Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Storm

by Dieter

Aurora listened as the doctor spoke, “Your prescription has gone up about a half diopter this time. That’s not too bad considering your age. You’re still growing so I would expect a few more increases in the coming years. Other than that, your eyes are quite healthy and normal.” Into her own thoughts, Aurora sat quietly and gave no response. What could she say? Aurora had been wearing glasses since before kindergarten and she was the only one in her class for the first few years. In her 15 years, no one else had ever had glasses with a degree of strength anywhere close. What had she ever done to deserve this?

She looked at her prescription as she met her mom in the reception area; OD -10.25 -3.75 x 18, OS -10.00 -3.25 x 105. “Great”, she said sarcastically, “I’m now in the double digits.” Her mom gave her a pat for reassurance as they moved to the next room to pick out new frames. In a few hours her new glasses would be ready and she could wear them to school by the next day. It wasn’t that she minded wearing glasses. Aurora couldn’t remember what it was like not needing glasses. She was just tired of being the kid in school with the worst eyesight. She was weary of being teased for reasons that were out of her control.

The next morning, staring into a dark and overcast sky, Aurora was again deep in thought. It was the kind of dreary light that was difficult to see through with the best of eyesight. As she stepped off the bus, her best friend Randi came running up the sidewalk. “I love your new glasses, Aurora! I can’t wait to get new ones more like that. They’re very fashionable.”

“Thanks, Randi, do you really think so?”

“Absolutely, they suit you perfectly! But, you don’t seem too excited?”

“My prescription got stronger. I’m just tired of being the blindest person in school.”

“Relax, girl. Those frames hide the strength of your lenses. No one will know. Your friends don’t care anyway.”

“It’s not my friends I worry about”, Aurora responded.

They waved to each other and separated to go to their respective classes. As Aurora neared her classroom, it began. “Oh look. The four-eyed geek got new glasses”, Brittney said loudly. “She thinks she’s so ‘Emo’. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. How can you see anything through those coke bottles?” Brittney continued as some of her friends joined in laughter. “What, no response?” she chided relentlessly.

Against her better judgment, Aurora replied softly, “Brittney, there is no response that you are capable of comprehending, you don’t even understand what the term ‘Emo’ means.” “Great comeback dork”, Brittney replied mockingly. Additional laughs followed.
The teasing temporarily ceased as Aurora entered the classroom. Though humiliated, at least 
she was now under the protection of her homeroom teacher, Ms. Simmons. This had been going on for years. Brittney had made Aurora her “arch enemy” in the 6th grade when both of them had been interested in the same boy. He had moved elsewhere since, but Brittney had never stopped. Since Aurora was bright and attractive, the only item that Brittney had ever found to be useful for ridicule was Aurora’s eyesight. It was a much too easy target for the ever popular Brittney.

After taking role, Ms. Simmons began reading the morning announcements. Few in the classroom were listening though, as everyone’s attention had turned towards the windows. Amidst the darkness, the sky had turned a peculiar shade of yellow. The wind stopped unexpectedly leaving a void of eerie silence. In the distance, tornado sirens began to roar. Moments later the alarm system started blasting three short buzzes repeating over and over. In a firm manner, Ms. Simmons said methodically, “Everyone leave your things on your desk and line up at the door quickly and orderly.” With urgency, the classmates did as they were told trying their best to avoid panic. As they formed at the door, Ms. Simmons continued, “As we enter the hallway in a line, everyone drop to your knees facing the lockers, lay your head in your lap, and cover your head with your hands.” Her statements were merely a reminder since the students had practiced this drill for many years. This unfortunately, happened to be the first time they were executing it for real. While the relentless sounds of the deafening alarm continued, the students did as they had been asked.

As Aurora took her position against the wall, she noticed that Brittney had kneeled beside her. The fear she saw told Aurora that Brittney was much too scared to do any teasing at the moment. All of the students were well aware of what a yellow sky meant when living in “tornado alley”.

Suddenly there were rumbling and ripping noises as the roof pulled away from the wall and disappeared into the sky. It sounded as though a freight train was running through the hallway. Students screamed as chaos ensued. Two minutes later after what seemed to be an eternity, everything was starkly quiet. There was a light sprinkle of rain falling as dust floated about. Nobody moved except Aurora. Everyone else was frozen with fear. Fortunately, all of the walls were still intact. Slowly teachers began to rise. Ms. Simmons called to Aurora and asked her to check on everyone starting at the far end. But as Aurora began to walk that way, she realized she couldn’t see anything but a blur. She must have lost her glasses in the commotion. But no, she was wearing her glasses. They must be dirty so she took them off. Despite the need for her strong prescription it seemed as though she could see perfectly. That was peculiar. She quickly assessed the damage and saw debris lying everywhere that she needed to avoid. Carrying her glasses in her hand, Aurora checked on the students from the far end and worked her way back. Many of them were whimpering and crying but no one appeared to have anything more than cuts and bruises. Upon meeting in the middle, Ms. Simmons told Aurora, “We will need to get everyone down to an area that is still intact. I’ll lead and you bring up the rear. Keep any stragglers moving. Oh, and Aurora, thanks for helping. You’re a godsend.”

