Who Is That Fuzzy Stranger in the Mirror?

There’s an old joke about the elderly woman who lost her glasses and couldn’t look for them until she found them. I never have found that joke to be very funny. It’s much too true.

Like everyone else in my immediate family, I have myopia. That’s Latin for "if it’s more than six inches from our noses, it’s a blur." Without corrective lenses we can’t recognize our own faces in the mirror. As my sister put it in a recent email: "What do members of this family do without their glasses? Nothing!"

I remember the evening when, at age six or seven, I announced at the supper table that I couldn’t see the numbers on the kitchen clock across the room. I remember driving home from town the first day I got glasses, noticing trees along the horizon that I had never known were there. Whenever I got new glasses, it was always frustrating to choose frames because I couldn’t tell what they looked like on my face until I got the finished pair with the lenses in. Then, if I didn’t like them, it was too late to change my mind.

I remember having kids with normal vision try on my thick glasses and say, "Geez Louise! How can you see through those things?" and trying to point out without actually using the word "dumb" that the real question was how could I see without those things. I remember as a teenager having to lean so close to the mirror to apply mascara that the handle of the applicator would bump against the glass. I remember the day I was riding Rusty at a lope and he fell. I hit the ground first, was incredibly lucky not to have half a ton of horse land on top of me—and my first emotion as I scrambled to my feet was relief that my glasses weren’t broken.

When I was a senior in high school, I became a beneficiary of one of the greatest technological advances of the 20th Century—contact lenses. For the first time in years, I had peripheral vision. I could stand at a normal distance from the sink and apply mascara. I could wear sunglasses. My first pair, a gift from the eye doctor when I bought my contact lenses, were large, round, and glamorous. They made me look like Jackie Kennedy. I loved those sunglasses, and I was crushed along with them the day I left them on the seat of the car and my mother sat on them. I’ve been looking vainly (yes, the double meaning is intentional) for a pair just like them ever since.

Then came adulthood, which led to middle age, which led to a new vision problem—presbyopia. It’s otherwise known as SAS (short arm syndrome). It can transform a woman from "cool chick" to "old biddy" faster than you can say, "reading glasses on a chain around your neck."

Actually, I wasn’t dreading presbyopia at all. In fact, I was looking forward to it, because I had a theory. It was a matter of simple logic. A: I was nearsighted. B: when you reach middle age you become farsighted. Ergo, C: the presbyopia would balance out the myopia, and I’d have normal vision.

Nice try, the eye doctor told me. It would happen just that way, too. Eventually. At say, about my 195th or 200th birthday.

In the meantime, he suggested trying a prescription of one contact lens for distance and one for close viewing. Unfortunately, that didn’t work for me. So I’ve resigned myself. I now step back from the mirror to put on mascara. I’ve mastered the art of signing a debit card receipt on a line I cannot see. I’ve begun to collect reading glasses. With my office glasses, my purse glasses, my living-room glasses, and my bathroom glasses, most of the time, I can find at least one pair.

I refuse, however, to wear reading glasses on a chain. I may be myopic, presbyopic, and middle-aged, but I still have my standards.

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