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I was a scrawny three year old. Smothered in lotion, as the dog licked me. I was writhing on the floor of our living room. I was screaming. I have itchies. Itchy skin. Itchy. Scarlet fever had taken hold of me at that three years old, and the only long term side effect was a prolonged sensitivity. I don’t know whether it was the sensitivity of my skin, or something that could only be called emotional, but I would ultimately be unsure if i was defined by my illness. Or were these aspects of my being laying in wait for a fever to bring them to the surface. that I hadn’t begun to even feel until after I was ill. But, from then on, I was itchy.

Everything bothered me. This shirt was too scratchy, that one too soft. No haircuts, I’d itch for days afterwards. Absolutely NO SWEATERS. I don’t want a stitch of clothing come Christmas. My skin was never the same. I don’t know whether it simply made me aware of my weaknesses and sensitivities or created new ones.

My mother had bought me a brand new pair of Harry Potter branded round lensed glasses to wear. Transition lenses. High quality. We were in the parking lot at Kohl’s and I was very suddenly very uncomfortable in my shirt. So I needed it to be off. “Watch the glasses!” My mom screamed as we got into the car in this parking lot. She jumped out, grabbed them off my face, and threw them on the roof of the car as I jerked my shirt over my head. My mother glared at me as I put my seatbelt on shirtless and legally blinded by tears and strabismus. She slammed the door and drove away from Kohl’s, veering immediately onto the Long Island Expressway to the Klack Klack Klack of my brand new Transition lenses, high quality, Harry Potter branded new pair of glasses landing in the strange grassy no man’s land at the side of the Long Island Highways. She almost crashed the car as she veered onto the shoulder. She ordered me out of the car, and stood over me as I began searching for the glasses in the miles of litter-strewn tall grass. An hour we looked as hundreds of cars zoomed past, and my mom ended up giving up. I didn’t even get to show my friends how cool these harry potter glasses were, how cool they made me look. Transition lenses. High Quality.

I was a child with a lazy eye. A young child with a lazy eye. Once it stopped being cute my parents brought me to the eye doctor. My left eye is weaker than my right. It can’t keep up. My glasses were ALWAYS bent, crooked, scratched, smudged, missing, or flat out dirty. I kept a spare pair that was tiny oval frames I wore as a kindergartner that were even dirtier. I saw the world differently, literally than my classmates. Always opaque, impressionistic. Either blinded to anything but vague visual vibes without my glasses, or with inflictions of the world literally scratched into my vision. When I was twelve, my world cleared up. I got contact lenses and spent the entire car ride simply looking at the world around me. Was this really what everyone else saw? Everything is smaller. Everything is clearer.

My optometrist asked me, “Have you had any issues with your contacts?” I told her about how blurry they get sometimes. Bleary, actually. She asked how long I’d wear them. “18-20 hours sometimes.” I wasn’t twelve anymore. “Oh.. maybe don’t do that.”

Despite the initial clearing up of my vision, the corrected proportions. Contacts didn’t make the world free from all scratches or scuffs, instead it brought them within me. If I wear them too much, if I work myself too hard, then grow blurry. Light shines a bit duller. It spreads to fill my vision. Like a gilded movie or photograph, sunlight through a window overtakes my entire world. Like the scuffs and dirt that used to be on my glasses, my body makes my vision start to opaque. If I’m tired enough, I stop caring.

I never stop noticing the scuffs and blurriness in my vision. Another form of physical sensitivity. I never stopped blaming it on the fucking scarlet fever. How come so many others can have so many scuffs and bruises and be okay with it? Because they have to be, I guess. You can’t ever get rid of them all.

It has taken me years to be okay with haircuts. My parents used to enlist my extended family to help corral me into the barber, trick me into sitting in the chair. As I grew up, the sensitivity became worse, and worse for those around me. When I needed a vaccination, the doctor would call in five nurses to hold me down.

My contacts made me feel like an adult. No more scratches to separate the world from me. That’s what was holding me back. Now I was in high school. Glasses-free, still chubby as hell. But dauntless. I picked up the trombone. I had my first kiss before band practice and blamed it on my contact lenses. You obviously couldn’t kiss with glasses on. They’d get smudged. The other person would get smudged. Before you know it, you’re looking at an abstracted smudge of a person who just kissed you. A disembodied impression of the other person. Kissing with a trombone in your hand.

Brass instruments capture the cold and store it in their bones. You pick up an instrument and it sucks the heat right out of your hand. Yes you warm yourself up, but you also breathe life into the metal organism in your hands. How many times I’d give life to relationships and friendships and futures with the newly warm brass in my hands. The scuffs on the pre-owned gilded metal seem somehow like badges denoting the experiences it's been through. I’d wonder when I’d get there. When can I look at my blurred experiences with pride over pain?

I used to wear a shirt in the pool. I’d take my glasses off and put a shirt on. Couldn’t have anyone seeing how gargantuan I felt. The scrawny kid with a lazy eye and scarlet fever became the chubby kid with sensitivities and a swimming shirt. I remember being called the fat kid in multiple locker rooms. After years of skipped meals and little sleep, I found myself dodging compliments on my slimmer build and skipping meals to make up the difference.

The scratches and blurs, imperfections within my own life became smaller when joined with someone else’s. Intimacy has helped me monumentally in being able to dwarf my own shortcomings in understanding that not everyone can easily forget theirs. I am not alone. Like my own left eye, I feel strengthened in just being able to keep up with someone else. If I can feel others and see their personal imperfections, intimately, in all kinds of relationships, I feel less alone in the sensitivity of life.

Quarantine leaves me with less excuses to put in my contacts, and less exposure to be sensitive about. I’ve begun to embrace the impressionism within my ambiguity. I don’t need to always be specific. I’ve managed to come to terms with the scratches and blurs within my relationships and life itself. I still wear old glasses, despite having never found the lost pair. I wear my contacts for long days, just to see the bends in the light, to milk the sunshine for all its warmth, and to soften the hardest edges in my life.

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Jan 12, 2021

James, sensitivity, and sight have been two consistent struggles in my life, always with me and neither one ever getting any better, which is why I enjoyed reading your piece. My sight has been depleting gradually since I was little and my doctor says there is a very rare chance I may go blind in at least one eye in my adulthood. I comfort myself with his words "very rare chance," but at every weak moment, this diagnosis is just not good enough.

I laugh at the smudged glasses, as I have been distracted by the smudges on mine the entire day before reading this. Wipe them once, twice, three times, and then eventually give up. Learn to live with…

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