Inside Out

Sean sat down on the bench outside the library with a feeling of victory and satisfaction. It had taken him five years to arrive here. Five long years of conflicting feelings and conflicting advice. Five years of misery, really. Now he'd found a happy place. He knew it wouldn't last, the hardest part was still to come. But for now at least, until he went home, he could just sit back and watch the world go by. Bliss.

At the age of thirteen Sean had first noticed that he couldn't see as well as he used to. The numbers on the race cars on his bedroom wallpaper started to go fuzzy. As time passed he couldn't make out the numbers at all, and eventually the numbers vanished. By the time he reached sixteen the cars had become dark shapes that Rorschach could have had fun with, and in frustration he just painted over them.

If he had lived in a normal family there wouldn't have been any problem, but in Sean's family everything had to be perfect, his parents were control freaks. While his friends simply told their folks that they needed to see an eye doctor, Sean didn't dare. He wasn't allowed acne, he wasn't allowed cavities, he wasn't even allowed bad hair. Everything could be fixed or hidden. Sean got good grades, dressed nicely, didn't mix with the wrong people, went to church every Sunday, always ate his vegetables, and never came home late. Sean was packaged, processed, and presented at nice social gatherings. His mother introduced him to her friend's daughter Miriam, and they started dating, but never on schoolnights.

Rebelling wasn't an option. To be anything less than The Perfect Teenager would have brought his mother's world crashing down into a million pieces, with his father's wrath crashing down after it. He complied. Life was easier that way.

In any case, it wouldn't always be like this. One day he would be in control of his own life.

The last two years had been difficult. As he found himself becoming more nearsighted he had become an expert in hiding the fact. He became a very swift mover through crowded school halls to get into class first and sit at the front. He cheated the driver's ed eye test. He denounced video games as mind-numbing, to the delight of his mother. He affected an expression of neutrality and aloofness, not the sort of guy anyone would expect to wave cheerily across a street. Sean developed a reputation as a snob, and he counted the days until the nightmare of school was ended. He graduated with honors, was accepted for Harvard, and given a summer job in his father's business. At the end of the second week he took his paycheck, walked into Lenscrafters and came out with a pair of glasses, -2.75.

And he sat on the bench outside the library, going back over this sequence of events in his mind, while enjoying the view. He could see, and it felt so very, very good.

Then reality bit him on the butt. He had to go home. His parents were going to be upset. He'd gone behind their backs. He was damaged goods.

He had absolutely no idea.

Halfway home he lost his nerve and took his glasses off. He would break this to them gently, maybe not even today. "Maybe never" he laughed to himself, but then checked himself and thought "It's time I stood up for myself".

When he got home his mother had been worried. She was always worried.

"Where have you been? The Thomases are coming for dinner, hurry up and get ready."

"I'm fine Mom."

"No you're not, put on a tie! There's time for a shower actually, and shave, go and shave. Good grief, they'll think you're growing a beard!"

Sean did as he was told, it was easier that way.

At dinner Sean was boasted over but never listened to. Nothing new there. The Thomases had been away in Europe for almost two years. They brought videos of their trip and everyone gathered after dinner to watch. Sean wasn't interested and instead sat and planned in his head how he was going to tell his family about his glasses. Suddenly a question from Mr Thomas brought him back.

"Sean, you've taken French, what's that on the side of the boat?"

"Huh? Oh, um, that's um....."

His father shot him a look that could kill.

"You got the award for French son," he growled impatiently "what's that on the boat?"

Sean squinted at the TV screen but it was hopeless.

"Put your glasses on boy!" laughed Mr Thomas, innocently.

Sean managed a weak smile, then the next few seconds seemed to take an hour, not just in his mind as he decided how to handle this, but in his eager father's eyes too. He glanced at the Thomases, patiently waiting. He even dared look at his mother, who had probably seen him squint, he thought, and was already halfway to where she was going to go..........Sean reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out his glasses, put them on, read out "propriété du maître de port", announced "I think the boat was stolen", and then waited for the storm.

"Ah! I did wonder!" exclaimed the oblivious Mr Thomas, and continued to talk about Nice while Sean's mother turned white.

