one million words

find your voice. tell your story.

XXII: Nearsighted

In second grade I can no longer read the blackboard. I squint, guess and copy my neighbors notes. My grades decline but I won’t ask the teacher to move me upfront. I don’t tell my parents and am careful around my friends. The truth needs to remain hidden because I don’t want glasses. They’re perfectly fine for others but I refuse to adapt. I am athletic, fickle and stubborn, deeply believe glasses will make me look ugly. Pretending nothing is wrong seems like the lesser evil. One night my guard is down and I can’t read the clock when my parents ask me the time. A week later I own my first pair of plain glasses. No other girl in my class wears glasses. So unfair.

Right away I wonder if poor eyesight is my fault. Too much reading supposedly strains your eyeballs. Regrettably I am guilty of devouring books after bedtime in my dimly lit room. Glasses as self inflicted punishment? Double devastation!

I want to cry but we don’t cry about stuff in my family, especially glasses. Instead we discuss everything there is to discuss about glasses. We seek reasons and remedies, tell stories about so and so’s failing eyesight etc. Humor hides our embarrassment and we try hard to make each other laugh. When this fails we offer comfort sentences beginning with after all. After all, it could be worse. After all, we can buy glasses. After all, glasses are not the end of the world. All true. I only perceive my world as I know it to be over in that moment.

The moment passes and my new glasses are not as horrible as I thought. No one even makes fun of me. I see clearly and adapt to my smaller field of vision. Annoyingly glasses fog up all the time in winter, get wet in rain and make my gym teacher nervous. When dad pulls out his camera I rip off my glasses and hold them behind my back. When leaving the house, I slip my glasses in my pocket.

This works for a while but each year my eyesight worsens. My lenses fatten up. I dread going to the optician who carefully records my visual decline, predictably bearing bad news whenever I sit in his chair. I fight back tears while he tries to cheer me up. No big deal, he exclaims. Besides, just marry a guy as near-sighted as you.! He chuckles. You’ll just have to remember to take of your glasses before you kiss…otherwise…clink…chink…your lenses will smash into each other! Hahahaha! He heartily slaps his knee.

When I am 12 I read an american book which promises to improve your eyesight. It’s a rigorous program of at least 20 min of eye exercises every day. For 12 weeks I do every single one. In one I close my eyes and trace an imaginary white fence in the distant darkness of my mind. Twelve weeks later my vision is exactly the same. Disappointed I toss the book aside. I worry I won’t ever get married.

At 14 my prescription is minus 10, turning my world into a shapeless blob without correction. When you’re at minus ten you can’t even read a book up close without your glasses. Minus 10 means your lenses approach coke bottle dimensions, shrinking your pupils to pinhead size. (We actually called them ashtrays.) Nerdy professors specs. Not the most flattering way to enter your teens.

One day a classmate shows up without glasses. She tells me about contact lenses. Contacts are brand new to former East Germany and I must obtain a pair immediately. My parents are on board. Ditching my obnoxious google’s sounds too good to be true.

Someone recommends Goldsmith, a guy in his 30’s who owns a contact business nearby. He is passionate about gas permeable, hard contact lenses and is thrilled to custom fit me with a pair.

It takes a while to get used to them. At first we blink a ton, my classmate and I. But we absolutely love our lenses, won’t ever go back.

I’ve worn these things for 30 years now. Not the same pair although one German made pair lasted for 8 years without notable signs of wear or eye discomfort. I wear glasses in the evening and have adapted to waking up to a blurry, distorted world. I am grateful I don’t live in ancient times because my world would literally not look the same.

In writing this I notice that I am still slow to admit imperfection, slow to ask for help or adapt to a new situation. Blaming myself also comes fairly naturally. I guess old habits die hard. At least I am seeing these issues and am making progress. 🙂


My brother and I wearing fake glasses before actually needing any. I am 6 or 7 here.

This is part XXII of “Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple”, a collection of personal essays about growing up Christian in former East Germany.  If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox.  Thanks for reading! 



9 Replies

  1. Heather Tourville

    Have you ever looked into Lasik? It’s had a profound effect on my life! It’s unbelievable to wake up in the morning and actually be able to see the clock. I highly recommend it! Best money I’ve ever spent!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Not seriously- the optometrist told me I would still need glasses even if I got LASIK which would be a bummer…

  2. Barbara Schutte

    Astrid I so enjoy your writings. Seriously, you have so much to say. I think you should write it and publish it as a book. I just. Know you have a “New York Times” best seller on your hands here.

    1. Astrid Melton

      I love that you see a diamond in the rough. I’ll keep chipping away! Thank you for your encouragement. ❤️

  3. Shawna Sajdak

    Your eyes are about the same as Mike’s–I think he is actually a -12. Love reading your writing. 🙂

    1. Astrid Melton

      Wow. Seems like guys get away easier with the professor glasses 🙂

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  4. Tara

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