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In my late twenties I had laser surgery to correct my vision, even though I was terrified of the procedure. They lift a thin layer of your cornea, make incisions with a laser, and then place it back down like a piece of Saran Wrap. All the while you have to look straight ahead at a red dot. You can’t let your gaze stray.
The doctor had given me Valium to relieve my anxiety, but when I went under the laser, I was still shaking all over.
“As long as your eyes don’t move, you’ll be fine,” the assistant said with a smile.
The procedure was a success, and my sister drove me back to her house, fed me carrot soup, and read to me while I waited for the initial blurriness to clear. I certainly didn’t want to go home to my boyfriend.
The night before the surgery I’d gotten in a fight with him. He’d accused me of being “too needy,” and I’d reminded him that I was having my eyes sliced with lasers the next day.
“Good!” he said. “I hope you go blind!”
It was the meanest thing anyone had ever said to me. I ended up forgiving him, though, and the next summer we got married. I left him a year later. I could have saved myself the hassle of changing my name twice if I hadn’t been so nearsighted.
Almost twenty years ago a photographer acquaintance wanted to expand his stock-agency portfolio to include head shots of African American professionals. As a black woman in business school, I volunteered myself and two classmates, Calvin and Charles. We showed up for the shoot dressed in the business suits we wore for career fairs and job interviews.
We saw the prints a week later. In my photos I wore a short Afro, minimal makeup, and a Mona Lisa smile. I looked like a young corporate manager.
The photographer asked us to sign model-release forms, granting him permission to sell our images. No problem, we told him. We didn’t expect anything more to come of it.
Almost ten years later my best friend called to say she’d seen my picture in a brochure titled “Competency-Based Interviewing: A Behavior-Based Selection System.” Immediately I called Charles, who told me his face turned up so often that he’d started his own vanity portfolio. His favorite was in an International Day of Prayer ad. (Charles is agnostic.)
About two years ago my adult son, Lamont, called from his cellphone and said, “Mom, I’m on the bus, and you’re staring at me.” There was an ad with pictures of people’s eyes, and he swore one pair of them was mine.
I finally saw the ad on bart, the Bay Area’s train system. It was paid for by the Department of Homeland Security, and the text read, “When it comes to our safety, we can always use an extra pair of eyes.” The ad designer had used three head shots, cropping away the rest of the faces.
The middle photo was of me. Though there were considerably fewer wrinkles, I could see the tips of the clip-on pearl earrings I’d long ago donated to Goodwill.
Because the ad was used by several transportation agencies, I started to see my eyes everywhere, even plastered across the side of a bus. Eventually the campaign ran its course, and I began to miss the notoriety, as anonymous as it had been.
Late one night my boyfriend, Patrick, and I took bart home from San Francisco and boarded a car that displayed one of the few remaining ads. We rode to the end of the line and waited until everyone else had exited. Then, as I blocked the security camera, Patrick slipped the poster from its metal frame, and we bolted.
At home I hung the ad on a wall. Now, whenever I want to see the eyes of my youthful self, I simply walk into my den.
After a storm blanketed my backyard with snow, my dog, Dulce, seemed disoriented and could not find the stairs to the house. I realized that my seven-year-old bichon, my closest companion, was going blind.
Weeks earlier Dulce had been diagnosed with diabetes. Now cataracts clouded her black button eyes. A veterinarian ophthalmologist said cataract surgery usually cost $3,400. I went home with sticker shock, and with steroid pills to give my dog.
For the next week I carried Dulce up and down the stairs to the yard while I debated what to do. The money, if I spent it, would come out of the savings for my daughters’ educations, in effect making them pay for Dulce’s surgery. I told myself that when I’d brought Dulce home as a puppy, I had signed up to be her caretaker, but how could I justify spending thousands of dollars on healthcare for a purebred dog when most students at the inner-city school where I taught relied on Medicaid and many had never seen a dentist?
Dulce couldn’t hold down the steroids the vet had prescribed. So the vet changed the prescription, but she couldn’t tolerate the new pills either. Then we returned to the ophthalmologist, who told me Dulce was not a good candidate for surgery due to her inability to be on steroids. I no longer had to make the choice. I took my best friend home and became her seeing-eye human.
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