What Sean hadn't expected was how smug he would feel at getting one up on them, and was having trouble repressing a smile, but it was very short lived. As soon as the Thomases had been sucked up to enough and were seen off the premises, he was ushered into the kitchen by his father, and gently asked......

"What the HELL is going on? Where did you get those from?"

"I bought them. With my own money."

"WHY?"

"Because I need them."

"SINCE WHEN?"

"Well, for years really."

His father looked at his mother. Her face had changed from white to red, and was cleaning counters furiously. Cleaning was very therapeutic for her.

"Come here Linda. I don't know what to say to this boy. He seems to think he's a doctor now."

With that his father walked out the door.

Sean's mother adjusted her hair and straightened her skirt. Then she started the attack.

"What ridiculous game is this? And in front of The Thomases? You made me look a fool! What are you playing at?"

It was a rhetorical question, and he knew how this went only too well, so he didn't answer. He knew what was coming next, and sure enough she listed every other ridiculous thing he'd ever done, like wanting to buy a guitar, or grow his hair, or go to rock concerts, or any of a thousand other things he'd suggested or admired, or even just hinted at accepting as normal. All the things that other guys his age did. Guys he wasn't allowed to bring home that is, or know, or mention. He just let her rant and when she'd finished he took a deep breath and said,

"I'm 18 years old, I go to the best school in the country in a few months time, and I need to be able to see."

She rolled her eyes, made a choking sound, and sat down.

"It's absolutely ridiculous," she said "You're far too young to need glasses."

There was no point explaining that myopia typically affects teenagers. Sean decided to give her time, and said goodnight to her.

Alone in his room he enjoyed being able to read the titles of his books from across the room, of being able to sit back in the computer chair comfortably, of looking out the window and seeing the stars. He hadn't seen the stars in years.

When he got up the next morning he wanted to put his glasses on straight away, but decided to take this one step at a time, and went down to breakfast in the familiar blur. He now found it very annoying. His parents were already on their second pot of coffee and went silent as he walked in, so he knew they'd been talking about him. His sister was also at the table, and she had been briefed. He faced his inquistors like a man.

His mother started things off with "Well, at least you haven't got those silly glasses on this morning!"

His father grunted.

Sean said nothing, just smiled. He tried never to be rude to his parents. It just created more problems, but he could drive them crazy politely.

"I bet you look weird in glasses" his sister giggled, "A real geek."

"We don't talk like that here" said his mother, and turning to Sean added, added "I hope you don't think you're wearing them to church."

"Why not?"

"Well! What will people say?!"

Maybe they'll say 'Oh, look Sean Hurrell is wearing glasses, it's the end of civilization as we know it' thought Sean, but decided against saying it. Instead he simply said,

"It would just be nice to be able to see what's going on."

Again the look from his mother, again the grunt from his father, again the giggle from his sister.

"If you wear them too often you'll become dependant on them" said his mother.

The irony of this was too much for Sean, and he just couldn't hold back

"Well that would never do."

"I beg your pardon?" said his mother.

"Don't be sarcastic to your mother," said his father.

"I'm not.....look Dad, what's the problem? Why are you allowed to wear glasses and I'm not?"

"Ah, totally different, mine are just for reading, and I was 52 before I needed them. I've always taken good care of my eyes. Read in a good light, plenty of fresh vegetables........."

"The point IS," interrupted his mother "it shouldn't be necessary for a boy your age to wear glasses."

"Plenty do Mom, did you know almost 70% of college students in this country wear glasses?"

"Ah, but do they NEED them? That's the question."

This was pointless. This was so totally, utterly, completely pointless."

Sean finished his breakfast in silence and returned to his room. When he was called for church he came out of his room with his glasses on, to looks of despair from his parents, and shrieks of laughter from his sister. he was hurting inside but determined not to show it.

At church no-one said anything. Did anyone even notice? He found himself a bit distracted. There were cracks in the wall and bird droppings on the window ledge. Lots of little things in fact he'd never been able to see before. it was far more interesting than the dull service anyway. He was even beginning to wish he hadn't worn his glasses, because at least he could daydream in his blur.