All teachers were gathering up their classes and herding them towards the two gymnasiums at the opposite end of the school. Interconnected by a common hallway, neither of those large rooms had sustained major damage. As Aurora was trailing the group, she noticed that Brittney was stumbling. 

She called out, “Come on, girl, let’s get to the gym where it’s dry and warm. We’ll be there in a minute.” But Brittney replied, “I . . . I’m sorry. I can’t see where I’m going. I keep tripping over things on the floor.”

“Do you have something in your eyes?”

“I don’t think so, I just can’t see. I can’t even see my feet. I’ve never been like this before.”

“Can you focus on my hand?” Aurora asked as she held her hand out about two feet away from Brittney.

“I can see that fine, I just can’t focus on anything much farther away.”

“I’m no doctor but it sounds like you’re nearsighted.” Aurora said. “Here, Brittney, try my glasses.”

Brittney carefully placed Aurora’s new glasses on her face and made the strangest look. 

“What’s wrong, Britt?”

“I can see perfectly.”

“Are you sure? My glasses are pretty strong.”

“I can see perfectly. What’s going on here? Why don’t you need your glasses?”

Aurora didn’t have an answer. All she knew is that for the first time since she was very young, she was able to see clearly without wearing prescription lenses.

As the various classes trickled into the gyms, students were given a quick medical check by school officials. They wanted all students accounted for and in the custody of adults in case anyone had unforeseen medical problems. Eventually, policemen, firemen and other emergency officials came to the school to assist and assess the damages. Everyone in the gyms huddled together in groups to consol each other. It was a great relief to all that nobody at the school had major injuries. The students with bumps and scrapes were sent to the hospital to get further evaluation. The rest waited throughout the day until they could be retrieved by parents.

In time as everyone relaxed, the students began to mingle to discuss the incident. Most of them felt pretty happy to even be alive considering that the tornado had touched down directly on their school. Ultimately, each of Brittney’s friends came by to ask her why she was wearing Aurora’s glasses. Of course, she still had no idea. And no one understood how Aurora was functioning at all. It was the first time anyone remembered seeing Aurora at school without glasses ever. Though everyone agreed that Brittney looked good wearing the glasses, her friends kept commenting that she needed to remove them before she ruined her eyesight. 
Unfortunately, she could see nothing beyond a few feet each time she tried to do that. Brittney was totally in shock.

Brittney’s boyfriend, Parker, finally made his way over to her. “Britt, when did you get glasses? They look great”, he said.

“They’re not mine”, she replied, “They belong to Aurora.”

“So you’re just holding them for her?”

“She doesn’t need the right now.”

“But why are you wearing them? Can you see with them on?”

“Yes, and I don’t know why.”

“Cool. Maybe you can get your own.”

“You would want me to wear glasses like this, Parker?”

“Sure, Britt, they’re perfect for you. You look hot!”

“Well don’t get used to it. There is no way I plan to wear strong glasses like these . . . ever.” But, Brittney was distressed. What made her think her eyes would ever get back to normal?
Though she didn’t really want to wear them, Brittney worried that she would have to return the glasses to Aurora sooner or later. For the moment, Brittney could not see without them so she was glad that Aurora seemed to be preoccupied by assisting school staff. 

Finally Brittney caught up with Aurora and asked, “My mom should be here soon. Do you need your glasses before I go?” 
“No. For right now, I’m fine”, Aurora replied. “If you can use them keep them. Just take care of them because they are brand new and were very expensive. Here’s the case to store them if you need it”, Aurora said as she pulled it out of her bag. “When I need my glasses back, I’ll let you know. I can wear my old ones if I have to.”

When Brittney’s mom arrived, she went ballistic. “Brittney, what are you dong with those thick glasses on your face? Take them off at once, before you damage your eyes!”

“Mom, I would love to but I can’t see without them.”

“Don’t be silly. Who do they belong to?”


“Aurora? The kid who’s been wearing glasses since she was little? What’s going on?”

“Mom, I don’t know. I haven’t been able to see clearly since the tornado hit.”

“And nobody thought that was strange?”

“Sure they thought it was strange but they had so many other problems to deal with.”

Angry, Brittney’s mom feared the worst and drove directly to the hospital emergency room. 

