.
Then he asked, “So who’s here with you?”
“No one brought you here?”
“And you didn’t come in with glasses?”
“You came in here all on your own without glasses?”
“Yes, why is this astonishing?”
He laughed and said, “Well, most people with eyes this bad need someone to guide them when they don’t have their glasses.”
“Oh,” I said, and did not add that I had been walking the earth without glasses for 24 years like Mr. Magoo, as if seeing the world through a soap bubble was a normal rational way of living. I knew I couldn’t explain to him why I never wore glasses (except the terrible pair I got when I was fifteen for driving); the excuses were too dumb. All of my visual memories, already foggy through time, are even foggier due to broken eyeballs, like a paraplegic who’s never been outside because, hey, wheelchairs are expensive and lame.
Now that I can see, I can’t stop staring at people’s faces everywhere I go; evidently, there are attractive people walking around all over the place, and I had no idea. Also, I think I might be a creep.