May 18, 2010
I have two pairs of glasses. I wear my bedtime glasses when I am watching or reading in the late hours of the night. The frames are bent and chipped and the prescription is two years old. These are the simplest, least adorned glasses I have possessed since elementary school. I have always strongly identified as a glasses wearer, sporting big, bold spectacles that have covered up to 1/4 of my face. My daytime pair used to be sunglasses, purchased at an estate sale. My mom is obsessed with estate sales. She and her best friend, my Aunt Joan, go hunting almost every Friday from spring until fall. They like the newer houses in the rebuilt rich suburbs north of the city. It is a tough balance, a new house with expensive goods, but not too much baby or kid paraphernalia. Me, on the other hand, I like the mid-century ranches that are being torn down so the type of places my mom and Aunt Joan like to scavenge can be built. The houses are usually being vacated so the occupants can move to Florida or Arizona, a nursing home, or perhaps they have died. With a keen eye you can tell which it is. Is there predominately women’s clothes, with one small closet of men’s suits? Is there a walker and medical equipment for sale? How old are the toys they have stashed in the basement? These are the children of the Depression, sometimes survivors of the Holocaust, people who knew how to cherish and reuse the things they have. The sunglasses that are now my daytime glasses are from the 1950s and in perfect shape.
I have gotten rather fastidious about not wearing my daytime glasses to bed. I will take them off as soon as I get into bed or if I plan on reading I will change into my bedtime glasses as part of my nighttime preparations. This was not always the case. I used to sleep in whatever was on my face when I hit the bed. This would sometimes result in the loss of glasses to the folds of my bed. I made a system sometime around when I moved into my Detroit basement. I would turn my face to the wall (in the basement, this was toward the back of the futon I took up residence on after abandoning my bed to bad memories), put my glasses in my right hand, and tuck it under my pillow. Sometimes this worked, but other times I awoke groping the covers. Feeling the glasses there in my hand seemed somehow secure even though it was not.
Some of my lowest points in life have been experienced through the thick haze of lost or broken glasses. Having my small pair of cateyes swept off my face by the man who would terrorize me throughout my 19th year, as he commented, “if you didn’t insist on wearing ugly glasses you could be a model.” The night Hendrik, Mirna, and I each drank a pint of rum in a half hour and Hendrik punched me in the face. It was a culmination of sexual tension and threats, both sides vying for the title. After he hit me, he fled in horror. I was left to retrace my movements in the gritty abandoned lot looking for my eyewear. Later this night would become a joke about how the people from the nearby gallery took me inside and forced me to call my parents to come pick me up. In the morning when Mirna and I went back to the lot she found my glasses immediately, the frames twisted, the lenses splintered into a massive spiderweb. They had been run over. I felt like I had been run over.
I did have one experience of blind happiness. I was driving my mom’s mini SUV back from a rendezvous with Dan in Toledo. I felt so alive, singing along with the blasting radio, my head out the window. It was past midnight and it was just me and the truck drivers on I-75. The glasses made a “whoop” like sound as they flew off my face and into the night. I pulled over on the shoulder even though I knew it was hopeless. I was still 30 miles from Detroit. I called Dan and we both fretted over what to do. I had no choice. I got in the farthest right lane, put on my blinkers, and squinted through the darkness all the way home. Thankfully it was a route I knew so well I wondered, once I got home safely, if I could have done it with my eyes closed.
My glasses broke at the bridge the week after I slept with my ex. The week had been a trial. I was desperately trying to finish my last semester of school, spending hours holed up in the dimly lit Burton Collection scouring the 1915 -1925 city directories and mapping migration of African-American and Jewish businesses in a small section of Black Bottom, just below Paradise Valley. My advisor was the type who would not look you in the eye. I would devise ways to try to look him squarely in the face, but instead he would turn his face to the ceiling, relating stories of Chrysler’s early days. We could only converse through Detroit car culture metaphors. I was scared I was going to end up like him, in an 8×8 cell on the third floor which the History Department shared with Peace and Conflict Studies. Everyone in the History Department treated me like a grad student, everyone except the secretary who resented me for hanging around and using the copier. I was the only one who went to conferences, who asked questions after presentations, who made any effort outside of graduation. Little did they know this was because I was putting such little effort toward graduation. A lifelong learner, but only of things I wanted to learn. My advisor took it for granted I would stay at this school, possibly TA for him come fall semester. He knew I was a slacker after my phone went off (Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life”) during one of the other students defense, but that did not matter. Sleeping with my ex was the least of my worries during this time, but it is these types of situations one focuses on when they feel themselves being pulled in a hundred unfocused directions.
We had been on a downward spiral since I had gotten back from confronting my past. I had taken to drinking and crying, curling up on the floor paralyzed with fear. I had been so confident and secure and all that was flushed down the toilet in one extended weekend. I had done the impossible and now I was impossible. I spent more and more time in the library, living in other’s past, photocopying marquees of movie theatres long since torn down, spinning through microfilm of the local papers and recording all the pornographic films that played around town in the 1970s. When I got home from a weekend at the labor history conference I told him he should move out. He agreed.
It took me only three months to move out of the house I owned into the Detroit basement. My best friend, who had lived with me for years, moved down the street into a rotting row house surrounded by liquor stores and crackheads. My ex moved north, into a neighborhood that formerly housed the city’s business leaders. He and his roommates burned their furniture on the lawn because “they could.”
We had slept together again after seeing “Kaidan” at the art museum. The week after this happened we left each other in uncomfortable silence. My glasses broke when I rolled over on them at the end of our silent week. I spent an hour in bed crying, mourning this loss. I had no back up glasses. I had nothing. My mom came to pick me up and my opthamologist melted an industrial staple into the bridge to hold them together. This solution was tenuous at best. That night I went to my bestest’s birthday party in Ypsilanti, another starving Michigan town. There is a picture of us together, arms locked, you can hardly see the staple but my glasses are very crocked. She gave me her old ones, just in case.
There are moments when I am so devastated that I have to say out loud, “I feel so sad.” It is a feeling so primitive, simple, pervasive. There has always been something comforting in stating how I feel and I know this sometimes makes others uncomfortable. We are only supposed to talk about how we feel under duress. Lately I do not know how I do it, continue to speak when my tongue feels so heavy, continue to move through the broken glasses fog. This morning I tried to force myself to sleep in late. I put the television on some useless program, turned my face to the wall, daytime glasses in my right hand, shoved under my pillow. I awoke when the show ended, the theme song playing, my hand empty.
this is a work in progress, part of a larger piece dealing with my relationship with glasses, clothes, items from the past, and my general sentimentality. i feel unsure about the connections i am making concerning the loss of emotional and intuitive sight and the temporary loss of physical vision. this needs work. katie recently said she likes how my pieces jump around from one idea to another, but this piece seems to jump more than i like. not sure how to connect the threads of stories, times i have lost/broken my glasses and times of crisis. am i always in times of crisis? is my fear. do i depend on others too much? i want that to come out in this piece – that when my glasses are broken i am usually helpless and need others help to pull me out of it. even the time when i took care of myself (the drive from toledo) i called dan to talk it out with him first. hmmmmmmmm things to think about. for work and for life.