They had a long wait since there were obviously many people in need of services. After a doctor checked Brittney, he was convinced that there was nothing wrong. However, he did send her to get a MRI just to be safe. Once photos from the scan were read by a doctor, she was declared healthy. Brittney’s mom demanded that something be done but the doctor responded, “You need to get her eyes checked by an ophthalmologist. There’s really nothing more we can do here.” As they left the hospital, Brittney was wearing Aurora’s glasses still. For the rest of that day she was continuously scolded for wearing the strong glasses. Everyone repeatedly told her she shouldn’t use them. But, only Brittney and Aurora realized the impossibility of that.

In the mean time, Aurora finished up at school and went home when her dad arrived. As illogical as it seemed, she explained that she couldn’t see with her glasses and had to remove them. As he drove, he gave her a series of impromptu vision tests asking her to read signs and spot objects that he knew she could not have memorized. Finally satisfied, he was convinced that she could see fine. They agreed that whatever had happened was for the best and there was no need to worry for the moment. For the rest of that evening, Aurora continued doing everything without glasses. That night when she went to bed, Aurora was thrilled by the fact that she could read a book without holding it six inches from her face. She read late into the night, not wanting to fall asleep for fear that her eyes would return to normal in the morning.

The next morning as Brittney awoke she opened her eyes. She realized she couldn’t see the alarm clock that was just on the other side of her bed. In fact, almost nothing was in focus in her room. She could see the pretty shade of pumpkin that was painted on the walls so she knew where she was. Brittney freaked. Where had she put “her” glasses? Without them she could barely get out of bed. Finally she viewed their vague image lying on the nightstand. She reached for the glasses and put them on. For the first time in her life, she understood what it meant to be dependent on glasses. Yesterday had seemed like a dream but it wasn’t. She was still incredibly nearsighted.

When Aurora awoke, she could see clearly the instant she opened her eyes. She didn’t have to search for her glasses because she didn’t need them. She didn’t have to struggle in the shower because she had perfect vision. School had been canceled for the rest of the week but Aurora had agreed to join many of her classmates to assist other volunteers at the school. The plan for the day was to remove and dispose of debris, then sort through as much as possible to reclaim reusable items. To be on the safe side she found her old glasses and put them in her backpack but she hoped they wouldn’t be necessary. It was a beautiful spring day and she was looking forward to spending the day with her friends.

Fortunately for Brittney, the optical store was unaffected by the storm. It was located in the next town about ten miles away which wasn’t in the path of the tornado. Because of the bedlam in the area, there had been several cancellations and the store was able to schedule a time slot for the late morning. Brittney had never realized all of the problems that were associated with wearing glasses. Being especially myopic created even more. She had never considered the complications in taking a shower, putting on makeup, or fixing her hair. While she ate breakfast, Brittney had never pondered the difficulties she would have when making oatmeal, reading the newspaper, or watching the morning news on television. It seemed like everything she did, required glasses. And to look outside while sitting in the breakfast nook was completely impossible. There was nothing she could see without glasses, not people, not cars, not even the houses. Beyond two feet, she could see daylight and virtually nothing more. The other aspect that bothered Brittney was the fashion factor. She only had one pair of glasses to wear with everything. There were no other options. Aurora’s glasses were especially trendy and a very flexible style, but it would be nice to have several pairs to wear with different outfits. How had Aurora dealt with this her whole life?

On the drive to the optical store, Brittney realized how dirty the lenses were in “her” glasses. “Gawd”, she thought, “I cleaned them several times yesterday”. First they had all that dust on them at school. Then she was constantly removing them while getting examined and tested at the hospital. After that they had finger prints and smudges all over the lenses. And now they were filthy again but she didn’t have anything with which to clean them. Where did all of the dirt and smears come from? How often do you have to clean glasses, anyway? When she turned to ask her mom if she had any tissues, ouch! The sun caught her right in the eyes through the strong lenses and suddenly everything seemed to go black. And that was another thing. She could not believe how much glare she constantly had to deal with, everything from car windows to signs. When she turned back to look away from the sun, wham! She bumped her glasses into the window and hurt her nose. It was like she had a whole new set of rules to live by. How did Aurora do this every day?

In the eye exam the doctor was quite concerned. Speaking to Brittney and her mom, he repeatedly asked, “Are you both sure that Brittney has never worn glasses?” 

Brittney’s mom answered, “Doctor there isn’t anyone in our family that wears glasses other than the reading glasses that her grandparents use. Brittney is the first.” 

Shaking his head, the doctor continued, “This is not only highly irregular, it is almost impossible for someone to be suddenly so myopic. I’ve had patients that start out in the -3 range . . . but -10? I only have a few patients even in that range and only two are your age.” Brittney responded, 

“Doctor, isn’t there something you can do besides give me glasses? I mean, what could have caused this?” 

