One morning in first grade I was asked “Why do you wear glasses?”
“Because I can’t see without them?”
This did not appear to satisfy my classmate’s query.
“Are you near or farsighted?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like can you see things up close but not far away, or can you see things far away but not up close?”
Neither really described how I saw the world. “Neither I guess? I don’t know. . . I see everything but it’s blurry.”
“Take off your glasses.”
I did as requested.
“How many fingers am I holding up?”
Not this again. “3,” I answered, well aware that the three blurry outlines I saw were my friend’s fingers.
“Oh. . .” Definitely not the response they were hoping for.
To me, the world looked the exact same as with my glasses on but with a fuzzy, static-like border. And whenever I tried to focus, I ended up with two of everything. One perception of my surroundings remained firm and grounded in the same spot, while another showed the same objects a second time, overlapping with a faded, yet clear copy. Like the world was a 3-D movie I wasn’t given access to.
Still not near or farsighted though.
My little brother was the family’s farsighted one. He and I were discovered to have eye problems at early ages, me at one and him at two, which ultimately wasn’t a surprise given that awful eyesight ran in the family. We were doomed to this deficiency from the beginning. As a baby I squinted frequently and was predicted to be hardworking because of it, that even at a year old I tried again and again to see the world clearly. My brother, on the other hand, was content with the world being blurry.
From childhood on, my glasses were always a pleasant part of my daily routine. I appreciated the moment each morning where my vision sharpened into focus, and once I put my glasses on, it didn’t matter how much sleep I had gotten, it was time to start the day. Conversely in the evening, when my sight returned to blurriness, my body automatically knew it was time to rest, a kind of coincidental conditioning. My mother asked me a few times if I was ever interested in contacts, and each time I turned them down. I couldn’t recognize myself without my glasses.
At some point in elementary school, I remember being ushered into the library for story time. I sat among my classmates on a rug of frogs and lily pads in a special corner where the librarian began reading us a picture book. The main character was a little girl who had a lazy eye. One eye was described as focused while the other wandered. The girl liked both of her eyes, but when she visited the ophthalmologist, he put her on a path to fix them. She wore an eye patch first, over the good eye to make the other one work harder, and after a while she moved on to glasses. Soon she was able to follow the doctor’s finger without her eyes taking different routes to get there. I forgot about that story for a long time.
My glasses have always proven dependable, even with each iteration, except for two main memories. The first was at my own birthday party during another early, nebulous year of elementary school, which was held outside. I remember it being twilight and all the neighborhood families were around to celebrate in my corner of the apartment complex: bright green mini grass fields between sidewalk paths with monstrous oak and pine trees peppered among the landscape. We had set up plastic tables and foldable chairs to accommodate everyone, and I remember carrying a bright orange bucket of ice for some reason, pretty late into the party. Whilst looking down at the mound of frost within my pail, something strange happened. One moment everything appeared fine, the next moment my vision reverted to the double image illusion I knew so well. I still had my glasses on. I could feel them resting on my nose. I stared at the ice for a while, trying to reconcile what I saw, the objects below me both clear and peculiarly far away and just. . . off. I picked up the bucket and located my mother, hoping for an explanation.
“Uh. . . Mom?”
She took one look at me and knew what was wrong. “You lost a lens.” A what?
“Where’d you lose it?”
I held up the bucket. She plucked the little glass piece from the top of the pile and took the frames off my face. My mother gently pressed the lens back into its place and soon my vision was back to normal. I didn’t even know those could fall out.
The second instance was in third grade. I don’t know how it happened, only that it did: a tiny, crucial screw fell out of its place holding my glasses together and they collapsed, one latch piece hopelessly disconnected from the rest of the contraption. I was sent down to the nurse to have them fixed, but she didn’t have a screwdriver small enough to do the job. I was sent back to class to endure the rest of the day.
“Take it easy,” my teacher advised, seeing my struggle trying to keep the words in focus during independent reading time. She understood. She wore contacts.
When I returned home it was once again my mother who fixed my problem, locating the tiny screwdrivers we owned for this kind of occasion. Just like that, I was back to normal again.
