Thursday, January 09, 2014

Susan’s story - part 1

By Susan
(saved and sent by Jules)

She was 15 when Susan first noticed her eyesight was becoming a little weak. At first it was fairly minor: a slight blurriness when she looked at things a little distance away, like a blackboard, or at the cinema, or watching television.
It was easy to compensate for. You just screw your eyes up a little, or move a bit closer to the screen, or sit nearer to the TV.
When it started, Susan just thought it was a bit of a nuisance. Few people at school noticed anyway.
And her mum only made a few comments: "Susan, what's the matter with you, get your head away from the telly, other people are trying to watch it."

But then things became worse. Susan noticed that if she was waiting for a bus she couldn't see the number until it came quite close. If she arranged to meet someone in town on Saturday, she wouldn't see them until they called out to her. Going into a café on her own became a bit of a problem, especially when lights were dim, making it hard to recognise people.

It wasn't terrible, sure, but within a few months Susan knew that something was wrong with her eyesight. By the time she was 16 Susan was dead certain. She had a reasonable idea of what was happening anyway: two of her best friends, Myra and Angie, wore glasses.
Both were short-sighted, Myra especially. In her case, she had worn glasses since junior school. Her best friend Angie, on the other hand, had only started with hers about three or four years before.

Susan still remembered Angie, then 12, coming to school one day, placing a small case in front of her on the desk. Shortly after a lesson started and the teacher was chalking up something up on the blackboard, Angie casually - but self-consciously - opened the case, took out a pair of metal-rimmed glasses and put them on her nose.
As soon as the lesson finished, Angie took them off again. Although everyone in the class noticed, almost no-one said anything, perhaps realising that this was quite an important moment for Angie. Just one or two comments, along the lines of: "Blimey Ange, so you've gone four-eyed. Let's have a look. Hey, I can't see a thing with them on."

In truth, they weren't that strong, barely -1.5 in each lens. But to Angie they had seemed strong. The difference they made to her eyesight was enormous, and gradually, over the next few months, she started wearing them more and more, without taking them off.

At first it was for one lesson, then two - but removing them for the 15-minute morning break. Then, the mid-morning teaching session until lunch, three consecutive lessons in all. Then from the start of school until lunchtime, and on again in the afternoon, three more lessons. Finally, six to seven months later, throughout the entire school day.
At home, Angie's routine over that period was similar. Luckily or unluckily, neither of her parents had pushed her one way or the other.

So she began to wear them very slowly: first for homework and any television she might watch before bedtime. Then, after a few months, she started coming home from school wearing her glasses. She would have her tea, go upstairs, do her studies then come back down to spend the rest of the evening with her family, or read a book wearing her glasses, taking them off last thing while she was in bed.

Weekends were different. Then, she didn't have to go to school and the routine changed. She wore her glasses far less, but even then, found herself doing things which involved more and more spectacle-wearing. Going to the library, watching a film, checking bus numbers, even looking at prices in a shop were an excuse to pull out her glasses - and once on she quite often "forgot" to take them off.

Eventually, she started wearing them all day during the week, the final moment coming nine months after she first brought them into school. One Monday morning, Angie woke up late.

"Come on Angela," her mother called up the stairs, "It's time you were out of that bed. Come down and have some breakfast this very minute, or you'll miss the bus and be late for school."

Angie dashed into the bathroom, splashed water over her face, raced back into her room and as she struggled into her school uniform, she hurriedly picked up her spectacles and put them on. She ran down the stairs and into the kitchen, slurped some orange juice, grabbed a slice of toast and ran out of the house, under her mother's disapproving gaze.

It was only as she was dashing to the bus stop that she suddenly realised that she was wearing her glasses - before her first lesson gave her an excuse to put them on. 

"I suppose it was meant to happen after all," she said to herself, slightly surprised at the thought. 

For the rest of that week, Angie wore her glasses from first thing in the morning to when she turned her bedside light out.

The following Saturday was strange. She consciously had to make herself put them on and go downstairs for breakfast with mum and dad. But they didn't even notice, or pretended they hadn't. Sunday was weird too. But after that, wearing specs just became, well...normal. On Monday she kept them on all the time again. And every day after that.

Nine months later, long after she had become used to her new "way of looking", and 18 months after her first prescription, Angie found herself at the optician again. The prescription was slightly stronger, just -0.25 to both eyes. She didn't even care, simply glad that her eyesight with her new glasses was as good as it had been a few months before.

Another 18 months later, when Angie was 15, it went up again, by another small notch, to -2. Again, it seemed perfectly natural to her that this could happen and, apart from the odd catty remark from a few people at school, it didn't affect how she related to her friends - or the boyfriends she started going out with from time to time. And another year went by.

But that didn't stop her noticing how things were with her friend Susan, who by now was squinting quite heavily and had started copying from her classroom notes rather than off the blackboard. Just as Susan had a fair idea what was happening to her eyes, so Angie knew what was happening to her friend.

