The glasses first appeared around third grade. It was startling how much clearer everything looked, and I could read the chalkboard a lot more clearly. Unfortunately, the brown plastic frames with their super-scratchy plastic lenses were pretty much bang on brand for the school nerd in the early 1980s, and by eighth grade I had started putting them in my plaid-button-up-shirt pocket for most of the day unless I actually needed to see what was doing.
I got contacts in December 1985, and it felt like a new world was opening up. I had super powers! I could see without assistance! Now certainly my life would transform for the better! And then 1986 turned out to be the worst year of my life to that point (still arguably in the top three or four, depending) and I got braces, so my facial appearance was back to a mess. And then…conjunctivitis. MASSIVE conjunctivitis. I had to give up the contacts for six months, which means new glasses. These were different. The lenses were tinted gray rather than brown, and the frames had actual metal, but they were still absurdly thick – and yet, not so horrifying to drive away my first girlfriend.
After that, the insurance paid for a new pair every year, so January 1988 meant new black plastic frames with thinner lenses, and those were my go-to for two years and change. 1989 saw my first and only pair of prescription sunglasses for almost thirty years, which got a lot of run in the summer as I drove around in a car with glass tops under a blazing Alabama sun. And then, I graduated, it was time to go to college, and I hadn’t had my eye exam yet. And I outright asked for something that would look better than what I’d been wearing, and they fitted me with these round tortoiseshell-look things that were a little bit off the Venn diagram of Harry Potter and I Love The 90s, but it worked. I at least didn’t feel like as much of a yutz.
And then, in the summer of 1991, I tried out the disposable contacts. I had one pair for two weeks, and it was the strangest feeling being able to wear actual sunglasses again, and it felt (again) like I’d had some cybernetic enhancement that would set my vision straight. And I reluctantly went back to a new pair of glasses, this time small enough that the lenses weren’t absurdly thick, and wore those for a year…and then, in 1992, the insurance started paying for disposable contacts, and that was the very end. Those 1991 glasses were my only prescription glasses for a decade, and I might have put them on a dozen times between 1992 and 2002.
Then in 2002, I was inspired by my girlfriend’s glasses with their magnetic clip-ons, and decided I must have that, especially since my old glasses were a decade old. The new ones were impossibly small, and it turns out that’s not the most effective thing for sunglasses. Lesson learned. Never thought of going to them full time, even after I paid to have transition lenses put in the frames a few years later. 2011 came round, and I got another pair of glasses with Oakley frames that looked half-Snowden, half-Google Glass, and wore them sporadically at best.
It was only in early 2018 that I carried out an experiment, largely driven by the fact that my cousin seems to manage regular and prescription glasses without a fight. I broke into my flex-spending stash and bought two pair of Ames frames from Warby Parker, one with sunglass tint and one without, and found myself wearing them more and more and more…until this year, when I bought a third pair with the transition lenses. I haven’t put my contacts in since, as far as I can tell.
So what happened? After almost thirty years, I’m back to being a “glasses everyday” wearer. And not just any glasses, but ones that make me look older if anything, the sort of glasses that say “I’m launching a Gemini mission at 6 and serving a federal warrant on the Klan in Indianola at 10” – maybe it reads as hipster, I don’t know, but probably not on an aging and sagging 47 year old. I guess it became part and parcel of not needing to prove anything – of simplifying my life, of not wanting to take lenses out every night, of not wanting to wake up with my contacts in, of not having to pack a whole extra array of toiletries for travel. It means a life that least little bit simpler. And if there’s one thing that life needs to be in 2019, it’s simpler.