“Well,” he said, “your eyes look perfectly healthy. We honestly don’t know the cause of myopia other than most specialists consider it to be hereditary. The only thing we can do for the moment is prescribe corrective lenses. Of course we could try contacts, however, with your degree of astigmatism that, too, will have complications. For the time being I wouldn’t recommend that. I suggest you begin wearing glasses first and let’s make sure your eyes settle down. If there is no major advancement in your myopia, we can look into toric contact lenses in the future.” 

“You mean my eyes could get worse?” Brittney questioned. 

“Absolutely, it’s very likely. You’re still growing young lady. Oh, and one thing I want to mention while both of you are listening. Your prescription is considered to be in the very high to severe range of myopia. With that, you can have many other possible complications such as macular degeneration and, most particularly, retinal detachments. I’m going to have my aids give you some booklets on these issues. You should read up. There’s no reason to be alarmed but you do need to be informed.”

Heartbroken, Brittney took her prescription to the optical shop and began trying frames. It wasn’t long before she was having fun, though. Selecting frames was actually enjoyable. It was like buying shoes. There were so many options. There were dozens of styles and colors from which to choose. Glasses could be anything from formal to funky. Some looked wrong. Some looked good. Others looked fantastic. After a while Brittney narrowed her choices down to about five frames. One pair looked very similar to Aurora’s. It was obvious that they were a good choice because everyone said so, including Parker. 

Finally Brittney’s mom said, “Ok, Britt, you need to decide. All of these frames look really great on you, honey.” 
“How many can I choose?” she replied, “I was hoping to get about three pairs for different occasions and maybe a pair to make into sunglasses.” 

Her mom turned to the oculist for advice. Sensing her question, he quickly replied, “Well, those are going to cost about $379 per pair plus tax. The lenses are rather expensive when you get into these high prescriptions.” 

That was all Brittney’s mom needed to hear. “I’m sorry, baby, but you’ll have to choose one pair. There’s no way I can afford any more today. Maybe we can get some others later.” 

“Can’t I at least get a second pair for sunglasses?” Brittney pleaded. 

“Not today, baby” her mom responded.

Heartbroken even more, Brittney chose the ones she liked the most. For now, she could continue to wear Aurora’s glasses at least until she had to return them. That would give her two different pairs. It had never occurred to Brittney that wearing glasses was fraught with so many complications. How was Aurora able to cope with this every day? In fact, why was it that Aurora no longer needed her glasses? Why was it that Aurora now had perfect vision? None of this was logical. What was that pounding noise? And why was Aurora talking to her here at the optical store. How did Aurora get here?

Sensing that her head was pounding to the rhythm of her heart, Brittney realized that everything was dark. She felt extremely nauseous and was completely unaware of where she was. A stream of light began to appear as though she was in a long tunnel. As the radiance spread, she soon realized that her head was being held gently in Aurora’s lap. 

Brittney could hear Aurora talking as though she was somewhere in the distance, “Come quickly Ms. Simmons! It looks like Brittney has taken a nasty hit on the head.” 

Everyone began to huddle around to see what they could see. Scurrying as fast as possible, Ms. Simmons asked her class to take seats against the wall and give Brittney some air. As she gained consciousness, Brittney was looking directly into Aurora’s face. Aurora’s beautiful bespecled face! She was wearing her brand new glasses. Boy did those glasses look good on Aurora. It all had been a dream!

In the eerie silence, Aurora reassured Brittney that the tornado was gone. There was a light sprinkle of rain falling as dust floated everywhere. Aurora stayed with Brittney to comfort her until the paramedics arrived while Ms. Simmons walked the class to the gymnasium. Brittney was asked to lie still while the paramedics attended to her. Dazed and confused, she clasped tightly to Aurora’s hand until she was placed into the ambulance to be transported. Fortunately it was later determined that Brittney had nothing more than a concussion, but she was asked to stay the night for observation. When Aurora dropped by the hospital that evening, Brittney asked everyone else to leave the room. 

“Aurora,” she began, “I want to apologize for everything that I have said and done to you these past years. I don’t even remember why I’ve been treating you the way that I have. I’m sorry it took a disaster like this to knock some sense into my head. I’ve been so stupid and mean. I 
don’t remember anything bad you ever did to me. Please forgive me, friend.” 

Aurora gave Brittney a long hug of reassurance.

Several weeks later at school, Brittney came running up to Aurora and Randi ready to burst with excitement. “Would you guys come with me tomorrow to the optical store? I just came back from the eye doctor and he said I need glasses. I failed the eye exam the other day in Driver’s Ed and I can’t drive until I get my glasses. Please help me. The two of you have the best taste in eyewear. I want you to help me pick something that looks really good on me. Parker just found out that I need glasses and he can’t wait for me to get them!”

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