Taylorís Train Wreck

by Dieter

I flipped the switch to the lamp on my bedside table. As I lay in the dark that Saturday night, I wondered if we really would work everything out. Ray and I had been married for eleven years. Our wedding was just weeks after I graduated from VCU. We started our life like all couples with hopes and plans. But from the start Ray had been preoccupied with success and had worked relentlessly. Through constant hard work, he had obtained every goal he set only to establish a new set of goals and continue going. In recent years, I felt that we had drifted in different directions and as a couple were no longer following a path towards our original plans. After fretting for a while, I eventually drifted off to sleep and dreamt of things other than my husband.

With an incredible crash, I awoke in frenzy. As my heart raced, the banging and crashing continued so loudly that it almost sounded like thunder. Through the curtains, flashes of light were reflecting on the opposite wall of my bedroom. I jumped from the bed and ran to the window. Looking across my backyard, I could see giant rail cars still moving like toys. I quickly found my glasses on the dresser and put them on. The alarm clock showed a time of 3:58.

Consumed with fear, I hurriedly dressed and ran outside. For as far as I could see, there were cars derailed up and down the track. Debris was everywhere. Sparks seemed to spray from all directions. There were several small fires crackling. A few of my neighbors were already on the scene assessing the situation. A couple of the men were jogging towards the end of the train where they could still hear the roar of the idling diesel engines. All of us were concerned about the engineers. Since sirens were howling in the distance, we knew the authorities were on the way. Thatís when I noticed the pungent odor.

I wandered in that direction to see what it was. Soon, I realized that there were several different fluids spilled in the ditches along the side of the tracks. In the moist cool air of the morning, a hazy steam was rising from one of them. It was emitting the odor that I had smelled. I backed away and went back towards the safety of the group. Police, emergency personnel, and railroad officials had arrived and were beginning to push all of us back towards our homes. For the rest of that morning, I drank coffee and discussed events with my neighbors. The major street that crossed the tracks had been closed and would be for several days. For hours there were people banging, pounding, and yelling with the constant roar of trucks driving along the railway.

In the afternoon, I stopped for a nap exhausted from the early wake up call. That evening I again met with my neighbors to keep abreast of updates. The story was that a train from New York with over 100 cars was passing through. Unfortunately, several dozen empty cars from the "hump yard" a few miles away had been accidentally released. They coasted this far where they stopped and were waiting to be found. They were "found" by the engineers from New York just moments before their engines skidded and slammed into the cars. The two engineers were taken to the hospital where they were being treated for injuries that were not life-threatening. There were dozens of cars strewn about for a quarter of a mile with their loads spilled. Of special interest to everyone in the neighborhood were the fluids that had found their way into the ditches.

On Monday morning, I put on my glasses, fished my keys out of my purse and locked the front door. Walking towards the car, I noticed that I was struggling to see. I stepped into the car and looked to see if my glasses were clean. They seemed to be, so I put them back on and headed down the street. Before I got out of my neighborhood, I took them off again. What was going on? I could see better without my glasses. Not well, but better. Throughout that day, I developed a headache that got progressively worse as I strained to see things both near and far.

By the end of that day, my eyes would focus on nothing and I had a splitting headache. I drove home, cautiously and slowly. The next morning I felt worse so I called into work and said I was using a sick day. I tried to watch television but there was little I could see with or without my glasses.

With a day at home and little to do my thoughts returned to Ray. After a considerable amount of counseling, it was recommended that we spend time apart. Ray got an opportunity to work in England for a six month project and we decided that would work perfectly. That essentially became an all expenses paid separation for us. The rules allowed us to go out with other people but we were not allowed to discuss our dates with each other. I had been on a couple of "outings" but I didnít feel they were beneficial to me or to my marriage so I had stopped encouraging further advances. Ray agreed to stay in England through the duration of the project and return only at the end. Despite the fact that we had been squabbling like children, I was beginning to look forward to his return. I still loved him and I wanted us to work through our problems. And I was lonely and missed him.

The following morning, I could not read even large print. It was time to go to the physician or the optometrist. I decided to hedge my bets and made an appointment with both. My optometristís receptionist said she could get me into a canceled time slot at 11:30 a.m., so thatís were I headed first.

