AS YOU LIKE IT

Nobody knows how bad my eyes are.

Well, I say nobody, but of course I know myself, and my optometrist knows, and the cute boy who dispenses my contact lenses, he has to know; that’s about it though. My family know I wore glasses all through high school and university; maybe they remember that every year or so my lenses got stronger and thicker—but, with a great sigh of relief, the first thing I bought out of my first month’s salary was my first contact lenses. No one’s seen me in glasses since; and strong contacts don’t look any different from weak ones, or none at all!

I never, ever liked the idea of wearing glasses; when I was in junior school and couldn’t read the board from the back of the class I made a nuisance of myself so that the teacher made me sit up front. When I couldn’t read it from there I squinted or copied my neighbour’s notes. When those started to go out of focus—in high school by this time—I gave in and told my folks I needed an eye test. When I got my glasses I hated them and wore them as little as I could, preferring to go around in a blur. I know some people say it helps your eyesight not to wear glasses full time. It didn’t work that way for me; with specs or without them, I was the classic case of galloping myopia. By the time I went to university there was no way I could function without my coke bottles. Full time. So a salary, and contacts, made all the difference to my life.

Eight years on, I’m almost thirty. The only glasses I have are -8 (I think) but they’re years out of date and I can’t see much with them; my contacts have got stronger every year: -16 now, with some astigmatism—and now I’m getting double vision. Basically I’m blind without correction; I need my contacts every waking hour. If I have to get up in the night I put on my old specs and grope my way to the bathroom in a blur.

I’m in love. Jonathan is the most fabulously beautiful boy, just down from university; he’s come to work at our place, and I’m crazy about him. He has black hair and brown eyes, but a fair complexion; and his figure—well! He has more than looks too; he’s sweet and kind and utterly charming. Only one problem: although I definitely want him to be the man in my life, he isn’t the man in my bed. Not yet anyway. I feel in my bones that he’s a ‘friend of the family’ and he acts as if he likes me; but I daren’t make a pass in case I’m reading him wrong. And yet…he always gives me a smile when we pass at work, and I’ve caught him looking my way more than once, squinting slightly, (and I wonder idly if he’s a bit short-sighted); on one occasion he realized I knew he was looking and blushed and looked away. But that’s a long way from being ready to surrender his beautiful body. Then there’s another thing. If I take him home—or anyone else for that matter—there’s all the contact lens paraphernalia in the bathroom, and the ghastly old coke bottle specs by my bed, and they have to be there, I’m lost without them. Even though I want Jonathan so badly I don’t want him or anyone else to know how blind I am. When the time comes, if it comes, I don’t know how I’ll get round that one.

Postcard from Shakespeare’s (the optometrists) reminding me my test is due. I thought as much; my vision with these contacts has passed from ‘brilliant’ through ‘OK’ to ‘not too bad’, and then the double vision is bugging me a bit. So I’ve rung them and made an appointment for Saturday morning.

Friday morning. No Jonathan in the office. Apparently he’s booked the morning off. Around eleven o’clock my phone rings: “David, it’s Jonathan. Look, I need some advice. Can you meet me for a pub lunch? One o’clock? The Champion? See you at one then—and thanks!” I’m intrigued; what can Jonathan want advice about? Why can’t we talk in the office? Why has he suggested the best-known gay pub in West London? Is it his kind of pub? Does he think it’s my kind of pub? Or is it just that it’s handy for the office? Anyway, there’s work to be done before I find out. One o’clock comes, and finds me approaching the pub. Jonathan is already at the bar; when I come in he gives a squint and then smiles broadly. “Thanks for coming; what are you going to drink? And eat?” The beer is fit to drink, the food is fit to eat, and we are soon seated at a table with our pints, and before long our fish and chips—the Friday standby. Jonathan seems to be hesitating about coming to the point, so I say, “Well, this is very pleasant; thanks for the invitation; but what’s it all about?” He turns a bit red, and explains. “I had this morning off for my first driving lesson; I’ve always meant to learn, but never got round to it till now. Anyway, we got into the car and the instructor started by asking me to read the number plate of a car along the street a bit. I couldn’t read it. That brought the lesson to an end. I’d always thought I had good eyesight, but now it seems I need spectacles.” His eyes are brimming. “Well, that isn’t the end of the world, surely? How can I help?” “Knowing you wear contact lenses, I thought you’d be able to recommend a good optician.” “Knowing I wear contact lenses? Good grief, you don’t miss much!” “Well a friend of mine at university wore them, and he used to blink a lot and rub his eyes, just the way you do.” “Do I? It sounds as if you know me better than I know myself!” His only reply is a smile and a blush. I ponder for a minute, and continue, “Well, if the Champion is your kind of pub” (he blushes again) “Shakespeare’s will be your kind of optician’s. I have an appointment there for a test tomorrow morning. If I give them a ring they might fit you in and we could go along together.” “Hey David, that would be really good. The other thing I wanted to ask you was, if it wasn’t too much trouble, to help me pick out frames. I don’t want to look a dork.” “Well, I dare say we can manage that—though it would take a lot to make you look a dork.” He blushes again, scarlet to the roots of his hair, and says nothing.

