I’ve always had perfect vision, and I don’t say that to brag. It was a source of great frustration when I was growing up. I was terribly jealous of the kids in school with glasses, and I desperately wanted my own. Every birthday and every Christmas I would write ‘Eye exam’ at the top of my wish list, but alas, my ocular perfection never required those coveted corrective devices.
I’m not sure what fueled this odd optometrical obsession, but as an adult I went through a renewed enthusiasm for unnecessary eyewear. I bought a pair of fashion lenses from Urban Outfitters, big round ones with plastic tortoise-shell frames. I started to wear them everyday, out in public, and I discovered I felt a bit more confident. I got positive comments from strangers, including a man who said he loved seeing women in big glasses. It got to the point where I started to feel strange without them on, and when I looked in the mirror, sans spectacles, my face looked wrong.
I didn’t delve too deeply into the psychology of this phase until I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while at a grocery store in Greenwood. I was wearing the glasses, as usual, and she commented on them. She helped me pinpoint something that had been simmering in my subconscious, that wearing glasses was a physical barrier between me and the world, of holding at arms length the noise and judgment and demands of other people, and it allowed me to feel both a little bit bolder and a little bit mysterious. It was a disguise.
This same friend is the one who, when we lived together years before, said she loved Halloween because she could put on a costume that revealed her true spirit, sort of a reverse disguise. She would inevitably put on fairy wings and dance like a dryad, because truly she was of another realm. Like no one else I’ve ever met, she is lovely, free, and magical. Watching her, I learned to be free, too. I put on fairy wings with her sometimes, and banged pots and pans. In that season my motto was ‘Just do it,’ so I tried painting. I was terrible but it didn’t matter. I was getting over my perfectionism enough to just dabble and explore. It was glorious.
I wish this world and our relationships were such that a disguise wasn’t required, that I could be my true, silly, whimsical, vulnerable self all the time. But because nothing and nobody this side of heaven are perfect, I find myself needing to discern who I trust, with whom I share my deepest self, and with whom I hold back. In those situations, my glasses are invisible, but they accomplish the same purpose: guarding my heart.
Rachel Womelsduff Gough is a sensitive soul, though she seems thick-skinned.