I had always been a tomboy, but then what girl doesn’t say that. We all think we’re a lot tougher than we really are. I’m sure I felt that way because all of the kids my age in my neighborhood were boys, at least for a block or two around my house. I never played with girls on a daily basis. I won’t say that I was a member of the "boy’s club" but for the most part my neighbors treated me like one of the guys and protected me like one of their gang. Since we lived a block from a large city park, activities were endless. There was always something to do. I wasn’t especially great at playing ball and stick sports but I was athletic. I could run, bike, swim, skate, and climb as vigorously as anyone. But at age thirteen when the boys grew taller and got stronger, I developed breasts and hips.
After demonstrating an aptitude for sciences in the previous school year, I had been placed in the honors classes. In addition, the music director had asked me to play in the orchestra that year instead of the band. The combination of being in honors classes along with the orchestra put me on a path throughout the day to be with the brightest kids in school. It was the first time in my academic career that I felt intelligent. Teachers were my mentors; they treated me with respect, and considered me talented. Even in gym, which was the only class I had with "general" students, the coach had asked me to be a squad leader which was a distinctive honor. Challenges and responsibilities were brought about with each day in every class. Because of that, I had earned a reputation with my peers for leadership.
In the past year or two more of my classmates had begun to wear glasses. But I liked the change. Unlike the childish attitude of earlier years when glasses could be fodder for the playground bully, kids at this age seemed to accept them with a more mature approach. I’m not saying that everyone liked the look or wanted to wear them, but glasses were considered to be more of a necessity that solved a rather common dilemma. Some found them to be as fashionable as jewelry or shoes. To others, glasses had nothing more than a practical purpose. And to others still, glasses had been used to create a new identity or persona. It was enviable to watch the attractive way that some girls used them as a tool when flirting. I found glasses to make almost everyone seem more appealing and approachable especially the boys. There were several in the eighth and ninth grade that were particularly attractive.
I felt lucky to have perfect vision. I had just begun to blossom as a young woman but still felt somewhat self-conscious socially and physically. I was uncomfortable with acquaintances asking me questions about something personal like my eyesight. When group "glasses exchanges" were initiated among friends, I never participated. Wearing other people’s eyewear seemed rather private to me. There would always be those comments such as "How do you wear these?", or "I can’t see anything with those things on", or personally my favorite, "Oh my god, you must be blind!" I thought those comments must have been extremely embarrassing for the glasses’ owner. My dad wore bifocals so I often worried that I might need glasses someday. I was in no hurry for that.
One of my favorite classes was orchestra. There, I was one of only two flutists and would eventually become the first chair player. Opportunities for recognition were abundant. As an eighth grader in the concert band, I would have been but one of many flutists competing for opportunities with more experienced ninth graders. For me, performing for the first time with stringed instruments made every day a learning experience. I acquired an appreciation for the classics and symphonic music. It was the only activity in school that included students from all grades, seventh through ninth, and I gained many new friends. As an organization, we had an immense solidarity. Everyone took care of everyone else.
I was taken under the wings of three ninth grade girls. Geena and Veena were fraternal twins who played violin and cello respectively. Veena, the smart one, was quiet, graceful, and mature. She wore smart-looking glasses with a mild prescription but seldom used them outside of classes or assemblies. To me, she appeared so "together" and grown up. Geena, the fun twin, was pretty and sociable. Especially popular with the boys, she seemed to know everyone in school. Like her twin, she had glasses, but rarely wore them preferring to squint and struggle. Geena and her best friend, Joy, were two of the most gregarious, mischievous, yet well-liked girls in school. Their antics were always well intended. Joy, also a violinist, was extroverted and popular but not as attractive as the twins. She had trendy blue cat eyes which I found intriguing. Joy’s dark blue eyes were beautifully magnified ever so slightly by the lenses in her glasses. Her choice of frame style and color, along with the lenses, made her face much more appealing than she would have been without glasses. At least that was my opinion. Those three girls, in their friendly way, helped me confront maturity and sexuality. Geena, Veena, and Joy were constantly chatting about boys and the relationships of couples throughout the school. They particularly enjoyed embarrassing me with their conversations as I was many times their topic of discussion. Regardless of my curiosity, or lack there of, I was kept informed of the inquiries made by boys concerning my relationship status. Because of my friendship with those three girls, I began to feel more attractive and my ego grew everyday.
