“Nobody likes to start their day with somebody sticking their fingers in your eye,” he says, while sticking his blunt fingers into my eyes. He peels back the lids, as my eyes furiously blink outside of my control. I am old enough now not to scream when uncomfortable doctors procedures are happening, but I cannot stop the small grunt of pain when the dye from the eyedropper hits the surface of my eyeball.
He had greeted me at the start of my appointment by saying, “So, you decided to get up early!” It was 11am. It sounded so much like something a condescending uncle would say I was momentarily flat-footed, trying to remember if perhaps we were related. I determined we were not, and so said, “Say again?”
“So, you decided to get up early!” The same inflection and impersonal exuberance. I could glean no more from this reiteration than I could from the initial greeting. So I said, apologetically, “One more time?”
“So, you decided to get up early!” It occurred to me that this was a reference to the opening of the eyeglass shop’s doors, not two minutes prior. I was their first customer, his first optical client, and was therefore ‘up early.’ I thought it a poor how-do-you-do, and discarded him as a possible conversationalist. It warranted no reciprocating response, so I took his hand and said, “Good morning,” to discourage any further conversation. His skin crinkled a little in the pouches under his eyes in social discomfort, then gestured to the back room.
A front desk attendant, not the one who turned me away last Thursday when I showed up for my scheduled appointment (“We just don’t have all our equipment set up,” she had simpered. “Could you come back on Saturday? Would that be convenient?” No it would not, I wanted to say, but instead smiled and said that was no trouble at all), watched the two of us enter the room, in what I can only suppose was disappointment. Within the two minutes since I entered the eyeglass shop, I had been approached by three people with name tags. Each’s deep concern with my emotional well-being and disproportional interest in my style of glasses frame made me think that they were paid on commission. I had never met such self-deprecating salespeople, their shoulders curved in like an apology as they asked: ‘Can I help you?’ Saying ‘no, thank you’ felt less like the truth and more like kicking a puppy. “I have an appointment for an eye exam,” I said three times, to three salespeople. It was almost a relief to get off the sales floor as I was led into the eye examining room.
The eye doctor made small talk as he flipped through several different lens options, while I stared through a periscope-looking mask at a screen with letters on it.
“So, do you go to school? Which is better, lens one,” a click and the furry edges of the letter chart ahead of me cleared marginally, “Or two?” Another click and the letters were lost entirely to a smudge.
“One,” I said. “The community college.”
“Okay. Lens three, or four?” Two clicks as I evaluated. “Have any favorite activities?”
“Writing,” I said. “Three.”
“Oh that’s nice,” he said. “Alright, one… or two? What do you like to write?”
“Creative nonfiction,” I replied. Then remembered: “Two.”
“Three? Or four? That’s cool. Are you taking any writing classes?”
“Four. Yes, I have.”
“So, your prescription is very light. Do you wear your glasses often?”
“No, just when I’m driving.”
“Really? Because your prescription is low enough that you shouldn’t have to wear them.”
“Yes, I’m required by law to wear them when I drive.”
“Hmm. You only have to be able to see this,” on the screen appeared a row of letters I could read with little difficulty. “To drive without glasses. Can you read that?”
I rattled off the letters.
“Well, then!” he said. “You shouldn’t have to wear them while driving.”
My license says otherwise, I thought. Acceptable vision or not, it was best to follow what was on my license in case I ever got pulled over. Instead, I said, “Wow, that’ll be nice.”
“Yeah,” he said, sounding pleased. “Now, I’ve just got these eye drops to give you,” he held a small bottle that sloshed as he rattled it. “It’s full of yellow dye, and it contains a mild anesthetic,” he told me while unscrewing the cap. “So your eyes might feel a little numb.”
I had taken quick inventory of the sensitivity of my eyeballs. There was no sensation. Now, blinking rapidly after he withdraws his hands (and how large fingers suddenly become, when they are close to your eyes. At first handshake I had determined his hands to be of normal proportion. Now I know them to be tree trunks), my eyes feel the same. There is no numbness. I wonder if he lied about the anesthetic, to keep me calm. I do not ask.
“The dye will let me tell the pressure of your eyes,” he says, while rolling towards an unfamiliar contraption. For the next several minutes, he tries to keep up friendly conversation, while I try not to leap out of the examining chair as bright lights peer into my eyes.
Finally, that finished, he rolls back over to a clipboard he has been marking. With a perforated thwpp! he tears a sheet an hands it to me.
“Your prescription isn’t much changed,” he says. “You probably don’t have to wear your glasses at all, if you don’t want to. Though they might be useful if you were driving around at night, in an unfamiliar place, and had to see street signs,” he concedes. “Or, if you needed to see the chalkboard in your classroom. They don’t have chalkboards now, do they?” I do not answer, but it seems he didn’t need a response anyway. “Or you could wear them when you wanted to look at things better.”
Indeed, I think, those are the usual times I need to see. His thorough analysis of probable optical opportunities at least leaves no room for chances. Should I not need my glasses, it seems, I will have to be outside of the realm of possibility entirely. I will keep this in mind in case I find myself inside a fourth-dimension wormhole or something.