Boomer in the City | To see or not to see, that is the question

I can’t see. I’m nearsighted. Everything is blurry.

When the phone rings I reach for my glasses. If I can’t see, I can’t hear and I can’t think.

One eye doesn’t see too well. My glasses are so thick they have circles in them.

My brothers called me “Mrs. Magoo” because without my glasses I stumble.

When I’m in love I don’t wear my glasses. Not good. Once I was at a party with my date and thinking the roof was a room I started to walk toward the edge. If my date hadn’t pulled my arm, I would have gone off the roof.

I wear glasses for movies, writing at the computer and reading. I’m always losing my glasses. That is, until my daughter gave me colorful cords that attach to my glasses and hang from my neck. At home, I hang the cords on doorknobs so I don’t lose them.

I walk carefully, keeping my feet flat on the ground, avoiding crooked curbs and potholes. I don’t want to fall like my friend Dusty who tripped over a dog leash and broke her hip and died from complications.

One day I’m at a lecture on the subject of climate control, where I meet Brent. He is 72. He’s a scientist. We shoot the breeze about the drought. I rant that I hate hot weather.

“You’ll last longer in cold weather,” he says with a laugh. He snorts when he laughs.

Without my glasses he’s blurry, but I can tell that he’s tall, intelligent and has a great voice. We both like Philip Roth books and Janet Malcolm essays. As he smartly critiques Roth, I squint my eyes and imagine that he looks like Rhett Butler. He invites me to dinner. We start dating.

Sometimes I wear contact lenses. But I lose them. Or they slip out. Once, during a dinner party, one of my contacts dropped into the soup. Or sometimes they slip behind my eyeball.

“Oy, wear your glasses,” Aunt Zoe advises. “A big shot you have to be?  Blind on top of it?”

“My glasses are thick,” I say.

“At your age, honey, the men don’t care if you have two heads. So put on the glasses.”

“Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

“Who cares passes? The men you date are so old they don’t know from passes.”

I have an annual eye checkup — the whole shebang. Field test, drops, vision test …

“You need that cataract removed,” says Dr. Williams.

“Will I see better?”

“Much better.”

I arrive at the eye clinic. It’s like Costco, very busy. People wait in rows like mummies. It’s early in the morning. Steam puffs from the old radiator.

Finally, it’s my turn. A friendly nurse leads me to a tiny room. I lie on the gurney and a nurse puts an IV in my arm. Behind curtains, I hear doctors softly murmuring instructions to other patients.

It’s my turn. Two nurses wheel the gurney into a small, bright room. An anesthesiologist tells me what he’s going to do and Dr. Williams stands behind me. “Keep your eye open. I’ll do the rest. If you feel anything, raise your hand.”

“I don’t want to feel anything.”

“Uh huh,” he murmurs.

I hear music and then I see blinding lights of all colors. Beautiful flashes.

I wake later in the same room. A nurse instructs me about applying drops twice a day, and puts drops in my eye.

On the way home in my daughter’s car, I see signs. I see billboards. I see the world. Oh my God. I see! See everything. Not since I was 7 can I see like this.

Not only can I see the signs across the street, in the mirror I see the lines on my face, pouches under my eyes. I had imagined they weren’t there.

Do you need to see everything? Isn’t what we perceive, what we see? What is true? Sometimes what you see isn’t true.

I love seeing. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t have to reach for my glasses. It’s exciting. New.

The next night, I meet Brent in the lobby at Davies Symphony Hall. Oh My God. I almost walked past him. This can’t be Brent, the man I dated a few times? Poor thing is bent over; his jowls hang like sacks and his eyes are red and tiny. He’s got a huge nose. This is my Rhett Butler?

But does it matter? Isn’t seeing with our souls enough? To see or not to see is the question.

The moon tonight has thin purple lines etched in it, like a Kandinsky painting.


Barbara Rose Brooker
Barbara Rose Brooker

Barbara Rose Brooker is a native San Francisco author. CW is making a pilot for a TV series based on her book "The Viagra Diaries."