By Lisa Friedlander
When I first woke, the barely lit morning made it possible to open my eyes without sunglasses. Squinting first with only my left eye open, and then with only my right, I saw the pile of clean white T-shirts on the writing desk across the room. They looked alternately warm-white, then cool, warm and then cool. My vacillating experience of whiteness blindsided me, as if there existed some true whiteness about which I had either been, or found myself now, deluded.
Used to a slightly golden cast, I dreaded the colder blue my newly lensed right eye painted. How would I feel about a world more blue than gold? Would it depress me to see the red roses along the drive more purple than orange, or the so-green maple leaves, before they rage at summer’s end, bowing blue beneath the dominating sky? And what if my skin tone looked even more cadaverous under the ghastly lighting of a fitting room?
Anisometropia, the two diopter difference between my nearsighted right eye and my farsighted left eye, has brought me the world as I know it; as I feel greedy for more of it. I’ve not wanted to sacrifice either the ability to read without glasses, or to see more distant signs of what’s coming. This divergence has shaped the way conversations wriggle under a microscope of detailed considerations and then get telescopically swallowed by the meta, and the meta-meta. I can’t claim any dialectically dramatic summary of the universe, but I relish friendly contradictions and discord, rules and their exceptions. It’s helped me as a psychotherapist to dovetail more than pigeonhole.
I got up to try out my new near-vision eye. In the mirror I saw a single white hair protruding from my chin, its thickness more stubble than peach fuzz. I placed the tweezer over the drop zone expertly and plucked. No hit or miss anymore. I felt grateful for the newly acquired accuracy in facial landscaping, but I noticed a blur line outside, beyond which trees and houses smudged, the way scenery does when you speed past on a highway. Such appearing and disappearing seems heartbreaking, as does helloing and then waving goodbye to people or places I love.
At the follow-up, Dr. Bartolini told me the blurriness and the jitterbugging in my eye are normal. “The brain is adapting to the new lens. There’s healing going on.”
I asked if she’d put in a blue lens and she laughed and said “It’s clear. You’re seeing colors as they really are. The cataract was yellow.”
As I left with my daughter, who drove us to Whole Foods so I could buy supplies for her engagement party in two days, I couldn’t help thinking that no one sees colors as they really are. We simply capture light in the butterfly nets of our complicated eyes. I remembered that the atmosphere’s oxygen and nitrogen scatter blue light with its short wavelengths, which made the blueing of the T-shirts more benign. But the gilding of my former world has as much to credit my unbound heart as my binding cataract. If you’re lucky, ageing makes love more visible at any diopter.
I have to alter my morning stretches because the doctor’s told me not to bend my head below the midline in case the lens dislodges. I googled. Some sites said blood rushes to the head exerting undesirable eye pressure. I guess if I’ve seen my way through this pandemic so far, I can see my way through four weeks of keeping my chin up; especially because when I asked Dr. Bartolini why she’d chosen to practice ophthalmology, she related this to her father, an unhappy internist. In contrast, she wanted longer term relationships with patients.
This charmed me.
“Most of my patients are old,” she said; which made me feel like she’d included me in the ‘old patient’ category; but later I thought she might have said that to exclude me from it. Like I myself swing both ways when it’s convenient: When warranted, I call myself ‘old,’ because it denigrates me fast, in a culture that has no reverence, but will occasionally help when asked. And when showing muscle, I claim age has not diminished me.
I saw Karen in the waiting room on the follow-up. My surgery preceded hers the day before. We chatted and then she handed me her post-retirement card, ‘Eagle Eye Editing.’ She told me about bringing Doris, her 82-year old, and newish neighbor, to cataract surgery a week earlier. Apparently, Doris had never married, and all her family had died except for a nephew–more promise than delivery–who’d moved light years away.
Unlike Karen’s and my two-hour start-to-finish, Doris’ surgery lasted four hours. In recovery, Karen waited patiently while Doris asked for more apple juice, and reluctantly settled on a peanut butter sandwich. Then Doris asked for another and plopped it in her purse to go. Karen’s tone suggested concerns about setting personal limits with Doris.
Later, I put up colorful lanterns and paper flowers for the engagement party, refrigerated the food, and ordered fancy desserts. I made a list of last-minute items. My daughter’s fiancé cooked a taco dinner. As we ate, my daughter mentioned that when I looked sideways she saw my eye glint. My stomach clenched but I made another taco, adding shredded lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese, and salsa. I myself felt composited, made of many ingredients with a new one added. I felt terribly exposed.
But then I imagined Doris, opening the hospital’s vacuum sealed peanut butter sandwich and eating it alone and unseen. How would her new lens interpret a world that depended on the kindness of strangers?
I thanked my daughter and my son-in-law to be. I washed the dishes and planned to call Karen the next day to check on her progress.
She probably has her follow-up-follow-up the same Friday I do, and if I’m not seeing many clients that day, I’ll suggest coffee.
Copyright Friedlander 2022