My glasses broke last week. The left arm snapped clean off, leaving me with a lorgnette.
I’ve worn glasses all my adult life. Without them, the world three feet in front of my nose devolves into fuzzy blobs, which is a problem because I’m five feet tall and without glasses the ground is two feet out of visual range. I dug my backup pair out of the sock drawer, but they were an old prescription, the slight focal improvement they offered more than offset by the blinding headache they generated. Time to pay that long-postponed visit to the optician.
I waited for the bus in a foul mood, holding my broken glasses to my eyes with one hand and the post of the bus stop with the other to maintain balance as gusts of wind threw grit into my face and attempted to shove me off the sidewalk. It was an amazing wind, from the south, warm and violent. When the bus came, I climbed aboard and fell into to the first available seat. Around me, everyone discussed the tornados that had devastated the southern states the day before, or compared power outages in their neighborhoods, or exclaimed as we passed toppled trees and blown-over benches.
We came to a stop in an open area by the river. A tiny woman, ninety pounds tops, stepped off the bus but didn’t immediately make it to the ground. She hung in the air for at least a second, her weight insufficient to overcome the lift of the wind. At the sight of her, suspended two feet above the ground, I relived a memory.
Years ago, when my clothes were still sized in single digits, I had a similar experience while working as a deckhand on a package freighter. We’d sailed into a November storm in the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. The boat rolled at the best of times and the waves were just far enough apart to lift the bow and slam it back into the water with juddering force. This combination of pitch and roll had everyone on the boat hanging over a bucket regurgitating lunch – except me.
I don’t know what it’s like in today’s merchant marine, but back then, sailors still had some superstitious resistance to having women on board. I’d taken a lot of flak from my crew mates and perhaps that was why, when I noticed the latch on the forward paint locker wasn’t properly dogged down, I decided, in a moment of absolute insanity, to flaunt my stronger stomach by going forward to dog the latch before the hatch flew open and paint cans spilled all over the deck.
I made it about half the length of the ship, hand-over-handing along the rail. Then a gust of wind hit me at the exact instant I switched hands, just as the deck pitched down and rolled out from under me. For the longest moments of my life, I hung over the water, convinced I was about to find out whether the old adage of lives flashing before eyes was true. But the wind held me up until the return roll brought the deck under my feet again. I grabbed the railing and pulled myself back to crew quarters.
Like me, the tiny woman landed safely on the ground, re-igniting the overwhelming relief I’d experienced when my feet finally touched down.
There were power outages all over town. The only optician still open, out at the mall, was beyond my price range. I didn’t get new glasses.
Normally, the frustration of wasting an entire day being bashed around town by the wind, holding up my glasses like some dorky eighteenth century opera aficionado, would have darkened my mood to the verge of violence. But the endorphins generated while reliving my narrow escape from a watery grave turned the experience into a glorious quest, a wonderful adventure battling the demon wind.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sure as heck can improve a crappy day.