In 1998, I learned I no longer had twenty-twenty vision. This knowledge did not come to me suddenly. On a couple of occasions at work–on the open-plan office floor of an online brokerage–I noticed I could not clearly read the lettering on the ticker-tape that ran across some of the large monitors that hung from the ceilings. And then, a little later, more decisively, out for a walk one night with a girlfriend, I was brought up short by her ability to read street numbers and names off signs well before I could. What, I wondered, was going on? An optometrist quickly put me in the know: I was ever-so slightly myopic in both eyes, with the left just a little worse.
I come from a family of pilots; twenty-twenty vision ran in my family. We did not wear glasses. Well, actually, hang on a second. Toward the end of his flying career, my father developed a cataract in one eye and in the middle of his, my brother was diagnosed with mild myopia (he continued to fly with prescription glasses). Perhaps developing mild myopia at the age of thirty-one was not so surprising.
It was still shattering news though. For weeks after my diagnosis, I moped around, unable to drag myself to the local opticians to order a pair of eyeglasses. It was, I realized, after a brutal ankle injury from a few years before, another disruption of a pristine ordering of my body. My third-degree sprain had left my ankle permanently weakened and unstable, and now this myopia meant a central sensory organ had undergone another irreversible decline. First, locomotion was affected, and then that which guided locomotion. I was no longer whole; I was flawed, damaged somehow. I did not think I possessed bodily perfection before, but I did not consider myself–extremely fortunately–to be laboring under any manner of handicap. Now, they were piling up, radically transforming a self-image ragged at all too many edges. The radical decline promised me as a gift for chronological advancement had commenced.
The day I finally, reluctantly, picked up my prescription glasses and tried them on, I was bemused by the way the world snapped into focus. How long had I not noticed these innumerable blurrings that were now removed, made distinct? The gradual decline had been sneaky and insidious, a hidden fifth column doing its dirty work in my optical corridors. I was overcome by an intense longing for days gone by–when I could watch movies, or distant sunsets, or navigate darkened streets without an ugly prosthetic device sitting on my nose. I was no longer human; I was a cyborg of sorts.
Sixteen years on, of course, I have accepted my altered and corrected vision–in a fashion. I carry my glasses everywhere, though I only put them on when needed. I still envy those in the twenty-twenty club, of course. And on occasion, I still remember the rising tide of panic that swamped me when the optometrist leaned over and softly said, “How long have your eyes been like this?”