Thursday 12 March 2015

A Bad Case of Optic Nerves

At forty, I lost my vision.
Not all of it, just the most convenient portion that didn’t require a mechanical aid sitting on the bridge of my nose every waking second of the day. And, my vision is growing steadily worse, so that if there were a disaster tomorrow I’d be scrabbling through the wreckage squinting like a mole person, a shard of broken glass clutched in one hand, desperately trying to differentiate between a can of Spam and Friskies.
My mother once told me that the first sign she had of getting old was walking into a room and not remembering why she’d gone there. This started happening to her at the age of forty. Me too. But that never bothered me. I’m not concerned about losing my mind. After all, that’s really more of a problem for those around me. Also, it doesn’t show. I could lose my entire mind and still look good at a party. But, regardless of my appearance, I wouldn’t know therefore I wouldn’t care.
For me, the second sign of my aging—the deterioration of my eyesight—had a far larger impact than the first.
It seemed to happen overnight. One day I could pick out individual grains in an hourglass from fifty feet, and the next I had to squint to read an error message with my nose rubbing against the computer screen—doubly disturbing because “error message” was about the only software that really ran smoothly on my old computer.
Of course I figuratively ran to the Internet and literally searched for help. After ruling out aneurysms and brain tumors I stumbled upon the book, “Better Eyesight Without Glasses.” Good title—like “Weight Loss by Eating What You’ve Always Eaten and Doing Less” or “Learn Lithuanian While Watching The Simpsons.”
Amazon shipped and, for some reason, handled my book and I had it in hand within the week, by which time I’d already had to make a trip to a dollar store to buy pair of magnifier glasses. I sneaked them into the house in a plain brown paper bag. The irony that I needed glasses in order to read “Better Eyesight Without Glasses” did not escape me.
When I received the book and flipped the front cover, I learned that it was a reprint from a text originally written in 1940. I charged through the first few chapters and was disappointed. Besides being pedantic and obtuse, it was seriously out of date with the exception of the one fact that we all still have eyes. The basic premise seemed to be that I was not actually losing my sight; that I had forgotten how to look. I redoubled my looking, but still failed to see what I was looking at. Still, I was willing to believe, and continued with the suggested exercises. I gave up after chapter seven because I still needed the dollar-store glasses to read the declaration that my vision was “already substantially improved.”
I visited an optometrist. I had no intention of submissively slipping on a pair of bifocals; I wanted to know why this was happening and work out some sort of modern eye exercise regime to counter the effect. The optometrist was about twenty-five years old, busy and impatient. Even with my defective eyes I could see that he did not consider himself in the business of answering questions.
“Your eyes are forty years old,” he said as if that explained everything; as if nothing in this universe could be expected to function that long? And before I could mention Stone Henge, he slipped corrective lenses before my eyes and gave me a pop quiz.
“Better or worse?” Flipped a gadget and another set of lenses fell in to place.
“Better or worse?” A hundred times in the space of two minutes.
“Better or worse?” It was nerve wracking. Often, I stalled for time, and once or twice I mixed up the two words. I think he scaled the marks.
Then he hastily scribbled a prescription on a scrap of paper. “Next!”
I never filled that prescription.
Three years later, I was still using dollar-store glasses. Of course by then I’d got three pairs; different strengths for different circumstances. There were my TV-specs, book-specs and pill-bottle-specs. You’ve got to admit, I’m a fighter. The word “stubborn” also comes to mind. Also “denial,” and perhaps “foolish.” I’m hoping it all averages out to “eccentric.”

For months, I was certain that I could exercise my eyes back into shape. But then, one day, my wife said that I was being stubborn, that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees and I retorted, “I thought that was a puppy.” Clearly, I had run out of salient arguments.
She urged me to stop fighting the physical changes and accept them as a natural by-product of aging.
Let’s see how she feels when she’s no longer ten years younger than me, I thought. I said, “But glasses are ugly.”
“Better to be looking good than good looking,” she replied in her second language.
Hey! Who’s the native English-speaking writer here? I thought. I said, “Yes, dear.”
I don’t mind aging—I didn’t put up much of a fuss when I went from twenty-two to twenty-three.
I don’t mind aging.
What I do mind is growing old.

Glossary of terms:
Optic Nerves: The disquieting feeling that your vision is failing and you might have to visit an optometrist.

Lens Flare: Irrational rage at your own long-abused body for wearing out and leaving you no option but to visit an optometrist.

Legally Blind: What is spelled out in large block letters on the eye chart in the optometrist’s waiting room. Before you had your glasses, you thought it was a landscape painting but you were $400 richer. Now you begin to wonder if you are losing your sense of humor, as well.

Unsightly: Coke bottle lenses in tortoise-shell frames.

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