Clear Sight

Clear Sight
Robert Bergman '93

It felt like a Tuesday. I know what you’ll say, “Tuesday doesn’t have a feel,” but then you’ll think about it and say, “Yeah, it does. It is a bland day.” Bland. It’s almost onomatopoeic. Bland is bland. 

I parked the car, and as soon as I stepped out into the Midwest July heat and cut the soupy air with my swinging door, I smelled the burning blacktop. That smell always reminds me of Six Flags for some reason and my parents letting me run wild with my friends through the park unsupervised, which sounds like it happened often, but in reality, it happened once, in eighth grade. 

I got my first pair of glasses in fourth grade.

I remember the day when, as the inside of my skull pounded, Sister Sophie asked me why my head lay on my desk once again. I mumbled, “head,” breath, “ache.” That week my parents had my eyes examined, and I began wearing big old brown rimmed grade school glasses until college when I just stopped wearing them. My eyes felt fine; did they heal? No. It was denial.  

But after teaching a few years, I could barely see again, and I got a new prescription. Then, a few years later, another new prescription, and those glasses worked until this bland Tuesday when I opened the door to the ophthalmologist’s office. 

I could not see books anymore. Plain and simple.

My English teaching career dictated that I read books, so I started using the e-reader with the largest size font, and now the students could read my phone from across the room and only seven words appeared on the screen at a time. 

After a short wait, the tech took me back into the semi-darkness of the room, and I started the eye chart. The fourth line blurred and the L, P, E, and D of the Snellen eye chart looked like a series of capital Es. The “this one or this one test” came next, which I know I fail every time. It reminded me of the first time I sat in a chair like this in fourth grade, knowing I looked like an owl in those brown-rimmed glasses. 

It felt like a Tuesday.

It was on a Tuesday that my mother-in-law told us she had cancer. While we were talking, we noticed a giant owl sitting in a tree outside of our home, and my wife said, “Well, that’s got to be a good sign.”

My wife doesn’t read as much as my mother-in-law and me; books helped connect us.  When my wife and I went on our honeymoon, Rita asked us to bring her back a copy of The Canterbury Tales. I told her she could have one of my copies, but she said it had to come from England. I loved her for that (and her stuffed peppers, which she’d make for my birthday if I asked).

Rita and I looked at each other, knowing that owls are not good omens.

In fact, in many mythic traditions, they are harbingers of death that ferry souls to the afterlife. Rita made me promise not to tell Kirsten what we both knew. I promised and didn’t tell my wife until almost a year after her mother died. She couldn’t believe I kept that from her, and we laughed about it.

The doctor came in, a man I’ve known for a few years because our children go to school together, and he said to me, “Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that you need bifocals, but the good news is you’ll be able to see books again.” It definitely wasn’t the worst news I’ve heard. He expected me to deny my aging, I guess. He even offered to give me two prescriptions so I could have a pair of glasses for reading and a pair to help me clearly see across the room. 

I told him that I just wanted to see the words in a book again. I’m not worried about looking old. I’m worried about not being able to look. 

I am not a vain man. I smiled as I grabbed that prescription and immediately drove to get my new lenses. I needed to clearly see again.

Sight. It allows me to see the past and the future. What do I know about the future? I know that the owl will come for me someday, but I’ve got a lot of books to read before he swoops in.

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