(about nearsightedness, collies, and putting words together)
One afternoon when I was in kindergarten, the school nurse called me down to her office. She had me stand behind a line of masking tape on the carpet and read letters off a chart on the wall. Sunlight glared on the chart and made a blurry haze around it. Panicky, because I couldn’t read the letters the way I was told, I kept trying to step across the tape line so I could see them better, but the nurse held onto my shoulder.
My first pair of glasses had blue plastic frames with a pair of tiny enamel strawberries on each arm. I showed off those strawberries to anybody who would look. See them? Nice, huh? The thick lenses sat heavily on my nose, but that didn’t matter because the world snapped into focus. Now I could march into the nurse’s office and read that letter chart like an expert.
At home, though, I learned to take the glasses off for every picture. Any time a camera was pointed at me, even before I smiled, I took off my “eyes” and held them behind my back. Girls were supposed to look pretty. Glasses spoiled that.
As a kid, I never had many friends. I don’t remember getting teased about my glasses, but they did make a kind of wall between me and the world. If I took them off, I couldn’t see much farther than my hand in front of my face. So I sat behind them, where it was safe.
I never had many friends, but I was never lonely. Real life was the temporary gap between books. In fourth grade, when I had graduated from colorful little-kid frames to a satisfyingly sleek chestnut-brown pair, I decided I was going to be a writer when I grew up.
The main reason behind my decision was a man named Albert Payson Terhune. Terhune wrote dog stories inspired by the collies he bred and raised. Those books were full of over-the-top heroics and the flowery language of the nineteen-teens. They make me smile now, but when I was a kid, they took me to another place, where the good man (or collie) always won, and no matter how feeble you might look on the outside, you could do anything if you had courage and love to power you along. I imagined having a real-life protector like Terhune’s Lad, who would be all strength to outsiders and all gentleness to me. Terhune himself became my first human hero. He had created that magic with words. Therefore I was going to do it too.
Now, some twenty-five years later, after trying out other things along the way, I’m carving out a writing career. For about twenty of those in-between years, I wore contacts, but these days I’ve gone back to glasses (no special cleaners or hours of soaking). My frames are metal now, silver, with scrollwork on the arms where the strawberries used to be.
The voice in the back of my head tells me that I still can’t be pretty when I wear them. That voice reminds me about a weird nine-year-old who didn’t know how to make friends. She wanted to be a writer, it says. Do you really want to be like her? And, She was so awkward. So strange. Does she deserve to have what she wants?
I know how tough it can be to reach for what you want. How hard you can pin your hopes on something, and how deep of a pit you can fall into when it fails. (“Dear Kris Faatz, thank you for submitting your work to us. Unfortunately/We regret…”) I know how every chance can feel like the last one, especially when the voice in my head says, You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re not good enough. You don’t deserve it anyway.
But I remember the joy that child felt when she sat down to read about those braver-than-life collies. I remember the rich and bright something that filled her up as she decided what she wanted to do with her life. And now, every time I sit down to work and the words come to lead or drive me along, I tap into that brightness again.
Does that child deserve what she wants? Do I? In the end, I understand that’s up to me.
I choose to do this thing, one word at a time. I choose it again, every day.