As they were going home on the bus one day, after one more time that she had pointed something out to Susan, who yet again failed to see what her friend was asking her to look at, Angie turned to her friend: 
"Suze, I think you're getting a bit short-sighted, just like I am. Have you thought of having your eyes tested?"
Susan blushed. "To be honest, I'm a bit worried about it. It just seems so unfair that it should be happening now, just when I've started going out with Greg. I'm worried that he won't have anything to do with me if I show up with a pair of glasses."
"That's rubbish," replied Angie, "I've worn them for ages and it's never stopped me from going out with anyone I wanted. And to be honest, I'm getting a bit fed up with you leaning all over me during each lesson. Look, try mine on and see what they're like. I bet you'll see much better. Go on."

Angie took off her glasses and held them out to Susan who, after a moment's hesitation, slid them carefully on to her nose. She gasped: suddenly everything was clear, clearer than it had been for ages and ages. It wasn't perfect: the spectacles seemed a bit too strong or something. Even so, every colour seemed much sharper. Details of the road, cars, shops, passers-by, all were infinitely clearer to her. She gazed out of the window hungrily until Angie said: "Come on, give them back now. But d'you see what I mean?"

Susan was forced to admit that she did. Even so, it took another three months - and a series of minor embarrassments, such as walking past Greg in the high street without saying hello, before she plucked up courage and spoke to her mother one night: "Mum, I think I've got a problem with my eyes. I'd better get an appointment with an optician." It was so simple that years later she wondered why she had been nervous for so long.

The following Saturday morning, she and her mother went into town. They went to see Mr Ripley. He was mum's optician and had been prescribing to the family for many years. Mum had a pair of glasses, not that she wore them often, only for reading the papers or when she did the sewing. Mum had something called "long sight" and her specs looked a bit like magnifying glasses.

Anyway, Mr Ripley took her into a small room with a chart at the other end of the room and sat her down in a chair.

The next 20 minutes were strange, but oddly soothing: a nice old gentleman looking into her eyes with a shiny light. A dark room with a strange contraption over her nose. Lenses taken out and re-inserted, first into a slot over the right eye, then the left. Gradually, a fog before her eyes lifted and Susan was able to read nearly all the letters on the chart in front of her.

When she could read everything bar the smallest line on the chart (and it was really very small), Mr Ripley turned the light back on: "Mmm, Susan. What you have is a slight case of myopia. Not that much, at least compared to some people I've had sitting in front of me, but enough for me to have to prescribe glasses. What I'd suggest is that you go back out and I'll get my assistant to help you choose a suitable frame. It'll probably take a few days to get the lenses made up. I'll send a card to your home when the glasses are ready to be picked up. You should probably wear them all the time, but although that's what I would definitely recommend, I'll leave the decision to you. I'm old enough to have learned that what I say right now doesn't mean much to young people. But I think you'll find I'm right."

Susan wandered out in a daze. Glasses! She went up to her mother, almost ready to burst into tears: "Mum, he says I've got to wear glasses," she wailed.
Her mother put her arm round her: "Don't worry now Susan, you'll be OK, you're not as badly off as some people. And anyway, now we can pick out something nice to suit your face."

For the next 15-20 minutes they tried on dozens of pairs of frames. Susan became so caught up in the excitement of looking in the mirror with each new style, putting it down, trying a new pair on, that she almost forgot what the original purpose of the exercise had been. Finally, as the assistant helping them began to sigh loudly, Susan finally found something she liked - a pair of oval gold-rimmed John Lennon-style frames, slim, with very small nose pads. Very trendy and, bizarrely, because they were NHS specs, they wouldn't cost her anything.

As they waited by the counter, watching the assistant copy the prescription on to the order form, Susan saw she was writing: L-1.75, R-1.25. There were a few other numbers she didn't understand. 
When she asked, the assistant said quickly: "It's to do with your astigmatism. Your eyes aren't exactly the same all the way round and the extra numbers help to correct them a bit more."

Faced with this explanation - unscientific, but still way beyond her current comprehension - Susan fell silent.

The next few days were an agony of anticipation, excitement and fear. 
She told Angie about the visit to the optician: "He says I should wear them all the time, but I'm not really going to. I think I'll do what you did, but just keep that up all the time."
Angie said nothing.

Finally, the following Thursday, just as she was on her way to school, the post dropped through the letterbox. Among the letters was a small white card addressed to her.

The message on the back was brief, just a date and a printed notice: "Dear Sir/Madam (Sir was crossed out), your spectacles are ready for collection. We would be grateful if you could call in at the earliest opportunity for a fitting and collection."

She didn't want to go after school. And she didn't want to go on Friday evening either. So it was on Saturday morning that she went back. This time she didn't want her mum to come. She had arranged to meet Angie later on in a coffee bar in the town centre. But this part of the day had to be "negotiated" on her own. Susan set off for the optician alone.

