One way to look at what happened is that everything is the fault of my optometrist and his enthusiasm for those miserable eyedrops that make your eyes supersensitive to light. But if I've learned one thing from all this, it's that there's generally more than one way to look at anything.
So, from the beginning, a few points to remember:
(1) Without glasses, I can't see farther away than about a foot and a half beyond the tip of my nose.
(2) Glasses may improve someone's seeing, but they've never improved anyone's looks.
Sure, parents, grandparents, and eyeglass salesmen will assure you that you're cute as a button with your glasses on-if what you want to look like is a cute button, though that's not my idea of a big selling point. But in any case, what's the first thing a movie director does to a gorgeous actress when he needs her to look plain for a role?
I've been bugging my mom for contact lenses since about when I was in kindergarten and realized exactly how stupid glasses made me look. That was when I got my first hint that boys don't go for girls who wear glasses-when Nicholas Bonafini, the most popular boy in kindergarten, ran into the LEGO tower I'd spent the last fifteen minutes building, turned around, looked at me, and said, "You're dumb."
It was the glasses, I'm convinced.
Mom is sure I wouldn't take proper care of contact lenses and is worried my eyeballs would rot and fall out as a result. She says I can get contact lenses when I'm eighteen, which is another three years. Eighteen. Big deal. At eighteen, people are considered old enough to vote, move away from home, get a credit card, join the army, and/or get married. Not that anybody wants to marry someone who wears stupid glasses.
(3) I hate those eye doctor eyedrops.
They sting. They make my eyes water, which makes my mascara run, which makes the doctor lecture against the evils of eye makeup (a lecture I've already gotten from Mom). And they make me look stupider than even glasses make me look.
Eye doctors like eyedrops either because you have to be a certifiable sadist to go into the business (I'm convinced that's what half those certificates on their office walls say), or because the drops make your pupils big enough the doctor gets a chance to see to the back of your brain.
While slightly big pupils give girls a kind of doe-eyed innocence, which-while not my first choice-isn't the worst of all possible looks, huge pupils that only leave a tiny rim of iris showing give girls a what-the-heck's-wrong-with-her? look that's only appealing to drug pushers and eye doctors.
So the eyedrops sting going in, then they make you look and feel like you're auditioning for a role in Return of the Mole People, and-isn't this a nice touch?-the effects last a good ten or twelve hours. Even indoors in Rochester, New York-where, by the way, gray days were invented-the afternoon light is too bright for someone who's had eyedrops.
Plus, as a bonus side effect, with your pupils that big, your close-up vision evaporates. In fact, you can no longer focus on anything that's closer to you than about a foot and a half away.
Refer back to points one and two.
So, my mother was driving me home from my eye doctor appointment, and I was not pleased. My prescription had not changed, meaning I was stuck with the same ugly glasses I had picked last year. (Yes, I picked them, but how can you tell how bad glasses look when-without the lenses in-you can't see as far away as the mirror? Besides, my mother refuses to buy designer frames, claiming it's against her principles to pay as much for glasses as it would cost to fly the designer to our house to see me in them. My mother is prone to exaggeration.)
I didn't own sunglasses because, in Rochester, there's only about five days in the whole year that you need sunglasses-and the majority of those days are for snow glare rather than actual sunlight. The eye doctor had offered me a pair of construction-paper-and-plastic-film sunglasses about as classy as the ones you get at the 3-D attractions at Disney World, except without the Disney characters. You'd think for what an eye doctor charges, he could give you glasses that don't look as though they cost about fourteen cents a gross.
I'd declined the sunglasses and instead kept my eyes closed as Mom led me out of the doctor's office and to the car. But by the time we pulled into the driveway at home, her patience was wearing thin. She gets that way sometimes. When, as she stopped the car, I told her she might want to seriously consider buying a Seeing Eye dog for me for these annual checkups, she told me to stop sulking.
"No, no, that's all right," I said, flinging my arms up to protect my abused eyeballs from the piercing rays of the sun. "If Helen Keller could manage, I suppose I can, too."
"Oh, Wendy," Mom sighed in a tone like it was my fault I couldn't see. She headed for the house, abandoning me in the front yard.
I staggered across the lawn, alternating between having my eyes tightly closed for maximum protection against the light, and peeking through my fingers for maximum protection against walking into a tree.
The glint of something in the grass caught my attention, which was a wonder no matter how you look at it: I'd given Mom my glasses to carry in her purse, and without them and with my eyes watering I was lucky I could make out my feet.
I leaned over and saw a pair of mirrored sunglasses.
Normally, I would have kept on walking. About 10 percent of the people who wear mirrored sunglasses look really cool. The other 90 percent look like jerks trying to look cool.
But I figured that squinting and staggering around the front yard was doing nothing for me in the cool-looks department, anyway, so I picked them up. I knew they didn't belong to anybody in our household. Our household used to consist of me and my mother. Now you have to add my mother's current husband, Bill, and-on a part-time basis-my wicked stepsister, Bill's daughter, Gia. She lives with us during the week and with her mother on weekends. The nicest thing I have to say about her is that I get along best with her on weekends. Our friends-Gia's and my separate friends-all know, as our parents can't quite seem to grasp, that our being the same age is not a fortunate coincidence.
We live right across the street from Highland Park, and even though the Lilac Festival wasn't until the following week, a lot of people who are more interested in the lilacs than in the bands and the craft booths and the fried dough come early to beat the crowds. I figured one of these lilac enthusiasts had dropped the sunglasses, and I squinted up and down the sidewalk to see if any likely looking person might have just lost them. Nobody. At least not within my admittedly limited range of sight. So I put them on, figuring that would make finding our front door easier.
My eyeballs were instantly happier. The sunglasses cut out all the glare. And the lenses gave everything a nice pinkish glow, even the statue our next-door neighbor Mrs. Freelander put up by her front stoop in memory of her beloved, dearly departed Pekingese dog of twenty-five years ago, Mr. Tassels. The glasses made the lilacs across the street look stunning. The park has hundreds of varieties of lilacs in shades of dark purple, light purple, bluish purple, pink, and-if I hadn't been wearing those rosy glasses-white. The lenses made them all look gorgeous. I could see an archway among the lilac bushes, which was probably something the festival committee had just put up because I'd never seen it before. It looked like stone though it was more likely granite-colored Styrofoam. Pretty. Everything looked pretty.
"Wendy!" my mother called from inside the house. "...