A Four-Eyed Walrus

or How I Finally Got Glasses

They used to call me four-eyes. Then I got glasses. Now they call me eight-eyes. - Henny Youngman

I am getting new glasses. I have had glasses now for almost 20 years, and they are a happy part of me. I have a vision plan that was pretty amazing, and even though I have to wait two weeks to get my special ordered glasses, I am pleased to get them. And if reminded me of how I got my first pair. It is a moment in my life that impressed me deeply.

Let me first state that 99% of my friends got glasses against their will. Usually at a young age, about 6-9 years old. They hated them. Many couldn't wait until they turned 13 so they could legally get contacts. Many of them even now ask, "Why not get contacts?" and in the same breath go, "Ow, dammit! I scratched my cornea!" When I was young, there were a few kids with glasses, and enough of them were in my school every year to warrant a safety film starring Freddie Eyewise the Eyeball Safety Awareness fish (I am not making this up). The saftey film always showed how dumb kids would gore out their eyeballs be incorrectly wearing glasses (again, I am not making this up). Freddie then said that if you didn't wear your glasses correctly, he'd come to your house when you were alseep and beat your teeth in (okay, I made that last part up). But if there was anything that would unite the corrective eyewear people with the perfect vision people, it was the universal hatred of those films and a hatred towards wearing glasses in general. But the story is different when you aren't allowed to have them.

My story starts at about 11 years of age in 5th grade. I noticed that things I used to be able to see far away were not so easy to see anymore. This was gradual, in fact, it didn't even start to be annoying until late in 6th grade. By the time I was 13 in 7th grade, it went from annoying to very difficult to manage. I failed my first vision test then. But did my school insist on me getting glasses? Not at first. And the reason why was so stupid. In 7th grade, they lined us up NEXT to the eye chart, before the called you, and then when called, you would walk up to the tape on the gym floor, and cover one eye, and read from a chart made up of 4 symbols. The symbol was a squarish three-pronged fork that either pointed up, down, left, or right. They usually made you read the first 4 lines, and if you could, off you went to the place where they tested your hearing and checked your back for scoliosis (a lateral curvature of the spine; I was exempt because I already had it, and it was so slight, there was nothing they could do to fix it). The people checking your eyesight were volunteers, usually parents, who covered the lines with cardboard with a hole cut out, and asked you to read the exposed fork. As a little kid, you pointed your hand in the direction of the fork. When we got older, you just said, E, M, 3, or W. Now, in the volunteers' defense, they had to put up with a lot of wise-ass kids. They always checked you in gym/PE, and usually the boys thought it was funny to screw with the volunteers' heads. So when I got some wrong, the gym teacher said not to be a wise-ass, read the damn letters, and go onto the hearing test. Then I head some kids saying that he avoided getting glasses by memorizing the chart. The next year, my eyesight was so bad, that there was no way in hell I'd see the chart. So I memorized the first four lines, which was easier than it sounds, because line 1 was a big E, like two was EM3, and then the next two lines were harder, but I managed. It was even easier, because they uncovered the same letters for everyone. No one suspected a thing. I mentioned this to my mother, and she said "it will get better on its own," because she claimed that it did for her, and seeing blurry was a "phase" of growing up.

But my eyesight was getting worse and worse and worse. By my freshman year in high school, I couldn't see clocks on the wall, I could barely read what the teacher put on the chalkboard, even from the front row, and I had multiple problems seeing through window screens, because my eyes would just focus to the foreground. Screens became like seeing through thick gray cloth. It got so bad, that teachers and students began to take note at all my squinting, and inability to read things farther away than my arm's length. My grades, already bad enough, suffered even worse as I couldn't read the board. My ability to recognize people changed. I no longer could go by face, but my general shape, hair style, and how they walked. Really, I could tell many people apart by their stride. Then my friend Steve Moyer got glasses, and I wanted to test them out. The second I put them on, it was amazing. It was like I could see everything, like some sort of super power. I knew then that I needed glasses. But my mother wanted to ignore the problem, stating how upset my father would be.

The showdown with my father began innocently enough at a Chuck-E-Cheeses. Back then, when your pizza was ready, it would show up on a little CRT monitor bolted to the ceiling. There were many of them throughout the place, but sadly, since they were up high, I couldn't read when our number came up. So I told my mother that I couldn't see the monitor. She thought I was "playing a game," and suggested if I wasn't able to read the numbers, why then, no pizza for me! I am sure she really thought I was faking it, because she said it like it was a challenge you'd give to a toddler, "If someone doesn't sit down, then no pizza for little Gregory! Hmm?" But I began to freak, because I really couldn't see it. Then my father got involved, stating that they would sit there all day if they had to until I gave up my little game. I repeated I couldn't see, hadn't been able to see for quite some time, and I needed glasses. My father's quote was, "Don't give me your medical history." I never forget that line, even though it doesn't make much sense. So we waited for what seemed like hours, with them glaring at me, and finally, my father said that we'd leave, with no pizza, and then that would show me. So we did. Of course, I cried, which was all I had. This upset my father even more, and he stated he was not buying me glasses. Ever. Because I didn't need them and I was just trying to draw attention to myself.

