Meeting someone without your glasses or contacts can be an uncomfortably intimate experience. When things are blurry, you’re inviting someone to see more of you than you can see of them. You’re prompted to absorb this person’s voice more deeply, or even to move physically closer, just to understand what’s going on. This is how I met my optometrist. Contacts off – she saw me before I saw her. I wouldn’t come to ‘see’ her and be able to discern her features fully until the end of my exam. What ensued was a very intimate conversation as we related to each others religious experience – though the religion and religious symbol we had in common were in her past and my present.
I knew my optometrist was Persian from the moment I picked her out from a list of insurance-accepting vision-care providers closest to my home. My drive was a geniusly calculated 0.3 miles in the baking Texan summer heat. When I got to the office, a kindly gal had me fill out some paperwork and remove my contacts. This felt about as intimate as taking off my clothes. I could hear the optometrists’ faint conversation behind closed doors with her other patient. I stared into my lap, feeling it was safer than letting my gaze wander and not knowing where my eyes would land and who would think I was staring at what (which I could not see and would therefore never know who I weirded out). The next moment, I heard an exchange between the friendly receptionist and the optometrist and began to hear the familiar sounds of English being spoken with a Persian accent. When the optometrist invited me to head into the exam room, her accent was warm and clear and I was immediately intrigued and drawn.
The only sight I had of the optometrist was a vague outline of a beautiful woman. As I sat in my exam chair, most of my field of vision cluttered with equipment, I saw that she was in her late 30’s or early 40’s, wearing a cardigan and beautiful long dress in rich tones and a bohemian print. She was slender, with fair skin that had a bit of an olive tinge, perhaps from tanning or taking in the sun. When she told me she was a mother of two boys, I believed her because I saw it in her skin – the way my mothers skin was at her age: still slender, still taut, beginning to develop deeper wrinkles, and showing how years of sunlight left its beautiful mark. For most of the exam, I would see just her neck adorned with a big beaded necklace, the v-shape neckline of her dress, and the details of its print and colors. I liked her from what she wore.
I’m not sure how these conversations begin. But they seem to go from hello to very intimate questions and revelations. She remarked on my headscarf in a unique way of someone who has been on a journey and come to accept that different things can mean different things for different people, in the way of someone who has grown to be able to choose for herself one thing without hating that which she did not choose. (For me this was particularly unique because I often find my personal expressions can be offensive reminders to others of pasts, politics or interpretations they despise.) I told her that I chose to wear it, and that my mother and sister did not; that I didn’t believe they needed to, that I was happy with my expression. She said it looked very beautiful on me and how I wore it. She remarked on how personal religion is, and I expressed my agreement with her, touched and appreciative of this as I believed it myself.
She told me that she too used to wear the headscarf. She used to live in Iran. She used to be Muslim. Neither of us was sad when she said these things were in the past. Neither of us expressed in our voices or demeanor the need the fix the other, nor that either of us was broken to begin with. She told me that she used to go (on her own accord) to sit in churches and just listen. She really liked Catholicism. When she met her future husband – who was Indian – and he was Catholic, she knew it was meant to be. Her parents weren’t too fond of him at first – they didn’t like the way he dressed. I smiled because I knew what she meant, and mentioned that I understood that appearance and taste is really important in Persian culture. She agreed with my analysis. I liked her even more. I had shared with her that my husband was of a different ethnic background. We bonded over our interracial relationships. She talked at length about her parents (who were still Muslim), about their family gatherings, about her sons whom they had attending Catholic schools, about her husbands work, and more.
I felt like we were two beings hovering around the same axis. In listening to one another, we gave each other something: absorbing, without evaluating. A momentary suspension in time where we were able to freely and happily be as beautiful as we are, without any judgement to weigh us down. I will forever cherish this treasure.
The exam slowly came to an end – she gave me a new prescription for contacts and glasses, and I put on a new pair of lenses with the updated vision prescription. When I saw my optometrists face, it didn’t even matter. I felt that I already knew a part of her – that we had both exchanged our intimate selves, before I came to know her physical self. Before I left, she garnered a photo of her two young sons, proud of how they looked uniquely like her and her husband. I remember seeing how beautiful her little kids were, but more so her face as she proudly wanted me to take in her family.
I left remembering the portrait of my field of vision cluttered with optometry equipment, her v-neck dress and necklace, her beautiful English in a Persian accent, and the things she shared with me.