Words Jude Rogers
Illustration PAUL UNDERWOOD
Hello? Are you there? It’s first thing. My hand is spidering over the bedside table for a thin, long arm. Watch the water glass. Round the book I strained to read in the dark. There they are – behind the ears – WHOOSH. Here it is: the world, with sharp edges.
I’ve always preferred my eyes as they are. I have one of my father’s and one of my mother’s. Not different colours, or appearances, but abilities. The oculus sinister (trans. from Latin: my left) is absolutely my father’s. It’s ever-soslightly shortsighted – one-anda- half diopters, or -1.50, as the terminology goes. One-and-a-half diopters means a delicate, soft fuzz around defined objects, a romantic edge to real life. But the lines of buildings are still there, straight, unbending, concrete. Real.
The oculus dextrous – the right eye – is my mother’s. Buildings cease to have windows: they are constantly on after-hours time: it’s 3am and they’re gone, jigging up-and-down, side-to-side, staggering hysterically on their sinews. They’re trying to align themselves with all the ease, poise and grace of someone who’s just drowned their liver in three bottles of bourbon. Colours jump and blend, roofs shudder and roll.
It’s quite fun, in some ways. My right eye is seven diopters, or -7.00, with an astigmatism. My right eye is the rebel part of me.
I got my first glasses when I was 14. This was when NHS glasses weren’t the ones we stylishly tremble before now: they were made of gold wire, thin and malleable, surrounding thick, bottle-top glass. You could tell my right eye was worse; it bulged owlishly behind the reflective pane. It was the eye of a grandmother detective leering over a dead body. I only wore them to watch TV, and three years later to drive. My solid cool behind the wheel, at sweet 17, gone to dust.
Until I was in my mid-twenties, I didn’t wear my glasses all the time. Boys didn’t make passes, etcetera. I tried soft contact lenses instead: we fell out, their pliable plastic quietly, cruelly, sandpapering my irises. I tried not wearing glasses at all, as an experiment: after an hour, the muscles around my retinas started to pull and whine. I gave up. I became one of The Four-Eyed.
‘Glasses don’t make you look clever. They make you look like your old schoolteacher. (Well, they make me look like my old schoolteacher.)’
They also sometimes make you look sexy, but you generally have to be sexy in the first place. You can’t throw them on and expect the lines to give your eyelids, your eyelashes, an extra lift, shape and curve.
Saying that, I like it when my husband wears his. And he’s clever. Actually, anything that makes men look more like Michael Caine in The Ipcress File is a good thing, now I come to think of it. (Glasses-wearers can be hypocritical because they see so many things at the same time.)
I got the first pair I really loved when I was 30. They were purple, with transparent frames on top, and no frames beneath, expensively thinned. Wearing them I suddenly felt half-alive; oh, to see and be seen. The next were from a boutique shop in Covent Garden; tortoiseshell, round, slightly fashionable. (If you’re a man, there’s always the Caine option. For women, there’s an atom of difference between Vintage Camp and Dame Edna. The perfect-sighted don’t have these problems, with their sharp edges and defined worlds.)
I treat my glasses appallingly. I throw them in a zip-up pocket in my bag. I knock them off the bedside table. I wipe them against my shirt, my jacket, my jeans. When my tortoiseshell pair were broken by my four-month-old, my only spares were all scratched – it was like looking through tracking fuzz on an ancient video player. I’d step out of the house, and my world became blizzards, sliced with knives, like an avant-garde art project. Again, I quite liked it for a while. It’s easy to forget how clearly we see.
In my experience, the shortsighted hate the long-sighted. We can immerse ourselves in our own intimate worlds, through books and television, but we can’t peer into the distance. This is possibly a metaphor. The long-sighted hate us because they just want to feel close. My mother can’t see close or far now: she has varifocals, expensively thinned, which she wears as rarely as she can. Her eyes still look magnified, owlishly: she’s 65 now, a grandmother, and she’s quite good at detecting. Her prescription is -10.00 (ocular sinister) and -11.00 (ocular dextrous). My little brother’s eyes are a few points behind.
I worry about how much I look at screens. I’m using a screen now to write. I live to write. I write to live. I worry that the lolling haze that is my usual domain, thanks to the curious magic of two glassy orbs working together, will start to jig and jump without warning; that the words will dance, clash, then war on the page; that things will get progressively, then suddenly worse; that no glasses will help. Nobody wants reflections they can’t rely on, they can’t hang on to, that they can’t control.
Glasses off . I feel my muscles pulling and whining. The haze becomes snowy, blurry, jagged. I put my hands over my eyes.
I go to sleep thinking of my vision in jump cuts, in edits, like an experimental film. I think of my life in images and moments, trying to preserve them more slowly, more quietly, more statically. I go to sleep letting my muscles rest; the pupils contract, the irises settle, the lids close. I reflect on what I can reflect. I tuck in my arms – away from the water glass – and try to keep my visions intact.