All of my similarities with my father sometimes cause me to jolt up out of my sleep in the middle of the night, one poignant question on my mind: Am I a dad?
No, I tell myself. You just look and act like one sometimes. Go back to sleep; we’ll talk about it in the morning.
I think people must make judgments based on the most minimum, surface level features. No one ever tells me I look just like my dad, although we share the same pointed nose; the same short, slightly-stocky build; the same full face, built on top of an angled jawline only noticeable from the side; and the same walk (much to my mother’s, grandmother’s, and every eligible bachelor’s dismay.) We make the same jokes at the dinner table – witty, yet not brilliant ones; we press our tongues to our upper lips when we’re deep in concentration; we listen to the same 80s pop and rock hits. Sometimes we even wear the same clothes. (He gives me his old flannels, unknowingly, because mostly I just steal them from his closet.)
All of this, and yet everyone has always said I look just like my mom. I get why they say it – the same dirty-blonde hair that’s somehow always dark at the roots, even after a fresh highlighting; the same denim-blue eyes encased in almond-shaped frames; the same olive-toned skin that’s just as quick to darken in the summer as it is slow to fade in the winter. “She’s definitely yours! Twins!” people have told her.
I may be regressing into childhood when I should, as a 21-year-old, be gearing up for The Real World.
Unlike me, my mom has this innate ability to make things happen. This is why I come to her when “I need it on my desk by Monday.” (I say this phrase when I feel like something is an urgent matter. I also say it because I think it makes me sound like Corporate America. I’ve never been there, but I heard they have lots of suits and swivel chairs.)
“I think I need an eye exam because my eyes seem kind of weird lately, but when I called, the eye place said they didn’t have any appointments available this week and obviously I’ll be at school next week so…” I said at my mom. She was sitting at the desk in between our kitchen and living room, iPad resting on her lap, scrolling through her Facebook notifications.
“What exactly did you say to them?” she asked, not looking up from her iPad.
“I said, ‘Hi, this is Kayla Smith and I need an eye appointment this week,’ and then they said they didn’t have any.” At this, she set her iPad on the marble desktop, crossed her legs, and turned to look at me.
“I said like please and thank you and stuff, too,” I told her. I was bracing for impact because she was looking at me. Sometimes when she looks at me, she looks at me, especially during a situation where she feels I may be regressing into childhood when I should, as a 21-year-old, be gearing up for The Real World.
“I’ll call after I finish this,” she said. She looked up at me again. “Brush your hair.”
Not that I would have brushed my hair if I had had time, but I didn’t. I was off to the eye care building in a turnover rate that made Mia Thermopolis’s makeover from teenage commoner to Genovian princess seem an eternal affair. The building was small and rectangular, with a strong “shades of brown” interior design theme. The two opposing adjacent walls were filled with clear shelves, stocked with pairs of glasses neatly displayed for him and her. The reception desk was on the left wall, across from the section in the middle of the room where you sit down and choose your glasses and sign papers with the eye people.
I made a beeline for the reception desk, where there were two women in matching purple scrubs, phones pressed to their ears. I chose to hover by the receptionist who was talking the loudest because loud talkers are confident and willing to take on challenges (I assume), and I needed someone who I knew could safely lead me through this battle. When she hung up the phone and gestured for me to come forward, I walked straight up to her (way too aggressively) and stubbed most of my toes on the bottom trim of the desk.
“What’s up, babydoll?” she asked, taking off her glasses and letting them hang on the beaded lanyard around her neck.
“First of all,” I said, “thank you for calling me ‘babydoll.’ I’ve never had a nickname before. Also, I just wanted to let you know I’m here.” Whenever I have to check in for any appointment, I always say “I just wanted to let you know I’m here” like I’m doing them a favor – like I’m going out of my way to do what all humans are required to do upon arriving to their appointments. (I’ve just realized this self-antic now. From this day forward, I will check myself before I check myself in… and I’ll check myself before I end a sentence in a preposition because that almost just happened.)
“Do you have your insurance card with you?” the receptionist asked.
“I believe I do, yes.” I never just want to say a hard “yes” because what if I can’t find it? I unzipped my blue and white paisley Vera Bradley wallet that I got for my 15th birthday and have been too lazy and cheap to replace, even though it’s no longer my aesthetic, it’s covered in various stains, and the edges have been fraying since 2011. I rifled through my cards, hoping to find something that looked insurance-esque. I’m always insecure about this part of the check-in process because I don’t understand all of the changing insurance policies, and I know my parents tell me about them, but it all goes in one ear and out the other so unbelievably quickly. I ended up pulling out a white card with some black type on it. There was nothing about it that absolutely screamed “insurance” and there wasn’t an expiration date on it or anything either (there’s supposed to be, right?), but I decided to risk it and hand it to her. “Here you go,” I said. “This is my insurance card.” (The trick here is to sound cool, calm, and collected, even when question marks are filling your body from head to toe.)
She took the card, scanned it, and said thank you. So it was the right card.
I had to give her my consent to dilate my pupils, which immediately made me think something crazy was going to happen.
