the time dragged on and on and on. as was usual for a doctor's office of any variety, they'd told us to be here precisely at four pm, and that meant we weren't going to be seen until probably half past five. the way i was sitting in my plastic chair along the wall of the waiting room, the waistband of my charcoal grey uniform skirt tickled my belly, drawing my attention to the discomfiting matter of its round shape and the inevitable folds produced in my skin by slouching like i always did. i thought about this, and shifted to an different posture with my hands braced on the seat on either side of my knees, like a cat stretching, hoping this would help elongate my midsection.
i didn't do this for anybody's attention or approval, really, but simply to ease my own anxiety. being in the spotlight was a position that made me feel very exposed, and uneasy, to say the least. a few of my siblings were waiting with me, but they hardly counted for anything. my mom in the seat to my left was silent, one leg crossed over the other, the superior of her feet arched unconsciously, as if it were about to slip into a high heel or one of cinderella's glass slippers. but all of the glass in this room was already devoted to a much less whimsical purpose. this was an optometrist's office, and we were here because of my complaints that i couldn't read the words on the whiteboard at high school from my desk.
i'd had glasses before, as a young child. i think i mentioned already my lazy eye and the eyepatch i had to wear to correct it, but what i didn't add was that i was supposed to wear glasses from then on. at first, i was thrilled about this, because both my older sisters wore glasses and i wanted to be part of the in crowd, like them. but after a while i stopped wearing them because i lost interest. i was a tom boy and they were cumbersome, and also given my track record of losing things, expecting i could keep track of any object that was delicate and expensive was pretty unrealistic.
i honestly don't have a clue how the optometrist managed to form an opinion about what prescription i needed as a child. i really didn't understand much of what i was being asked to do, and guessed wildly on questions such as "which of these looks clearer?" mostly basing my reply on the tone of voice used by the doctor, whether i thought he was probably tired of showing me slides by now or not. also, being me, i sometimes lied to him without really being able to articulate even to myself why i did it, usually pretending i couldn't read something that i actually could. all i can say in my defense is that i was six-ish.
therefore, as an eighteen year old sitting in this office, despite the fact that i really was experiencing difficulty taking notes in the classroom because of my vision, even before meeting with the doctor i already felt like a phony. i had a crawling feeling making its way up the back of my neck, that he was going to see right through me and call me out for the fraud and attention whore i really was. he really didn't need to be a doctor to do this, however; anyone at any time might see through me. my mom and the golden child both certainly always did.
my revere is interrupted by my name being called by a nurse or technician or receptionist, whichever it is that sits behind the front desk, its anterior face composed of long rectangular mirrors. i remember these because on my return trip to this office to pick up my glasses a few weeks later, i was on a break from school and i was wearing very minuscule shorts. trying to be inconspicuous, i snuck glances at the long stretch of leg, unusually tan for me, left bare by my garments, in an attempt to make up my mind whether i was still skinny or not. i'd completed a fairly successful period of strict dieting prior to break, which meant that i felt pretty secure that i was beginning to look cadaverous. i'd had told myself on the first day that i did not have to go to school that i was just going to binge the one day in order to celebrate. of course, one day turned into two, and two days into three, and now, on the fourth day, i desperately needed to convince my racing heart that i couldn't possibly have undone all the progress from my restrictive diet in only seventy-two hours of uncontrollable gluttony. unfortunately, if i did manage to accomplish this, then my guard would be let down, and i knew i'd continue my binge, only to have to go through the same panic the following day. but all this is getting away from my optometry appointment.
the doctor was fairly young. he was thin but not spindly, and taller than your average stereotypical asian male. he did not wear glasses, which was probably a good thing for his profession but did seem slightly odd to me.
we ran through the usual gambit of tests. i felt nervous, but did not remark upon the fact that the doctor spoke to me far less than optometrists had during my previous eye exams. perhaps if i had noticed i would have attributed his silence to my age; i was no longer a cute little kid who needed to be joked around with in order to relax. but gradually i did become aware of a difference; we ran through some tests i'd never seen before, such as one that had to do with peripheral vision, and in general we spent far more time than i ever had before on such a check up. still, this in itself was not cause for alarm. what truly sent me spiraling into a deep chasm of worry was when the doctor sent me out of the examining room, and called my mom in, shutting the door behind her. she did not have a scheduled appointment, so i could only assume he'd secured a private word with her in order to talk about me.
so i waiting. and waited. and waited. somehow the eternity that passed during this wait managed to be even longer than that which i'd already withstood before my exam.
what could be going on behind the innocuous, baby blue plain of that door? when my mom finally emerged, she did not really look at me. she chatted politely with the receptionist/technician for a moment, before making a bee line for the exit, her eyes unfocused, her inward tension displayed by the rigidity of her right arm, which gripped the strap of the purse that hung from her shoulder. a round bulge of muscle nosed its way up through her light brown skin.
i followed her to the car, wordlessly. whatever siblings were with us piled into the backseat, while i, being the eldest of the brood home since my two older sisters had left for college, rode shotgun. the seat beside my mom was considered one of privilege, yet i would have gladly traded with anyone else for that ride, even cramming in amongst four of my brothers and sisters in a space designed to comfortably seat three. anything to be away from the line of fire when whatever pent up force was currently building inside my mom exploded.
the words were like shrapnel tearing into me. "do you know what he said?" she did not wait for a reply, fortunately, given that i could not have choked out a syllable to save my life. "he wanted me not to tell you. he asked me if you've been through some kind of psychological trauma." there was disgust in her tone, reducing my whole identity to nothing more than a disagreeable flavor she'd have to taste many times in the months to come. it was just like when, during a family visit to grandma's house, i flinched away from the sound of a metal chair clattering against the floor, and the remark that my mom got from my aunts and uncles that she'd of course angrily shared with me later was that i acted like somebody who'd been abused. "he said your eye should work perfectly fine. there's nothing at all physically wrong with it; he checked over and over and couldn't find anything. but you can't see out of it because your brain isn't letting you. he wanted me not to tell you and just to get you glasses, and maybe he's right, but i'm hoping if i tell you the truth then you'll snap out of it." she bit off the next words, her tongue a lashing whip that communicated with each blow the pain she wanted me to feel so that she wouldn't have to. "i can't help wondering if this is my fault. you know i don't like to talk about it but i dropped you - i allowed you to fall - as a baby. i remember riding with you in the back of the ambulance; you had a concussion and i was so scared you wouldn't make it. at the hospital they registered that you had some kind of brain damage, but couldn't tell me if or how it would effect you growing up. i worry about it every time you get that glazed look in your eye and are spacing out, lost in your fantasy world. i worry that i did this to you. that you'll never be normal or be able to get a driver's license because of me."
like my mom, i stared straight forward, focusing on the road ahead, not daring to look at what i knew must have been the harsh lines of her face. her knuckles were white on the steering wheel, tendons popping out with strain. multiple pairs of very wide, round eyes singed the fluff on the back of my neck so that i wouldn't have been a bit surprised if the car had become filled with the odor of burning hair.
you'll have noticed that this segment of my story reads a bit more like a single scene than do some others that i have written. i cannot promise to have captured every detail accurately. the quote from my mother is nothing more than a paraphrase, called up across the gap of several long years. there are probably many bits and pieces of my account that would fail a test for accuracy if a video recording of that day could be found. but my work is not about truth. it's about memory, and those two things are not always, probably not even usually, the same.