T H E  A M P  D I A R Y

Monday, 22 May 2000.
Near-sighted? Or just short-sighted?

Last night I visited my sister. She'd just had a bath and her hair was wrapped in a towel, her skin free of make-up. We stood by the window while she smoked a cigarette and told me how her ex-husband saw a live sex show. She looked radiant, with her plump face and smooth amber-y skin. I admired her face, mentally tracing the whispered purple smudge below each eye, the soft depression by the mouth like the pull of a little finger. But when I put my glasses on and turned to her, the velvety peachness had become skin's usual poreishness, pockiness: the dimply reality of a real girl's skin. I could see everything. I could see people coming out of the house across the road: could see the eye movements of the actors on television on the other side of the room. I could see.

My mind's eye is a tv baby in 3d glasses that turns everyone I see into a star. I blur strangers into friends and acquaintances into strangers. The plain become luminous, the luminous, gods. My girl friends should surely be models: my boy friends, rock stars. Glasses shatter these illusions. When I look in the mirror with my glasses on, I see freckles, dimples, lines on my face; they smash the porcelain plate I imagine my face to be. When I put my glasses on, I feel like a spy. Faces, gestures, a flash of eye contact - all jump into focus. Surfaces dazzle. Lights normally refracted in the dome of my myopia become pinpricks. Stars shine. A pretty girl across the room whispers, and I can lipread. I notice nudges and nuances: details of shoes, the shrug of a shoulder. A dull bus journey becomes transformed when I slip my glasses on: the street is mine. I'm a Femme Nikita, high up in my tower, peeping down on the masses below through the telescopic sights of my long-barreled rifle. I could take anyone out with the crook of a finger, so keen is my vision. I could shoot straight through the heart of that boy running into Marks and Spencer behind his heavy-laden mother: could knock that Marlboro Light right out from between that girl's fingers, and leave her curving jewel-studded nails intact.

Like any good fairy-tale, each gift comes with a price: the little mermaid, for example, exchanged the power of speech for human legs. I treasure the fact that I have very little idea of what I really look like. I know details: I've got red hair. I'm curvy. I like red coats and trainers; floral jumble-sale frocks, coloured stockings. I've got pale skin and a round babyface. But I refuse to put my glasses on and really examine these things lest it all falls apart, the cartoon image I have of myself deteriorating into a discomfiting reality. Most women have low self-esteem, they say. Not me, because I think I'm invisible. If I can't see people, I reason, like a child closing one eye and blocking out her mother with an index finger, then they can't see me.

When I wear my glasses, I gain the gift of sight, but lose my precious invisibility. When I put my glasses on, they don't feel like what they are - After Eight-thin slivers of glass in a neat, square black frame. They feel like binoculars glued to my eyes, protruding 5 inches above my face. I'm conspicuous. I've appeared in the world. I am one of them; as real to others as they become to me. And I know I'm changed: from cartoon sexy redhead in my head to the lumpen, mismatched figure I sometimes catch sight of in the mirror. With glasses I can see: but at what cost?

In other words, dear readers: should I get contact lenses?

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