When I first returned to Kansas City in 1992, I started having my eyes examined at Gerry Optical in Brookside. Dr. Patrick, the optometrist at that location, took note of the neurological issues that impact my eyesight. He’d greet me warmly for each annual visit. In the course of the session, he would say, kindly, There’s going to come a time when your eyes require a neuro-opthalmologist. When I feel I’m not qualified to prescribe for you anymore, I will let you know.
That point arrived about five years ago. I sat in Dr. Patrick’s chair, shivering, exhausted. My eyes had changed so much in the three weeks between the first exam and the readiness of the new prescription that we had to do the whole process again. I had been answering questions for forty-five minutes — better or worse? one or two? five or six? — and I could no longer clearly see the chart.
Dr. Patrick came back into the room with a Styrofoam cup of tea. He pressed the warmth into my hands and I drank. It’s okay, he said. We’ll make some glasses with the best prescription that I can determine, and then get you to a ‘real’ doctor. He said that. He actually said that. The man had no arrogance.
For the last few years, I’ve had tri-focals. I often struggle to see the computer. Thankfully, they can get the distance plane right so I can still drive. At the end of a long day, I have to take off my glasses to read, holding the book right by my nose. The prisming in my lenses requires hours of adjustment to perfect. Even with “a real doctor”, my eyes challenge me and I find myself sorely tempted towards bitterness. Isn’t there a statutory limit to the number of problems one person has to endure in her life?
Yesterday I stopped at a store which I frequent. I like it in part because of its good value, but also because it has a flat-surface parking lot with handicapped spots right by the door. I got out of the Prius and started towards the sidewalk, letting my eyes adjust, reaching for a concrete pillar to steady myself. I looked towards the door and suddenly felt myself sway. My eyes fluttered. The scene in front of me shimmered. A rush of panic rose in my chest.
The movement of my body caught the attention of a woman coming out of the store. She stopped mid-stride and watched me. I’m okay, I called to her, answering her unspoken question. She paused. The small circle of people with her stood still.
I held my breath watching them. What a lovely family you have, I called to her, and then walked the last few paces to stand by them.
The woman held a beautiful child, with luminous eyes. He wore a flat wool cap and a little brown tweed jacket against the bitter winter cold. He smiled at me as I approached the group.
What a lovely child, I added. The woman said, This is my first grandson. She gestured to one of the two younger women with her. This is my daughter-in-law, his mother. She turned further, and introduced the slender man behind her. This is my son. He is in the Army. He has come home to visit. She spoke like that: Full sentences, no contractions, rounded vowels mellowed with the strength of her pride.
The last person in the group identified herself as the father’s sister. I asked where the young man served. Ft. Leonard Wood right now, he said. I mentioned that my father had died at the hospital there. I thanked him for his service. Each of them nodded. The grandmother turned to face me again and I studied the child resting against her shoulder. He beamed at me.
We lingered on that sidewalk, in front of the store, for a full minute.
Then we exchanged farewells. They moved onto the parking lot, and I started towards the entrance to the store. I looked back at the last moment, and caught the child’s eyes. His smile broadened; he lifted his little hand in a wave.
In an hour or so, I will head towards Boonville to get my sister Adrienne. We will journey to Columbia, where we will meet my sister Joyce for lunch. The temperature dipped in the night, leaving a thin layer of ice on our streets, but not enough to prevent the trip. I’m glad. I need my family today.
It’s the fourteenth day of the twenty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.