If gym and orchestra provided time for pleasure and social experiences, the rest of my academic day was a bit more intense and spent in classes with eighth graders only. Because of being in the honors track, I had the same classmates in all subjects. As a group we developed strong friendships and camaraderie as we attended science, algebra, history, and English. With those classmates I experienced many firsts. I attended my first rock concert. I went to a pool party for the first time, oddly hosted by our science teacher. I represented my school as a team member in a locally televised quiz show. And I had my first date, but I’ll tell you more about that soon.
When the year began, the school was buzzing with talk about two brothers that had moved to our district. Both made an immediate impact on our football team. The younger one, Steven, had become the starting quarterback on our varsity team as an eighth grader. He was tall, thin, strong, and had dark hair. Unexpectedly, his dark brown eyes focused through black rectangular glasses even when he played football. I had never seen a player wear glasses before, particularly the quarterback. Steven was quiet, friendly, and became immediately popular especially with the girls. And did I mention that he was in most of my classes?
The responsibilities of leadership were somewhat overwhelming for me. I had begun to get comfortable with the idea of being considered one of the smart kids. Many of my friendships were new and something I cherished. The girls in orchestra had opened doors to many opportunities that had never been available to me before. Being desirable to boys, especially older ones, was something I had never experienced. The friendships I had with the neighborhood boys were enviable but I had never known how it felt to be considered attractive.
One Monday morning as I approached my first classroom, Steven asked if I would go to the Homecoming Dance with him. We had seldom had conversation before, but I appreciated that he didn’t resort to childish ploys like passing notes to friends or having a discussion about me with Joy. He was brave and simply asked the question face to face while we were standing in the hallway before homeroom. What a concept! I thought about it for about an instant and said yes. To me, Steven was the most eligible eighth grader available. I was on cloud nine and would be for days. But for many reasons, the coming week would be a most memorable one.
It began as we stepped into class and took our seats. My best friend, Delaney, walked in wearing glasses for the first time. It was a great surprise to see the shiny black frames on her face. Anxious to get the story, I was unable to talk with her at length until lunch. Until then, I could only get chit chat between classes where I had to share her with everyone else in the hallways. Finally as we headed towards the cafeteria, she told me that she had been having trouble seeing the board and, for that matter, everything else. I scolded her for not keeping me informed but she said she wanted to keep it a secret. Delaney wanted to surprise everyone with her new look. Though she did not possess star-quality beauty, she was very cute. Her thick blonde hair curled playfully on her shoulders. Small freckles that sprinkled across her nose framed her green eyes giving her a "girl next door" quality. And now it seemed that Delaney was even more desirable. I laughed and watched the heads turn for the next few days as we traversed the halls. Her glasses had attracted a new found attention that I would never have expected.
I was bewildered by how easily Delaney accepted her destiny. The transition to glasses seemed extraordinarily easy for her. Imagine my surprise when she told me it was what she’d wanted for years. Delaney wanted glasses? She said everyone in her family wore them except her. Her big sisters had glasses since before she was born. Delaney, being the kid sister by many years, typically wanted to do everything they did. When playing in their bedroom her sisters often let her wear their glasses and do almost anything else she wanted. When they tired of her antics they gave her back to mom or dad, but that didn’t happen often. Since both of her sisters had been found to be nearsighted at about age nine, she assumed she would need glasses at about the same time. Except that didn’t happen and she had been wishing for it ever since. I guess I was happy that her prayers had been answered but it was difficult for me to comprehend given the fact that her lenses seemed fairly strong. At her eye exam, Delaney was elated when she was unable to read the big E on the chart. That’s when she knew that she would finally need glasses. Well, I was happy for Delaney if that’s what she wanted.
