Questions have been raised about the eyepatch.
This is only natural. Even my own memories of that period are a bit fuzzy. I had glasses, long white-blonde hair and wore a Girl Scout vest every Tuesday. Possibly there is a reason I have blocked it out. Anyway.
When I was in kindergarten my grade school had an eye test day. We were all shuffled into the gym (which shared our school stage and had hot pink posters that said ‘Yo!’ all over the walls) and pushed into the shortest available lines. Once we got to the front, we were instructed by tired volunteers to sit in a folding chair and stare at the letters tacked up on the wall. They held a chunk of cardboard over my left eye, and I read the letters proudly, with perfect precision. They held a chunk of cardboard over my right eye, and suddenly everything went wrong.
Everything was a blur of color and shapes. I felt blind, as if I were looking through a glass of oil or a frosted window, and a thick bubble of panic started swelling in my stomach. The cranky volunteer asked me to read the letters. I promptly burst into tears.
The next day my parents received a notice that they needed to set up an eye appointment for their youngest daughter.
Turns out I had a cataract. I guess it was uncommon, but not that uncommon. Kids can form cataracts like oysters form pearls. A speck of something gets on the eye and it builds up a protective covering around it. Unfortunately, this covering can’t easily be seen through. For many years, this is what we assumed my cataract was. Years later we would discover the cataract was on the lens of the eye, which means I was somehow born with one normal eye and one eye that somehow got recycled from an eighty five year old man.
But onwards to the eyepatch.
In order to prevent my weaker left eye from going lazy, I had to wear an eyepatch for six hours a day for three years. I somehow hadn’t realized it had been that long, but I called and asked my folks who said that it was from kindergarten to when I reached ‘visual maturity’ at about eight years old. So there you go.
The patch was flesh-colored and adhesive. With each box came a pad of oval stickers that you could put in the center of the patch, roughly where the eyeball would be. I had never before considered exactly how bizarre that was. They were all cheerful little scenes of boys with kites and flowers waving at the sun and kittens playing with yarn, so, from a distance, it looked as though my eyeball had become a cutesy Norman Rockwell tableau. It was like those movies where if you stare into he witch’s eye, it shows the future. Only the future in this case was a dystopian world where humans are gone, and puppies wear rompers and eat ice cream cones.
This somehow never registered as strange.
I would scrupulously pick my least favorite stickers first, so I could save the ones with any sort of cat on them until last, and on those days, I would wake up with a little jolt of excitement, remembering that on this day, my eyeball would be made of kittens.
You’d think I’d get teased for this, but if I was, I don’t remember it. I was probably too much a picture of abject pity to bother trying to humiliate. One expects eye patches on mad scientist, pirates, and sea captains of the non-pillaging variety, but a six year old girl woefully wearing her Brownie beret and squinting painfully out of her bad eye was just too easy a target, I suppose. People just let me pass as I was, which I should be grateful for.
There’s an affirmation of the good in the world!
A world that can let a kid in an eyepatch with stickers on it go on her merry way without comment or condemnation is a-ok by me. Thanks for that, world.
Maybe next time I’ll talk about growing up without any depth perception or becoming the youngest person in the country to undergo the specific lens-replacement surgery that I had. Oh, my claims to fame!