by SusanWhether to have a child or not was a difficult decision for Susan. On the one hand, she was conscious of the dangers involved, particularly the potential worsening of her eyesight.
On the other, she (and Charles) had long planned to have three children. This was an ideal that had sustained them both throughout their marriage and Susan's previous experience of childbirth was so positive that, deep down, she knew she wanted another baby.
Nevertheless, before she committed herself, she decided to seek further expert advice. Susan spoke to her local doctor and through him obtained an appointment with a consultant at London's major eye hospital.
In many ways, the tests proved as inconclusive as before. Yes, the specialist said, there appeared to be some connection between pregnancy, its immediate aftermath and the worsening in Susan's eyesight. The information received from her optician suggested this worsening lay in the range of about minus 5 dioptres over each three-year period during and after childbirth.
It also appeared that the hormonal problems encountered by Susan throughout pregnancy and beyond might be at least partially responsible for the eyesight changes. Some might have been the result of the pregnancy itself, he added: neither of Susan's birth experiences had been entirely easy.
"My natural inclination would be not to proceed. But I sense that's not what you want to hear.
"We can solve the problem of difficult childbirth quite easily," the consultant went on, "We simply offer you the option of a Caesarian birth. Nowadays we can minimise the scar by On the hormonal side, we can treat with a range of suppressants similar, though in smaller doses, to those given to women who are engaged in IVF fertility treatment.
"And I would recommend that you do not breast-feed after the birth, as that may alter your hormone balance. All of this does not guarantee any harm to your eyes, but it may go some way to minimising any damage."
Susan felt vaguely reassured by the specialist's comments, but was nonetheless unprepared for what he had to say next: "There is something else that I need to tell you about the tests we have carried out on you over the past days, Mrs XXXX.
"Essentially, what we have found is that your use of contact lenses over the past 15 to 20 years has a potentially negative impact on your overall eyesight. The contacts you have worn in the past have effectively been denying oxygen supply to your cornea.
"As a result, some small blood vessels in the cornea have begun to leak. This is a condition, which I call buried veins, that has been ongoing for two or three years, although the effects are still very minor in your case. The long-term effects of this are serious, however. They will be to impair your eyesight further - unless we take remedial action now."
Susan stammered: "What do you mean?"
"Put simply, I'm suggesting that you don't wear your contacts for more than six to eight hours a day. As part of the overall treatment that I am proposing, I also suggest that we check your corneal veins every three months and see how we get on."
Susan stumbled out of the hospital into the unusually bright London sunshine.
Six to eight hours a day! How on earth would she be able to get round that particular restriction! It was unthinkable. On the other hand, Susan was also terrified at the prospect of her sight degenerating to the point where, irrespective of her wearing any form of correction, she might end up seeing little or nothing.
As she caught the train home, Susan started mapping out her day to suit the new requirements laid down by the consultant. One way would be to get up, insert her contacts, sort out breakfasts and pack the kids off to school, change into spectacles throughout the day and put the contacts back in at about 4.30pm, when the children were back. To optimise her time further, she would ask Emma to take Maddie, her youngest to school herself. It was on the way to her own school anyway.
As for weekends, well, things might not be exactly perfect, but she could make up for it during the rest of the week by wearing her contacts a bit less, couldn't she?
By the time Susan arrived back at the house, everything was clear in her mind.
As was the issue of having a child. That night, after the children were in bed and she and Charles were sharing a convivial bottle of wine (how rare it was for them to do so nowadays), Susan told him: "I went to see the consultant today and he tells me that while nothing is guaranteed, they can offer some treatment to ensure my eyes stay stable as possible.
"So, if you were still minded….", she added shyly.
"Darling," murmured Charles, "Nothing would give me greater pleasure."
The next few weeks were a blur of sex. From some reserve deep in his being, Charles appeared to have re-discovered hidden reservoirs of energy. Early nights were followed by lazy early mornings. The kids were packed off to their grandparents for two weekends.
Sometimes, she didn't even have time to put in her contacts in the morning and was forced to make love to Charles in a complete blur. And the same at night. Oddly, the effect was to give her a further sexual charge. Wondering where his hand would touch her next and experiencing everything through her body rather than her eyes was in itself a profound thrill.
She almost wished it could go on forever. Or at least a lot longer.
To neither of their surprise, however, within three months Susan found one day that her period was late. After three further days, plus two more for luck, she carried out a home test. Pregnant!
It was too early to be completely sure, but she told Charles nonetheless. He was delighted.
"Let's make triple certain," he said, "Go for a proper test tomorrow."
Susan did. Her doctor confirmed the good news: "Congratulations. I think you are probably about six weeks pregnant." She also made sure to inform both Ms Barnard and her London consultant, who immediately booked her in for a series of three-month check-ups, starting six weeks hence and carrying on after her birth.
She also told Angie: "Well, I'm pleased for you Suze, because I know that's what you want. But I'd be really careful that things don't go wrong if I were you."
