Sun 7 Mar 2010
for months now, i’ve been feeling like i can’t see straight. metaphorically, i’m used to that. literally, not so much.
about the end of seventh grade, i got my first pair of glasses. i’d been having headaches for awhile, a couple of years. my mom took me to an opthamologist, who snapped lenses in front of my eyes and made letters magically blur and reappear.
i was seduced by the subject position, by the strange, sheer power of being tested. sitting in that Star Trek chair, i felt like a mystery waiting to be solved: a terribly interesting problem waiting to be identified. i liked feeling terribly interesting. was the red side of the square the machines projected clearer, or the green? for me, one was brighter, the other crisper: i couldn’t figure out what “clearer” meant. so i made it up as i went along. i felt obliged to be somehow worthy of the visit.
my logic in that moment told me loud and clear that to come out without needing glasses – hell, to come out without needing eye SURGERY – was to somehow fail.
i am a pleaser. even today, if you are examining me for breast lumps, i feel vaguely apologetic and disappointed in myself if you cannot find any. not because i want breast lumps, or all they imply. but because it makes me deeply and profoundly uncomfortable to waste your time, and if your job is to find breast lumps, i wanna help. in the moment, at least.
when my mother and i were informed i needed glasses, i suffered a pang of guilt. i had succeeded in helping the opthamologist do her job of finding me defective. but now other neuroses took over. i want to please, yes. i also had, even by twelve, the pleaser’s history of falsified medical complaints, and thus a complete lack of faith in diagnoses. i feared being outed as a faker. i envisioned some clear-thinking individual seizing upon my newly-prescribed glasses – not even yet chosen – and flinging them from my face, grinding them under heel in a public act of shaming. YOU CAN SEE!!!, this truth-teller would shout, not as faith-healer but prophet, returning me to my sorry state of anonymity, unworthy of all the attention i’d commandeered in the Star Trek chair.
and the world would look upon my lenses and know that they were fake.
(no, i’ve never had therapy. why do you ask?)
imagine my shock when a week or so later my first pair of glasses – giant, round pinkish things, the height of 1984 cool – were ready, and i snugged them over my ears for the first time.
i looked in the mirror first – insecurity is oft mistook for vanity, ye who judge – though it is impossible to remember how i thought i looked in those rose-coloured monstrosities. they probably set the braces off nicely.
what i do remember is glancing around the small room with its walls of frames and catching sight of a tree outside a window, a good thirty feet from me.
with my new glasses on, that tree was a revelation. it had leaves. bright, individualized, perfectly visible leaves.
my mouth must’ve hung open. because each of those perfect, far-away leaves, in all its glorious detail, negated my secret certainty that i’d faked the whole thing. i’d been half-blind and not known it. and now i could see.
over the past few months, my eyes have been bothering me. it was a background hum at first, a faint annoyance. it took awhile to notice it was getting worse, and by the time i did i noticed mostly that my eyes were red. all the time. and tired.
i began to play little games with my eyes, trying to figure out what was straining them.
and that’s when i noticed i couldn’t focus anymore.
if i tried to direct both eyes to a single focal point, they refused to cooperate. one or the other would take over, so i could still see, but the balance was off. it was as if the lifelong pair that had been my eyes had suddenly unyoked themselves, become free agents. i felt like a child whose parents suddenly and silently divorce, without warning.
when i realized i’d started tilting my head like an aardvark to compensate for this weird lack of focus, i’d had enough. i asked Dr. Google.
Dr. Google suggested i might have a detached retina. or be a physics experiment, that was about it. no matter how i tried to find the right words for my symptoms, i came back to deeply scientific descriptions of how lenses work, or the occasional dire prognosis for my own.
so i did what any self-respecting neurotic would do. i asked twitter.
sometimes crowdsourcing doesn’t work, even if the attention did make me feel rather comforted. nobody had a clue. and i developed the feeling i ought to have some sort of dread disease to make myself worthy of the brainpower tweeps kindly spent trying to sort me out.
i find it hard to take myself seriously in the absence of external confirmation.
so i went to my eye doctor.
and there it was. astigmatism. nothing strange, nothing scary. but something. real. i’ll get a new lens for my right eye this coming week. and i am harbouring a secret hope that when the optometrist pops it in, and i put my glasses back on, i’ll experience a revelation of sight and perspective as dramatic as the first one all those years ago.
because an astigmatism is a refractive error of the eye, caused by a change in shape, creating the inability to focus.
my life is ever changing shape. the last eight months or so have been stable, for the first time in a long, long time. same job, solid sitter for the kids, no huge curve balls.
for five years, my life was centered around the quest for a family. Finn. Oscar. colic. contract work. the day Oscar turned eighteen months old, i found out i was pregnant. a month or so later, a d&c. then the possibility of Josephine, and 24 weeks of bedrest.
Posey will be 18 months old on Monday, and there will be no positive pregnancy test: that much is sure. but the rest is all in flux again. i am waiting on news of my Ph.D: if i’m accepted, that’s the next four or more years of my life, and a path. if i’m not? cry and then regroup, i suppose. but in what direction? a taxi stand moved in next door last month: we’re considering moving, but that decision has to stay on hold until i know what my professional options are. my contract at work has only four months left on it.
i feel as if i cannot bring my choices into focus.
and Friday afternoon, at five to five, we showed up at the sitter’s and were met with tears. hers, not the kids’. as of next Friday, she can no longer keep them. licensing regulations, cutting numbers. we’ve known the shift was coming, but we were assured we’d keep our spaces. the numbers the province has ultimately allotted preclude our two – the last sibset she took on – staying.
one of the women who’s worked for her for the past two months or so is willing to take them at her house instead, which i’m grateful for. she seems nice enough; the kids like her. but i don’t even know her last name. and with the province moving kindergarten finally into the schools this coming September, daycare centres are being stripped of the funding that came with the kindergartens, and are closing left right centre ’round here. we have been on three waiting lists forever, but spaces for both kids in a licensed learning environment will be September at the earliest. prices are rising, and the mood’s getting desperate.
i used to imagine myself making thoughtful, informed choices about my children’s preschool caregivers. i pictured long conversations, careful interviews regarding philosophies and healthy food and stimulating activities. instead, knowing that parents two streets over have nobody, i find myself nodding passively. you breathe? you’re kind? you’re on the way to work? dandy.
as if this shift is something simply to be accepted. as if the concept of choice is an illusion.
it’s felt like a long, gray, blurry winter.
i need my astigmatism corrected. and soon, so i can come to terms with the shape of my life and begin to focus on it. so i can see its leaves, each one, in all their vivid green.