Not long after they'd gone home, and he was defiantly watching television, and enjoying it properly for the first time in years, the phone rang, and it was Miriam.

"My uncle saw you in church this morning and he said you were wearing glasses. Is that true."

"Yes, I got them yesterday."

"Why?"

What sort of a question is that? Sean was in a funny mood, so he said

"Because I was cold"

"There's no need to be like that."

"Sorry Miriam, but it's such an absurd question."

"You've never worn them before."

"Well, I would have done, if I'd had my way."

"You've never told me you couldn't see."

"And I should have done, I apologize. Are you coming over?"

"I don't know......."

It hadn't occurred to Sean that Miriam would have a problem with him wearing glasses, but now it suddenly struck him that as she had pretty much been hand-picked for him by his mother, she might have the same attitude. He actually liked Miriam quite a lot, and this bothered him a little.

But Miriam did come over. She said his glasses were "OK" but after they had been talking for a while she asked him what he had to wear them for.

"For seeing" said Sean.

"You're not going to wear them all the time are you?" she looked horrified.

"Well, I'd rather like to!"

"WHY?"

"Would you believe because I can see?"

Miriam looked offended, and he thought perhaps he'd been a little harsh.

"So really, you're saying you'd rather I didn't?"

"Can't you get contacts?"

Sean hadn't even thought of that, and now it had been put to him something troubled him greatly. But he put it right to the back of his mind.

"I guess I could" he told Miriam "I could try."

She went home before it was dark, as instructed, and he thought again how she came from a family just like his. He also thought how he didn't want to live like that, forever worrying about appearances. Which led him to wondering about his feelings towards Miriam. Right now he wasn't too happy with her.

Over the next few weeks he became more confident wearing his glasses and withstanding his family's reactions and comments. His mother never missed an opportunity to have a little dig. His sister took to calling him Magoo and he ignored her. He felt a sense of power, but at the same time it hurt. It actually hurt.

Now he could see he also felt more confident driving. he'd been avoiding it pretty much before. Now he went out at weekends. The freedom was exhilarating, especially as he was earning good money and had some to spare. He found himself, on a wet saturday afternoon, playing pinball in a downtown arcade, and a familiar voice greeted him, with a

"Sean?"

"CLAIR!"

"I THOUGHT it was you! Wasn't sure with the glasses, but you still have the same haircut you had three years ago! How are you doing?"

"Not bad! Going to Harvard later on, how about you?"

"Out on my own, working hard, it's cool. You never called."

"You know my parents. Soon as you dropped out of school you were persona non grata. I'd have been shot at dawn if I'd been caught calling you. I'm really sorry. I missed you a lot."

"Yeah, I understand, don't worry. I was just going to get something to eat, want to join me?"

"OK, why not!"

They walked across to a Chinese "All-You-Can-Eat" buffet and caught up on each other's lives. Clair was the exact opposite of Miriam. Sean knew his mother wouldn't even want to hear that she was doing OK, her prediction was that the girl was on the road to ruin by leaving school and home and making her own way in the world. And if she knew he was talking to her..........

"So, when did you get glasses? I always thought you were a bit nearsighted, you squinted a lot!"

"Did I? Back then? Well, you must have been the only person who noticed. Believe it or not I only got them a few weeks ago. I had to wait until I had my own money to buy them. My parents have some weird thing against glasses."

"Your parents have some weird thing against everything. Sorry, no disrespect."

"No, you're right, they're really uptight. My mother went off in a snit when I got them and hasn't come out since. And my girlfriend thinks I should get contacts........"

"Oh! Who are you going out with?"

"Miriam Kastner"

Clair almost choked.

"No way! She's as uptight as your mother! Oh Sean, I'm sorry, did I say that out loud?"

"Yeah, but you're right again. She's OK once you get to know her, really sweet actually, but yeah, she has some funny ideas. Her parents, you know?"

"Oh I know, and mine too, but I rebelled. How about you? Your rebellion is way overdue in my opinion, but then you know that."