The first hospital test passed uneventfully. But by the second exam, six months into the pregnancy, Susan knew that her old problems had re-emerged.
"I'm afraid it's not good news, your sight has declined again, by about minus 0.75 in both eyes. That's less than on your two previous occasions, of course, but still serious enough," the consultant said.
Three days later, Susan went home with a new set of eyewear, and a prescription of R-18.00, L-18.50.
The next two or three months sped by. One notable event was that of taking both the young children to Ms Barnard for their eye tests. For Maddie, now seven years old, the results weren't that bad. Her sight had got worse, but only by about minus 0.25. Barely any difference.
It was Emma who had the greater shock. From minus 2.25 her eyes suddenly went to minus 3.25. It was a big leap and one which left Emma both unhappy and defiant.
"I don't care. No-one's going to make me wear these things even if I'm a million years old," she declared.
Actually, there had been some serious problems at school concerning Emma. She had moved to a local fee-paid school and her teachers rapidly became concerned at two related events. First, that her school results were now extremely poor. The second was that Emma increasingly appeared to be missing classes.
She would often disappear for the entire day, "bunking off" as kids called it. Susan had a number of meetings with Emma's head of year, but very little could be resolved.
Even at home, Emma would often come home, eat her tea and then rapidly disappear to her bedroom and only come down to say goodnight. Susan could hear her playing music and often Emma's TV (a present from her dad) was switched on. She now refused to go out with her friends, scornfully dismissing them as "nasty cows".
Once, during a weekend, Susan thought Emma had gone out and went up to her room to tidy up. Too late, she discovered Emma up there, lying on the bed wearing her glasses and reading a book.
"Who said you could come in without knocking. Get out," cried Emma furiously, ripping the spectacles off her face in an embarrassed hurry. She looked defenceless. Susan mumbled an apology and closed the door behind her on the way out.
Finally, as it became clear - even to Emma - that something had to be done, Susan engineered a meeting between herself, her daughter and the head of year. "Emma, we can't go on like this. Your work is suffering and you actually risk being excluded from school if this continues," the teacher said. "I'm willing to help you if you help me."
A compromise was ungraciously agreed by Emma: she would wear her glasses sometimes, if things were written up on the board. No-one would force her to wear them otherwise. But if any teacher felt that she wasn't wearing her glasses when they were needed, or that her work was suffering, they would have the right to tell her, in front of the whole class, to put them on.
The concession appeared to work, if only because Emma felt that the threat of ritual public humiliation by a teacher was worse than sneaking her specs on her nose for a quick scan of the board. Shortly thereafter, her school reports appeared to improve and if she was not a model student, at least she remained in class all day.
Meanwhile, the countdown to the birth proceeded. Two weeks before the official birth was due, Susan was booked into an expensive private hospital by her doctor. The following morning, after a spinal anaesthetic, Jack (yes, a little Jack to gladden Charles' heart!) was born by Caesarian section at 10am. It took little over 10 minutes for the operation, although the stitching up seemed to take hours. Susan was relieved to see that the cut was just below the bikini line.
She took Jack home two days later. The first three or four weeks were awful. The pain in her lower abdomen was extreme and Susan was unable to bend, to walk properly or even to sit for long periods of time. She was forced to take lots of painkillers, leaving her alternately groggy or in pain. Charles was forced to take time off and, for the first time, to share in the night-time child care ritual.
He was shattered by the experience, but unlike Susan, once his four-week holiday, plus three days paternity leave entitlement were over, Charles scuttled off back to work, leaving her to look after Jack.
Thankfully, the worst was over physically and Susan gradually recovered. Although she wondered if she would ever get used to that scar, she was reassured to hear that in time it would fade.
"Never mind about that," said Angie, who had taken to coming round at least once a week, "you still look gorgeous, girl."
In her own way, Susan did. She had always eaten healthily, took plenty of exercise and, perversely, motherhood made her bloom. Although a little fuller than before (it would soon come off, she vowed, and it did) she began to feel a lot better.
Her drug treatment continued and, briefly, Susan allowed herself the hope that this time at least things were working out better than the two previous pregnancies.
Sadly, that was not the case. Three months after Jack was born, tests already began to show a decline in her sight. A further three months made it even more obvious: R-19.00, L-19.50, only minus 1 up, but still significant enough to warrant a change in her eyewear.
Worse, the consultant also said: "I have some further bad news. It seems very much as if your corneas are suffering from your extended contact wear. I really think you should give serious consideration to cutting down the amount of time you wear them, perhaps restricting them to parties and social engagement."
Susan told this to Angie in despair: "I can't do that Angie. Charles will never let me."
"What's it got to do with him?", asked Angie, reasonably. "Anyway. He's a sexist pig," she added, also reasonably.
Susan went home in a state of serious depression. She resolved to ignore the consultant's advice for as long as possible.
