Memoirville

EXCERPT: Girl With Glasses by Marissa Walsh

Monday, March 5th, 2007

By piper

Girl with Glasses: My Optic HistoryLike it or not, we all use labels to shorthand our identities—Jewish, bisexual, blonde, whatever—and anyone who denies it probably just doesn’t want to be your “boyfriend.” In her book Girl With Glasses, Marissa Walsh reclaims corrective eyewear as an identifying character trait, and a decidedly positive one at that. Below are a few vignettes from her “Optic History,” a clever memoir told through the lens (yuk yuk yuk) of her many pairs of glasses. Then click here for more of her nearsighted insights, as she talks with the beautiful, bespectacled Rachel Kramer Bussel.

The Purchase

I obviously could not start junior high wearing the glasses I had worn since the third grade. Especially now that I was a full-time girl with glasses. I was starting at a new school with new kids; it seemed important to make a good first impression. Another trip to Mr. Specs with my mother was in order.

This time I headed straight to the adult section and chose a trendy “designer” pair by Sergio Valente. (It was the eighties.) They felt more adult, more sophisticated—more junior high. In fact, they were reminiscent of the glasses Dustin Hoffman wore in Tootsie when he transformed himself from Michael Dorsey into Dorothy Michaels. Wearing them, I also looked like I was in drag. They clashed with my braces, my long, straight, homemade-ribbon-barretted hair, my courdoroy skirts, my knee socks. My preppy schoolgirl garb hadn’t caught up to my glasses.

I’m sure my mother probably encouraged me to try on other pairs. But when a GWG makes up her mind about something, it is virtually impossible to sway her. I had decided this was the right pair for me. I may not have had a wrist full of Swatches or a Benetton rugby like many of my classmates (I had the uncool and more affordable Coca-Cola version instead), but I insisted on my designer Sergio Valente glasses.

These frames were clear plastic with a subtle purple tint. They were not for children. And, though seemingly impossible, they were even bigger than my first pair. In fact, my face was barely visible. The nifty swirly silver decorative earpieces would have been right at home on Sophia Loren. Instead of approaching the ear from the top, they came from below. Hard to explain. Sort of like junior high.

The most exciting thing about them, however, was the eyeglass case they came in. It was made out of denim, or “dungaree,” as my mother called it, with the Sergio Valente logo on it. It almost made up for not having an actual pair of Sergio Valente jeans.

Standardized Snellen Acuity Chart

I hate this part of the eye exam. Sometimes I simply cannot see any difference between A and B. I am supposed to tell the doctor which is clearer—which I can see better—but I don’t know. I could make an argument for each one. I always need to go back and look at the first one again. I forget. A had its strengths, maybe it was slightly crisper, but B allows me to see the bottom row, which is important, too. I don’t feel qualified. Why is it up to me? Shouldn’t he get a say? What if I choose wrong? I’ve tried to solve this problem by answering like this, “A?” or “B, I think, was slightly better,” or “A, sort of. Can I see it again?”

Second Pair of Eyes

I’ve been pretty lucky in my optic history; I’ve only had one glasses emergency. And it didn’t involve broken glass. I fell asleep reading, and during the night I must have taken my glasses off, but in the morning they were gone. I looked (groped, really) everywhere but couldn’t find them. There was no way to get help for this situation. I couldn’t find the phone; I couldn’t find my old pair; I couldn’t see. I had fallen and I couldn’t get up. I got down on my hands and knees and felt all around the bed, then under the bed, trying to keep myself calm. This is why people pair off, I thought, for these emergencies. Then, finally, there they were, in that under-the-bed place that is just out of reach.

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