Telling What We’re Not Seeing
“Are my glasses on the shelf above the washer?”
This query came from my husband, calling from the car. He had thrown the bikes on the rack and was driving to Huntington Beach to ride with our son. I went to check; yes, they were there. I asked if he wanted me to bring them to him, but he said no, that’s OK. He’d just keep wearing his sunglasses.
David and I both have very weak eyes, and we’ve passed that unfortunate trait onto Christopher. We regularly dole out small fortunes for glasses so we can read, drive, and peer at computer screens, prescription sunglasses to fend off the violent southern California sun, and contact lenses to indulge Christopher’s teenage vanity.
In the “mistakes” column of the parental record I keep in my head, I didn’t realize Christopher needed glasses until he failed an eye test at St. Barnabas School when he was 5. As soon as the slip came home, the realization hit me. How could I not have known? He’d sit close to the TV (what little he was allowed to watch in those days), and in the car when I’d crow, “Look at that pug dog!” or point out something else, he’d seem to miss it. The ophthalmologist tried to console me, telling me he saw this regularly with kids Christopher’s age. “They don’t know how to tell you what they’re not seeing,” he said in a comforting tone, but I still felt negligent and awful. He probably should have been wearing glasses since he was 3.
When David and Christopher got home from their ride, David was wandering from room to room distractedly. “I can’t find my glasses,” he said. “My new ones.” The pair I’d confirmed finding on the shelf was an old pair. In fact, his glasses were so new that I hadn’t even thought of them when I checked the shelf after his call. The new pair were the latest thing, slim and light and, of course, wildly expensive.
For the next half hour or so, we rummaged everywhere in the house, garage, and car, checking the same places over and over, the glove box, the shelves, even all the drawers and cabinets on the outside chance that he might have stuffed the glasses somewhere odd. I was getting exasperated. “Where could you have put them? After you put on your sunglasses, where did you put your glasses?”
“I have a terrible feeling,” David finally said. He might have set the glasses, in their elegant slender case, on the roof of the car when he was putting the bike rack on. “No,” I said firmly. “You wouldn’t do that. Not with a brand-new [insert price here] pair of glasses.” More foraging for the glasses followed, taking on a slightly frantic edge now.
Finally, we got in the car, and drove slowly through the streets in our neighborhood, the route David had taken to get to the 405 freeway. We eyed the street and gutter, vainly hoping to find the intact case with the specs safely inside. When we hit Cherry Avenue, a very busy artery that leads to the 405, I spotted a small, black shape on the side of the road. “No, it’s just rag or a bag,” I reported after David slowed down a bit. But before we gave up the search and drove back home, David wanted to go back and check again. I hopped out and picked up the “rag.” Its edges were pinked, and it was stamped “Ralph Lauren.” It was the cleaning cloth for the new glasses, the one tucked inside the case.
I absent-mindedly wondered if any neighbors were driving by, and what they might think as they saw me groveling through the trash bin at the bus stop closest to where the cleaning cloth lay in the gutter. We walked up and down the busy street, thinking, hoping, that maybe someone had found the glasses and tossed them after realizing that the very strong prescription made them useless for anyone else. “The fact that the cleaning cloth was there by itself isn’t a good sign,” I said. We both felt slightly sick—the glasses were less than two weeks old, and we hadn’t even paid the charge on the credit card yet.
We decided to give up, and as we walked back to the car, I saw something glinting in the gutter. One lens, scratched beyond repair, and brutally separated from the frames. We both already knew that we weren’t going to find the glasses, that there was no way the case could have withstood being run over, but neither of us had said as much yet. Now the evidence of the mishap was irrefutable.
I felt like crying. David kept his face impassive, but I could tell he felt terrible, too. I thought of the Raymond Carver story called “A Small, Good Thing,” a devastating account of a little boy, Scotty, knocked into the curb by a car as he walks to school. The child doesn’t survive the accident, and the excruciating details of his parents’ grief still haunt me, nearly 30 years after I read that story.
“Well,” I say, trying to force a brisk, cheery, tone. “If something had to be crushed under a car, thank God it wasn’t one of us. Thank God we picked up a cleaning cloth, and not a child’s shoe.” This seems not to console David, but to irritate him further. I grant that I wasn’t clear in explaining the connection I’d suddenly had to that shocking Carver story.
The credit card bill will arrive sometime in the next few days, with the charge for the pulverized glasses on it. We’ll pay it, wincing. But unlike many losses, this is only stuff, and only money, all of which can be replaced.