Sitting in the chair in the darkened room, I began to explain my symptoms to Dr. Gregory.

"Ok, Taylor, put your glasses on and read the chart" he said as he projected a chart on the wall.

"I really canít read the chart at all," I said, "it feels like my eyes are crossed."

"Well then, what can you read without your glasses?" he asked.

"Itís a little better maybe," I replied, "I can sort of make out the top two lines."

"Most unusual, Taylor. Letís dilate your eyes."

So I held my head back while he dropped the solution in my eyes and he left the room for a few minutes. When he returned, he began searching for answers inside my eyes using his light. After several minutes of probing, he said, "Let me try something." He pulled the phoropter to my face, asked me to rest my chin on the bar, and he slowly began to work. As he played with various lenses, I waited. When he was done, he asked me to read a card that he placed close to my eyes. I read it easily and was beginning to feel better. "Good," he replied. He pointed back to the chart projected on the wall. Those letters were still off. He adjusted the lenses some more, continuously asking, "Better, worse, or about the same?" We did that for a while until I could read the 20/40 line with each eye. He told me that was as good as it was going to get until my eyes relaxed.

"Give it a week or two and your distance vision should get better. Taylor, how old are you?"

"33." I responded.

"You have become somewhat hyperopic. You are farsighted."

"Explain." I replied.

"Thatís it . . . I really canít. You have changed from a -1.50 prescription for mild nearsightedness to a +1.75 prescription for farsightedness. Iíve seen slight changes like this sometimes but mostly when patients become presbyopic . . . when they reach bifocal time. But that doesnít typically happen until age 40 or 50. And you donít appear to be presbyopic in any way. You are reading better with the same prescription that you are using to see distance. Iíve never seen any change this significant. This is a +3.25 swing."

"I guess I donít get it doctor. I just need a different prescription. Why is that so unusual?"

"Taylor, it is unusual in that they are maladies of the eye that are treated somewhat differently. For example, you will now need to wear your glasses at all times because you cannot see near or far. With your old prescription, I bet you wore your glasses only when you wanted to see things in the distance, right?"

"Thatís right. I wore them mostly to drive, watch TV, or watch movies."

"Iím also concerned that the progression in your eyes has not completed. So, hereís what I want you to do. Go by a drugstore or department store and buy inexpensive readers. You can get them for ten to twenty dollars. But make sure you get full lenses, not half-lenses that you look over. Use those for a few days and call me. I donít want you to go to big expense until we know your eyes have settled. Now, did you say that you have an appointment this afternoon with your physician?"

"Yes."

"Good, explain this fully to him. Iím not an MD so this is out of my area of expertise. But, I am curious if he finds out something that would cause this."

"Like what?"

"Possibly, a tumor or something, but I donít want to scare you. Just go see him."

Right . . . I left scared and worried. Frankly, thatís all I could think about. I stopped at a drugstore and found the readers. The first thing I had to do was find a pair I could use just to see up close. I grabbed a pair off the rack that was too strong, but they allowed me to read the numbers and look closer at the frame styles. Then I started looking through the selection more discriminately. After several minutes, I found a pair of rimless glasses with really squared rectangular lenses with the +1.75 prescription. In fact, I liked the way they looked a lot. I had never had the rimless style before. Then I paid and headed across town. The new glasses worked fabulously. I felt normal again, while driving. They were especially comfortable to wear while I went into the physicianís office. And best of all, I could see almost perfectly again though things in the distance were still a tad off.

To make a long story short, over the course of many weeks, no abnormality was ever found by my physician. Eventually we chalked it up to an unexplained change in my vision and nothing more. The part that I had to get used to was wearing glasses fulltime. I had to wear them for everything close; reading, cooking, makeup, even things like shaving my legs. And generally I had to wear them for seeing everything far; driving, movies, television. As my distance vision improved with the glasses, it progressively got worse without. I had become utterly dependent on glasses in less than two weeks. And when I tried to do anything without glasses, I began to get a headache within minutes. That was worse than anything. It reminded me of the kind of headache I got from caffeine withdrawal.