Well, that settled in my mind like a lead balloon. But finally, the headaches from all the squinting was making me physically ill. My guidance counselor sent me to the nurse, and I burst out in tears, telling her the whole story. She took me to the room where a letter chart was (A,B,C, etc.) I couldn't read past the top big letter. She said I needed glasses, and would recommend this in a note to my parents. I begged her not to, saying my father wouldn't let me. I think she didn't believe me, thinking, "He just doesn't want glasses, and made this up..." until she spoke to my Mom on the phone, who was drunk at the time. My mother cried to her that my father would hurt me if he saw me with glasses, and had said so. So now my nurse was aware of why that little red flag was in my file about consulting parents.

So she spoke to the school principal, who was this nice guy (Mr. Price) who asked me to explain what the hell was the matter with my family communication (but in nice, sympathetic words). He then said that the Lion's Club gave out free glasses to families in need, but didn't think with my family's income that they would do so, but he would see what they could do. So the Lion's Club contacted my mother, assuming our family was broke. This hit my mother below the belt, because she always bragged to me about how much my father made, and how well off we were, so we should tolerate him. So she took me to get glasses, and made me PROMISE to NEVER have them on in front of my father, or he'd take them away.

I saw an optometrist, who was appalled I waited so long (20/600 20/800 vision), and said I was the only kid he ever saw who was EXCITED to get glasses. So two weeks later, my glasses arrived, and I had to walk the mile to People's Drug to get them. The walk home was amazing. Oh my God. I felt like... like a new world had opened up to me. Like how Matilida must have felt when she realized she could used psychokinetic powers. I could read signs... signs as far away as a block away. I saw that flowers on trees were actually shaped like flowers, not just as generic blobs of pink and white. I noticed that a church I passed every day had beautiful stained glass windows. I could see drivers *in* their cars, not just dangerous blurs that came from a fog, zipped by, and hid back in the fog. The clouds had shapes, and edges, and I was amazed at the DETAIL the world had. I stopped by my friend Donnalee's house before I went home, and showed her. She said I looked GREAT! It turned out, that my huge nose looked normal with glasses on them.

I spent a year hiding my glasses in my backpack. I'd put them on at school, and then take them off on the way home. During that time, I got a new friend Kate, and she said that doing that was the dumbest thing she'd ever heard. She had VERY bad vision, like 20/1000 or something, plus astigmatism, and she had been wearing glasses since age 3 or 4. She couldn't imagine a life without them. She also introduced me to photogray, where glasses turn dark in sunlight.

The charade ended when my father was taken to court under charges of child abuse. That's another story that will take pages upon pages to write. But I was now allowed to wear my glasses all the time, and for the first time since I was 10, I saw my house and how dirty it was. Oh well.

In 1987, when I was 18, my mother killed herself while my father was away for the weekend. It was a very complex thing involving the police, and so they feared my father might try and kill me when he came back, so I had to stay away from him until he promised not to react badly. It was agreed with the police, county, and the foster home I was staying in that I could have a small two-hour meeting with him before the funeral. I recall when I saw him, he said, "You big dumb brave kid," and gave me a headlock noogie. I guess that was my reward for handling my mother's death, dealing with the police, and having to call all the relatives to tell them. He then sat me down on the couch, and started to tell me what he was going to do with the body. But after a few moment, he said, "Take those things off. You're not fooling anyone anymore." Man, four years later, and my father STILL thought I was faking it. I told him I needed them to see, and he said, "Okay, okay. The person who you used to fool is gone now, just take them off," He rose like he was going to rip them off my face. So I took them off. The social worker had said not to get into any conflict with him, and even though a social worker was parked outside the house, I didn't know if my father went ballistic if I could get away in time.

I wore them to the funeral, though. Maybe I shouldn't have. I still recall how sad everyone was, and then how angry they looked when my father spoke. But again, that's another story for a later time.

The old frames I am wearing now date back to those times. I was poor for many years, and new glasses would have cost me $300 or more for my prescription. Since I was 18, I have gotten two changes of lenses, because the lenses were cheaper than lenses and frames. The first pair went to the frames I had been wearing. Then those frames plum wore out. So the second pair of lenses went to my old backup pair of frames, which I am wearing as I type this. So these frames are probably 17 years old, with 7 year old lenses in them. They are falling apart. The nosepiece cracked last year, and the sharp edge has been cutting into my nose. The brass has turned green in many places, almost tattooing my skin at the temples. The plastic around the earpieces have all but worn out, and the temples have worn down to a thin, almost foil-like width.

So as I got new ones, the doctor said my eyes were pretty good. In fact, the left eye (which was out of synch with the right one) actually got better over time. I got a style similar to the ones I have now, but more updated and not brass. Some gun-metal gray. Because of some special requirments, Hour Eyes could not give them to me in an hour, but it would take a few weeks to get new ones. I pick them up in the middle of March. And on the way home, I am sure I'll be reading every sign I see...

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