Our Eyes

I was born prematurely, and my eyes never developed. I say “and” rather than “so,” because I’m not sure if that was a consequence of the premature birth or of something else. I think that by the 80s, they had perfected the amount of oxygen delivered in incubators, but I could be wrong about that. Anyway, because my eyes never developed, I have prostheses inside my eyes, shells which fit over the eyeballs and lend them shape, depth and color. My natural eyes are whiteish, red when they get irritated, but the prostheses make them blue, like those of my birth family. The prostheses are expensive and needed to be remade often when I was little. I haven’t had a new set since I was fifteen, though I’ve gone in for cleaning and polishing a few times since then. I’m sure someday soon the doctor, who has been in practice as long as I have been around, will try to sell me on a new set, and I will cringe, because they are a couple thousand dollars I just don’t have.
The most vivid memory of getting new “eyepieces,” as my mom called them and as I familiarly call them, occurred when I was nine. First, I went to a regular ophthalmologist who had to write a letter on my behalf to get the eyepieces. I don’t know why, as I didn’t at the time. It may have been a doctor’s note for school, or it may have gone to the insurance company or to the doctor who would make them for me. I’m not quite sure. I remember sentences about my having gotten the shells when I was two and “she is now nine years old.” Then after I got my new body parts, my brother, Chet, realized that, since these parts were made for me, I could theoretically get any color I wanted. “You could get purple eyes!” he said with real longing and envy in his voice. “You could get snake eyes!”
Years later, I remember riding in a car operated by disability paratransit services in New Jersey, and the driver said, “You have beautiful eyes. They look just like Jesus’s eyes.” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, although I am sure some form of prosthelitizing occurred, but I do remember the thought that it served him right that he was unknowingly comparing Jesus’s eyes to pieces of plastic since he was subscribing to the blond, blue-eyed Christ.
For you, blue eyes were transient. They have shifted to brown, just as your sounds have shifted to make way for your concentration on grasping objects, and Goodnight Moon changed from merely the first book I read to you to the first book you held in your hands along with my hands. But for you, brown will be the permanent eye color. I struggle to find pieces of myself in you sometimes, but I think they linger in the shapes of things, while James is in your coloring. Your eyes and forehead and head are shaped like mine, for instance. But your face is very James to me and to most people, except maybe my sister. Your face, hair and eye color and expressions are those of your father. Your skin color is a blend of both of us. Your hair is straight like mine now, but I think that will change as well. I find myself most, perhaps unfortunately, in your temperament, at least your way of getting scared sometimes that I won’t feed you or your sadness about transitions: leaving my breast, being placed on the changing table. But I also find myself in the way you are starting to listen to short books already, your need to hear them again and again and again.
It occurred to me in the shower just now that next time I get new eyepieces, if I can ever afford them, I could change my eyes so they are brown like yours and your father’s. Although I kept my birth name, my eyes could eschew those of my birth family and adopt the look of my new chosen family. But I’m not sure that that is ethical somehow. And I wonder whether there will ever be a time, if only a few moments, when you’ll want your eyes to be blind like ours.

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2 comments

  1. What a beautiful post, Kristen! I google shared it! (And it FINALLY reminded me that we wanted you to write for SforSN — what we would want is something to parents telling them what you wish your parents had known when you were little. Something they did right or could have done better or an incident that you think illustrates that?)

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