* EditorÕs note: Marion is taking the day off. This column ran in very similar form in April 2004.
I have two completely different methods of writing columns. About one quarter of the time, I am full of emotion, and the words spill out, producing a draft in minutes. The rest of the time, I have an idea, but the words resist and the draft takes forever.
The emotional columns Ñ usually better than the ÒideaÓ ones Ñ are often about topics IÕm reluctant to move from my home computer to the newspaper, so they never see the light of day.
I didnÕt run the emotional column below when I wrote it, because it seemed too centered on my own problem (eye surgery in November 2003), but later I changed my mind. The world is divided into two kinds of people: those who need glasses and those who donÕt. I feared this column was just about me, but perhaps it applies to half the world.
How can I describe my impatience? IÕm a pregnant woman waiting to see her baby in ultrasound. IÕm a high school senior waiting for a college acceptance. IÕm a red-hot lover waiting for my partner to say yes.
One month has passed since my surgery for a detached retina. In a day or two, my new eyeglasses will arrive, and if they work the way theyÕre supposed to, IÕll see almost normally again.
IÕve waited for new glasses many times in my life, but only one other occasion was this monumental.
I was 8 years old. Mrs. Johnson, my third-grade teacher, said I needed glasses because I flunked the math tests that were written on the blackboard. I attributed my errors to carelessness.
I knew I was seeing just fine.
But I went for my first eye exam, a momentous experience because I learned that adults, even doctors, donÕt know what I see until I tell them. The doctor kept asking me about letters.
Feeling all-powerful, I could have lied about the big E.
But I didnÕt.
Two weeks later, my glasses arrived. I was too young to think they made me unattractive, but they did make the doctorÕs office look weird, and I felt off-balance. I got out quickly. Holding my motherÕs hand, I stepped onto the sidewalk and then stopped dead when I saw the trees.
I knew they were trees because they were tall and standing in the right places, but I felt as if I had never seen them before. Who would have thought that trees are composed of hundreds upon hundreds of individual leaves? I had spent years seeing them in a storybook blur, as if they had been created by a slosh of watercolor.
The astonishment of that day never repeated, although with each routine change in my prescription, I was happy to see better. My first prescription sunglasses were cool. My first contact lenses made me feel pretty.
After that, getting new glasses was a neutral experience, until I turned 45 and my first prescription for bifocals was like a siren, informing me I was getting old. I got used to that, too, and shifted back into neutral.
When my retina detached last month (November 2003), the trees went all to hell. Before surgery they were distorted by black lines; after surgery, I couldnÕt see them through bandages and puffiness. Now IÕm back to the watercolor blotches.
Reading is worse. The blurriness in one eye means the two eyes wonÕt work together. I can see the page, but I tire immediately.
IÕm not the kind of person who spends every moment reading, but when my eyes refuse to focus on printed matter, I feel almost in pain. In fact, one of my nightmares is being thrown into prison, with nothing to read.
People remind me that there are alternatives to reading, notably books on tape. They donÕt feel sorry enough for me.
I donÕt know which makes me more angry, the lack of sympathy or my own inflexibility. I have discovered that I cannot attend to the written word when I hear it out loud. I get distracted or fall asleep. I missed so many details in my first book-on-tape mystery that when the murderer was revealed, I didnÕt recognize his name.
If, heaven forbid, I were ever to lose my eyesight, which would I miss most, trees, or the books and newspapers we make out of them?
In a few days this aching frustration, this walking around the house looking at the spines of books, this jail called television, will come to an end.
A moment from my past will repeat itself, with all the wonder of the very first time.
Someone will take a small, light, geeky object and put it on my face. SheÕll mumble something about fit and sheÕll walk in and out carrying some kind of tool, making adjustments. All of this will be totally familiar. But my reaction will be different. I will feel like an infant placed gently into a warm bath.
IÕll leave with eyeglasses on my face. IÕll see leaves. IÕll feel as nimble and happy as if I were 8 years old.
Ñ Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears Sundays.