The verb stare has two meanings. Opposite meanings. To look fixedly at someone or something, or to look vacantly. The intensity of the first cannot be denied—often, it’s accompanied by deep concentration or malice. There’s that ‘cold stare’ we offer when pissed or annoyed. It carries the weight of intimidation. Other stares contain anticipation, concern, curiosity, longing, and sometimes just bad manners.

I catch myself staring a lot these days—always a vacant stare. My eyes, unfocused and drifting in different directions, yield two images. I focus on neither. What sits before my eyes is noise, something to ignore.

Yesterday, my vision seems to have degraded. A sharp pain shot through the bottom of my left eye. It felt like something released. If a noise accompanied the pain, it would have been a boing—the sound of a spring breaking. Since then, my double vision has been worse—I think.

I’ve felt this pain before. Years ago, playing racquetball, my opponent elbowed me in the eye. He’s a big dude. He knocked me off my feet and into the air. The corner of my metal framed glasses flattened on impact causing a small gash next to my eye. For a week or so, I sported a black eye. And for the next few years, randomly, pain shot through the eye. I likened it to being bitten by a horsefly on my eyeball. I might be sitting in a meeting and suddenly I would jerk my head back and gasp. Everyone stopped talking and stared at me wondering what the hell my problem was. An eye doctor told me that the pain was caused by damaged nerves coming back to life.

I’ve dealt with double vision most of my adult life. In 1995, I crashed my bicycle into the side of a van and clonked my head something awful. Since that day, my vision has been deteriorating. I simply can’t make my eyes point in the exact same direction, yielding two images instead of one. To fix this, my eye doctor adds prism to my eye-glass lenses. Prisms bend the direction light travels. Even though my eye lists off to the side, it still sees what’s directly in front of me. The eyeball drift gets worse every year.

Shortly after my bike accident, I had surgery to correct the double vision. Now, twenty-five years later, it’s time for surgery again. Meeting with the eye surgeon the other day, he measured the distance my eyes drift apart. “Your case is complicated.” I joked that complicated wasn’t an encouraging diagnosis, and he seemed to get annoyed with me. “That isn’t your diagnosis, just a description of what we’re trying to correct.” What he meant is that not only do my eyes drift apart horizontally, but also vertically. He’ll cut and shorten two muscles in each eye and try to tug my eyeballs into the proper direction so they operate together.

It all seems rather hit and miss. My doctor already cautioned me that there is no guarantee my double vision will be completely gone after surgery. The stated goal is to reduce the double vision dramatically so my vision is easier to correct. Susan and I have differing opinions of what this means. I think there’s a twenty percent chance that they’ll get it right. She thinks there’s a twenty percent chance that they’ll get it wrong.

Now I wonder if yesterday’s boing-event changes anything. I can’t be certain, but it seems like the double vision got worse. Susan says I should message the doctor to let him know about this change, but I’m not even certain my vision changed. Going back to the doctor again would make me feel like a hypochondriac.

As I write this, I pause and stare out my back window while I search for the proper word or phrase. The woods at my property edge blend into a mess. I can’t pull the line of trees into a single image, so I don’t try. It’s more comfortable to look at nothing than doubled images. My surgery is in five weeks. It might take a month after that to get glasses that fully and properly correct my vision. In the meantime, I practice my vacant stare. Hopefully once my vision is fixed, I can break that habit and start to stare again in a more intentional way.

Photo by Matt Noble on Unsplash

27 thoughts on “Staring

  1. Wow, Jeff. I hate the idea of you having to go through this, and yet can’t escape the poetic beauty of how you finish this post practicing a vacant stare. And, this: “If a noise accompanied the pain, it would have been a boing—the sound of a spring breaking.” Visceral. And now I’m still trying to shake off the feeling of a horsefly bite on the eyeball. That sounds truly awful. Hoping you find some relief soon, friend. Glad you’re writing into it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s a good bit of descriptive writing, even though it’s tough news.
    I think mentioning the new incident to the surgeon is not necessary going to get you branded as a hypochondriac!
    Wishing you the best outcome.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have to agree with the other comments here, Jeff. A powerful piece of writing and good that you can connect this way in what you are experiencing. I hope your surgery helps to improve things. Don’t lose the vacant stare completely though. I have perfected the stare to my advantage in my marriage, especially when my wife asks me to do some complicated piece of DIY. (And hope she never reads this.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • My wife has started doing a lot of the DIY herself. Years of experience have shown her I’m not very good at it. Thank you for (yet more) positive feedback on this post. I never know what’s going to land well.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Boing! You forgot to add cartoon birdies circling your head😂 I may have seen way too many Tom & Jerry cartoons.
    I always have something wrong with me too, and it’s never anything as simple as an infection 🤪 I don’t know that seeing the doctor again now would do anything. They usually want to see or talk to you right before the procedure, so if it’s still an issue then, you could mention it🤷🏼‍♀️

    Since I’m a “pragmatic eternal optimist with a touch a cynicism”, I’m thinking your surgery will improve the ability for the glasses to help. 😂😂is that vague enough? Kinda like a blank stare, eh?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right, no birdies but I need to get points for the boing. For me, the ultimate boing is in a pop will eat itself song. When I think boing, it’s their boing I hear. I’m pretty sick of having crap wrong with me. I saw my primary care physician the other day. She wants me to go to the podiatrist to get fungus cut out of my toe nail, and she wants me to get an MRI because my thumb is still numb from falling off my bike six months ago. I’m at my capacity for medical intervention. I think I’m going to put all of her stuff off until after I heal from surgery. I just can’t add anything else. Happy Sunday,


  5. Eyesight… such a huge and phenomenal piece of consciousness that most of us take for granted. Thanks for sharing your story with honesty, heart, perspective (pardon the pun), and a healthy mix of seriousness and humor. Hang in there, brother.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I feel for you, Jeff. Reading your post, which is both informative and descriptive, makes me feel very lucky to have pretty good vision with glasses. Your writing is always excellent (in my opinion) despite all your eye and other health issues. I can understand you being fed up with all the medical interventions ( I have a fair deal myself and often feel like a walking prescription!).

    I’m glad your operation isn’t too far into the future, and I wish you so much good fortune and success with it. It certainly sounds like the doctor knows what he is talking about, even if he’s not the easiest of people to deal with. I can’t imagine how frustrating and upsetting it must be not to be able to see correctly, and that horsefly bite on the eyeball sounds excruciatingly painful. It’s incredible what can be achieved with glasses and prisms.

    You might remember me mentioning my son-in-law, who has Sarcoidosis, which affects both eyes. He’s had two operations, one on each eye, and now, stronger glasses (again). It has improved his eyesight, although having a different condition from you means he will lose his sight altogether at some point … and that’s not meant as an ‘it could be worse’ comment at all, but to offer that surgery has been very helpful to him at the times after he had them and healed up. I wish the same outcome for you – the improvement, I mean, not the disease! Good luck, Jeff. Sorry for yet another lengthy comment. Do your eyesight problems make it difficult for you to read and write your blog at all?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, regardless of your intention, I think it’s always good for me to remember that it could always be worse and I’ve got plenty of blessings to count. My vision has been affecting my reading for several months now. I’ve quit reading novels because reading isn’t very enjoyable so I don’t dive into big chunks of time any more. I’ve been reading a lot of shorter essays (which I think has improved my writing). Work is becoming increasingly difficult and my productivity is falling off. From my POV, this surgery can’t come soon enough. I love your lengthy comments. By the way, thank you for your myriad imbedded compliments. I soak each one in and cherish it.

      Liked by 1 person

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