In my enthusiasm for her, when Delaney encouraged me to try her glasses, I did. It was the first time I wore someone’s glasses. Carefully gripping both temple pieces with my hands, I adjusted them to my face. She hesitated while squinting, then whispered loudly, "Jessica, you look fantastic . . . you’re face was made to wear glasses." She fished for a compact in her purse, thrust it in my face, and said "See!" Looking in the mirror, I had to agree. My facial features and coloring were enhanced by her black glasses. The shape of the frames seemed perfect although the color felt a bit bold for me. I paused to gaze. The sensation of wearing her glasses was both terrifying and exhilarating at once. My heart was pounding. It was remarkable how well I could see despite the strength of her lenses. In fact, I could see a bit too well and that startled me. Suddenly, I became aware that a lot of people in the cafeteria were watching me, so I quickly removed them.
With my heart still beating fast, I caught my breath and said, "Delaney, it seemed like I could see a little better with your glasses on. How is that possible?" "You might need your own, Jessica." She replied. "Here try them on again." "No!" I said abruptly. "That couldn’t be. I’ve always had 20/20 eyesight." I sure didn’t want everyone watching me, again.
The homecoming dance was after the football game on Friday evening. It was one of the few times that we got to be out late for a school function. The game was scheduled to be played at 6:00 p.m. The dance would be from 9:00 until 11:00. The excitement of my first date had been building all week. Delaney and I met after school to style each other’s hair to the max. I was surprised when my dad let me out of the house wearing my shortest skirt. I even got to wear my high-heeled peep-toes. It wouldn’t be easy walking in them at the football stadium but it was absolutely essential. Delaney’s mom drove us to the game and dropped us off. Our boyfriends’ parents would take us home after the dance. After carefully climbing the bleacher steps we picked a spot to watch the game.
It was the first time I had gone to one of our games. I had never had a reason to attend before. On the field our cheerleaders began forming a tunnel for the players’ entrance. Just in front of us, a small stage had been assembled for the queen and her court to use during the half time festivities. Finally our team came running through the tunnel onto the field. I loved the combination of colors of their green, white, and gold uniforms. Everyone was yelling, "Go Bobcats!" Our team ran to the sidelines in front of the bleachers and Delaney screamed, "There’s Steven, wave to him, Jessica!" I replied, "Where?" and she responded, "Number 13!" I couldn’t see number 13. Then I realized I couldn’t read any numbers or see any faces. Everything on the field was a blur as I labored to see.
After a minute or so, Delaney realized that I wasn’t waving; in fact, I wasn’t doing anything except straining into a sea of green grass with a scrunched look on my face. "You can’t see Steven can you, Jess?" she questioned, "Squinting is a dead giveaway". I relaxed my eyes and focused on her. "Everyone is too far away, Delaney." I said anxiously.
"You don’t recognize any faces on the sidelines?"
I forced my eyes to look at the group of bodies that was closer and still replied, "No."
"Can you recognize any cheerleaders? They’re closer to us over here." she said pointing.
"Nope. They all look alike. They’re wearing the same outfit."
"Here, try my glasses."
Reluctantly, I slid Delaney’s glasses onto my face for the second time that week. Everything came into perfect focus. I could easily read the numbers on the jerseys, in fact, they were rather large. The faces of the players and cheerleaders were clear and distinct. I could even see the football in the middle of the field and read the numbers on the players’ jerseys way out there. In fact, that was the first time I saw number 13. I had begun to understand why it seemed that I had been able to see better when I wore Delaney’s glasses at lunch a few days earlier. From my reaction my best friend knew the answer to the question she hadn’t asked. Yes, I could see well with her glasses. There had to be an explanation for this.
"Delaney, what am I going to do?"
"Simple, Jess. You’re gonna get glasses."
"But I’ve always had perfect vision!"
"Not anymore. Welcome to the club girl."
Delaney was right. It was that simple. There was no other explanation. Not a likely one anyway. For the rest of the game we took turns sharing Delaney’s black frames. Each time I wore her glasses, I experienced the exhilarating sensation of having exceptional vision as I had earlier that week. But I also felt the same terrifying sensation of being perceived with inadequate vision. Each time I removed the glasses, I squinted into the blurry field and wondered how my eyes got this way? When had they gotten so bad? Why had I not noticed? And then it struck me. I had been sitting near the front of every class because I could stay more focused on the teachers. I never realized that I couldn’t see from the back. I just knew I preferred to sit close. Even in orchestra, I sat on the second elevated row right in front of the director. But recently, I had readjusted the placement of my music stand closer to one side to make it easier to read the notes. I could do that because I didn’t share my stand. It never occurred to me that the music had been too far away to read. I bet my classmates wondered, "What’s up with the blind girl?"
