By Matt Polska
1. Jason McNamara Needs Glasses
Fourteen-year-old Jason McNamara walked down the street between his parents, Mary and Bob. They seldom came into town on a weekday—chores on their 200-head dairy farm took most of their time—so Jason knew this trip to a new doctor must be pretty important. On a short side-street Jason had not been on before, they came upon a dark brick house hiding behind huge shade trees not yet showing signs of turning color on this early fall afternoon. The gloom surrounding the house matched Jason’s sense of foreboding. The sign propped in the front window marked their destination—Dr. Sidney Miller, optometrist. A week before, Jason had come home from school with a note from the nurse suggesting he have his eyes checked.
The McNamara’s were a prosperous and popular family in rural Cumberland County where most of the citizens owned and ran dairy farms or the businesses that serviced them—farm machinery shops, grocery stores, clothing merchants, and so forth. Most of the shops, as well as a movie theater, doctors, veterinarians, and a small hospital were in the village of Cumberland, where Jason and his parents were this afternoon. Few graduates of Cumberland High School went on to college; most stayed in the area, working on family farms or businesses. Too small to support a football team, the school nonetheless was well-known in the state for its baseball and basketball programs. And the McNamaras’ performance on the school and legion softball, baseball, and basketball teams was responsible for a lot of the esteem in which they were held in Cumberland County.
Mary McNamara had played first base on the high school softball team, and Bob McNamara was a superb shortstop and hitter both in high school and on the adult legion team; he also had been a starting forward on the high school basketball team the first time Cumberland High School had won the state Division III championship. Jason’s brothers and sister were following in their parents’ footsteps. Like their mother, his twin sister Martha played first base on the JV softball team. His oldest brother Mark had pitched the high school baseball team to the state championship the previous spring; he was looking forward to the start of basketball season in a few weeks. Sixteen-year old Bobby had played right field with his brother on the spring championship baseball team; he was a superb hitter, averaging .411 in the regular season. Although only a sophomore, at 6’2’’, the tallest of the clan, he was a sure bet to be a starting forward on this winter’s basketball team. Jason, however, was not following in the family tradition. Not very good at sports or outdoor activities, he was known as the klutz, the space cadet in the family.
The dread Jason was feeling increased as they climbed the crumbling steps into the house. He had suspected for some time that something was wrong with his eyes, and he was afraid he needed glasses. During the last school year, he had been asked several times to read something off the board; when he couldn’t, he had been yelled at and even sent to detention once for not paying attention. Others in class were obviously able to read the board when he couldn’t. This year, his first in the high school, the situation was worse—at least last year he had been able to make words and numbers out once he knew what they said; now he couldn’t.
In his whole fourteen years, Jason had only known two people who wore glasses. Adam, a kid in his grade, had worn glasses for as long as Jason had known him. Everyone made fun of Adam’s glasses. They were thick and made his eyes look very big. Adam’s left eye always looked as if he were looking at his nose, and the lenses made that even more noticeable. Adam was called “four-eyes” and “blind man”; in fifth grade, Jason and some others had even convinced Adam to take his glasses off and they all took turns putting them on and making faces at Adam. More recently, Jason’s dad had picked up a pair of glasses at the drug store. He wore them when he was reading or trying to fix a small part on a piece of machinery. He cursed every time he had to find them or put them on, calling them a “pain in the ass” and even worse.
As they settled into the doctor’s waiting room, Jason continued to suffer in silence. Surely his dad would be disappointed if he had to wear glasses, and even worse would be the howls of laughter when he showed up at school wearing glasses. He clung to the hope that maybe glasses would not be the answer. He had tried on his father’s glasses a few weeks ago, and they made everything blurry. He had also convinced Adam to let him try on his glasses in study hall the other day; they made everything even blurrier than his father’s had. Maybe glasses would not be the answer.
“Jason McNamara.” The nurse calling his name woke Jason from his reverie. He was ushered into a windowless room and asked to sit in a chair like a barber’s. Shy and self-conscious, he simply answered “No” to the nurse’s questions about any trouble he was having with his vision, telling her he had only made the appointment on the school nurse’s recommendation.