Back at the office, I ring Shakespeare’s. Yes, they can fit Jonathan in to-morrow morning, but not with Mr Shakespeare, so I tell him that’s settled.

Saturday morning. I’ve arranged to meet Jonathan outside the tube station. He’s there before me. It’s the first time I’ve seen him in casual clothes, and what a sight! I’ve heard of jeans looking as if a guy had been poured into them: these could have been sprayed on—they curve nicely at the back and bulge nicely at the front! He is looking round with an unmistakeable myopic squint as the crowd emerges; when he gets me in focus his face lights up in a smile and a blush combined. Am I getting the vibes I think I am, or is it just wishful thinking? As we walk along, I say to him, “Considering how often I see you squinting, I’m surprised it hadn’t registered that you’re short-sighted. Or had it?” “Well, not really. Thinking back, when I had to stand up in front of the class last year to make presentations, I couldn’t make out the faces at the back. I suppose it should have occurred to me that I ought to be able to see better than that, but it never did, not till now.”

By this time we’re at Shakespeare’s. Ben, the cute red-haired receptionist, has my records ready, and takes Jonathan’s particulars. My appointment is with Will Shakespeare, the founder of the firm, the first gay optical shop in the country. Jonathan is to see Robin, a young optometrist who has been associated with Shakespeare’s since he was a schoolboy and had a Saturday job behind the counter. He is tall and fair and very long-sighted; behind his glasses his eyes look enormous. He is also as camp as a row of army tents…when I was about 17 and in tears over the thickness of my new glasses, he took me into the staff cloakroom and gave me my first ever blow job; that cheered me up, and I’ve never looked back.

After a short wait I’m called in to Will, who gives me a friendly greeting and the usual question: “Any problems?” I explain that I think my myopia has increased a bit, but I’m more bothered by the double vision. He gets on with the test, spending a bit of time juggling with red and green vertical lines. Finally he says, “Right; the good news first: your eyes are fundamentally healthy, very healthy. Your myopia has increased by a whole dioptre this time, but that’s no great surprise and it’s easily corrected. The bad news is that I’m going to have to put prisms into your prescription to correct the double vision—and there’s no way of putting prisms into contact lenses, so you’re going to have to start wearing glasses again. In theory, one possibility would be to put just the prism into specs that you could wear over contacts; but I don’t recommend that. I’m sorry, my dear, but your eyes do need room to breathe for a while. My professional advice is that you need to grasp the nettle and wear spectacles with your full prescription. Bear in mind that lenses can be made a lot thinner than when you last had a pair.” “Coke bottles! Fucking thick coke bottles! (I’ve left my previous interruptions out) What shall I look like?” “I thought you’d be pleased,” says Will sarcastically. “Just believe I know what I’m doing and it’s for your own good. Now you can put your contacts back in for now, take this prescription out to Ben, and choose yourself a smart frame—at least you don’t seem to need bifocals. Just one tip: if you do have any trouble with near vision, slide your glasses down your nose a bit; that’ll work wonders.”

