In early November, I participated in a panel at the American Educational Studies Association’s Annual Conference in Pittsburgh with my co-researcher, Minkie English. As we prepped for the conference over text weeks before, her in United States and me in Costa Rica, it dawned on me that I needed to look “presentable.”
I also realized that I haven’t worn makeup since 2012.
(Now don’t get me wrong, I am sure I could have presented with my normal au natural look but appearances still matter in professional settings and the work that we were presenting was important and now was not the time to make a statement. It was time to just buy the damn mascara.)
Rewind to a few days before the conference. I had just arrived in Toronto and decided to buy some makeup. I had a mini meltdown in a local drugstore staring at products that were completely foreign to me. The eye products alone were overwhelming: stuff for the eyebrows, the bottom lashes, the top lashes, eyelids, under the eye, the crease of the eye, the brow bone. Sweet Jesus.
I knew what I had to do. Time for the bat signal.
“Mom, relax. You…can…buy…not…don’t…”
“Honey, the connection is bad. WHAT – DO – I – NEED – TO – BUY?”
Disconnected. My eldest daughter was in London, and for some reason, the call couldn’t go through. This was the universe telling me to pull up my big girl pants and just buy anything. For God’s sakes, it’s just makeup. After wandering the aisles for another ten minutes, with my head spinning as to what type of lashes I wanted – Voluminous? Extended? Lush? – I gave up and bought a chocolate bar.
I headed back to my in-laws house in Toronto where I face planted on my 15 year old daughter’s bed, exhausted from an excess of options. She said that I should use some old makeup that my eldest left behind. GREAT IDEA. I packed up various pencils, brushes, tubes, and left for Pittsburgh, armed and ready to look “presentable.”
I put on mascara to make my eyelashes look voluminous, extended, and lush of course, and brushed my hair (also another new thing for me). Besides the Uggs that Minkie made me replace with boots borrowed from her, I not only spoke like an academic researcher, I looked like one too.
At the end of the day, Minkie asked me if my eyes were ok. They were red. I said not really. They felt a little dry and tired but that’s it.
Long story short, we did an amazing job, high fived, and went our separate ways again. I went back to Toronto to finish my visit and flew back to Costa Rica with just my husband and my youngest son, Joaquin. Our flight had been cancelled and we had to stay in the airport overnight (this will later be relevant to the story). We made it home eventually.
With only one child with us at home, it was strange and bittersweet. It happened so fast. When I returned to work, everyone asked if I was ok, if I needed anything. I said that I would be fine. Empty nesting took us by surprise. Our house felt so big. By the end of November, my eyes were killing me, especially my left eye. Before the day was over, I ripped out my contact lenses from my eyes and asked my colleagues if they noticed anything in my eye. They said that my eyes had been red since I got back and they just assumed I had been crying missing my kids or tired from crying all night.
Yes I love my kids but anyone that knows me also knows that I am not an excessive weeper. And definitely not crying for two weeks. At this point, you might be wondering why I hadn’t noticed my red eyes or why my husband or son didn’t notice. We don’t really have mirrors in our house and my contact lenses normally get sand in them from daily beach time which would explain the soreness. Also my husband and I see each other at night or at dawn before the sunrise where in both cases, it’s pretty dark.
I immediately made an appointment with an ophthalmologist who asked me a series of questions:
Did I wear old makeup while wearing my contact lenses?
Did I leave my contact lenses in my eyes overnight?
Did I get sand and debris in my contact lenses on a regular basis?
After admitting to all of the above, she lectured me on the dangers of contact lenses. She takes some eyeball pictures and there it is – a corneal ulcer on my left eye and general hypoxia in both eyes. I have to wear an eye patch for a week to cover my left eye and wear sunglasses over my glasses for my right eye. I also have to put several types of drops in my eyes every hour. She doesn’t know how long it will take to heal.
We have to wait and, pardon the pun, see.
My eyes are on the mend and I have fancy new glasses. No more contact lenses and I need to rest my eyes more. Thankfully the pain is gone and I can still see. This past month I spent a lot of time in the dark when my eyes were too painful to open. I thought about life without sight. I saw the world differently with one eye. Reading was tiring. The visual field was too much. I had been wearing contact lenses for thirty years and never let my eyes breathe. They had been suffocated. They needed rest.
When I stopped using my eyes, I listened more. I used my imagination again. I could see in other ways. Ironically, wearing old makeup that led to the eye injury was for a conference that led me to connect with a different perspective on the second half of my life. A new line of sight.
My word is VISION.
I turn 45 years old this year. Most of my children have left home or are leaving home this year. For the first time, I have no idea where my children will be physically located by the end of this year. All I know is what I need to do right now which is go buy some fresh new makeup to match my new spectacles.
I will be exploring this word this week and create some ways to check in with the word through the year.
What word feels right for you for 2023?