Those glasses make you old

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

My grandma used to wear these huge glasses, like two windowpanes in a thick red frame. My mom used to joke about how she’d need windscreen wipers if she went out in the rain, and I would just think about how old she looked. The glasses magnified every wrinkle and sometimes while she was talking I’d just find myself staring at her skin, wondering how skin gets like that, wondering if my skin would ever get like that.

She would sometimes notice me staring. “The thing about getting old,” she would say, “is that it happens so quickly.”

I avoided glasses the way others avoid carcinogens. Avoid staring at screens, keep rooms brightly lit, don’t read small print. Fortunately my eyes were in pretty good shape and I didn’t have any problem seeing, or at least not for the first 43 years.

I had resisted the evidence for months, telling myself that I was just tired or maybe had a sinus infection. One day, my son watched me try to read a text message. I had my phone at arm’s length and I was tilting my head from side to side, willing the fuzzy blobs on the screen to arrange themselves into something legible.

“Mom,” he said, “I think you need glasses.”

It was another three months before I let him frogmarch me down to the optician. A small, local place run by a handsome guy with a good jaw, who was at least 15 years younger than me. He was mildly flirtatious, just enough to be charming, and I enjoyed it until I wondered if he treated every middle-aged suburban mom like this.

After the tests, he smiled and said, “well, the good news is that you have no major issues with your sight.”

I let out a sigh that I had been holding for years.

“It’s just a little presbyopia. Extremely common in people in their 40s,” he said, then quickly added, “although it’s a little unusual to see it in someone as young as you.

“Over time, your eyes lose the ability to focus on objects close to your face, which can make affect things like reading. But it’s nothing to worry about. We’ll get you a nice pair of reading glasses and you’ll be good to go.”

All of the air seemed to escape from the room, like I was a piece of dried fruit being vacuum packed.

“Doctor,” I said hoarsely, “is there any alternative?”

“Well, we could explore contact lenses but I don’t think they’re appropriate for such a mild case.”

“What about surgery,” I asked.

He assumed I was joking. I couldn’t find the words to tell him I was serious as he led me out to the front of the store. A thousand pupil-less eyes stared at me, mocking me for thinking that I would never need them. The eye doctor, who was less handsome than I thought, was explaining to my son that they needed to find me some nice reading glasses.

“I know the perfect ones!” that little bastard said.

I knew which ones even before he moved. I knew which ones even before he picked up the thick red frames. I knew which ones even before he approached me with them, arms outstretched, the giant windowpanes making his head and the doctor’s head look huge and ogre-like.

Rooted by fear, I couldn’t move as he placed them on my face.

The glasses made everything look wrong. The colors had changed, the room rearranged. The light outside was a different time of day, a different time of year. It was winter now when I was sure it had been April, or maybe May.

The doctor was no longer handsome. He was bald now, with jowls and a slight stoop forward. My son was taller than him. My son was such a handsome man now, a little salt and pepper at the temples, and work had carved frownlines above his eyebrows.

“How are those?” asked the doctor in a slow, loud voice.

“I think they look great,” said my son. “You look twenty years younger.”

They turned my chair towards the mirror and pushed me forward to get a better look at myself. Did I have a wheelchair when I came in? Yes, yes, I must have.

In truth, I could barely see the reflection in the mirror. I tried not to look at mirrors these days. They never had any good news. Just white hair and pruned skin.

“They’re perfect,” I lied. I just wanted to go home and rest.

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