With that bit of cold comfort, I stumble out into the shop, to find Jonathan at the counter; his test has been a shorter business than mine. Is it my imagination, or does his face light up? “Ah, there you are,” he says. “Ready to help me pick out some frames?” “I suppose so; but I’ve got news for you: you’re going to have to help me pick frames as well; the boss man says I can’t wear contacts any more.” “Oh, then I shan’t be the only man in the office in spectacles! that’s great!” “Great, is it? That’s not the way it sounds to me!” I’m on the verge of tears; Jonathan takes my hand and I squeeze his (and there’s a definite stirring in my groin!) but at this point we’re joined by Frank Bacon, the dispenser. He introduces himself to Jonathan and greets me as an old friend. I haven’t seen much of him since I stopped wearing glasses—another nice young man deals with the contacts—but Frank is a real charmer and, like everyone else at Shakespeare’s, good-looking and gay. He’s looking very youthful in classic round gold wire frames —I know he has other glasses, but he once told me he hasn’t been without a pair in that style since his age was sixteen and his prescription was -0.75. He says, “Now, I understand we have one first-time wearer here, and one first-time-in-years wearer. We have a ‘Buy one, get one free’ offer on at the moment, so you can each choose two frames, which” (to me) “I’d be advising you to do anyway; with your prescription, you need a spare in case of accidents. Any thoughts about styles?” We haven’t, really. Jonathan looks admiringly at Frank’s glasses and asks if he can try that style. He likes it, and I agree it looks good on him (but what wouldn’t?) For his second pair he decides on a Harry Potterish frame in black-covered wire. I’m thinking of something fairly heavy, to mask the thickness of my lenses and also keep them secure, and I look at a trendy black frame with wide temples until Frank reminds me that small frames mean small lenses and less weight, and produces some flexible frames in (I think) titanium. He assures me they will hold the lenses securely, and I opt for a gold oval and a black oblong, almost like a letterbox. We discuss lens materials and other technical stuff, and the business is done.

Jonathan’s glasses will be ready in an hour, but mine are a special order and may take a week. Frank reminds me of the difference between strong contacts and strong glasses; “…better have someone with you when you collect them and start wearing them out and about.” Jonathan immediately says, “Oh, that’s all right. I’ll come with you; it’ll be a pleasure.” “In that case,” Frank says to him, “I’ll get one pair ready for you now, and perhaps you can collect the others when you come in with David.” Jonathan is quite amenable, and decides to have his Harry Potter specs first. So that’s settled, and we go in search of a cup of coffee while we wait. While we’re sitting in Starbucks, Jonathan says diffidently, “You know, now that I know my eyes are bad I’m really looking forward to getting my spectacles and seeing all the things I can’t see properly. I don’t understand why you’re so upset at the idea.” I see red, and burst out, “You don’t understand, the situation’s totally different; what’s your prescription; -1.5, -2?” I think it’s -1.75 actually.” “OK, so your glasses will improve your vision without any problems. You’re used to rather substandard vision, and your glasses will bring it up to scratch. I’m used to pretty good vision with my contacts (except that I’ve been seeing double lately). My glasses are going to be TEN TIMES as strong as yours; that’s without the cylinder and now the prism he’s adding; everything’s going to look a lot smaller; every time I move things will swim around me. That’s why I need an escort when I collect them: moving my head will make me feel seasick. And that’s apart from what they look like; you were afraid of looking a dork: what the fuck am I going to look like?” “Well, remember what you said to me yesterday: I don’t think anything could make you look a dork.” I look at him, and he is scarlet.

By this time the hour is up and we head back to Shakespeare’s. Jonathan is almost audibly purring as Frank puts his specs on him and checks the fit of the frames. He pays his bill, we go out of the shop; he looks all around and smiles broadly. “Gosh, what a lot I’ve been missing!” “Right. I’m happy for you. I just wish I could be as happy on my own account.” At the tube station we head for our different trains.

Monday morning…I’m not surprised when Jonathan arrives at work wearing his glasses; he was so obviously delighted with them on Saturday that it would have been a wonder if he hadn’t opted for full time wear from Day 1. But they cause a minor sensation in the office; one or two of the girls pronounce them ‘cool’; one who appears to have had what I hope were unfounded designs on Jonathan looks as if she’s lost a shilling and found sixpence. At coffee time it seems sensible to mention that I’ll be in glasses in a few days’ time. Somebody comments that I’ll be ‘company for Jonathan’; I have to explain that I’ve worn contacts for years and my new glasses will be ‘really strong and thick’.

Friday afternoon, and Frank rings to say my glasses are ready. I confer with Jonathan, and we agree to meet in the morning as before and go to collect them.