Ok, so that wasnít the end of the world. After being scared about having a tumor or something awful like that, wearing glasses was not a major problem. My co-workers got used to it rather quickly. They had seen me wear my old glasses at times. In fact, I got a lot of compliments about my new glasses. If they had only known; I traded my $200 pair for ones that cost $17.95 plus tax. My friends at church thought little of it. I always wore my old glasses in the sanctuary. I just no longer removed them when leaving. And the oddest part of all was that no one seemed to notice the change in lenses. Few people know the difference. The only comments I ever got were about the fact that I wore my glasses all of the time.

That evening, after returning home from my first visit to the physician, the residents of my neighborhood held a meeting to discuss the train wreck. It was chaired by the president of our neighborhood association but guests had been invited to speak. There was a representative from the railroad, one from the Mayorís Action Council, and a Hazardous Materials official. Through the course of the evening we found that the cleanup was continuing and would do so for some time to come. There was damage to the tracks, the track bed, the drainage ditches, and some of the yards adjacent to the tracks. It was determined that there was spillage. Diesel fuel had leaked from the engines and soaked deeply into the ground. There were other liquids from tankers that had done the same but we were assured that nothing would create permanent damage. The biggest concern was the diesel fuel polluting well water in the neighborhood on the opposite side of the tracks. Those homes were significantly older than the homes in our neighborhood. They were built prior to the area being annexed by the city before water lines were built per city code. The good news was that trains were being diverted to other rail lines until all repairs were completed.

One of my neighbors asked a question about the nasty odor that I had smelled the first night. He was told that it was nothing more than the odor emitted from a chemical reaction of two different materials spilled. Not everyone was "buying" that. Many of the home owners were still concerned that toxic liquids were in our yards and groundwater. I personally remembered that the odor was incredibly foul but, in all fairness, it was gone already.

One thing that Ray and I fought about in recent years was having children. I had been unable to get pregnant but we didnít know why. I was ready to begin working with doctors and fertility clinics to find solutions. Did I have a problem? Did Ray have a problem? What were our options? But that kind of research costs money and Ray wasnít ready to spring. We had a fabulous house and nice cars. We had been on several expensive vacations. To me, it was time to do something. I wasnít wild about getting pregnant in my forties or fifties so I didnít want to wait any longer. Nor did I want to raise children and put them through college at an age when we would be ready to retire. I think Ray had issues with responsibilities but those were the types of things we had been trying to resolve through counseling. But thereís a lot more to this story.

The cheap readers fixed my headaches and corrected my vision quite well. I was able to return back to work the next day. But, within a few weeks, my vision blurred again. I called my optometrist from work and he told me to stop by on my way home. He would be there until 6:00 p.m. Dr. Gregory performed a refraction and told me it was the same story. I needed to get +2.75 readers. We repeated this process for a while until I could no longer buy drugstore readers with a prescription that was strong enough. Fortunately, the difference each visit had decreased. So we made a deal.

"Taylor, you buy regular prescription glasses from me now. If we have to increase your prescription again, Iíll change your lenses for free."

"Deal, doc."

We had to change them one more time. That brought my prescription to +5.25 in both eyes with no astigmatism. I was really afraid that my eyes were going to look large behind the lenses and they were. But, now that we were dealing with all of the available options in an optical shop, we were able to make really great glasses. They used high index aspheric lenses and I chose a pair of dark tortoise frames with the wide temple pieces. I thought the glasses looked better than any Iíd ever had.

Now that my eyes had begun to stabilize, I was thinking more about Ray, again. He was due back soon. I was ready but was he? The separation had given me enough time to think about what I wanted for both of us. Had he come to any conclusions? Would they be ones that would make me- happy? I also was worried whether he would like the new Taylor. When he left, I wore my glasses infrequently. But, they never seemed to bother him before.

I remember when I got my first pair. I was twenty-four and Ray and I had been married for only a short time. I wasnít bothered by needing glasses. I was more surprised that I needed them at that age. In fact the day that I got them, we went to a movie. That was the first time he saw me wearing glasses and he seemed to like them. I wore them for the rest of the evening and Ray kissed me as he unlocked the front door. He began undressing me the second we got inside eventually taking me to the floor. We made love on a large rug in the living room. What had ever happened to that passion that we had back then?

