I always go swimming with them, but this is the first time an ocean has slapped them off my face. Without my glasses, crossing streets at night is all bokeh and danger, and finding restaurants without asking is nearly impossible, and about the only thing I can do close to normal is read things held a foot or less in front of my face. The only thing I can do better than normal, I found out, is pretend not to see souvenir vendors trying to get my attention. Just last week S was telling me that the Native Americans believed that long hair signified a strength in spirit, intuition. A sixth sense. During Vietnam, the war department recruited scouts from Indian reservations and found, after giving them military haircuts, that they had lost their “extrasensory” abilities. When I Skype with S and tell her what happened, she says, “Now you’ll just have to use your hair.”
I don’t have to use my hair for long. A popular guidebook says this about my next destination: “Trujillo doesn’t have much to interest potential shoppers, unless you need eyeglasses.” There I walk down Jiron Bolivar at nine-thirty in the morning and there must be two dozen opticas, just on a single block. I go into the only one with an old Peruvian man behind the counter (all the others have young female sales associates staring down either at their phones or their nails – I can’t tell which). Yo perdí mis lentes, I say. I lost my glasses. His urgency is even greater than mine, and he ushers me into the examination room and has me stare into a box for three minutes at a picture of a red house that goes in and out of focus. I spend two minutes picking out a frame with the sales clerk, one minute trying to tell her and the guy No, I don’t need the polycarbonate lenses (sin polycarbon, sin polycarbon), and two and a half hours later I come back to the shop and I can see again.
I’ve gone through nine or ten pairs of glasses since I first started wearing them in the third grade. It’s still the adjustment period with these new lenses, getting used to the slightly stronger prescription and also to the peripheral distortions that are particular to each individual pair. A new pair of glasses is very literally a new filter on your brain. Pretty soon I will have adapted to my new reality.
In the long hours before I arrived in Trujillo, in between naps and staring at a Kindle screen with the type set two sizes bigger, I was imagining a contingency plan that involved roughing it through my remaining week in South America; imagining what it would be like to get back home finally and put on my spare glasses that have a prescription that is five years old. It occurred to me today that to go back to my previous routine in Brooklyn would be like putting on that old pair of glasses: a familiar reality, with familiar distortions, but no longer as crisp, because travel is full of waves, whether real or metaphorical, that blindside then bestow on you a pair of new eyes. One thing I’ve seen these past few months is the value of that which is unplanned. One thing I see now is that the distinction between travel and “regular life” is arbitrary. It is possible to live, even staying in one place, as though you were traveling all the time.
So if you were getting sick of these travel updates, I have news for you: they’re not stopping anytime soon.