Dr. Miller came in next. He looked to be slightly older than Jason’s dad, and he wore the coolest glasses Jason had ever seen. The frames were dark plastic, squarish, and covered the doctor’s thin face from side to side. Barely perceptible when he came close to Jason’s eyes with a strong light was a tiny thin line across the center of each lens. Jason began to feel more comfortable. Next the doctor put a large mask in front of Jason’s face with two holes for his eyes to peer through. When Jason looked through the holes, Dr. Miller asked him to read the letters in the distance; all Jason saw was a white space and some grayish blur. With a few clicks, the doctor changed the distance until gradually letters began to appear. Forgetting his fear of having to wear glasses, Jason began to be excited about the increasing sharpness of the letters and black lines the doctor clicked into the machine. Soon Dr. Miller announced the exam was over, and he would meet Jason and his parents on his office in a few minutes.
As they settled into the soft chairs in Dr. Miller’s office, Jason’s dread of glasses came swarming back over him. And Dr. Miller’s first words confirmed his fears: “Jason is nearsighted, and I am prescribing glasses.” Jason’s dad immediately chimed in with all the negatives Jason had always felt about glasses: “Are you sure?” “He’s only fourteen; I didn’t need these awful glasses until last year.” “When will his eyes get better so he no longer needs them?” Jason silently cringed as the doctor carefully responded: “Yes, I am sure.” “His myopia has been coming on for sometime, and will probably get worse” “He will never outgrow his need for glasses.” Then the doctor began to explain what a difference the glasses would make in Jason’s life. His performance in school should improve. He should be more help around the farm, being less of a klutz when called upon for chores. Then Dr. Miller explained that he also was nearsighted, and his prescription was right about where Jason’s is when he was fourteen. As they left the office, Jason’s mom asked one final question: “How much should he wear the glasses.” Dr. Miller gave the answer Jason dreaded to hear: “All the time.” When Jason gasped, the doctor kindly explained that he would want to wear them all the time once he realized how well he could see with them. He handed Jason a prescription card with some numbers on it (OD: -2.75/1.50x20; OS: -2.50/-.50x5) and wished him luck.
The next stop was the optician out on Main Street. Jason was numb as they walked through the door and saw all the frames blankly staring at him. Then he remembered the cool frames Dr. Miller was wearing. He gravitated to that section. The clerk asked what kind of frames he was looking for, and pointed him to the exact frames Dr. Miller had been wearing. Jason sat down to look at himself in the mirror and thought they didn’t look too bad. Anxious to just forget about glasses at this point, he mumbled, “I’ll take these,” and stood to walk out the door. But first he had to sit back down and look through another machine while the clerk scratched some numbers on an order card; then he put the frames back on while the clerk measured behind his ears. Finally, he handed the prescription to the clerk. As his dad paid a deposit and made arrangements to pick up the glasses in a week or so, Jason and his mom left the shop. Jason’s stomach was churning, but he thought, “At least I have a week before I have to think about wearing glasses.”
2. Jason McNamara gets his Glasses
Jason McNamara climbed the steps into the school bus feeling very much alone and unhappy. His brothers were off to football practice, a sport they seemed to do okay at even though they excelled at basketball and baseball, so Jason, who was terrible at sports, faced the long ride home and an afternoon of farm chores. And his performance in classes today had been awful. This was his first year at Cumberland High School, and when the school year had begun two weeks ago, he was determined to do better than he had been doing the last couple years. He had been particularly enthused by Algebra I, which seemed clear and understandable to him. But now he carried in his pack an algebra quiz he had failed when he thought he had mastered the subject. One error he had made really mystified him: he had copied “1x + 3x=” from the board and was positive his answer of “4x” was correct, but the correct answer was “9x.” Too afraid of appearing stupid in class, Jason had just slumped in his chair instead of asking why. As he took his seat on the bus, all he could think was “I’m such a loser.”
