63: 20/20

63: 20/20

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

20/20

I was once afraid of people saying, “Who does she think she is?” Now I have the courage to stand and say, “This is who I am.”

~Oprah Winfrey

“Laura Lynn,” Ms. Elliott called, her deep throaty voice bouncing off the cinder block walls and smacking me in the face.

“Yes?” I tried to sound innocent. I was innocent, but I felt the heat in my cheeks as if I’d been caught snooping around my older brother, Jim’s room.

“Take off your glasses.”

“I c-c-c-can’t,” I said. My voice seemed all bumpy. My words felt like they were climbing the rock-climbing wall at the gym. No one talked back to Ms. Elliott, yet there was no way I could remove my sunglasses.

“Why not?” Her voice was more imposing than Darth Vader’s as she strolled down the aisle of oak desks toward me. Ms. Elliott was no taller than 5’1”, and her short brown hair with the middle part was plain and almost masculine. She always wore boots with stacked wooden heels that lifted her several inches in the air, and she stomped down the rows of desks like a drill sergeant. She wore a red and silver paisley necktie, crisp white shirt and a black vest—haberdashery is the word the fashion magazines would use to describe her style, but she always dressed like this, not just when it came back into vogue. It was rumored that Ms. Elliott even smoked cigars.

“I-I-I had surgery,” I squawked, like a duckling learning how to quack. This was humiliating. I couldn’t believe I had announced my operation to the whole class, although enough people had asked about my sunglasses, and gossip at our school traveled faster than a gurney rushing towards the emergency room.

“Remove your glasses,” she demanded.

I knew Ms. Elliott suspected that all middle schoolers smoked pot and I knew she wanted to see my eyes to make sure I didn’t have the slanty, narrow orbs of a pothead. But please! I was about the bookiest bookworm there was, and everyone in the eighth grade knew it. I would never do drugs! I wasn’t even cool enough to be bad news. I knew it was her job to keep an eye out for erratic behavior from her students and I’m sure there was some weird rule against wearing sunglasses in school, but Ms. Elliott was going to be grossed out and completely disgusted if she made me take them off. Underneath the dark shades, I looked like something out of a horror movie!

My eyes had been problematic since birth. I’d had two eye surgeries by the time I was three. I had used medicated eye drops for as long as I could remember and glasses since the time I was five. Glasses to correct the fact that I was cross-eyed. Glasses that made me look the part of the geeky, smart kid I had become. In eighth grade, my eye doctor felt my eyes were ready to withstand another surgery and the medical advancements with lasers almost guaranteed my eye muscles could be corrected. Translation—with one more surgery, my eyes would look straight ahead, and I wouldn’t need glasses anymore.

To gain the prize of freedom from spectacles, I had to endure the surgery, which was the scariest thing I’d experienced in my life. I don’t remember much about the ones I had when I was little. I could only recall wisps of memories of baking pies for my dad in the pretend kitchen of the children’s hospital ward and throwing off my surgical cap in disgust at how ugly it was (even back then I could detect hideous fashion). But this time, I got it. I knew I would drink something to make me sleepy and while I was sleeping, surgeons would serrate my optic muscles. Creepy!

Fortunately, I have a strong sense of faith, and I just kept praying and praying that I wouldn’t go blind and the surgeons would do their best. I got to stay home from school for three days, but my eyes were bloody. The parts of my eyes that were normally white were pure red, as if someone took a red marker and colored in all the white parts. I had to sleep with a towel on my pillowcase because bloody tears leaked down my face while I slept. As a child I loved reading Hansel and Gretel. In my copy of the book, the witch was described as having red eyes. Now I looked just like that witch!

Ms. Elliott stood directly beside my desk now and I knew I was trapped. I mustered up my courage and slid my Ray-Bans slowly down my nose, looking her directly in the eye, as if accepting her dare. After all, she asked for it. I could tell she wanted to look away, but Ms. Elliott was too tough for that. She held my gaze, despite a slight spasm on her lips.

“I h-have a note,” I muttered. Dr. Stroble had written a note permitting me to wear sunglasses in school, saying I might be drowsy and unable to handle heavy reading homework.

Ms. Elliott held out her hand in anticipation of the piece of paper. I rummaged through my straw tote bag, the one I got for my birthday, and served her with the note.

“I see,” she announced and marched slowly to the front of the room where she proceeded to teach as if the whole incident had never occurred.

But it had occurred, and it was the only setback of my surgery. From that day forward, everything changed for me. I took all of my old pairs of glasses to the donations box at Lenscrafters. I figured if someone else could wear my old specs, good for them. And somehow when those old pieces of plastic were tossed in the donations box, so was my nerdy persona, never to be seen again. It was completely liberating. My operation was a success, and I saw the world in a whole new way. Not as the stereotyped glasses-wearing bookworm, but as me, myself, a girl who loved to read and dance and listen to music and play the piano and climb trees and talk on the phone—the person God created, not the label the world had placed on me because of my glasses.

Without my glasses, I could finally see and be seen for who I truly was.

~Laura Smith

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