Her three-month tests continued, even as Jack reached his own first birthday. They showed that while things were better than the last time round, Susan's sight had continued its decline.
Shortly after her 40th birthday, celebrated at home in deference to their three-child family, they had risen to R-20.00, L-20.50.
This time, her consultant added fuel to the fire of her fears: "The first concerns the kind of glasses you wear. My suggestion is that you might feel more comfortable if you had something called myodiscs instead of the current 'thin' lenses you are wearing."
Susan felt a strange sense of apprehension in the pit of her stomach: "What do you mean exactly?"
The consultant explained in his speak-to-a-simple-child way: "Well, the glasses you are currently wearing have become quite thick, as you have noticed, even though they are high-index - thin, that is. Myodisks offer a way of controlling that thickness. What we do is 'carve' out a sight part within each lens. The advantage is that by contrast with what you are wearing, the overall lens thickness is reduced. If you wear small glasses, the overall effect is quite benign.
"The disadvantage is that if you turn your eyes sharply left or right, you move out of the lenses' own field of vision. This can be quite disorientating at first. You have to turn your head and body more to focus on something, rather than just your eyes. But one does get used to it and it soon becomes quite natural and certainly unnoticeable to anyone else."
Susan felt marginally reassured and agreed with his advice. She undertook to return a week later for the first fitting of her myodisc glasses.
But all the way home, she tried to resolve the riddle of what she would do in respect of her consultant's "very strong advice" that she restrict her contact lens wear as much as possible.
That night, against her better instincts, she tried to broach the subject with Charles. "Please listen to me. Either I wear glasses at least part of the time - in front of you - or my sight will get much worse. I could lose a large part of my sight. I promise to wear my contacts when we go out and at other times, but you have to accept that I can't do so all the while," Susan pleaded.
Charles' reaction was typical - and frightening. Without saying another word, he rose out of his armchair, where he had pretended to be reading a book, and walked out of the sitting room, shutting the door quietly behind him.
Susan found him in bed with the lights out, his back turned against her, his entire body screaming silent reproach.
She spent most of the night awake, lying still in her bed, rising only once to attend to Jack. By the morning, she had a fair idea of what she had to do.
The days seemed to speed past and, finally one morning, with her children safely off to school, Susan caught a train to London with Jack. She had decided to wear her contact lenses one more time and, as the train sped through the city suburbs, wondered what things would be like from now on.
Jack was fast asleep when the specialist invited her into his study. She left him in his carry-cot on the floor and moved over to a table with a mirror placed on it and, placing her container in front of her, she deftly removed first one contact and then, having placed it in its place, took out the other one. This too she put away, remarking not for the first time on the deep sense of isolation she felt on not being able to see anything without her glasses.
Susan turned in what she hoped was the consultant's direction: "I'm afraid you will have to help me with this part," she heard herself say.
He moved to her side, helped her too her feet and guided her gently by the arm into a special chair a few feet away. Then, sitting before her, he opened a case at a table next to him. She heard a clack as the case opened and a few seconds later felt spectacles being rested on her nose.
Her eyes had been closed as he did this. Opening them, Susan could suddenly see again. It wasn't a good feeling though. The glasses felt very small (she had deliberately chosen a small frame on the specialist's advice) and as she focussed, Susan found that any movement away from dead centre in her spectacles meant she could see nothing.
The consultant turned out his lamp and, pointing at a chart took Susan through a familiar litany of numbers. Even with the glasses on, she couldn't read the bottom two lines. But the real shock was when she stood up and looked at herself in the mirror.
The central part of the myodisc lens was less than an inch wide from tip to tip and exactly round. Elsewhere, the lens was almost frosted. Set deep at the back, her eyes looked tiny, almost invisible. To see anything clearly, Susan found herself turning from side to side. My God, so this is what it's like, she thought nervously. Susan felt sick.
"It will take a few days to get used to them, but most of my patients tell me that after a while they barely notice anything different compared to normal glasses," the consultant announced grandly.
Susan picked up the carry-cot with Jack in it, and looking straight ahead, was ushered out of the door.
By the time she got home, it was still only 1 pm. The taxi driver had stared at her a bit curiously as he drove he from the station but did not say anything. Susan would later discover that this was a common reaction among people. Among those, that is, who did not sometimes confuse short sight with mental disability.
Somehow, between feeding Jack, tidying up the house and preparing dinner for the girls, the afternoon sped by.
Soon, she heard the back kitchen door open and Maddie raced in: "Hello mummy. Mummy! What's happened to your eyes? Why are you wearing glasses?"
Emma followed slowly behind her younger sister. In her case, she could not see what her mother was wearing very well, but could tell form Maddie's excited tone that something was very different. She came up to Susan's face and looked straight at her.
"So," she said, "you've been needing glasses all along too. Are you going to wear them all the time?"
Susan smiled at Emma about two feet away and said firmly: "Yes I am, darling."