Saturday morning. We meet as before. I see Jonathan before he sees me. He isn’t squinting of course, but looking eagerly in every direction; I’m not an enthusiast for glasses, but I reflect that they definitely do something for him—and I don’t just mean improve his vision … We stroll round to Shakespeare’s and get a friendly greeting from Ben, who calls Frank. He attends to me first…I have to admit that the new glasses aren’t as thick as I expected, but they still alter my appearance radically; my eyes are minuscule at the far end of a tunnel of white rings. Worse than I expected is the way things look through them. Strong minus lenses in front of the eyes make everything look a lot smaller; worse, every time I move everything in sight shoots across the field of view. I know this will wear off eventually, but for the moment I don’t know whether drunk or seasick is a better description of the way I feel. I am just so glad that Frank advised me to bring a ‘minder’, and so grateful to Jonathan for offering to come with me. While I’m exploring these sensations Frank is fitting Jonathan with his gold-rimmed glasses. These, too, subtly enhance his appearance and once more there’s a stirring in my groin.

Walking along the street, going down the escalator and boarding the tube all present new problems. I need to hang on to Jonathan’s arm and feel a bit self-conscious; I almost wish I’d been issued with a white stick till I get used to these specs. I really want to go home and sit still; but Jonathan is gently insistent that I must get used to wearing them while I do ordinary things. He marches me to the Champion again for lunch—but when I want to pee he leaves me to make my own way to the Gents’. We get some strange looks, as I am so obviously dependent on his help. Apart from organizing me and ensuring that I do things I need to be accustomed to, he has very little to say. Finally we head back to my flat, and I invite him in for a cup of tea or something. He seems fidgety and ill-at-ease, not really like the Jonathan I know. Conversation flags, till eventually he says, hesitantly, “David. Er, I’ve always liked you, but—but in those thick spectacles”—he hesitates and my heart misses a beat—“you’re so fucking hot I can hardly keep my hands off you!” “Oh,” I say. “That’s really quite unnecessary.” “What is?” “Keeping your hands off me. My dear, anywhere you care to put your hands they’ll be welcome.” He lets out the breath he’s been holding and says, “Oh! Oh David!”

—0^0—

By Sunday morning we’ve done everything two men can do to give each other pleasure. We wake as we’ve slept, naked in each other’s arms, and so close together that I can actually see his face without my glasses. I reach for him, and he says teasingly, “Put them on first.” After another amorous passage Jonathan squints up at the clock and announces that he always goes to Mass on Sunday. I’m pleased about this, especially when he explains that he’s an Anglican and won’t go to a church where there’s a woman priest…something else we have in common.

We get up and shower together. I’m expecting to have to keep my glasses on in the shower (what can I see without them?) but Jonathan makes me take them off, and washes me. The combination of vulnerability and tenderness is wonderfully erotic and we end up in each other’s arms again, again so close that I can see his face. Eventually we are both clean and dry and reasonably calm. A bite of breakfast, then off to church. Although I still feel as if things are swimming around me, there’s a big improvement since yesterday: maybe I’ll get used to these specs eventually. My arrival with a delicious young man in tow causes a flutter among the other queens at my church (once they recognize me in my coke bottles!), and we’re persuaded to join them at the pub after Mass. But we don’t stay long; we’re both hungry and Jonathan has some food at home that he wants to cook and share. Apparently he has catered for two in the hope that our second visit to Shakespeare’s together might lead to something…as it has!

We neither of us want to spend the night apart—but where to sleep? The sensible thing seems to be for Jonathan to put his suit and tie in a bag and bring them to my place. He has booked time off for another driving lesson first thing in the morning—now that he can see where he’s going he’s getting down to it—and the driving school isn’t too far from me.

Another night of delight; we’re both tired, but sleeping, and waking, in each other’s arms is bliss enough. I get ready for work, and Jonathan for his lesson. He asks, “Which spectacles are you going to wear today?” I opt for the gold ovals, and he puts on his gold pair and leaves. I can walk about now without feeling as if I’m falling over. When I get to the office the receptionist looks blankly at me and says, “Good morning; can I help you?” “Look pet,” I reply, “I did warn everybody I’d be wearing thick glasses shortly!” “Oh David, I beg your pardon.” The rest of the staff give me a double-take too, but I speak at once so that they realize it is me behind the bullet-proof lenses.

Jonathan arrives mid-morning, looking quite pleased with life. As he passes my desk he leans over and our glasses tangle for a moment as he kisses me gently on the cheek. I’m surprised but in no way displeased. No one says a word, but I can feel the frisson in the air—no doubt they’ll have plenty to say when we’re out of the way. Let them. I reflect that wearing thick glasses has its compensations (the double vision has gone too.)