Soon she was sitting in the same small room she had been in a week ago. Mr Ripley sat next to her, opened a spectacle case at his side and took a pair of glasses out. He placed them on her nose: "Now look at the chart and tell me what you can see."

As Susan read through the letters again, this time seeing each line perfectly, he muttered his approval with each line. "Good, good, very good." Then, standing in front of her, he took her glasses off and, after adjusting the arms, put them back on her face. "Is this more comfortable? Good, good."
Finally, he turned on the light again. "Do you want to keep them on or would you rather put them in the case?" 
Susan gulped: "I'd like to keep them on for now," she whispered.

As she walked out into the main shop area where all the other glasses were stored on racks, Susan realised she could see perfectly. Everything was crystal-clear. At the time, she felt incredibly self-conscious.

Looking in one of the many mirrors in the shop, Susan realised that she looked different somehow. Slightly older, more mature, more mysterious. It was almost as if she was looking at another person, not herself, someone she didn't quite recognise. Familiar yet strange. She also felt as if everyone's eyes were on her in the shop. 
"She's wearing glasses", she imagined they were all thinking.
Susan lifted the glasses off her face. Everything turned blurry all at once. She hurriedly put them back on: "Crikey, they really are strong."

Susan walked out of the shop and stopped in amazement. Once again, everything seemed so clear and crisp. Things she hadn't really been able to see in a year and, if she were honest, probably more than that, suddenly stood out sharply.

Again, she lifted the glasses off her face. Again, the blur descended over her eyes. She returned them on her face: "This is impossible," Susan muttered to herself, "I don't want to wear them, but I can see so much better with them."

With a start, she realised that she was due to meet Angie in a few minutes' time. She hurried down the street, her glasses perched on her nose, marvelling at everything she could now see. This was so much better than before.

As she got to the coffee bar, however, Susan stopped. Somehow, she felt terribly embarrassed at the thought that even Angie, her closest friend should see her wearing glasses for the first time. She took them off and the blur descended again. Undaunted, Susan pushed open the door and walked in.

If anything, it was even more difficult for her to spot Angie in the gloom today. Luckily, her friend saw Susan first: "Suze, over here."

Susan made he way slightly uncertainly to Angie's table. "Well, let's see them then," Angie exclaimed. Susan gulped. She reached into her bag, took out the little case, opened it and took out the glasses. She handed them to Angie, who looked at them briefly and then gave them back. "Come on, put them on."
Nervously, Susan pushed the glasses on. "They look brilliant Suze. Amazing. You look dead cool in them. Can you see better now?" 
Susan was forced to admit that she did. At the same time, she started to remove them from her face and place them back into the case. 
"No, leave them on," Angie ordered, "Just for a minute, what's the matter with you?"
"I feel like everyone's looking at me," Susan whispered. 
"Nonsense," retorted Angie. "Just keep them on for a few minutes and you'll soon get used to them." 

Susan complied. And sure enough, as the started chatting about other things, she did. Every now and then, she would catch herself thinking about her glasses and the fact she was wearing them. A brief moment of panic would wash over her as she fiddled with one of the arms, or pushed them up her nose. Then it was gone. Beside, they weren't even as strong as Angie's.
Soon, as she became more involved in the gossip, about school and what Angie had been up to with her new boyfriend Bill, and what she was up to with Greg, Susan forgot she was wearing glasses at all. And when Angie paid for their coffees and asked her if she would help her find a new top, Susan happily agreed.

They spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. Every time Susan caught sight of herself, she felt pulled up, recognising and yet not recognising the person looking at her. Once in a while, she surreptitiously removed her glasses, or lifted them up, above her eyes. Each time, the fog made her put them back. In truth, it wasn't terrible, she wasn't blind or anything. It just didn't feel very nice, all of a sudden, to see everything in such a blurry manner.

Angie spotted Susan doing this a couple of times, but pretended she hadn't noticed anything. Strangely, she found herself thinking: "Maybe it's time I went back to have my eyes tested. It's been a while and I've been squinting a bit lately."

As they walked through town, twice they bumped into some other friends. The first time, their friends affected not to realise that anything was different. Susan felt relieved, and yet also slightly insulted that such a momentous change in her was not being recognised. The second time, Mary, another school friend, exclaimed: "My God Susan, I never knew you wore glasses. They look brilliant on you." 
Although she knew Mary was probably making it up, Susan felt comforted by the compliment.

Finally, it was time for Susan to go home. She saw Angie off at her stop. As she rode the rest of the way home, Susan realised that she had passed a hurdle of some kind. It wasn't clear yet what other experiences she was likely to face with her new glasses, but if they were anything like this afternoon's she had nothing to fear.

To be continued ...

No comments:

Post a Comment