Over tea, she gave them a potted history of what had been happening to her eyesight, minimising some of the fears and worries she'd had. Maddie was soon bored with the conversation, but Emma kept on asking questions, rapidly exhausting even Susan.
The evening wore on and finally, it was time for both the girls to go to bed. Charles had told her he would be late that evening at a social function. Normally, she would have gone to bed too but tonight, she decided to stay up and wait for him.
Finally, at about 11.30 pm, she heard him come in. He walked into the lounge and at first appeared surprised simply to see her there. Then, he noticed her glasses for the first time.
"God on earth Susan. What on earth have they done to you?" was his remark before he appeared to sway and leant against the door for support. He wasn't drunk, mind, just shaken.
"I'm sorry Charles. I have tried to tell you but you wouldn't listen. This is how I will look from now on and that's final."
Red slowly began to infuse Charles' face: "What do you mean: 'This is how I will look from now on', take those bloody things off your face this minute."
He moved towards her, raising his hand in an attempt to swipe the glasses from her face. Susan leapt up and, grabbing a nearby ornament off a table, she raised it above her head:
"Come anywhere near me and I'll smash this over your head." He stopped.
Then, turning on his heels, Charles stalked out of the room. Seconds later, his footsteps could be heard climbing the stairs. Susan waited an hour, then went to bed herself.
The next morning, having set the alarm, she rose at the crack of dawn and was waiting in the kitchen when Charles came in. He said nothing, studiously avoiding looking at her. She sat at the kitchen table, pretending to be engrossed in the morning newspaper. When he had made himself a coffee, Charles supped it looking out of the window, his back to Susan.
Then he went out. She heard the front door close and his feet on the gravel outside.
A few minutes later, first Maddie then Emma came into the kitchen for their breakfast. Maddie was totally unconcerned. But Emma looked at her mother expectantly:
"Well, what did he say?"
"What do you mean?" Susan fenced.
"Come on mum, it's been obvious for years that dad hates anyone wearing glasses. He told me so himself."
Susan changed the subject and packed her kids off to school. Then she picked up her shopping basket and went into the local village. The reaction from most people was barely different, if at all, from before. Just one or two comments from a few neighbours who mostly knew her without glasses. To everyone who asked, Susan explained briefly what had happened. She knew that within a day or two everyone would know.
Gradually, as the day went on, she was finding that seeing things was not as difficult as she had anticipated. She was adjusting quite rapidly to moving her head from side to side and did not even notice it very much.
When the kids came home, the topic of her glasses was exhausted, although Susan could feel Emma looking at her.
With Charles, it was a different matter. Again, she waited up for him, wearing her myodisk lensed glasses. This time, perhaps sensing her in the living room, he came into the house and went straight up to bed. The next morning, instead of coming into the kitchen, where she was waiting for him, Charles sped out of the house.
A weary routine developed, in which Charles would pull the same or similar tricks every day. Even when Susan took to waiting up for him in the bedroom, he would come in, climb into the bed and refuse to look at her. Weekends, Charles simply disappeared for the whole day.
Both girls noticed, but didn't dare ask what was happening. They learnt to say nothing about their daddy's near-total absence from their lives.
This went on for many weeks. Over this time, Susan had finally become used to her spectacles. Sure, she couldn't see as well as with contact lenses. She did not like some children's oafish remarks if she went to play with Maddie in the park or took Jack for a walk in his chair. She resented some neighbours' stares and occasional remarks. And she didn't like the way she looked. Every time she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she would gasp inwardly.
But good, loyal Angie was fantastic support. To Angie, she could tell anything and still feel loved. And the children were great too.
One night, as she played her waiting game with Charles, she fell asleep. She work up to see him standing over her, his face a mixture of disgust and drunken determination: he'd obviously had a few too many.
"Susan, I've decided. I'm leaving you tomorrow. I've found somewhere to live and I went to see it today."
She gripped him by the arm and screamed at him: "Why, Charles, why? Why are you doing this to me? How can you hate me for something that is not my fault? Do I really repel you that much? Look at me. I'm still the same me, no matter whether I wear glasses or not."
Charles was oblivious to her: "There's no point discussing this. You've let me down and that's that. Tomorrow, I'm picking up some of my belongings and I'm moving out." He appeared so decisive in making this statement that Susan simply dropped back into her chair and began to sob. But instead of comforting her, Charles turned slowly and walked up the stairs - to the spare bedroom.
Once more, Susan spent most of the night awake, this time crying downstairs. She heard Charles leave unnaturally early, closing the garden gate behind him. The children came down to find her still in floods of tears.
"He's left, hasn't he mum," said Emma, suddenly practical. "Never mind. You've still got us." Then, reaching into her school jacket pocket, she did something Susan would never have expected her daughter to do.
Emma slipped out her own pair of glasses, put them on he face and said simply: "Good riddance to him." She wore her own glasses full-time from that moment on.