When the bus stopped at the end of his family’s farm lane, Jason saw his mother waiting for him in the car. She hustled him into the front seat, telling him the optometrist had called and his glasses were ready to pick up. “Hurry up,” she said, “and we can get into town and back before you have to help your father with the milking.” This was the time Jason had been dreading since last week when he had been prescribed his first glasses. No one in his family and none of his friends wore glasses, and Jason had successfully put the idea out of his head the last few days. Now, of course, he would have to face the fact of glasses. His mood turned even more sour, and the pit in the stomach he had been able to push aside came back. He only grunted when his mother cheerily asked him questions about his day on the ride into town.
A bell tinkled as Jason and his mom opened the door to the optometry shop. A young man’s voice shouted from the back room, “Take a seat; I’ll be right there.” Before they could sit, a young man not much older than Jason’s oldest brother came through the curtains and ushered them to one of the fitting desks. Jason noticed he wore glasses and was not at all nerdy looking, but he just wanted to get out of there. His mother, however, had to start her usual chattiness, in the process learning that Dan was from a neighboring county and was an opticianry student intern at the local community college. Finally, Dan went out back to get Jason’s glasses, returning a moment later with the black-framed glasses Jason had chosen the week before. He carefully put them on Jason’s face, checking behind his ears, pulling the glasses forward and pushing them back up his nose, before tipping them from side to side. He removed them from Jason’s face and said he had to make a few adjustments. When Dan returned, he handed them to Jason and asked him to put them on. To his surprise, they were not uncomfortable, but as he looked through the lenses for the first time he didn’t notice things looked any different—Dan’s face was the same, the wall in front of him was the same, the desk before him looked the same. Jason was pleased. “What’s the big deal?” he thought. “I won’t have to wear these.” He did note, however, that he kind of liked the way he looked in the glasses; his pale skin was not so noticeable and the blue of his eyes seemed to sparkle more. Best of all, the glasses didn’t magnify his eyes like his friend Adam’s glasses did.
Throughout the fitting, Dan had been trying to engage Jason in conversation, but Jason had pretty much ignored him. His mother, however, had kept the talk going, telling Dan that this was Jason’s first pair of glasses and no one in their family or among their friends had ever worn glasses at such a young age. Dan kept talking to Jason, telling him how he knew from personal experience how self-conscious wearing glasses for the first time would make him feel, but also how he would quickly want to wear the glasses all the time once he noticed what he could see with them on. Jason continued to sit there sullenly, wishing they could just leave. All this time he had the glasses on, but he just kept staring at the floor.
As they stood to go home, Jason slipped the glasses off and put them in the case Dan had given him. Dan immediately chimed in, telling Jason to remove them with two hands to keep from twisting them out of shape. Then he also reminded Jason to be careful not to set them down on the lenses and to clean them only with the cloth snapped into the case. But worst of all, he suggested Jason leave them on to get used to them. His mother then recalled Dr. Miller’s advice to wear them all the time: “Jason, put the glasses on.” As he did so, Jason turned to face the shop window and the street beyond. He immediately took a step backward and exclaimed, “WOW.” Everything was sharp and sparkling; even the letters painted on the window across the street came into view: “Duncan’s Coffee Shop.” Dan put his hand on Jason’s shoulder in support and understanding: “You’ll be fine, man. Trust me, I know.” Then Dan explained more about what had just happened. Jason was nearsighted, so he needed the glasses for distance. For seeing up close, as when sitting at the fitting desk, Jason didn’t particularly need the glasses, but for distance, as when looking outside, Jason’s eyes needed the lenses desperately in order to see clearly. For the first time this day, Jason opened up a bit: “Thanks, Dan.” As they left, Dan urged Jason to come back with any questions, explaining he had gone into opticianry because his experience was Jason’s.
Jason felt better on the way home than he had on the way into town. His mother kept bugging him about how rude he had been to “that nice young man” in the shop and asking him to read mailboxes with and without his glasses. And the old fears about what his father and brothers and sister and friends would say and how they would ridicule him kept nagging him. But he used the ride to experiment with his new glasses. Dan was right—things in the car looked no different whether or not he looked through the lenses. But as he looked out the window at the sparkling and clear electric wires and leaves on the corn in the fields and speed limit signs and individual stones in the pavement, his spirits began to lift. Maybe Dan was right. And Dan wore glasses and he seemed cool.