After the game, I met Steven outside of the locker room. Fortunately, he found me. After using Delaney’s glasses throughout the game, I now felt woefully inadequate trying to focus on anything in the dark of night. I had never noticed that there were fuzzy halos ringing the lights. I held tight to Steven’s arm on the walk to the gymnasium. I’m sure he thought I was rather clingy for a first date, but truthfully I was having trouble walking in my heels on the poorly lit sidewalk.
After settling in at the dance, Steven could tell that I was bothered. "Jessica, did I do something wrong? Are you upset with me?" he asked. "No, I’m just having some trouble tonight." I replied vaguely. He continued to look puzzled and waited for more. I didn’t want to tell him more, but I knew I had to explain. He deserved better than this from me. I couldn’t sulk all night.
"Steven, I’m having trouble seeing."
"You mean like something in your eye?"
"No, I mean like I can’t see well in the distance. I think I need glasses."
"And you just came to this realization, tonight?"
"And this is a major problem because . . . . .?"
"Well, I’ve always had perfect vision. This is scary to me."
"Jess, it’s scary for everyone. But, it’s no big deal. I wear glasses and I do alright."
Duh, that was an understatement. Steven was gorgeous. He was smart, good looking, a great athlete, and he wore glasses which didn’t slow him down in any of the previous departments. "You don’t think I’ll look dorky? I mean . . . I want to be pretty." I said awkwardly. I had never felt so weak or frail.
"Jessica, I asked you out because I think you’re the prettiest girl in this school."
"But will I be able to do everything as well as I do now?"
"Jess, if your vision is a problem, I bet that with glasses you will be able to do everything better. One of the reasons I like you so much is because you’re smart. Smart enough to figure this out on your own. Here, try my glasses, see how they feel."
He gently placed his glasses on my face and smiled.
"Jess, you look hot! See?"
I looked into a nearby mirror on the gym wall and he was right. His glasses did look good on me, a bit large maybe. But the real miracle was the fact that I could see myself looking back at the mirror. After that, I enjoyed the rest of the night. I had the best date of anyone. I quit worrying about what I couldn’t see because I didn’t need to see any farther than the face of my dance partner. Later that night I borrowed Delaney’s glasses to show Steven that I would look even better wearing glasses made for a girl.
Steven kissed me on the porch of my house as we exchanged "goodnights". As I entered the house, mom and dad were watching the news. Mom could hardly contain herself. She wanted to know everything about my night. The two of us went over the details for the next hour while drinking sodas in the kitchen. Finally, I told her that I couldn’t wait to see Steven on Monday at school. She understood. Then without hesitation, I told her that we needed to get my eyes checked. After explaining the situation, she told me we’d work on a solution in the morning.
Early on Saturday afternoon, my mom and I headed for the one-hour glasses store. We had managed to snag an appointment when my mom had called that morning. Steven and Delaney had given me the strength to face this without too much fear. However, I had no clue what was about to happen. After seating me in a large chair, an aid attended to me first by asking some general health questions. She gave me a "puff" test and explained that it was to check for glaucoma. Then she darkened the room and focused a light on the eye chart. I began to panic when I realized that I couldn’t see a lot of it. But the aid reassured me, told me to relax, and read what I could, starting with line 8. I laughed at her suggestion and said I’d try line 2. "I think I can make out a . . . T . . . B." She replied "Well almost, Jessica, that’s F and P." I couldn’t read the letters on the 20/100 line. At least I could read the big E. I was doing better than Delaney. Unfortunately, that was all I could see. The aid told me that line 1 is 20/200 vision. If there was any doubt before, I knew then that I would be leaving this office with a prescription for glasses.