The next few months were hellish. Susan felt lonely, afraid, ashamed at Charles' departure. Part of her still blamed herself, even with the constant support of the children and the ever-faithful Angie, who became almost a full-time resident in her home as they sought to bring her out of her misery.
Gradually they succeeded. Charles had left a big void: you can't be with someone for 15 years and not feel an incredible sense of attachment to them, no matter what they do. But all attempts to contact him, at work, or through his friends, met with stonewalling or apologetic brush-offs: "I'm sorry Susan/Mrs XXXX, he just doesn't want to talk to you."
Eventually, one morning an envelope dropped on to the mat. It was from Charles' solicitors: he wanted a divorce. If she accepted it quietly, she would be well-provided for: the house, a generous lump sum, a monthly settlement for the kids. By now, convinced all hope of a resumption in her relationship with Charles was dead, she wrote back, with her own solicitor advising against, to say she accepted.
Meanwhile, tests showed her sight was worsening. A year after her last test, it reached R-21, L-21.25. As for Emma, now 13, it rose to -4.25, surpassing Maddie's own -4. Neither of her daughters commented much. In Emma's case, she simply put on her new glasses straight away and wore them all the time.
Good news is hard to find in such cases, but a year after that, Susan's prescription had risen by just 0.5 per cent and there was no change 12 months later. It seemed as if things had finally stabilised again.
Not for the children, though. Emma's sight started to worsen rapidly, reaching -4.75 when she was 14 and -5.5 a year later. Maddie, by contrast, now 10, had halted at -4.75.
Neither of the children appeared to care. In Emma's case, she seemed to show some of the defiance Susan remembered from Angie almost 30 years before. Her schoolwork, while never perfect, was vastly better than it had been though. Maddie was an even tougher nut. She had never cared or noticed what people said and that didn't change. Jack, now four years of age, luckily showed no signs of eyesight problems.
Susan, by now divorced some years earlier, suddenly began to hanker after some of the many things she'd missed out in all her married life. Even though Charles had kept his promises of continued maintenance for her and the children, she felt there was a void in her life.
The family sold their large, and to Susan, barren home outside London and moved somewhere closer in town itself. Smaller, but much cosier. Charles let her keep the small difference between the asking price of the one and the selling price of the other. Or at least, he never said anything.
Susan didn't have to work to live comfortably. But she was bored and frustrated. Then it struck her: what were the things she had enjoyed most in the past 15 years? It was looking after children! Why not be a teacher? With Jack himself at school, it would not be too difficult. And with the Government on a recruitment drive for new teachers, she might even stand a chance.
Susan decided to investigate. Her local teacher training college was holding an open day. Susan went in trepidation and got talking to strange-looking chap whose lapel badge said he was head of some department at the college. After a 30-minute conversation, she took a form away with her, quickly filled it in and posted it before she could change her mind.
At the interview, a month later, she found herself sitting in front of three people, including the same strange man. The interview went well. Right at the end, one member of the interview panel suddenly said: "Mrs XXXX, forgive me but I can't help noticing that you wear very strong glasses. Do you think this is likely to cause you a problem if you become a teacher?"
"Oh no," Susan replied devoutly. "I've worn glasses all my life and no-one I've ever come across, children or otherwise, has ever been anything than perfectly fair and decent to me."
One week later the letter arrived: she was accepted to start this September. At last a genuinely new life was finally opening up for Susan. Not what she'd planned, but better than se might have dared hope a few years ago. And, in a curious way, she had her glasses to thank for that. She was finally happy.
Thank you, though I must confess that re-reading each episode there are things I would changed/edit - if only I had the time! In any event, as my early career in publishing taught me, these things tend to need the outside ministrations of an editor, rather than a writer hacking away at his/her own words.
When I wrote one of my earlier instalments, I promised that I would attempt to answer any lingering questions you may have had about what I had written. Here, in this post, I'm trying to keep my promise.
One of you asked about Angie and whether she is involved in a 12-step programme. I have asked her this, without telling her what for. Her reply is that it was one of the options available to her at the time of her recovery from drug addiction but that she deliberately chose not to take part. The explanation is that, while tremendously useful to many people, the AA-type approach was not suited to her.
Angie is not religiously inclined, yet much of the 12-step approach rests on a strong belief in an outside force - if not God, at least an inner spiritual being, which Angie does not share, so she says.
In addition, she tells me (and I really don't know whether she is right or wrong, I simply report her views) that the key to the 12-step approach is that addiction in all its forms is seen as an illness to be cured, or at least kept at bay. Angie doesn't see things that way. She believes that what happened to her was an act of temporary madness into which she slipped when she fell in with bad company.
Although the recovery was hard, and she did undergo a lot of therapy, it was not based on an assumption of Angie as an ill person. Rather it was a means of talking through with someone the issues surrounding the death of her one-time boyfriend and the devastation she felt about the rapid disintegration of her life, the wasted years and feelings of regret at what had happened.
