Because we were seated in alphabetical order in the classroom, my desk was in the very back, which was just fine with me. The teacher couldn’t really see me from her desk, so I could spend much of the time working on much more important things than math or spelling problems, like the designing the costume for my current superhero creation, the Dart.
The Dart’s superpower was harnessing gravity. He could fly because his suit was impregnated with dust from a meteorite that, when subjected to an electromagnetic current, had anti-gravity properties. He could also shoot a gravity beam out of his glove, which either made objects (or people) very heavy or made them float. He could also shoot a double gravity/anti-gravity beam that would rip things apart.
One vitally important question was whether he should have a cape. I was ambivalent about capes. Why were they necessary? Did they serve any function or were they simply decorative? How was Superman able to hide that big red flowing thing under Clark Kent’s clothes, anyway? On the other hand, my superheroes seemed somehow naked without them, and drawing muscular backs was much harder than drawing capes.
I could doodle all I wanted in my notebook uninterrupted so long as I kept one ear open for when the teacher might direct a question to me, or for when it was my turn to read. I was pretty good at not getting so distracted that I lost track of what was going on in the classroom. That would have been a disaster, but I was an expert at faking paying full attention, and I seldom got caught not knowing what the rest of the class was working on.
The problem came when I was asked to read something from the blackboard. For some reason, everything the teacher wrote on it was fuzzy; it was like she was writing with the side of the stick of chalk, not with the tip. I didn’t know why she couldn’t write more clearly. Squinting helped a little, but usually I had to leave my seat and walk halfway to the front of the classroom until I could read what she’d written. For some reason, the other kids didn’t seem to have the same difficulty.
One Saturday afternoon Mom, Dad, Linda and I were in the car on the way to a movie at a new theater in a part of town we didn’t usually go to. Dad asked Mom to read the street signs so he didn’t miss his turn. I had the idea of showing off my reading skills and beating her to it, but she was able to announce the street names before I could see the letters as anything more than gray smear.
The movie was “South Pacific,” which I would have really liked if it hadn’t been so out of focus. I don’t know why nobody in the whole theater, including Mom and Dad, complained. Mom, especially, loved musicals, and it must have driven her crazy that it was so hard to see.
I asked her about it when we got home. That led me to tell her about the fuzzy street signs and blackboard at school, as well.
The eye doctor asked me if I read a lot. I told him that I did, and that I liked to draw. He told me that kids who read and write a lot often became nearsighted, which was really something to be proud of because it meant that I was probably a really good student. I wasn’t fooled; I knew what this meant. I needed glasses.
Oh, great! I was a small, skinny kid, not very good at sports, and now glasses, the ultimate mark of the nerd. Anything but that! I told Mom I didn’t want them, that I would figure out ways to get by without them. But the eye doctor explained that it would likely only get worse with time. What about playing baseball? Would I be able to see the ball? Not to mention movies and TV. Did I really want not to be able to enjoy them? So I got fitted for glasses, which would be ready in a week.
A week. One single week. I felt like a condemned man, the clock inexorably ticking off the minutes until my final midnight. In seven short days I would be consigned to eternal dork-dom.
I spent the first few days of that week in total misery. Life as I knew it would soon be over forever. I dreaded the razzing I was certain to take the first day I showed up in class wearing them. But after a while I began to think of ways it might not be so bad. Maybe I could talk the teacher into letting me sit in the front row, so I wouldn’t have to wear them to school. I wouldn’t mind wearing them to watch TV in the privacy of my own house, or in the movie theater, where it was dark and nobody could see. Baseball might be a problem, true, but baseball season was months away, and I decided not to worry about it until then. In the meantime, I was pretty sure Mom wouldn’t let me play football with glasses on.
To distract myself from worrying about my impending doom, I turned to my main source of solace, my comic books. I was reading the newest Superman when it suddenly struck me: Clark Kent wears glasses. And he doesn’t look like a moron! He looks like a normal guy who happens to wear glasses. Dare I say he even looks a bit stylish in his well-cut suit and black-rimmed glasses.
I had been thinking about this all wrong. I had been torturing myself for no reason. When my super powers finally arrived, I would need a secret identity, wouldn’t I? And what better way to disguise myself than the same way Superman did. After all, as the eye doctor had pointed out, I needed to wear them because I was a reader, a writer and an artist. They were a sign of superior brainpower, the perfect camouflage for a brawny being with super strength.
As the day my glasses would be ready came closer, my fears turned to anticipation. I started to believe that glasses might very well make me look, not like some skinny little nerd, but like a studious and serious young man. They would make me seem more grown up, more competent, more like Clark Kent. In fact, with my jet black hair, the same color as Superman’s, and my cool new glasses, my classmates would probably notice a more than passing resemblance to Superman’s alter ego.
I was wrong. With my new glasses on I could see that all too clearly.