My Spectacular Life [April 13]
It all began with the semiquavers. Bashing through a Bach prelude, I noticed that the dots on the page seemed to be dancing in time with the music. That might work okay in a scene from the 1940 Disney animation Fantasia, but when you’re out of practice, you need the notes to keep still. So I stopped practising.
The next clue was my creeping reluctance to read the papers. Once an avid consumer of news, I’d become incapable of reading an article from start to finish. Short attention span, I thought. Just another victim of the collective Attention Deficit Disorder afflicting us in the information age. (Strange, though, that I could still listen to a two-hour radio documentary without a problem.) So I cancelled my newspaper subscription.
Next there was the Light Deficit Disorder. My bedside lamp had served me well for decades, but now it was too dim, so a second lamp was installed above my head. Late at night, though, and even with two lamps glaring, I still found it hard to get through more than a few pages of a novel before having to close my eyes. I reluctantly considered resigning from my book club.
By now, any sensible person would have figured out what was wrong, but when you’ve experienced a miracle your senses sometimes desert you.
Fifteen years ago, I couldn’t see clearly past the end of the bed. Trying to find my way back to my beach towel after an ocean swim was like a Burke and Wills expedition. I needed a guide to help me find my way onstage for the opera productions I was involved in. Without glasses, I couldn’t navigate my way to my front door, let alone to the other side of town.
Then, at the turn of the millennium, I paid a man with more than a decade’s worth of specialist medical training an awful lot of money to sedate me, prop open my eyelids and slice off a tiny section of each eyeball. When I awoke, I could see everything.
Trees that used to look like plates of mashed peas when I took off my glasses suddenly had individual leaves on their individual branches. Blackboard menus in restaurants were legible, and actors on distant theatre stages were recognisably male or female.
My spectacles were donated to the local op shop and I invested in my very first pair of non-prescription sunnies. Through the miracle of modern ophthalmological medicine I now had 20-20 vision, and I felt super-human.
So you would understand my reluctance to admit that those halcyon days had come to an end. Laser eye surgery might have cured my short-sightedness, but as far as I’m aware no one has found a cure for old age. Like practically every other forty-something on the planet, I was succumbing to the sad inevitability of age-related long-sightedness.
Driving from one place to another might still have been a doddle without glasses, but as soon as I strayed from my usual routes and needed to look up the street directory, I was stuffed. Printed street names that used to look like logical sequences of letters from the Roman alphabet now looked like trails of squashed ants.
The good news was that I didn’t have to give up piano practice, newspapers or my book club; the bad news was that I had to rejoin the human race. The first time the optometrist led me to one of those back-lit racks of spectacles and asked me to choose a new pair, I panicked and fled the store.
I felt like shouting: I AM NOT READY TO HAVE A DISABILITY AGAIN. I don’t want to fish around endlessly in the bottom of my bag for glasses, leave them behind at cafes, accidentally swap them with my partner’s, forget that they’re perched on top of my head, or sit on them when I leave them on the beach towel. And I don’t want to have to attach them to one of those little plastic chains that cartoon grannies wear around their necks.
But resistance was futile. Returning to the optometrist, I ordered the cheapest frames they had and, when the new glasses arrived, I put them on, bought a newspaper and read it from cover to cover. Then I finished the novel my book club mates had raved about six months ago. And I loved it. Then I went to the piano, opened up Bach’s 24 Preludes and Fugues and began to play. The notes stood still and the accidentals stuck to the notes. As I began to enjoy the sound of the music again, I remembered that my hearing is still superhuman. For now, anyway.
(This column was first published in The Big Issue, No 378, 12th April 2011)