She now seems completely healthy. Apart from her teeth, or lack of them, which Angie maintains is a "blessed relief", she now looks and feels fine, still slimmer perhaps than she once used to be, her hair now almost completely white (cut short, quite sexy in fact). Her job as a psychiatric social worker allows her to indulge in some fairly outlandish clothes, including leather trousers, biker boots and jackets, plus the odd tattoo (on her back and shoulders) and a dinky little nose stud. She wears glasses still, this time frameless titanium specs which appear almost invisible on her face. Angie has weathered her own problems rather well, I think. More on her later.
As for the kids, they too appear to be fairly well-balanced. I hadn't realised how much they had understood of the occasional rows between Charles and myself. But they did, Emma in particular.
Emma tells me that she knew about the glasses thing with Charles and me and, on those odd occasions when I suspected they had been touched and moved slightly many years ago, it was her that did it. She put them on to test what they were like. You could argue that she was being prescient about her own later glasses-wearing, although she tells me it was nothing like that, just curiosity, she only wore them for a few seconds and she couldn't see a thing out of them anyhow. I believe her.
Emma adds that in large measure she didn't wear hers because she was afraid of Charles' potential withdrawal of love towards her, as happened with Maddie. At the same time, Emma felt guilty for what, deep-down, she actually felt was a betrayal both of Maddie and me.
In that context, her sudden decision to "out" herself with glasses seems to me quite natural, although, like Julian, I was profoundly touched by that gesture of solidarity. (I was even more pleased the little Missy finally did what she should have done years before, after years of causing trouble at school, but let's not get into that one!)
My children are wonderful. Emma is going through a minor teenage rebellion phase. Still, we understand each other probably better than many mothers and daughters do. Maddie is beautiful, scatty and wild, sweet and pure, and also uncannily wise in a strange way too complicated to explain. Maybe you understand anyway. Jack is 100 per cent boy-child - boisterous, happy, playful. He remembers nothing of what went on and I don't think I will tell him just yet.
you ask whether I ever considered some form of laser surgery. Yes and no. I did ask a few years after Maddie was born and was considering having Jack. But both my optician and the specialist whom I went to see from time to time felt at the time that the procedure was essentially untested and that it would be a mistake to do then something I might regret later.
As it is, I still wonder from time to time whether this might not help me. But two things have put me off. The first is TV programme shown last year on the BBC about the experiences of people who have had this procedure. The programme found that even in cases where the individuals felt psychologically the surgery had helped them, eye tests showed they displayed continuing - and this time uncorrectable - sight problems. Worse, a website I found before coming to Eye Scene (unfortunately I don't remember what it was called) has a mass of information from people who had the procedure and now wish they hadn't. Their experiences are horribly frightening and not to be wished on anyone.
Several of you have asked a series of questions about Charles. In many ways I have portrayed him badly. And in truth, he wasn't/isn't always the most understanding man in the world (somewhat of an understatement). But at the same time, notwithstanding all the problems I have outlined, we shared many happy years together - part of the story you have read is not just of his behaviour towards me but of my caving in to his diktats.
As I said earlier on, perhaps if I had stood up to him sooner, much of this would not have happened, or at least not in the way it eventually did. Perhaps I should share a little of the blame.
Even more fundamentally, although I did not say in my story what happened to Charles to make him behave the way he did, I now know.
About three months ago, Charles phoned me at my new home and asked to meet me. This was such an unusual request, we had not seen each other since he walked out two years or so ago, that I accepted with some curiosity. I left Jack and the older kids with Angie, who often baby-sits for me, though she was very reluctant for me to go.
We met in a wine bar - on neutral territory, so to speak. His first words were that he wanted to apologise for his behaviour over all those years. He then asked me to go outside with him and, it being a balmy evening, we went to a nearby park and sat on a bench.
Charles has recently started to see a therapist who has encouraged him to come to terms with childhood experiences that profoundly shaped his behaviour. Charles went to a very upmarket public school (in the UK, public means exclusive and fee-paying). He boarded at the school, and its preparatory version, from the age of eight until he was 18.
Put bluntly, when he was 9 years old, Charles was raped by his housemaster, a man then in his 40s whose own bedroom was adjacent to the larger set of rooms where upwards of six boys slept. The older man, Charles told me, wore very thick glasses.
The first episode of abuse happened one night when Charles had a nightmare, woke up and tapped on the housemaster's door to seek comfort. The older man took Charles into his room and offered to let him sleep in his own bed, telling the young boy that he would himself bed down in an armchair and watch over him. Charles woke up an hour or two later to find the housemaster in bed next to him, fondling his genitals.
A pattern was quickly set: late at night, when everyone was asleep, the housemaster would appear by Charles' bed and tap him on the foot, then leave the boys' room. A minute or two later, Charles would be expected to follow and enter the housemaster's rooms next door. There, a set of sexual acts would follow until early morning, when Charles would return to his own bed.
