Saturday, February 5, 2011
I wore hard contacts
all throughout junior high school.
My eyesight was declining steadily and rapidly enough that my soft-spoken optometrist decided to place me in iron lenses that hurt like hell and had to be cleaned before and after use with this stinging white solution that came in a bottle with a red lid.
I, being thirteen and uncomely, ignored the pain, because I was just overly excited about the shedding of my spectacles. I could do nothing immediate about the state of my teeth, hairstyle, wardrobe, height, or propensity towards immediately bursting into tears when scolded for talking in class, but I could do something about my four eyes, and I was finally allowed to when I entered the seventh grade.
Having grown up in the town next to the college town, I go to college in the college town with everyone from the town next to the college town. Every fiftieth person I see on campus is someone I grew up with. I enjoyed this thoroughly as a freshman, and continue to do so, kind of, because it's nice to remember that you have people.
Lately, though, it's become a little sad to run into everybody every few days like we are all wont to do--because the more time goes by, the less our teenage sleepovers and vandalizations and shared class projects and school dances and extracurricular activities seem to matter. People don't seem to gush animatedly over each other's accomplishments anymore, engagements, kids, degrees; even those have somehow become routine, (yes, I know I'm barely beginning this phase of my life) so that when I see my oldest, dearest acquaintances on campus, we share a short greeting and not much else. Sometimes there's a dual lack of effort to go even that far, and either a small smile is exchanged or we both promise ourselves to stop and say hi another time. It's like we're all afraid to be kids now, or something. Further and further away are the weeks of six-hour rehearsals we danced through, the traffic cones we stole to place around a favorite teacher's car upon inspiration at three am, and the choir classes, dressing rooms, and rolls of mic tape we all picked off of.
In rehearsals for a junior high version of The Pirates of Penzance, I played one of fifteen or twenty daughters of the major general. The boys played pirates, the girls played daughters, and the boy-girls and girl-boys that could dance played the policemen. I walked about the stage, happily snuggling into groups of each of these categories on breaks, rubbing my new contacts with the heels of each hand like mad until I looked perpetually dazed. Man they hurt. And everyone else had soft contacts, because their corneas could be trusted.
I see or speak to, on a regular basis, about a dozen people from this cast. Two of them work in my office. It was ten years ago, this play, and I could probably tell you what three-quarters of the entire ensemble (about forty people) are doing with their lives at this very moment. Alas--few of us ever see each other, or talk. We Facebook, and text sometimes, but it's like this unbroken stretch of non-communication, because while we've shared all these experiences, nobody has time for experiences anymore. You know what I mean?
One of the policemen in our show, a girl, with long brown hair, was named I think something like Ashley. I think that's what it was. We had our first conversation, I remember, sitting along the false garden wall at the back of the stage, touching the edges of the scrim shyly with the tips of our feet. I pressed my fingers into my eyes as we talked, drawing the lids out to the sides of my face and snapping them back, itching my vanity-blinded eyes until the discomfort receeded for a few blurry seconds. Ashley asked me if I had contacts, and I proudly said yes, and she proudly said me too, and impulsively I blurted out that mine were different though, they were smaller, and harder, and hurt all the time, and turned my eyes from a muddy hazel to a muddy blue, because hard contacts are bluer.
Ashley had hard contacts too, and really blue eyes in a cheerful round face, and we laughed over the lavender tint our eye bags had taken since we'd gotten our lenses and begun twisting our eyelids around to itch at any available moment.
Finding another person doing the uncool version of the cool thing was intensely comforting, and we developed a quick bond to each other based on nothing but the fact that our corrective eyewear was identical and like no one else's.
In the hallways at the junior high, the two of us began signaling to each other whenever we passed--never talking, never really delving into a friendship--but every time we saw each other, she would raise one solemn forefinger to the soft skin beneath her right eye and draw it downwards to wackily reveal the wet red eyesocket beneath the eye itself. This I would quickly mirror, and that was it.
About a month ago, I walked quickly, late as usual, from my office to the library, across a hundred-foot span of cement, clutching a flying swirl of lesson plans and frantically magneting my nametag to my right chest. As I looked up, a flash of face caught my eye, my old friend, or whatever we were, Ashley, walking briskly in the other direction, a bright recognition in a sea of Tuesday. We made eye contact.
Without thinking, I raised my right forefinger immediately to my eye and made our signal, the wacky one-eyed mad scientist-type thing we'd expressed our frustration and fellowship through ten years ago, and without blinking an eye, she nodded ceremoniously and returned the signal, and then she was gone.
It's happened a couple more times since then, over a month, and we've never stopped to talk or even to make sure we ever knew each other's first names.
Whatever your name is, probably Ashley, thank you for remembering.
at 10:55 PM