May 11, 2011

Blind As A...

Yesterday I headed over to our friendly neighborhood DMV during my lunch break to get my name changed. I had specifically waited until late afternoon so as to avoid the lunchtime crowd and get in and out as quickly as humanly possible. The website reported that the current wait time was 6 minutes and 48 seconds, so I was optimistic. Ha.
The line just to get screened took over 20 minutes, and I was lucky enough to stand behind a guy who smelled of stale smoke and a uniform that hadn't been washed in the past month. A real winner. He told the guy in front of him that it was his fourth time there for the same thing, and then I listened to the woman behind the counter explain to him that he needed to bring in a receipt confirming that he had paid his ticket before his license could be reinstated. If I hadn't still been standing in line, I probably would have found it all very funny, but at that point I just wanted to get out of that building as fast as possible. As long as that didn't mean crossing paths with him again.
I finally got the paperwork and sat to fill in every detail of my life in the past 23.5 years (including the still-painful admission of the speeding ticket I got back in 2009... for which I may or may not have muttered a few choice words under my breath to that damn state trooper) I was eventually called to the window of an adorable little old lady with a horrendously color-blocked silk shirt and elastic waisted pants that didn't quite match. Endearing. She looked over my info and then instructed me to "look into that little machine thing and read the top line." I was a little surprised, since my license didn't actually expire until next year, but I wasn't going to argue. I stooped at an awkward angle and shoved my forehead against the lever to turn on the light.
And blinked. And blinked again. Line two was definitely legible. Line 1? Not so much. I struggled to focus and mumbled out a few possibilities. The sweet old lady interrupted -- "No no dear, line one."
I tried to look surprised and ducked my head for another attempt. I got through maybe 5 of the 12 letters before she stopped me again. "The top line," she said, "the very. top. line." I had to stop myself from glaring at her.
This time I made it through all 12 letters. The ones in the middle had been a little easier, but I was essentially guessing at both ends of the line. I looked up and she just shook her head. "Try again," she instructed, and her tone betrayed the slightest bit of annoyance. I gulped and went for it again.
She looked me square in the eye, exasperation now quite clear. "You don't wear glasses?" she questioned.
I managed to squeak a "No, ma'am" and quickly added, "I've never had trouble with this before." Likely story, said her expression. She explained that I had gotten only 7 of the 12 letters correct, which was not enough to pass the screening.
It was at this point that my hands started to shake. My parents both wear glasses, and my mom is convinced that I need them too (hi, mom!). But I've never had trouble reading, or seeing the board in class (even at the back of a lecture hall), or discerning things that are far away. My eyes get tired when I start at a computer screen all day, which I do every day these days, but I never struggle to see it. And once, years ago, I did have trouble with the vision test at a doctor's appointment. The next time I went in, though, I passed just fine and the nurse chalked it up to a fluke day.
By this time, though, my stomach was flopping around and my mind was whizzing. What is wrong with me? Am I blind and I just don't realize it? Have I been a terribly unsafe driver all these years, weaving down the highway and causing great peril for every carload of innocents who dared to venture into the adjoining lanes? And beyond this: what was going to happen? Would I have my license revoked? Would I have to hitch a ride back to work with the smelly guy who had gotten too many tickets? Would my father's unending patience be tested if he had to give me rides to and from work for the next month?
I must have looked like a frightened puppy, because the old lady gave a little sigh and said "Why don't we try you on another machine?" So I followed her down the row to a second set of eyeholes, took a deep breath, and looked through.
When I finished the line this time, having blurted out all 12 letters as quickly as possible, I was too terrified to look up. These had certainly been easier to read -- not exactly crystal clear, but significantly less blurred than the original machine. I gulped and peered up at my own personal Atropos.
"Perfect!" she clapped, instantly restored to her sweet, grandmotherly persona. And with a little flutter, my heart started to beat again.



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