I’m eleven years old when I get my first pair of glasses and it’s not until I am sitting in Mr. Pedrin’s math class at the back of the room and not squinting that I fully understand what “clarity” is. My frames are thick, clear, round plastic, and the lenses are just a fraction of the thickness they would later be. They are a new and vital accessory and I feel strangely cool for needing them. They make me feel wise and old and I am proud of this feeling, too. I treat them, at first, with such care, always looking out for them, always cleaning them with spray and with special cloths. I store them carefully in my little black eyeglass case and keep them near my bed so I can put them on when I wake up first thing in the morning. I think of them as doctor’s gloves or a stethoscope: a special tool necessary for completing a special task and I think of them as if they were made of pure gold. My first summer at Camp Arcadia, in an afternoon of goofing off with the other campers, my glasses get knocked off my face and one of the lenses pops out, falling unscratched and perfectly intact onto the cabin floor. I scream as though my arm has been ripped off of my body and I don’t stop screaming until a counselor rushes in to help me put my sight back together. It’s only then that I realize my glasses are indeed plastic and, like all things, impermanent. From that point on, my obsession with glasses began and I begged for new frames at every opportunity believing that each visit to the eye doctor’s warranted a new pair of frames in a different color. My parents heartily disagreed.
That year my father retired from being a guidance counselor. A retirement party/roast was held for him by one of his colleagues at a lake house on Lake Champlain and, not having been able to find a babysitter for me, my parents brought me along. My memories of the evening include raucous laughter, darkness seeping in around the edges of tall pine trees at sunset while candle light and loud music illuminated the dark spaces, and this grand roast. I’d had no idea what a roast was and, expecting a large BBQ, I sat around patiently waiting for it to happen. While I imagined potato chips and well-done hamburgers were on their way, what came instead was, in fact, a large piece of plywood with three bras stapled onto it. A very large bra at the top (with cups larger than my eleven year old head) had beneath it the plaque “Cha-boobs.” Below it, a medium sized bra (of more moderate proportions, I thought, but still quite large) had beneath it the plaque “Cha-bubs,” and finally, a wee bra was labeled “Chubellinis.” (This last one I figured I might be able to grow into someday, and while this display was stored in our basement for the next decade or so, there were times when I thought it would be alright to unstaple the thing from the plywood and wear it, though I never did because it just felt wrong to do such a thing.) This display made all the teachers at the party, including my parents, keel over from laughter. I realized it must have been an inside joke, some crass thing my Boston-Italian father had shared with his colleagues over his years at the school, and while I’m sure I giggled at the sight of everyone laughing and of the three bras stapled to plywood, for the most part that night and for the years that followed, I mostly was afraid that I might one day have Cha-boobs myself, and I secretly hoped for something a little more in proportion with the rest of my little body. However, if I knew then that my body would never grow to more than 5’2″ tall, maybe I wouldn’t have prayed so heartily and instead asked for something in the Cha-bubs category. Ask and ye shall receive, and all.
Along with Cha-boobs, Cha-bubs, and Chubellinis came another C-word: Cancer. By the time my middle school years were over, my father would have had several major surgeries, one of his kidneys would be removed, and he’d have undergone chemo and radiation, had two stays in Hospice, and a couple visiting nurses. During that time I’d had my first kiss, suffered from any number of acne breakouts, and a terrible haircut that the stylist swore made me look like Demi Moore in Ghost but really only made me look like a twelve-year-old boy, all while my father was back and forth between Brigham and Women Hospital in Boston and Vermont, in and out of radiation treatments, and in and out of wheelchairs. It was not an easy time and I’d be lying if I told you I had many memories of it. There’s not much I care to remember, though, because I can’t say that radiation maps on my dad’s back, or the sound of him in pain, or the smell of disinfectant in our living room, or the sight of a walker or even the temporary ramp my uncle built and attached to our front steps are things that make me happy to think back on. That time was marked by a silence in the wood shop downstairs, the dying of the tobacco and sawdust smells I’d come to know as my father’s, and a separation of the three of us who lived in our house—a floating off to different spaces for us all. I was too young to grasp the spinning of the world and my parents knew it. Had the tables been turned, I would have done the same. How’s a thirteen year-old to know what it means to say goodbye?
November, 8th grade. I am a thirteen year-old co-captain of our undefeated basketball team. We are playing a home game and we are on the offense. Never in my two years of playing have I sunk a basket, though not for lack of trying. I’ve been playing basketball since fourth grade and have attended all the practices and followed through with all the drills. During practice I’m alright. During games is a different story. I’ve come to be a very good passer. To fool our opponents, our coach has taught us to call out the name of the drill we’re going to run: “capice” in keeping with the C-words, I suppose, and with the Italian. “Capice!” the point guard calls and I jump to my place. Before I know it, I receive a pass and without regard to where I am or what Capice instructs me to do, I jump up, aim, and release the ball from my hands. I stand to see where it goes and for a moment I know it will do what it always does: hit the net and float beneath the backboard and out of bounds. But this day is different because I see the net grow full having swallowed the ball and I turn to the crowd and to my coach, my mouth wide open in complete disbelief. While many in the crowd may think I’m cheering because I’ve just scored two more points for my team, I’m really just amazed I actually scored anything at all.
This would be a moment of triumph. And while the other girls, those who regularly scored 20 or 30 points a game continued to do just that, it would be a moment I would remember not for my skill, not for the team building, but for my mom and for my coach. My mom would tell this story to anyone who would listen and we would understand the relief we both felt at my finally having scored a point. And my coach, that same Mr. Pedrin in whose class I sat with my brand new glasses in fifth grade, awarded me the MVP for the game, realizing that year I could use all the support I could get.
Last night after my mother read this post, she left a voicemail for me. In it she reminded me that the basketball game in which I finally scored my first points had been recorded by someone, I’m not sure whom. That the basketball game was recorded was not important on its own, but that it was broadcast on our public access channel was, as it was a rare thing to see middle school sports on this channel. Although at the time of the game my father was in a hospital bed in our living room and thus unable to attend the game in person, he was able to watch television. And so it was that my dad saw my only basket of my sports career, on the television, in our living room. Long after the fact, of course, but he saw it for sure.
All this I had forgotten until my mother’s voicemail. How thankful we should be for other people’s memories, when ours become so clouded with forgetfulness. How thankful I am tonight for this bright light slicing through the fog of those years.
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