The memoirs of a former near-sighted person
It all started with the blackboard in school. I was sitting in the last row of desks with all kinds of social outcasts – the losers, underachievers, and hooligans – when I suddenly realized that I couldn’t see what was written on the board.
If it was written in caps (usually it was news like “Those who don’t show up for community service will be shot immediately”), I could see it, but other things were really blurry.
If l made a loose fist and looked through the hole, I could kind of see better. But then I would be thinking “dang, I wish I hadn’t seen that,” as it would say something like “the verbal participal phrase is…”. I still have nightmares that tomorrow I’ll have a test and won’t remember a thing about those charts. I was good at grammar, probably better than Rosa Salmonovna our teacher, but all these diagrams were a torture for me.
Another way to regain normal vision for just a couple of seconds was to make Chinese eyes; that is, use your index fingers to pull the skin away from your eyes. This made a pretty good image. It worked even better than the loose fist trick, but there was a common superstition that if someone startled you at that moment, your eyes would stay that way. At this time in my life, I don’t see anything bad about having these “Chinese eyes”, but as Soviet children we were frightened of it. What if I never find a job? I already was marked as a minority in my passport, due to my Jewish ethnicity, which in the Soviet Union was a bad thing. Adding “Chinese” on top of that would be too much.
I realized that if I didn’t fix my vision, I would end up never graduating primary school. So I had to move to more centrally-located desks, and for that I had to make friends with a fat and mean girl named Zemfira. I don’t remember what I promised in return, but in the end she finally agreed to tolerate me being next to her. I guess she decided that it’s better to sit with this skinny joker than by herself. I think she’s told herself: “Shall I remain alone forever? What if this is love?”
But love is the last thing we are interested in here. Let me remind you, that we’re on an ophthalmology page.
My mother was a well-known doctor in our small central Asian town. And doctors always know how good each other are. For example, if Dr Benjamin recommends you a therapist in Los Angeles, rest assured it’s going to be a good one.
So my mom took me to the best eye doctor in town. She checked me out and announced that, “It’s not myopia, and it’s an accommodative spasm. There is a good Japanese method of fixing it!”
I have to say that for Soviet people, anything Japanese sounded like something from a different planet. Japan is a great civilization and we, eternal builders of communism, were so far away from their level of development. It’s no wonder that the unmanned automobile in Tarkovsky’s Solaris was shot in Tokyo.
True, there was a driver, but they had to hunch over for the shot, or maybe they just used a little person. Now when I watch this part of the movie it reminds me of Uber in San Francisco.
The ophthalmologist gave me a set of plus lenses and an old letter chart to check my vision, which we the losers, underachievers, and hooligans actually used as a target for darts later, and asked me to read the letters wearing those lenses.
I’m not sure how that would have ended if I had followed instructions. I guess I would have learned how to see the smallest letters from 100 feet, or gained the power to see through the walls of the women’s locker room.
I’m not even sure if the Japanese used the Japanese method. The fact is that generations have passed and we still see some Japanese tourists wearing glasses. It makes me wonder how good laser correction is in Japan. Something tells me that it’s no better or worse than here. But let me remind you that I’m talking about a time long ago, when Dr. Benjamin wasn’t even born yet.
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Text and photo: Sebastian Varo