It started happening about 10 days ago. I'd been forewarned about it by the optometrist who changed my outlook on life when he gave me contact lenses at the age of 14. He said sometime around 40 my eyesight would change. It happened to everybody, he said.
I knew vaguely what he was talking about. I'd seen friends with perfectly good eyesight suddenly begin holding phone books at arm's length. I'd seen people who'd never worn glasses in their lives show up with neat little half frames perched on the ends of their noses. And I'd seen people with regular glasses suddenly show up with bifocals. This wasn't part of growing up, it was part of aging.
I apparently began aging at the age of 10 when I appeared for the first day of the school year and couldn't read a word on the blackboard. The nearsighted genes that plague my family had struck. Glasses followed, and then more glasses as the eyesight deteriorated. Then, a great revolution occurred: Contact lenses were invented and I discovered a classmate who had them. She said they arrested the deterioration of one's eyesight. I was quickly able to convert that into an economic argument to present to my parents on behalf of this acquisition. Vanity, you understand, had nothing to do with it.
In the years that followed, I maintained a happy relationship with my lenses. I didn't lose very many and had no trouble wearing them. My eyes were different enough that I rarely confused the two lenses: besides, lenses are stored in plainly marked cases, so that it takes a very confused person to confuse them.
It is probably relevant to note here that my eyesight without my lenses is such that when children come into the bedroom in the morning they have to speak before I know who's there. Several years ago, when the optometrist was giving me a new type of lens, he finally agreed to tell me what my natural vision was: 20-500 in the right eye, he said, and 20-800 in the left. He also announced that with the new lens I finally had 20-20 vision.
Ten days ago, all that changed. That morning I couldn't read the newspaper. No matter where I held it. I bought new cleaning fluids for the lenses. That seemed to help, but not for long. I was having a terrible time focusing on my reading at work. I mentioned it to a colleague who is several years older. He said it happens to everybody.
One evening, I was talking on the phone to the mother of one of my children's friends. I had misread the soccer schedule and was trying to straighten things out. I told her my eyesight was going. She said so was hers.
"It happens with menopause," she declared.
Menopause was the furthest thing from my mind.
Two days later, however, after spending a great deal of time thinking about menopause for the first time in my life, I finally blurted out the problem to a friend. "Nah," he said, "it's got nothing to do with menopause. It happens to men, too."
I took a great deal of comfort from that.
I called my mother to find out what had happened to her eyes. She pondered the question and then said: "I honestly don't remember."
I called my sister. She was into bifocals. It had happened to her.
I called my sister-in-law. She said it had happened to her almost overnight.
By the weekend, I was getting seriously worried. I'd had a great deal of trouble focusing on what I was reading at work, and I was having a great deal of trouble focusing on the trashy novel I'd picked up at the supermarket. I couldn't read medicinal directions and I couldn't read recipes. I was going to have to call the optometrist.
I was aging. This is not an easy thing to admit for somebody who thinks the most immortal statement of the past year came from Gloria Steinem when she announced that being 50 now was like 40 used to be.
Tuesday morning I made a final attempt to fight off the inevitable by cleaning the right lens especially carefully. I inserted it and blinked. The words "Aqua Fresh" came clearly into focus. I repeated the procedure with the left lens. The words "Aqua Fresh" went completely out of focus. I covered my left eye: The entire bathroom was clearly in focus, although shelves and cabinets seemed further away then I recalled them being. I covered my right eye and things got blurred. Suddenly, a small light bulb lit up.
I switched lenses.
And, lo, a miracle occurred. I could see. I could read. I wasn't heading toward menopause. I was heading toward the phone to share the miracle with a friend.
"It's nice to know," he said when I'd finished, "that it's just your mind that's going, and not your eyesight."