When I was in the sixth grade, the doctor told me I needed glasses. I only noticed my declining vision whenever I looked at the board at school, so I didn't see it as necessary. I didn't tell my parents what the doctor had said, and they didn't make me get glasses. It was a win/win.
Years went by, and my vision was never an issue for me. I could see fine in middle school when I squinted, and I was OK with that. Then I started high school. And in my freshman year, I loved my English class. I loved my English teacher, too. She was like a movie star - the very picture of youth with long, flowing blonde hair, and golden, sun-kissed skin. She liked to tell us about long-distance running and how it cleared her mind and inspired her to write. She was the first person who made fitness cool to me. But I couldn't read a word she wrote on the board. Squinting had finally failed me. I would watch her raise a marker to the white board, but it was like she hovered the pen above the it and only pretended to write. Her golden arm would flourish and circle across the board, down the board, up the board – but she left no markings. I couldn't see a thing. And every day when class was over and I walked toward the door, I would see the empty board start to blossom into wisps of markings and then actual words and phrases. Well, crap. Either I was going to have to get glasses, or finally convince my mother to let me get contacts.
When I got home from school, I asked my mom about getting contacts. She actually said I could get them. Well, to be clear, she said I could get them only after months of begging. She would always argue, “Well how do you feel about touching your eyes, sticking your fingers all around in there?” My response was always that you don't actually touch your eyes; you touch the contacts. And I didn't mind. But now, finally, as a high schooler, I was going to get contacts.
At the doctor's office, I looked at the chart of colored lenses. They even had purple ones, and the dark-haired model wearing them made the color look natural and beautiful. There was an African-American model next to her wearing lenses named “honey,” and her eyes sparkled from behind the warm, honey glow. They all looked so beautiful and confident, but I didn't want all that stuff. I didn't want them so I could look pretty; I just wanted to see clearly, more beautifully. After the exam, the eye doctor came back in the room and had me drop my head completely back as she stretched my lids wide and placed the lenses on each eye. I really could have done it myself, and wanted to, but she insisted. They felt strange lying there over my pupils, and I could feel them in there, except that there was no pain. I looked around the room and blinked at everything. The desk, the diplomas, the pictures and charts – everything was so sharp and clear, and the room itself was brighter. I could read everything from where I sat. It was like flicking an on switch – I had no idea what I had been missing out on.
I was actually excited to go to school the next day and see what it really looked like. I saw my friends far down the hall and smiled hello to them because I could see them. In French class, I put my prescription to the test and sat in the back row – I took my notes like a pro. The bell rang and I scuttled up the staircase to English. I was going to finally see and read what had been going on all semester on that whiteboard. I took my seat and looked up at my teacher. She had her back to us as she erased the previous class's notes (which I could read!). Her long and wavy blonde hair had gone gray overnight. There were only a few streaks of blonde remaining. She turned around to start class, and her face had aged forty years overnight. I looked around the room to see if I was the only one who had noticed the invasion of the teacher snatchers, but nobody else was confused. Her golden skin was brown and leathery from years of running without sunscreen, her blonde hair was mostly grayed, and she was definitely not in her mid-twenties anymore. I closed my eyes and listened to her voice – it was still her there, discussing Romeo and Juliet; it was still her there, connecting exercise to philosophy; and it was still her there, energetically and enthusiastically extolling the virtues of a well-constructed thesis statement. I opened my eyes and looked up. And for the very first time, I saw things clearly, and I saw real beauty.