This went on for over a year. Even then, when moved into another, older boys' house, the same man engineered situations in which he would call Charles into his room on some pretext and sexually abuse him.
Charles' abiding memory - and he says this is what shaped his profound aversion to spectacles, particularly on someone with whom he has had relationships - includes the man in question kissing him powerfully on the mouth on many occasions. As the housemaster forced his tongue in Charles' own mouth, he remembers looking at the man's eyes through the lenses of his glasses. The eyes were tiny, suggesting that this man was quite short-sighted.
The abuse continued for another 18 months, until Charles was 11 and a half. Then, presumably because he had tired of Charles, the man left him alone. Shortly afterwards he left the school.
Throughout all his time at that school and in later life Charles never spoke about this to anyone, presumably out of shame and self-blame. But it is clear that the effect of this experience has been to scar him profoundly, probably irreversibly.
As Charles talked, he cried long and hard - for the first time in my memory. I held and hugged him for at least an hour as he alternated between crying and apologising for hurting me and for his tears.
That evening I felt, and continue to feel, extreme sorrow and pain on Charles' behalf. And anger at the man who abused him and has had such a powerful and destructive effect on not just one life but, very nearly, two lives, myself included. I understand he is now dead.
In the past month or so, I have been encouraging the children to consider seeing their father. They don't yet wish to do this but I think they will. And I know that would please him no end. Charles genuinely wants to make amends.
In an ideal world, I would now tell you that the experience of that evening has brought us back together again and we would all rejoice at such a fairytale ending. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
It's not that I don't feel a lingering affection for Charles. As I say, he was mostly a loving man - albeit a bit straight-laced and occasionally domineering. While I might have got back together with him in the months following his departure, he and I have both moved on since.
At the time, he hurt me badly and I can still remember that too. In any event, I understand Charles has found another partner, someone who cares and loves him and has encouraged him on his own spiritual journey. And I am happy for him. Really, I am.
As for me, I have found my own kind of happiness. My teacher training starts in a couple of months' time. I'm nervous but exhilarated at the challenge.
As for my glasses, I have looked up the full current prescription and it stands at R-21.50 (-2.50 X 95), L-21.75 (-2.25 X 170). I still don't quite understand these things completely, though I know that some of the other numbers mean that I have astigmatism and that a portion of the lenses are stronger than others over part of my eyes. Or something: maybe one of you can explain what it all means.
The practical effect is indisputable, however: without them I am now almost completely blind. Sometimes, in the morning when I wake up, I lie in bed and look around me. Everything is totally blurred. Without my glasses, I can't recognise any of the children even from a foot away. Jack will sometimes jump into bed in the morning with me and we tussle, me blindly, holding on to him and tickling him.
I have a routine for the day, which involves always keeping a spare set in my bag, and several pairs around the house in precise locations so that if anything should happen I know when to find another pair instantly. I always remember where I am setting my glasses, in the shower for example.
Despite all these precautions, I occasionally forget to put glasses on. A year or so ago, after we moved into the new house, I heard Jack crying in the middle of the night and jumped out of bed to go to his room. I forgot, in the total dark, that I was not wearing my glasses, a fact brought painfully home to me when I walked into a door and crashed to the floor, my nose bleeding badly. What Jack made of his mother rushing into his room with her nose squirting blood all over the place I don't know.
All my neighbours, friends and family have seen me with glasses now. It is probably true for everyone in a similar situation that they dread the first two or three meetings when something like this happens. In my case, I remember thinking that they would be shocked at the sight of someone they had come to know as "normal" should now appear before them with such thick spectacles. In practice, it has not been so terrible, though if I'm honest, I still do a double-take if I inadvertently catch sight of myself in a mirror or shop window.
From time to time, I still meet people whom I have not seen for years. They are amazed at my transformation - and at the fact that Charles and I are divorced. When that happens, I do get slightly flustered and wonder what they are thinking of the bespectacled and seemingly-blind new me.
I still have a pair of contact lenses, by the way. I could wear them for a couple of hours a day, maybe a while longer from time to time, but I don't. Having made a decision that I would no longer subject myself to the sense of loss and longing that comes with not wearing and then wearing glasses, I feel it would be too painful to pretend any longer to be something I am not and never have been since I was a teenager - properly-sighted.
Funnily enough, as I was writing this epilogue, I had a sudden urge to find out what I looked like with them on. The children are in bed and I've just been into the bathroom and slipped the contact lenses in for a few minutes, wondering round the house before changing back to my lenses. I must confess it felt weird.
I could see much better than with my glasses, which I had forgotten about. That's a definite minus compared to my current state. At the same time, I felt slightly uncomfortable without something on my nose and I couldn't quite recognise myself in my "old" state. It was almost a relief to slip my glasses back on. Strange. Maybe I'm getting used to how I look.