"I can't afford to rebel, my Dad's putting me through college."

"There is that, yeah. You're trapped. Just don't don't turn into them, will you?"

Sean knew what she meant. At some point he had to decide who he was.

"Anyway" continued Clair, "Going away to school will change everything. Lots of fun girls there....."

Sean was aware of having a fun girl right in front of him.

"......or maybe all the girls in college will be country club wannabe preppies, sheesh Sean, I think you've got more depth than that. Promise me you'll break the mold huh?"

Sean laughed. How he'd love to be himself, if only he knew who he was without anyone telling him.

"So, are you going to capitulate and get contacts?"

"Well, you know.......I don't think I will. I don't want to. Maybe I'm weird but I like wearing glasses."

"Good for you. Glasses give you character. And some women get hot for them."

"THEY DO?"

"Sure."

"Who?"

Clair winked. Sean changed the subject.

He went home with a strange sensation inside, and Clair's phone number in his pocket. When he got home Miriam was there and not happy.

"Miriam's friend saw you in town with another girl, and not just any girl. That Perkins girl!"

"Yes, Clair, I ran into her. Hadn't seen her in years. We had lunch together." And no point trying to deny it, he thought.

"What were you THINKING Sean? Other people must have seen you with her!"

"It was perfectly innocent. We were good friends once, you remember. It was good to see her."

"You know very well what I mean! She's..............no good!

And they MIGHT have thought you two were together!"

"Why would that be a problem?"

His mother shrieked. Miriam just walked out the room.

"That's what all this is about, isn't it?" his mother spluttered, "You're turning into a...a...BOHEMIAN! That's what the glasses are and everything. Next thing you'll be all tattoos and earrings!"

Sean just shook his head. He went to find Miriam and calm her down.

"I wasn't cheating on you. Just ran into an old friend. Nothing more."

"Why did you want to spend time with her, she's weird."

"Weird? Because she dresses differently?"

"She doesn't care how she looks. Have you seen who she hangs out with? Really strange people."

"Well, today she hung out with me, so I guess I must be really strange."

"Well, you've changed since I met you. You've got some funny ideas these days"

"Funny ideas? Oh, what, because I don't judge by appearances?

Because I'm not prejudiced against anyone who isn't a preppie? I think my mother's right. I think I'll get some tattoos and earings. May as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb."

"Yes, you've changed a lot. Ever since you got your glasses."

"Yes, funny that. I thought I'd be able to see better, and it seems I do. And not just the outside of things. Somehow I can see inside people too. Maybe everyone needs glasses."

Miriam just looked at him. He knew. She knew.

"Goodbye Sean." she said, and left, crying.

Of course his mother was furious. And she told him how bad he was, of course. How ungrateful he was. How he'd hurt Miriam. How he'd never get her back, and he'd be sorry. How it was ALL because of THAT GIRL. How he was turning out bad. And how could he do this to them.

Sean tuned out, but he watched the veins on her neck and the lines on her brow, and he knew he never, ever wanted to be that way...................

Young people do rebel. They usually do so because they are driven to it. Sean never intended to. He was really quite happy being fairly conservative. He was even quite happy to have a preppie girlfriend, a mainsteam career, and a sensible haircut. He had once expected to work for his Dad, marry Miriam, buy a house in the suburbs, drive an SUV, have two children and no more, get a small dog, and take up gardening. He would probably have been quite happy to begin with. Like thousands of other middle-class boys who then realized they had everything but nothing, mourned for their dull lives and made up for it by bullying their children into being carbon-copies of themselves.

But not Sean. Sean bought himself some glasses. And one thing led to another.

Sean is 30 now. He lives in the Florida Keys. He and Clair have four children, who play barefoot on the sand and mix with all sorts of people. Sometimes they bring home strays. Sometimes these are animals. Sean and Clair own a bookstore/coffee shop. It never really makes any money but they sleep well and wake up happy. Sean never tried contacts. He wears -7 glasses now. Clair loves them. Sean has long hair, several earrings and tattoos. And a beard too. He can't afford an SUV but he does have a boat. He stole it.

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