By the end of our separation, I had returned to Dr. Gregory to get one final prescription change. That put me up to +6.00 lenses. By that point the strength was very obvious. The lenses were well made and the frames did a lot to conceal the thickness, but there was no way to hide it completely. My eyes looked pretty large. But the only thing I could do was get contacts if I didnít like it. Honestly, it didnít bother me. I had become so dependent on my glasses. There was little I could do without them. I could not imagine how you could see to put contact lenses in with vision like mine, anyway. I decided that I had done everything I was going to do to make Ray happy. If he didnít like me this way, it was his loss.

I did, however, buy two more pairs of glasses. It was nice to have alternatives for different occasions. I enjoyed having the choices to select in order to match with clothing and mood. I had received tons of compliments at work. Several guys made inquiries as to my marital status. That really boosted my confidence. It was sort of nice knowing that there were guys available if the need would arise; wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

I felt myself getting a bit giddy as I saw Ray appear from around the corner in the hallway. I was waiting in the airport terminal near the baggage chutes. Ray smiled, looked surprised, shuffled quickly to me, and gave me a huge kiss wrapping his strong arms around me. It felt wonderful.

"New glasses!" he exclaimed, "I like. I like, a lot, Taylor!"

"Good, because I have to wear them all of the time, now."

"Really, did your eyes get worse?"

"Sort of."

"Sort of?"

"Well, they actually got different." I explained.

"How so?"

"Jeez, twenty questions Ė kiss me again you fool!"

And he did. I explained more on the ride home. He seemed eager to listen. It was completely different than before he left when he didnít seem to hear anything I said. We stopped to eat brunch. Ray told me about his time in England and said we had to go together sometime. There was so much he wanted to show me there. I told him that I had been promoted at work, got a private office, and a raise in pay. I also told him about the excitement of the train wreck. We went on and on like old best friends. But when we got home, the friendship was off. The second he got me inside, he nailed me on the floor again. Just like the old days, except he never took off my glasses. I didnít either but I didnít realize that until later when I was lying naked in the afterglow. The only way I can see anything as close as Ray was, is to wear my glasses so it had never bothered me.

As the days progressed, we made love often. We talked and shared things even more often. It seemed like we were really in love again. Ray said he loved the way my glasses magnified my eyes. He thought that made me look vulnerable and willing. He told me that every time he looked into my eyes, he wanted to jump me. It was like marrying the girl he loved a dozen years before but now she was "new and improved". That sort of made me feel like a soap product, but it made me laugh. And what woman doesnít love a man that makes her laugh? I know I wanted him more than ever. Several months later, Ray stopped one Saturday at Dr. Gregoryís office. He wanted to buy more glasses for me but this time he wanted to pick them. He chose a very glamorous pair to wear for evenings out and a funky pair to wear for fun times. I loved them both. This was getting good.

With five pairs of glasses from which to choose, I loved my options but so did Ray because he never had any problem getting aroused. We were enjoying sex often . . . and everywhere. And then the miracle happened. I got pregnant. Could life get any better? Iíve heard people make snide remarks about glasses doubling as a contraceptive, but in my case they had improved sexual stimulation, foreplay, and who knows Ė maybe even fertility.

After I had carried the baby for about seven months, the doorbell rang one evening. I went to the door to be greeted by a neatly trimmed man wearing a dark suit.

"Mrs. Yeager?" he asked.

"Yes?" I replied.

"My name is Marcus Down. I represent the Law Offices of Hankee, Panky and Attwill. We have been retained by some of your neighbors to look into allegations that CVR Railroad may have been negligent in their recent clean up of the train wreck that occurred last year. We are hoping to build a case possibly for a class action suit. Our firm is looking for people who are experiencing symptoms of an affliction known as hypermetropic mandragora. It is a very rare condition. Some of the symptoms in women include an increase in fertility and hypermetropic tendencies."

"Hypermetropic?" I questioned.

"Yes, maam. More generally known as hyperopia or farsightedness. The fertility is sometimes increased substantially, to the point that even common birth control pills lose effectiveness. Have you experienced any of these symptoms, Mrs. Yeager?"

And a thought occurred to me. He was looking into the +6.00 bespectacled eyes of a woman that was seven months pregnant who didnít have either "affliction" the previous year. Was this the answer to my dreams or a train wreck?

Dieter June 2008

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