Autumn Phillips: Four eyes


If eyes are the windows to the soul, I'm putting on storm windows.

I'm getting glasses.

It happened like this: It was Tuesday. It was raining.

I was led into a small windowless room, and the door slid shut behind me. There were eyeballs and diagrams of eyeballs staring from the walls. There was a large poster with a grid of a hundred eyes -- malformed eyes, yellowed eyes, diseased and milky eyes. I looked at each one of them as the doctor spoke.

The place made me think of Kafka's castle with the machines and the eyes and the letters projected on the wall for me to see and read.

Things have been getting blurry for a while. A life spent reading books and writing at the computer seems to have permanently focused my vision close to my face.

But it wasn't until a friend started pestering me to get my eyes checked, asking me daily whether I had made an appointment, that I ended up in the windowless room with one eye covered reading letters out loud. Is that an O or a D?

"It makes me wonder ..."

The doctor was talking. He had started a conversation about literature -- what separates a great writer from a writer who has just perfected the technique. It's a good question, and I have more theories about that than he had time to hear. But my back was tense, and my teeth were grinding, and I was thinking that I might dive out of my chair, throw my arms around his ankles and say, "Please, please tell me I don't need glasses."

"Stare at the light, please." He was close to me now, staring at the back of my eyeball.

"Do you hear that?" he said. "The rain just started again."

He pushed himself away and looked at the computer screen where he had been recording my results.

"Good. Yes. Very consistent."

He told me that I had astigmatism. That it was environmental. That I needed glasses.

"You're new to this. You'll have a hard time stepping off of curbs for the first week. The glasses will feel awkward. It will take you awhile to get used to the way they look."

Then he walked me out in the showroom where there were hundreds of frames from which to choose.

I heard him talking to someone in the back room. "First-time glasses wearer."

I picked up a pair of wire frames and stared at them.

When I was in fifth grade, the eye examiners came to the sanctuary of my religious school. I sat in the front pew and read letters from an eye chart. Somehow, in my twisted child brain, I had decided that I wanted glasses. I pretended that I couldn't read most of the letters, but when they put actual glasses on my face, I went cross-eyed and couldn't read a thing. They rolled their eyes and told my mom that I had perfect vision.

This time around, I'm not quite as excited. Is it vanity? Is it an identity thing? Or is it just that I now have one more expensive thing to lose or break?

Outside it was gray and wet.

Two women were talking.

"This weather is terrible. I've talked to people from Seattle and Cleveland who say that this is worse than home. They should just go back."

I looked through the frames trying to choose one. I found a pair of black-rimmed glasses that pointed at the corners. I slipped them on my face and looked in the mirror.

Yes. Very Seattle, I thought.

Then I saw myself, standing there, wearing glasses.

I slunk up to the counter like an elementary school student who didn't finish her homework.

"I'm going to come back with a friend to pick out my glasses. I need a second opinion."

The lady at the counter smiled.

"Come back with as many opinions as you like."


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