Nearsighted in Hindsight with 20/20 Vision

Something to ponder.

In a time of Smartphones, Mars explorations, and taco fries, you’d think there’d be a cure for far-and-nearsightedness. A medication or preventative eyeball vaccine.

How long have people needed glasses? Forever. How long have we known about Mars? What’s that sound? Crickets.

When I was in elementary school, primary students would have eye tests. By grade three, I was flagged and referred to the optometrist in my hometown of Arborg, Manitoba.


Dr. Oakley’s office was beneath the local credit union. Steep stairs. Geometric carpet. How did people leave with extra strength glasses? I’d eventually learn.

Dr. Oakley pressed a Star Wars-like mask against my face and flipped a slide. “Now, which is better? Number one” -he changed the slide- “or two.”

“Two.”

He changed the slides. “And number one or two?”

“Um … one.”

“Number one or two?”

“Two!”

Hey, I was catching onto this game! Two! One! Two! One! Since I could read the eye chart, there wasn’t cause for concern.  

But in grade four, my eyesight weakened. At skating, kids’ faces were blurry. I had to squint at the chalkboard. Cursive seemed fuzzy.

Then my teacher caught me readjusting my eyes. Open wide. Squeeze tight. Squint. I can see! It’s gone. Open wide. Squeeze tight … 

“Tammy, are you having trouble seeing?”

“Yes.”

“Does your mother know?”

“No.”

“Are you going to tell her tonight?”

“Yes.”

But I forgot. I kept squinting until my teacher said she was going to call my mom unless I told her that night.

The next week, I was back in Dr. Oakley’s office. This time, trying on glasses. Diagnosis: Myopia. A fancy name for nearsightedness. Dr. Oakley’s assistant showed me an array of mid-80s spectacles, trying to get me excited about entering the four-eyed world.

“Oh, these will suit your face,” she said. “Try them. They’re perfect.”

Caught off guard. Nothing says mid-1980s like bunk beds and rainbow comforters.

They were gold plastic frames. Round. Exactly like my nine-year-old face.

To cheer me up, my mother took me to Chicken Delight. I ordered my usual, an Egg Delight – Arborg’s version of the Egg McMuffin but topped with pickles. With a side of onion rings. I needed comfort food.

Remember, back then the motto was “Guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” With my teeth and nose against me, I was convinced glasses would catapult me into a new level of ugliness.

The following week, Dr. Oakley did the final adjustments on my dreaded new facial accessory, then he pulled a mirror towards me. My face crumbled. I felt so sad. Like “the last Mr. Christie Chip’s Ahoy in the bag” sad. The glasses sat on my humongous nose and they drew more attention to my unibrow. Worse, everything in the room appeared massive. I barely made it upstairs because the geometric carpet was shifting.

To make matters worse, mom didn’t take me to Chicken Delight! I was a depressed fourth grader whose potential social life was ruined because of coke-bottle glasses. You’re supposed to feed those something deep-fried and assure them they’re pretty.

I loathed my glasses, and I found excuses not to wear them. Gym class? What if I get a ball in the face? Skating? What if they fall off? Going outside? I could lose them? School dances. Parties. There isn’t a Josten’s school photo of me in glasses to be found. I wish I could say the same for impromptu yearbook pictures.

When my parents bought a video camera, the moment the red recording light flashed, off came the glasses. During the 1988 Calgary Olympics, there’s footage with my glasses perched precariously at my feet. Meanwhile, my face was inches from the television as I tried to see East German figure skater Katarina Witt’s short program marks.

With my own skating, free skate wasn’t an issue. Figures were a different story though. I couldn’t see my tracings. After my second or third lesson, my coach noticed my figures about 10 centimetres wide. The summary of our conversation?

“Don’t you have glasses?”

“Yes, but they could fall off.”

“Do you want to pass your figures?”

“I’ll be right back.”

When I outgrew the gold frames, I chose a cute pair of baby pink and baby blue wire frames. However, I lost them.

It was a gorgeous, hot, and humid day. Perfect for going to the Geysir Cemetery. My mom tended to my paternal Baba and Gigi’s graves, and my sister and I meandered around the cemetery, reading headstones we’d read a thousand times. An hour later, we were at the car when, drip, drip.

“Nosebleed!” I don’t remember who set my glasses on the roof of the car since the bleeding was a distraction. Back then, my nosebleeds were epic: Does this warrant a hospital visit? Has it been ten minutes? Do you have more tissues? We need something thicker, because it isn’t stopping.

However, none of those applied, and we headed home. Forgetting my glasses on the roof. My maternal Baba said she would glance at that ditch for years because “you never know.”

The windshield glasses, the smart way to hide your face in the 1990s.

Luckily, the glasses were covered by a one-year warranty. Does that exist anymore?

I chose a different pair. I wanted something more sophisticated and grown up. Dark maroon frames. Large enough for window wipers. The type that didn’t fit properly into protective shop glasses. I can’t believe those are back “in style.” They were awful the first time, and I wore them for a year when my eyes changed again.

I went from one extreme to the next. Well, sort of. Small, gold-wire, 1990’s frames. I actually enjoy wearing these in public. Even to a wedding, because – gasp – these glasses weren’t horrible. They were pretty cute.

But in the spring of grade 11, game changer!

One of my friends bought contacts, starting a ripple effect. Another friend bought contacts. Then I bought contacts.

I wasn’t squeamish about eyes. Squishing lenses onto my eyeballs. Hearing that suction sound once they’re secured onto your eye. Peeling off dry contacts after a long night. A near perfect glasses-free existence.

Glasses were far from the worst thing that happened in my life. But at nine years old, it felt like the end of the world.

In hindsight, I realize glasses were just an accessory to help me read the chalkboard.

And you know what they say about hindsight.

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