The doctor entered the room and began making small talk to put me at ease. I proceeded to give her an update of my lack of visual success given the fact that I just "failed" the test. "Let’s do a refraction and just see how bad things really are", she responded. With that, she moved the refractor to a position in front of my face, adjusted the sights, and began working with one eye at a time. While shining a bright light into my eye, she flipped lenses in and out of the refractor which seemed to concentrate the light in an intense way on the back of my eye. It was a strange sensation as focus went in and out. Once satisfied with what she saw, the doctor began a routine to fine tune each eye by adjusting lenses according to my opinion. "Number one or number two? Better, worse, or about the same?" she continued repeatedly. When she was done with each eye, she opened the sights on the refractor again so that I could use both eyes. I was rocked. I could read every letter down to line 9 which was slightly better than 20/20 vision. I’m not sure I had ever seen that well before. Every letter was clear, dark, and perfectly shaped. Then she asked what I thought and I told her my vision was fantastic. She explained, "Jessica, you’re eyes are perfectly normal and healthy but you are fairly myopic or nearsighted. You are fortunate because you don’t have any astigmatism. I’m giving you a prescription for glasses. It’s a relatively simple one that we should be able to make up this afternoon after you pick out some frames. Come back in a year and let’s check your eyes again." Already knowing the answer, I had to ask, "How often should I wear my glasses?" And there it was for the first time. I heard my voice utter the phrase "my glasses". The doctor replied, "I wouldn’t say that you need to wear them for everything, especially close work like reading. But I think you’ll find that you’ll want to wear your glasses most of the time. You’re ability to interpret things in the distance is pretty limited. Ok?" That was an understatement. I looked at my prescription and it read: OD –2.50, OS -2.75, PD 58. It meant nothing to me at the time.
Mom helped me sort through the frames but it didn’t take long to find the ones that I liked. They were softly squared rectangle-shaped plastic frames that were fairly sturdy looking but still delicate. The color was a very deep brown that had subtle hues of purple along the insides of the frame. We left the shop while they made my glasses. By 5:00 p.m. we had returned, I had been fitted, and we were on the way home. My glasses looked perfect on me. They fit well and made me feel feminine. Though my lenses seemed kind of thick, I liked that they looked serious as if they meant business. And, I loved the way they sparkled in the sunlight. Strangely, I was excited, happy, and could see exceptionally well.
In the car I borrowed mom’s cell phone to call Delaney. Surprised that I was able to get glasses so fast, she wanted to see them right away. We went straight to her house and picked her up to spend the night. While we waited for Delaney to pack some things I talked with her older brother. He couldn’t take his eyes off me and stayed with me until we left. He had never shown any interest in me before. Delaney, teasing me about it, poked me in the car and said, "See! You’re going to love this."
At my house we watched movies and listened to music. Through the course of the evening, Delaney and I traded glasses over and over. My mom couldn’t keep track of which ones were mine. We both looked great wearing either pair. Later, Delaney and I compared our prescription forms. Her’s showed: OD -3.25 -.75 x 12, OS -3.25 -.50 x 90. We didn’t know what the extra numbers meant so we went web surfing to find out. We learned that Delaney’s prescription corrected astigmatism which was the major difference. Neither of us understood that term so we searched some more. Also, we noticed that mine specified "PD58" which we later discovered meant a Pupilary Distance of 58 millimeters, the distance between my pupils. My doctor had specified it while Delaney’s had left that measurement for the optical shop to determine. By late that night we were experts about everything concerning eyewear and corrective lenses. We thought so, anyway. The two of us talked late into the night until we couldn’t stay awake.
On Monday morning, I began my second full day of wearing glasses. Just like I had felt a few days before when I tried Delaney’s glasses during lunch, I was both terrified and exhilarated as I rode to school. As my mom pulled the car to the curb, I took a big breath anxiously. She could tell I was trying to be brave. I stepped from the car and climbed the steps to the main entrance. Someone shouted, "Cool glasses, Jess. Lookin’ fine." I smiled back and headed inside more confidently now. After turning the corner inside the door, I could see to the end of the hallway and had never realized that I couldn’t before. As I continued walking, I was getting the "head turn" treatment from all the boys. Now, I was the one that everybody was talking about. When I arrived at the classroom door, Ms. Cagle, my teacher said, "Nice glasses, Jessica, they make you look smart." She winked and smiled. And that’s the way it went for the rest of the week at least until everybody got used to seeing me in eyeglasses. It was funny. When I left school on the previous Friday afternoon, I thought I had perfect vision and always would. I never imagined that by today I would be wearing glasses for the rest of my life.