The only thing I still don't like very much are the stares and occasional comments in the street or in shops, or the way other people feel they can push ahead of me, or treat me as if I'm mildly retarded and ugly.
I'm not retarded. And I'm not ugly. Actually, one of the dubious benefits of a husband leaving you is that at first you lose weight because of the miserable state you feel in. Then, a perverse sense of pride makes you decide to "show him" that you are sexier and better-looking than you ever were. In my case, I spent hours down the gym every week, hundreds of pounds (thousands actually) on clothes and much time in the hands of beauticians and hairdressers just to make myself look and feel good.
That particular frenzy has abated, thankfully. But I live healthily, still exercise regularly and, so I'm told, am quite good-looking. At least, Angie tells me so. She says my glasses make me look "mysterious", whatever that means. I've not put it to the test, as such. A couple of men have asked me out and I have had the occasional meal and theatre or film outing with them. But it never goes any further. Maybe I'm not interested. Or maybe I'm just focussed on something else.
Perhaps, it's Angie. She moved with me when I bought our house in London recently. That is, she has another room in the house. For me, it was the chance of some genuine companionship and a friend for the children, whom she adores and who adore her.
For Angie, well, for her it was probably the chance to live in a nice house with someone who puts up good-humouredly with her occasional drunkenness and drama-queen outbursts; who will sit up and listen when she comes home and wants to talk about her main obsession (work). A friend who accepts her early-morning behaviour: stomp grumpily into the kitchen without your teeth in, light a cigarette without speaking to anyone, put the kettle on and make yourself a coffee without offering a cup to the rest of the house. The kids love it. I'm not so sure.
Angie hasn't found a man to live with either. Over the years she tried a couple ("They were wankers Suze, total wankers") before moving in with me and living a life of pulchritude. But she may be getting desperate: two weeks or so, shortly after I started this autobiography, Angie came in one evening slightly the worse for wear after a drinking session with some of her work colleagues. As sometimes happens, she came in to see me in my room before disappearing to her own one for the night. I was in bed, reading.
Angie was in her dressing gown and had taken out her teeth. Her face looks caved in when she does that, slightly crone-like. But nice, ancient and almost all-knowing.
We both lay on the bed chatting about this and that, with Angie lisping away about how much so-and-so had to drink and what happened at her office that day. Then, to my surprise, she turned to face me and gently kissed me on the lips: "Suze, you know, you really are sexy." We looked at each other in amazement.
Then she kissed me again, this time sliding her tongue in my mouth and holding my face in her hands. It was surprisingly thrilling and I found myself kissing her back. Then, I suddenly stopped and pulled away. Angie looked at me and nodded, stood up and quietly walked out of the room.
That night, I wondered whether I had done the right thing. To an extent I still do wonder, but believe I have. Angie and myself are very good friends and to take things further would complicate matters.
Nor am I sure that it's what I really want. I'm not homophobic in any way (next thing you'll hear me saying that some of my best friends are lesbian and gay - but they are). Yet ultimately, I would like to meet a man who respects me, will be a friend to my children and will like my own friends, including Angie.
By contrast, one night of admittedly enjoyable passion might spoil everything between Angie, the kids and me. We haven't spoken of it since and things appear to be unchanged between us in every respect. Let's hope it lasts.
Well, that's about it.
Specs4ever is kind enough to ask whether, as a result of writing this epic, I have found "closure".
Yes, in many ways I have. There must be about 25,000 words here in all, probably more, and I've found the experience of setting out my thoughts hugely cathartic.
I should confess, again, that this is not a totally "true" story. The main details are correct, but some peripheral issues (and especially the quotes from years ago) are not exact. I've changed a few other things to protect my privacy.
And inevitably, writing as one does about a course of events influenced by my eyesight means that many other facets of my personality and my life are not reflected in this autobiography. In that respect, re-reading my story I almost feel two-dimensional and obsessed by vision, glasses and that sort of thing. In truth, most of my life has been anything but. Hopefully, some of that love of life has come through in my writing. I'd like to think it has.
It only remains for me to express my gratitude to you once more for your patience and support. I will stick around and read the posts in here and elsewhere from time to time - as I did, feverishly, for two months, back-tracking over a year's worth of topics in every forum before plucking up the courage to write in myself.
If, Meganekko, you want to collect my various scribblings, unite them and re-publish them in some other area, I would be honoured. You know, I haven't saved them anywhere else other than on this site, so if they go from here, that's it.
A couple more observations: I started off thinking this site was for weird people. I'm glad to have learned it is full of nice people too.
Another thing: since starting this, I have made a habit of checking what people are writing themselves: it seems only polite. By the way, is the "Bella" who replied to "Jules" in another forum the same as Isabella, the person who wrote last year about adjusting to wearing glasses when in her 30s? I'd like to think so: I have a lot to thank her for also.
That's it for now. It is now 11.45 here in London and I really should go to sleep. Take care of yourselves.