No Turning Back

Some things can be returned. A borrowed book, that card I sent to someone who moved away, a favor, a compliment, an invitation. Some things can not be sent back. You commit. You’re stuck. I mean, you’re committed.

I’m not usually one for buying something and then returning it. I don’t order everything I want from online vendors and then ship back what I don’t want. And I rarely change my mind once I’ve decided on something. But the other day I spent a ridiculous sum on new glasses and knew immediately that I’d made a bad move.

I’ve been needing new glasses. I could tell. There was that inkling of fatigue lately, that feeling of squinting and still not quite seeing clearly so I made an appointment to see the ophthalmologist.  My intention was to have him check my vision and have my old frames updated with a new prescription. Easy, right?

The place I go to for eyeglasses is in one of those rich parts of the city. The first thing you see when you walk in is the main lobby full of shiny glass cases displaying fabulous frames. But they don’t let you linger there ever. It’s a tease. So I didn’t get to just poke around. Instead, I was directed upstairs to the little waiting area outside the exam rooms to sit on a very cute but too soft, too small sofa. (Like the one the three bears have in storage.) Here I spent six minutes in my old glasses leafing through magazines. Mind you, this eyeglass place doesn’t have the kinds of magazines I remember from doctor’s offices or the dentist. There’s nothing interesting like National Geographic, nothing timely, like Time, nothing gossipy, like People. There’s no Bazaar, no Look, not even the great equalizer – the AAA travel guide. These were high-end style “zines” brimming with minimalist architecture, interior design for people who don’t live at home, lots of spacious and dimly lit rooms looking out at impossible vistas. There were glistening plates of mysterious cuisine floating in nameless glazes and reductions, and page after page of listless, bored models drenched in ostentatious jewelry. Kind of intimidating. It’s the perfect set-up to make an ordinary working stiff feel as if the elegant side of life has passed her by.

Finally, a very nice young tech directed me to “Exam 1” – the first room. Here she had me rest my chin and/or forehead on a variety of instruments to check the pressure in my eyes and take a scan of the retinas. I left at least an ounce of tinted moisturizer from my chin and/or forehead on the machines, but my retinas are marvelous. She had to do the scan a few times because it’s so sensitive to movement. I kept going from seeing the blue light to seeing the red – green is just right but it’s tricky. When we finally finished, I was returned to the squishy miniature sofa, dazed and a little blind.

After a few more minutes of magazine-induced self-consciousness, I was taken to “Exam 2” where the ophthalmologist was set up to test my vision.

“You should see a little farmhouse slowly going in and out of focus.” Check.

“What’s the smallest line of text you can read with your left eye? Now the right.” Check.

“Which is clearer, 1, or 2? Now, 2, or 4?” After a few tries it’s all more clear or less clear and eventually they all look the same.

But then, eventually, we were done.

The doc told me I’d done a perfect job and that he was happy with my retinas. (Again, with the retinas!) Then he told me all about his house in Marin, bursting with framed art – even in the bathrooms. Next, he told me to go ahead downstairs where the optometrist would fit me with new glasses.

A young woman wearing very stylish glasses seemed thrilled with the prospect of helping me. I explained to her that I just needed new lenses – I already had extra frames. She seemed focused on her mission.

 “Let me just show you a few…You are eligible for a discount.”

Temptation was doing its evil work on me already. Before I knew it, we’d tried nearly a dozen.

“If you like those, let me show you a few others!”

At this point I was getting tired and ready for lunch. I’d narrowed my choices down to a sensible black frame – something Nana Mouskouri might have worn in the 1960’s. The young optometrist wasn’t happy yet though. (Should I have mentioned my retinas??) She brought me a gorgeous pair of glasses with bright red frames. Red? Me? To please her I went ahead and tried them on. She was ecstatic. “You look amazing!”

A close friend was supposed to meet me at any minute, and I was wishing she’d come and help me decide. I just needed new lenses. Really. I do have other expenses. Can’t be spending money recklessly on glamorous new glasses in cherry red – or shall we say, “Rich Girl Red?!” The sheer multitude of choices had me in a state of fatigue and confusion. Plus, I was getting hungry. I decided to try on the red glasses one more time just when my friend arrived.

“Oh man – I love those! You HAVE got to get them!” She would say that. She loves me in red. The optometrist smiled broadly. She knew she was winning. I had to admit they did look stunning. I told myself several things; “They are very well made. They’ll last for years – in fact, next time I can just get new lenses!” I said these things aloud. (And silently I told myself I looked younger, richer, more fabulous.) I also really wanted this task off my list. Besides, if I ended up looking fabulous and stylish, so much the better. Let’s do this. And just like that, I plunked down my credit card on the shiny glass case.

At lunch my friend kept up the conversation. I suggested we split something. I can’t be throwing money around on a fancy meal – I’ve got some expensive new frames to pay for. Also, for a cold morning, it sure was getting warm in the restaurant.

After lunch we did some shopping. I helped my friend pick out a few things. I didn’t really look at anything for myself. I wouldn’t be needing any new clothes for a while. I’ll be living in jeans and a sweatshirt with my new incredibly chic new red glasses! Buyer’s remorse they call it. And I had it bad.

I’m not, nor have I ever been a person for whom money flows easily. I came from a big, working-class family. There were years of powdered milk, second-hand dresses, and family-size everything. But we always had good shoes and good dental care. There were rules about these things. If it was important, you spent what needed to be spent. But this was bordering on crazy. This was dangerously close to frivolous, reckless. Plus, I’m retired. Plus, we need to replace the sofa cushions. Plus, I’ve got some dental work coming up. Plus, am I really a red eyeglasses person?! Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that night. Who could sleep? I’d invested hundreds – much more than I’d planned to spend – on cherry red eyeglasses! I’ll soon be seen walking around hungry but in European glamour from the neck up!

The next morning – when it was finally ten o’clock and the eyeglass place was open – I got on the phone. The optometrist who had helped me wasn’t there. Instead, I spoke with a very nice young man. He explained that my order could not be cancelled since it had already been billed. I could have cried. He also said that my magnificent frames do come in other colors and that I could find them online – a British company. I could have cancelled my order the day before when I was two doors down from the eyeglass place having half a lunch. Now it was too late. If I’m too proud to ask for a take-out box for my fries, I’m too proud to try to tantrum my way out of a transaction. Still, spending that much for red eyeglasses is just too much. (What if they clash with my lipstick? You must be careful with reds.) But really, shouldn’t I have gorgeous specs that make me and my incredible retinas happy?? I’ve worked hard. Even a retired member of the working class ought to have a pair of glasses that might turn a head or two as she orders her half of lunch. I can do this. Turns out the same frames come in a dark tortoise color called Black Havana. Black Havana. Now that’s even cooler than cherry red! So mysterious, so exotic, so Lucy and Desi. Here I go again. Still swept up, still too proud to cancel a sale. Some things can not and should not be returned. Black Havana, you’re mine.



  1. I call my recently purchased pair of giant blue Ray Ban clear lens glasses “my $500 mistake.” $500 isn’t much for eyeglasses these days. These were “reasonable” because I decided to try single vision lenses. Enough with the progressives! (another mistake)…Now I really need progressives!

    I recall an experience similar to yours at an optometrist’s office where I was nudged to spend $1200 on a pair of glasses (chic Anne & Valentins) and then got fired from my job the next day. I was close to hysterical. There went my vacation pay…

    Next time, look for Kala frames…made in San Francisco and pretty reasonably priced.

    Miss your ass.

    Liked by 1 person

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