I was prescribed glasses fairly early on — after my vision had become suspect when I began walking into walls and stepping on Muffin, our aging Lhasa Apso. In 1979, on my fourth birthday, my father tried to take a picture of me in my Little Orphan Annie dress, but as he called my name, I could only look around with a blind and aimless gaze. In a flurry of despair, I was rushed out onto the porch, where I promptly failed a set of amateur sight tests administered by my mother. This failure sealed my fate of bespectacled childhood.

Now, those were the days of spartan provisions in the field of eyewear, before the time when designers manufactured children’s accessories to mimic their fashionable adult lines. Options were limited. The children’s section at the optometrist’s office consisted of 11 inches of shelf behind the counter with one or two horrific styles in your choice of mousy brown or black. They flattered no one. Constantly reminded of this fact by my sensitive classmates, I would remove the culprits the first chance I got, which was always during my walk to school. My glasses were octagonal, a sort of stop sign design that was mildly popular in the late 1970s. Though I detested these glasses, I knew they were expensive, so every morning I would gently slip them into my backpack like a pair of endangered cockroaches. I praised myself for my cunning and my mature considerations of value. On my return walk home, I would delicately pull the glasses out again, confident I had fooled everyone into believing I had 20/20 vision.

I couldn’t see the board. For nearly three years, my mother attended parent-teacher conferences where she was scolded for failing to provide her daughter with corrective lenses. My mother would argue. My teachers would sigh. My mother would return from school, confused and frustrated, and find me sitting six inches in front of the television. In a weary voice she would ask me, “You’re not wearing your glasses at school, are you? Don’t you know you’re ruining your vision? Do you want to go blind?” I would be irritated by the distraction and only unglue my eyes from the screen long enough to toss a few languid apologies in her direction. After quickly confirming that nothing of great import was happening on The Love Boat, I would then add a few tears for effect in the hopes of finalizing the discussion. I knew my mother wouldn’t understand the sublime genius of my scheme or realize I had sacrificed my precious vision to save myself from endless social torment. Undaunted, she would position me in front of a mirror and say things to my reflection like, “This is the person you really should be saying sorry to. Right here. In this mirror.” I would sniffle in agreement and nod ferociously at our looking-glass counterparts, but I wasn’t really sorry. My only remorse came from missing what happened to Isaac and Gopher in Puerta Vallarta and having to suffer through my mother’s amateur child psychology tactics.

For second grade I was assigned to Mrs. Rizzo’s class. I remember it as a hazy year, mainly because I couldn’t see anything, but it was compounded by Mrs. Rizzo’s maternity leave. Her absence made her seem mysterious, like a distant uncle who died of snakebite. In her place during those months was Miss Savage, a youngish spinster with radical ideas and enormous smoke-colored glasses. The dark lenses must have hampered her vision, because she compulsively followed each line of text across the page with her finger whenever she read. Although I did like her for letting us chew gum, the finger-reading made me somewhat suspicious of her.

One wintry morning, after watching me squint and stall and crane my neck in my third attempt at reading the day’s assignments on the blackboard, Miss Savage spoke in an uncharacteristically commanding tone. “Why don’t you go and get your glasses?” she said, more a demand than a query. “But I don’t wear glasses,” I heard myself begin to whine when she interrupted me with a voice that was louder than her rhinestone-studded eyewear: “I know they’re in your bag.”

I knew at once I was defeated. It was the end of an era, and nearsighted as I was, I had grown to enjoy my time in the fuzzy world of neck-thrusters and squinters. I pushed my tiny chair away from my desk and trudged back to the coat closet, slowly, guiltily, like a criminal approaching the guillotine. My pink unicorn sweater felt hot from shame and the burning eyes of my classmates who had all turned to watch me slink to the back. I reached into my matching unicorn backpack, fumbled around for my glasses, and pulled them out. The class was silent and time stood still.

I don’t recall the walk back to my desk. Like a dream, the next thing I am aware of is sitting down, bent in half, cowering. I am wearing my glasses, those hideous harbingers of sight, and am mortified, unable to lift my head. Everyone has crowded around, and I can feel 26 pairs of naked eyes peeking at me over the desk. Seated on my left, Miss Savage lays one hand on my shoulder and uses the other to adjust her monster-sized super glasses. I hear her sigh with the effort. She clears her throat and announces to the class that I have something to share. The newfound perkiness in her voice, indicating she would no longer be alone in her goggled freakishness, makes me skeptical. Feet shuffle in anticipation as I quietly wonder how life will be different for me now.

I look up. I am greeted by faces I do not recognize, though the voices are familiar. The strange heads stare at me for a moment, then, unimpressed and bored, their bodies sit back down. Exhausted, I tentatively lean back in my chair.

I do not see the future and the mockery I will eventually endure: the flat-chested jokes, the lesbian taunts, the geek jeers. Those will come later and will be just as anxious.

For now, I see the present clearly and breathe. Looking back at me, Miss Savage begins the lesson.

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