As They Are

J.M. Diener

I see people as they are, not as they appear. My mother tells me it is a gift: one that only the prophets had, but for the longest time I was not so sure. It seemed more a curse. The first time I truly became aware of my vision was my first day in school. I walked into a room full of strangers, but the strangest was the ugly old hag who greeted me at the door. She had long ratty wisps of hair in a scabby, balding scalp. Her eyes were bloodshot, filled with utmost cruelty, and she smiled at me with crooked teeth. She reached out a bony hand to touch my head and I shrank back. Her voice was sweet and young when she spoke, but the undertone that swung in it was dark, sepulchral and utterly wicked. I could not bear to look at her, but clung to my mother’s skirts; my mother who walked in perpetual light, clothed in brilliant colors, whose eyes shone with glory and joy and even in her weakest moments stood tall and strong, untouchable by any evil.

“Now, Sammy,” my mother chided. “Don’t be shy. Ms. Murray is your teacher. She’s going to take good care of you.”

“But she’s scary!” I remember wailing. There was nothing to be done. I had to stay with the hag in the classroom. I could not bear to look at her or listen to her, for I intrinsically knew she was evil.

Until the day they took me to the eye doctor. I walked into the room to see a hunched, careworn man, old beyond his years, with rheumy eyes and weak motions. His voice held an undertone of depression. He took me through the tests and had me look through this machine. And then everything changed. When he stepped in front of the lenses, he was no longer a weak and depressed old man, but only middle aged, handsome, with graying temples and a warm smile. Even his voice seemed to have become higher, upbeat and energetic. When I leaned back from the machine, there he was again: old and broken. In that instant, I knew: I wanted those magic lenses, the ones that didn’t make people scare me so much.

So at six years of age I began to wear glasses. What a change they made! Even Ms. Murray was no longer scary. She had morphed into a lovely young woman with short brown hair and bright violet eyes. My mother, however, became plain. Her glow was gone, she had care lines etched in her face and her voice was no longer brisk and mellow. My father went from the mighty hero he’d always appeared to a homely, slightly stooped man with a balding head. I puzzled at this but never said anything.

The glasses did have one drawback: I soon realized that when I wore them I could not read what was written on the page, so I would have to take them off. And when I did the people I looked at changed. I learned to read under and around my glasses, so I wouldn’t have to remove them.