Do These Bifocals Make Me Look Old?

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As I hurtle headlong into my later forties, my recent Crocs purchases are the least of my worries. Pain in my feet I can handle—as long as I can see where I’m going. I never forgot the realization upon getting my first pair of glasses in my mid-twenties that things in the distance aren’t supposed to be increasingly blurry, just increasingly small. As I walked home across Park Slope wearing my super-styling 1990s golden wire frames (I know, I know), besides thinking the world was staring at my newly four-eyed self, I also thought it was totally putting me on. Distance vision came as that much of a shock to “I never knew I was nearsighted” me.

A decade later, when, out of the shame of walking next to me and my aged spectacles, Devyn ordered me to get new glasses, I didn’t protest. A flirty Lens Crafters clerk gave us a heck of a discount, so I got two pair. I had to admit their dark brown and lime green plastic curviness was a big improvement over my former wire frames, and most importantly, since I’d needed a new eye exam for years anyway, I immediately remembered how nice distance vision felt.

You can imagine how heartbroken I was when I dropped the dark brown ones on the floor of the Space Mountain unloading zone at 1:55 a.m. during Memorial Day late-night Extra Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom three years ago. As the park was closing, a cast member retrieved my glasses for me. That moment on Antiques Road Show when someone thinks the appraiser is going high but the appraisal goes laughably low instead? It wasn’t until I put them back on that I realized the frame was cracked in half and missing a lens.

And my lime green backup pair was back in Chicago. There’s nothing more visually psychedelic than doing a 2 a.m. walk of shame through the evening illumination of a Disney castle park, from one end of Tomorrowland to the other end of Main Street. (The colors, man, the colors…) Not to mention an entire additional blurry day at Disney, a blurry trip to the airport, and a blurry flight back home.

Getting back to my backup pair was not a panacea, either. Lime green does not go with everything. Although for me it did until I discovered the unmitigated joy of cheap that is Zenni. For a hundred dollars and the cost of an eye exam, I once again returned myself to the joy of multi-pair, distance vision glasses goodness.

But like Bryan Adams sang, nothin’ can last forever, forever, no…

Yeah. A year later—last year, to be exact—my eyes changed once again. Only this time, they changed differently. One’s distance improved, the other’s worsened—and they both said to hell with reading anything up close. (This aging thing, why do we bother with it again?) I knew the word was coming before it passed the optometrist’s lips. It went something like this:

—”Bifocals.”
—”Bifocals?”
—”Bifocals.”

My mind tried to go to its happy place, but all it found there was Michael Keaton dressed as Beetlejuice. Wearing bifocals.

Now let me get one thing straight. For years I’ve sworn to age gracefully. I’ll never color my hair. Or lie about my age. Or try to dress like people 20 years younger than me. In my forties, I think I look a lot like my mother in her forties and I get a kick out of it. And you have no idea how many times Ryan has tried to get me to trim my Iberian old man’s prehensile eyebrow hairs over the years.

But bifocals launched me clear across my mom in her forties, landing squarely on my grandmother in her seventies. I loved my grandmother. But she wore an eyeglass retainer around her neck, for God’s sake. All I could picture was me with my glasses hanging from my neck on my own little retainer chain as I comforted myself with toast and tea. And since I comfort myself with toast and tea a fair amount already, I knew I didn’t have that far to go in the first place.

But dammit, I had no choice. So hour after hour I pored over eyeglass enthusiast websites, trying to be talked down from the ledge of lined lenses. Coached into the world of watching your feet so as not to fall down staircases. Comforted that progressive lenses with no obvious line would be much more convenient—and don’t worry, blurry vision and a pounding headache were totally normal for the first month after being progressed.

I logged onto Zenni, spent two hundred more dollars, and got two pairs of progressives. I swore I chose the progressives out convenience and not vanity, even as I ordered them in the exact same, indistinguishable frames as my existing single-lens pairs. When they arrived from Hong Kong two weeks later, I opened the box with dread, lifted each pair to my eyes, one-by-one put them on…and instantly became the giddy poster child for progressive lenses. No headache, no drama, no problem at all. Just the most amazing vision, near and far, that I’d ever had in my entire life. No one in the history of eyewear was ever as happy as I was wearing my progressives.

Then nine months later one of my eyes decided to change back, and suddenly my progressives weren’t so progressive anymore. (I ask again, this aging thing, why?) Now I know why little old ladies wear whatever glasses they manage to pull out of their purse: pure and unadulterated spite. Spite at fickle eyes that like nothing better than to annoy with ever-changing eyewear prescriptions because what else do eyes have to do for fun anyway?

Enough was enough. I was not getting another eye exam and buying another two pairs of glasses in less than a year. I was not going to get that old that fast. I was just going to tough it out. It was time to put my foot down on my eyes. I was going to wear the glasses I already had and they were going to like it, see?

It’s been a year since then. I now have amazing vision—but only in my right eye when my glasses are off, and in my left eye when my glasses are on. All I’d have to do is add a little dodder into my walk and I have no doubt an early invitation from A.A.R.P. would arrive in the mail. Also, I try to be careful at crosswalks. But as for my eyes, I showed them.

Or did I? Next week we’re going back to Disney World, and my two-year-old progressives now slip a little bit on my face. I’d like to avoid a repeat of the Space Mountain incident. And there’s only one thing I can do about it. Make some toast and tea to soften the blow.

And buy an eyeglass retainer.

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