What Did Dorothy Parker Know About Glasses?

Take me to the ophthalmologist — and the old memory wheel starts spinning.

1953: my eyes get dilated with atropine.  They stayed dilated, my parents told me, for two weeks.

1954: dilation finally gone away and pupil size back to normal, I’m diagnosed with a lazy eye.  I have to wear a patch over my (dominant) left eye so I will use my right eye more.  Pirates may look great in eyepatches, but 4-year-old girls do not.  I have the black-and-white photographs to prove it.

1955: I persist in believing that, without glasses, I would be drop-dead gorgeous.  I take off my glasses and see a blur in the mirror.  Moving toward this beautiful blur, I break my glasses over my knee and tell my parents it was an accident.  They tell me to be more careful and order new glasses for me.  For a few days, though, until the next pair of glasses arrives, I’m sure I’m drop-dead gorgeous.

1958: I get new glasses.  I want the red-and-white gingham-check glasses.  My mother insists the red leopardskin glasses look better.  We get the red leopardskin glasses.  I look like an anteater in them.

1959: For some reason, I’m watching Oral Roberts on TV one afternoon.  Oral is healing all kinds of people — the blind, the lame, the arthritic.  He says anybody in his audience can be healed, too, if they pray and believe.  I squeeze my eyes shut and pray for perfect, glasses-free vision, so I can be beautiful.  I take off my glasses.  I still can’t see.  I am now officially finished with Oral Roberts.  What part of quid pro quo doesn’t he understand?

1963: I’m in puberty.  For some reason, while everything else in my life is going down the toilet (my complexion, my crooked teeth, my social life), my vision improves dramatically.  I no longer have to wear glasses!  Someday, the ophthalmologist tells me, maybe when I’m middleaged, my eyes will change and I’ll have to wear glasses again.  It’s like he’s talking about life on a distant planet.  Who cares about middle age?  I’ll be old then, anyway.

I rush to the mirror.  This time, I can actually see my face without glasses.  The blur is gone.  I’m beautiful, aren’t I?  No, I’m not.

1972: I go to the ophthalmologist.  It’s been years since I’ve gone.  Since then, they have some kind of menacing blue light that sits — actually sits — on your eye to see if you have glaucoma.  I don’t like blue lights and I don’t like anything sitting on my eyeball.  I practically have to be peeled off the ceiling.

1994: New city, new ophthalmologist, new glaucoma test.  Just a brief burst of air, the doctor assures me.  It’ll be over in a second.  No big deal.

This test takes place, for some malicious reason, in the doctor’s waiting room.  As it turns out, one of my husband’s colleagues is in the room.  “You should have seen how high she jumped!” he chortles to my husband.

Today: Still another city, another ophthalmologist.  Has your right eye always been that weak? The physician’s assistant asks me.  Yes, I say.  I had to wear a patch when I was four.

The ophthalmologist comes in.  He tells me that, after all my middle-aged years of buying reading glasses, losing reading glasses, and buying new reading glasses, I finally need glasses full time again. Bifocals, in fact. Here we go again.

What ever happened to atropine? I ask him.  They don’t use it any longer.

And that awful rush of air test?  Oh, everybody hated that, he says.  We haven’t used it in years.

I don’t ask about red leopardskin glasses.  They’re all the rage now — except for those of us who had to wear them when we were eight.  For us, they’ll never come back in style.

This time around, I think I’m going for purple.

(Copyright 2015 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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11 comments… add one
  • Wait a minute! They did that puff of air thing last year when I went!

  • I always wanted glasses when everyone else except me was wearing them…until I got them. Then I got contacts. Now, I like switching off..and I will say, purple frames do sound like fun.

  • Carolyn Page Link

    But it’s an excuse to have lots of pairs!
    This Australian company, ‘On the Nose’, makes glasses that are so fun and colourful that the National Gallery was selling them from its shop – http://www.onthenose.com.au/Default.htm

  • Oh so relate to this esp the wanting to be healed of my sight. In the end it cost me £4000 to have new lenses put in my actual eyes – like having cataracts done.
    In my ophthalmologists they take a photo of your retina to decide if you have anything going on. The assistant took my photo and came out screaming for the ophthalmologist because my retina was pale yellow instead of the dark orange it should be. The ophthalmologist spent longer calming her down and telling her it was because I had had such bad myopia and not to worry. And then he told me to make sure I reassured people when they looked at my retina!! Humm!!

  • Aggie Bill Link

    Oh, go for the purple. At our age, making a spectacle of yourself is half the fun.

  • I love my purple glasses (go for progressives…they take a little while to get used to but they’re amazing). Mine even have a little bling on the sides…


  • Barbara Fox Link

    I had my eyes tested this year and they used that air puff test for glaucoma. And your ophthalmologist is saying that test isn’t used any more??? I want to go to him/her 🙂

  • I had the puff of air, too. Last week. One of my daughters had to wear an eye-patch. This post made me understand why she hated it so much.

  • Glasses as a kid? Definitely not easy. Sorry you need them again.

  • Penny Link

    Oh, I got the atropine drops way back. Then I find out its named after one of the 3 Fates of Greek mythology. The bad-ass Fate who cuts the threads of life. Atropine comes from the Deadly Nightshade plant. Meh, so do potatoes and eggplant. That’s why the eyedoc makes sure not to get any drops in your mouth. The drug works by paralysing the iris, and it work on hearts and lungs just fine.

    So now we have a really hi-tech machine that, to put it bluntly, breaks wind right in your face. And then measures the result.

  • I actually DO have red leopard-skin glasses right now! But that’s only because they were the cheapest replacement when my old expensive glasses broke recently. I’ve since figured out that this philosophy is part of my Aging M.O. – I don’t care what they look like as long as they’re cheap.

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