I can remember the first time I realized I could not see – I was on a family drive rolling around in the backseat of my parent’s station wagon and they were talking about a billboard sign. I said I couldn’t read it – and then I had my eyes tested. The truth is if you don’t know you can’t see you just bumble around. That is just the way you see the world and until someone tells you otherwise, you think everything is normal and everyone sees the world the same way, with the same acuity.
I had contact lenses when I was a teenager and was constantly losing them. They were expensive. When I would try to put these tiny pieces of glass in my eyes sometimes a breeze would blow one off my finger. I’d end up on the floor searching the tiles for hours for the tiny little disc. Occasionally I’d find it and disaster would be averted. Most of the time the contact was just gone and I’d have to go back to my dorky glasses for a while.
I had Lasik surgery around 2004 in San Francisco. My parents paid for it and it was the closest I have had to a miracle. I sat still in the chair and they reshaped my corneas with a laser while I was awake. I went home with patches and safety goggles and every time I would peel off the patches I could see more clearly.
Before, with glasses or contacts I had “three speeds” – without any corrective device everything was gauzy and sweet. The other speed was open and clear. The third was “off” and dark. Now I only had two speeds – that hazy, Vaseline-smudged vision was gone. I was either on, or off. I sometimes missed my slow-motion lazy uncorrected vision.
As I’ve gotten older I can’t see at night very well and I see halos around lights. It is a common side effect of Lasik. Then I turned 45 and I needed to put the menu up to the candle at sultry restaurants to have any idea what to order. The type seemed to get smaller. I started wearing glasses with a small correction to help with my depth perception at night.
But it seemed like my vision was getting worse. So I knew I needed to go in and get it checked again. I was afraid I couldn’t see. As you get older everything seems so much faster and more dangerous. It makes sense to want to be in good, fighting shape especially to drive defensively in Los Angeles.
The very laconic Armenian optometrist told me I have 20/25 vision in one eye and the other is 20/20 still in daylight. I have better vision than many people with glasses. My reading vision is a little off but not enough, according to the optometrist, to absolutely need glasses to correct it.
Ok, so I was caught off guard and confused. What about my sight? Why couldn’t I see really, really well? So, I think that at some point I started to believe that I should have the kind of vision we see in films. Everything is so clear far away and close up – we are led to look at certain things- and with technology we see a brilliant perfection.
I had slipped into a very strange awareness of my own perception, which struck me as philosophical and poetic. What is more basic and integral to who you are as a person than your perception of the world? I didn’t realize how well I had it, and simply assumed other people had better sight or were more attuned to their senses and more responsible about getting their vision checked.
Those were my assumptions about myself. I often say things to my husband, my mother and friends – extreme things – just to see if they object. “Well I’m not a very thoughtful person…” or “oh I’m not funny” are the sort of statements I still occasionally throw out there if I am feeling unsure about how people perceive me. A good friend, family member, partner is a good mirror. A bad mirror is the beautiful enhanced technology that is part of the trickery of entertainment.
When I told my German friend this story she said, oh the reason you can’t see is that your eyes get tired. You should rest them! What? Rest my eyes? You mean I am not a bionic machine that functions as a high-grade camera? I forgot I am flesh.
We live in strange hyper times. Nurture your animal self. Make it an exercise to be heart-centered and imperfect. Take some time to see how you see.
Writing prompts: “Have you had a moment of seeing yourself see?” “Who are your mirrors? Who do you turn to in order to see yourself reflected?” “What things do you hold to be true about your vision? Write them down to be aware of your own vision biases.”