Third grade also held another important moment. Months after the previous incident, I stood in the bathroom one ordinary morning without my glasses on. Completely zoning out as I held eye contact with myself in the mirror, I finally noticed something. My right eye stared straight ahead, right into my reflected doppelgänger, as my left eye floundered. That’s when it finally hit me. I had a lazy eye!
The realization immediately sent me back to elementary school, back to story time in the library with the girl and her lazy eye. I’m just like her! Finally I was able to recognize a significant part of myself through the vessel of a childhood story. So excited and proud to draw this conclusion, I ran downstairs and asked my mom “Why do I wear glasses?”
“Because you can’t see without them?”
“No! Because I have a lazy eye!” I’m sure this was no news to her, but it was news to me. Now I could finally answer the ever-irritating question of “why do you wear glasses?” I told all my friends about this discovery as soon as I got to school, displaying my deficiency proudly and trying to get people to recall the book I had thought of.
I remained comfortable with my discovery for a long time. Only years later in high school did I begin to wonder. One particular day off, I sat on the couch watching Food Network with my mother.
“Why didn’t I ever have an eyepatch?”
She thought for a moment. “You never got to the point of needing one.” That answer was enough for me. At least my eyesight wasn’t that bad, plus I was happy with my glasses.
In October of my senior year, my brother and I visited a new ophthalmologist named Dr. Potter. He was a tall, soft-spoken man with bright, wide eyes that never seemed to blink. He examined me first, checking my vision through different lenses before taking a look at my records.
“Your vision has gotten better.”
It has? I thought it would’ve been worse, given my sleep deprivation and constant use of screens.
He turned to my mother. “Did she ever have a patch?”
“Good.” That I was surprised to hear. “He did the right thing by keeping the glasses. The eyes get better as the body grows; her vision is slowly improving.”
That can happen? At least our previous ophthalmologist was good for something.
My curiosity was sated once again after hearing the expert explanation, and only upon filling out health forms for college did I actually discover the name of my deficiency.
“So anxiety. . . anything else?” I asked my mother, who I trusted knew my body better than I did.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“It has a name?”
“How do I spell that?” We looked it up and wrote its name in the “other” section of the form.
I only decided to Google amblyopia for the purpose of procrastinating on this piece, but to my surprise, I ended up stumbling upon some interesting discoveries.
For one, I technically don’t have amblyopia. Amblyopia is what I would have had without glasses: partial blindness in the weaker eye due to my brain learning to suppress the double vision. What I actually had was strabismus, the technical term for a squint (how I was first discovered to have it), and even more specifically esotropia, meaning my eye turned inward when trying to focus. All of this sounded familiar to my mother upon calling her.
I also learned that the issue wasn’t even with my eyes, it was with my brain. The muscles surrounding my eyes were perfectly fine, it was that my brain couldn’t coordinate with my eyes correctly so it received two different images it couldn’t reconcile.
The last thing I checked was if it could be cured. Surgery was an option, but the American Optometric Association confirmed what Dr. Potter had said: that with glasses my vision would improve over time. And I have to say it has. I can almost see normally without my glasses in the shower now, save for when I try to read the chemicals on my shampoo bottle and
my left eye flounders completely. But that’s a big difference from a decade ago when all the bottles were just hazy shapes on a ledge in the bathroom.
I sat with the thought of corrective surgery for a while and decided that I didn’t want it. I had no pressing, driving reason to align my eyes, and I was hesitant. Hesitant to correct something that is so inherently a part of me, a part of how I live, a part of how I perceive myself, a part of my identity. Maybe I won’t need glasses one day, but that’s up to my body. It’s doing the best that it can, and that’s all I can ask of it.
“Accommodative Esotropia.” American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and
Strabismus, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, Mar. 2019, aapos.org/glossary/accommodative-esotropia.
“Amblyopia.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amblyopia#Strabismus.
“Esotropia.” American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, American
Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, Oct. 2019, aapos.org/glossary/esotropia
“Squint (Strabismus).” The College of Optometrists, The College of Optometrists,
“Strabismus (Crossed Eyes).” American Optometric Association, American Optometric
“Strabismus: Non-Surgical Cure Rates.” CookVisionTherapy, CookVisionTherapy,
Sheri Hizny, my mother.
Also, apparently only 2-3% of kids have strabismus and they’re more likely to get it if eye problems run in the family. Thanks Mom and Dad. I love you too.