Finding that all her optical hopes were just an illusion

The Baltimore Sun

A few months ago, I noticed China's economy had taken a downturn and the country's toy makers were on a mission to save paper and ink. How else, to explain the tiny, almost illegible instructions written on an electronic gadget I had bought for my son?

"Can you read this?" I asked, trusting his 11-year-old eyes.

"Well, the printing is really small," he answered.

Whew. It wasn't me after all. Although I was 47, I could still revel in perfect 20-20 vision. My parents, and even my older brother might have had to get glasses when they passed the 40-year mark, but not me.

I was still young. Everybody said so. College classmates told me I didn't look a bit different than I did when we were in school. My son's Cub Scout leader couldn't believe I was over 40.

But I was getting a bit irritated with those corporate cost savings. Even my own newspaper seemed to betray me.

The print seemed to be getting smaller, although I couldn't remember anyone saying we were changing our type.

Then again, I thought, maybe the problem was those new energy-efficient light bulbs I had bought to save money on the electric bill.

Struggling to thread a needle one evening, I concluded those new bulbs just aren't as bright as the old incandescent ones.

After some weeks, I decided that maybe I should get my eyes checked.

It had been years since I'd had an eye exam and I was due, although I was still sure there was nothing wrong with my eyes.

I found an eye doctor near my home and called his office late one afternoon.

The receptionist told me the doctor had just had an unexpected cancellation and could give me an appointment within the hour. Did I want it?

"Yeah, sure," I said, although I had expected I would have at least several days to anticipate the exam, time enough to worry and even develop a full dread.

But I had just a short time to remember all the reasons I hated eye exams: the irritating drops, the poking around my eyes and uncomfortable lights.

Before I knew it, I was sitting down at a table staring into a machine at a little green light. Then I had to focus on a hot-air balloon floating in the horizon. The congenial doctor took me through the paces, leading me from one machine to the next. By the time I read the letter chart, I felt fairly certain that my eyes were fine after all.

I read letters big and small, without hesitation as he flipped lenses in front of my eyes. "How's this?"

"Great," I said, reading the letters perfectly.

Then he changed the lenses. "How's this?" I looked at the blurry letters. Obviously, those lenses were distorted. "That's fuzzy."

"That's without any lenses," the doctor announced.

"So I need glasses?"

"You've got healthy eyes," the doctor told me. "There's nothing wrong with them but age. ... But hey, you're lucky. Most people need glasses by the time they're 40 or 42."

He wrote down a prescription, smiled pleasantly, shook my hand.

He handed my folder to a perky young assistant who showed me a display of glasses. "Do you see anything you like?"

"Of course, I can see them," I thought. "My eyes aren't that bad." But I held the sarcasm. "I don't know," I said, defeated. "Can you pick out something?"

She handed me a pair of glasses and I tried them on. A stranger stared back at me in the mirror. She handed me another pair. A little better, but still not me.

By the third pair, I had given up hope. I nodded in resignation.

A few days later, I put on my new glasses. My kids screamed and ran out of the room. "You're getting old!" the middle-schooler said.

"Don't say that!" my husband reprimanded, giving me a kiss to make me feel better. "I think they look great."

I ignored both comments. Truth be told, I'm so happy that I can read small print again, that I don't worry too much about appearances.

There is one downside, however. Studying my face in the mirror with my new glasses, I noticed something I hadn't seen before. Two or three gray hairs seem to be mixed in with my natural dirty blond.

It must be those darned light bulbs.

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