I started walking over to one of the brown chairs, but didn’t even get a chance to sit down and not stretch my legs.
I looked up at the call of my name to see the tallest woman in the world/the room holding a clipboard and looking at me expectantly. She was the kind of tall that if she were to trip and fall at sunrise, she wouldn’t hit the ground until the last loop of the “Today Show” had aired. She was wearing a crisp, pale pink button-down shirt neatly tucked into steel grey slacks, and her rich brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun in what I think was an attempt to make her look older. She looked as if she had graduated college sometime between 2013 and the last moon cycle.
“I’m Dr. Tiffany,” she said, extending her hand. I shook it firmly, like I was closing a deal. Her shake was less firm, which was wild to me because she was the one wearing ironed business drab, but I suppose her mannerisms weren’t that far-fetched for someone who follows the title “Doctor” with her first name.
She led me to a small examination room in a little hallway off to the side of the main lobby. I sat down in the black leather chair with all the weird eye pieces attached to it, and Dr. Brittany sat on a little rolling stool, which she scooted over to me.
And so it began.
We went through numerous tests, which I knocked out of the park except for the two letters I missed. I thought the “O” and the “G” were a zero and a “Q.” I got really down on myself about missing those, and Dr. Tiffany said, “It’s OK… no one gets those last two.” And I said, “I thought you said they were ‘O’ and ‘G.’” And she didn’t laugh, and that’s why I switched to Dr. Karen after that visit.
After that, Dr. Tiffany decided to dilate my pupils. I had to give her my consent to do this, which immediately made me think something crazy was going to happen. I ended up giving her my consent and my blessing because life is short and two is better than one and the tanlines will fade but the memories will last forever.
“I’m just going to put a couple drops of this in each eye,” she said. The way she talked was like a meek, timid valley girl. Imagine Kim Kardashian’s tone of voice as she’s leaning over to ask Khloe what “superfluous” means in the middle of a serious intervention about Kanye’s behavior. “Now we just wait ten minutes for the solution to set in.”
For the first few minutes, Dr. Tiffany asked me about my summer. When she was talking to me she didn’t scoot her stool back at all, so she remained two inches from my face while I told her that summer was good, and waitressing was decent.
“Mm,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said.
I felt there was nothing left to be discussed, so I used the remainder of the time for my drops to set in to use the restroom, if only so I could escape the intimate proximity juxtaposed by meaningless small talk.
As I was washing my hands at the bathroom sink, I looked up into the mirror and gasped at myself. My eyeballs were filled with giant black saucers. Who knew dilated pupils meant my pupils would be dilated? As I was staring at myself, my vision started to get blurry and I figured I should head back to the room to finish my tests with the doctor. I sat down in the black leather chair again and Dr. Tiffany went to town flipping various lenses in front of me and flashing multicolored lights in my eyes. It felt like a party without any music, snacks, or fun.
“OK, I’m going to give you a low prescription,” Dr. Tiffany said after a while.
“My head is too big to fit into women’s frames,” I told her. “But it’s still not big enough to break the glass ceiling.”
“Like for glasses?” I asked her. Past me would have been elated because past me has always wanted glasses. You know how when you’re a kid and you want braces really badly because everyone has them and they’re cool, and then you get them and they become uncool the second you realize your teeth are going to be shackled by metal train tracks for years to come? I felt similar to that at this time. Sometimes we want what we don’t have until we have what we don’t want.
“Yes, for daily use. You can pick out a pair in a few minutes after I finish writing up your notes,” she answered. What happened next was exactly what I expected to happen next: I got to pick out a pair of glasses because Dr. Tiffany finished writing up my notes.
I was released into the lobby and directed towards the shelves stocked with glasses on the back walls. There was one major problem, though: I could barely see because my pupils were still dilated. Friends (Dr. Tiffany) don’t let friends (me) choose glasses when they can’t see an inch in front of their face. How was I supposed to pick out the perfect frames with my vision so compromised? WWSWD? (What would Stevie Wonder do?)
It wasn’t long before a woman came over to help me. She was wearing the same purple scrubs as the receptionists along with white Crocs. Her name was Kate. Kate was sporting a blonde bob and clear adult braces.
“Oh, you know what?” Kate said to me. “This is so silly. I guess you really are having a hard time seeing because you’ve been trying on men’s glasses.”
“No, no. I’m here on purpose. My head is too big to fit into women’s frames,” I told her. “But it’s still not big enough to break the glass ceiling.” At that, Kate didn’t laugh. Her gaze just rose to my forehead, as if she were trying to measure the circumference of my skull. I walked away in a zigzag pattern so she couldn’t get a good read on me. Maybe I was too quick, or maybe she took her lunch break, or maybe it really was Maybelline, but when I turned around again, Kate was gone.
I ended up picking out a pair of grey, sophisticated man glasses all by myself that I thought were decent enough.
“Do these look OK?” I asked another woman in scrubs.
“They look… OK,” she said. Her brow was furrowed, and she was holding her mouth similar to Katie Holmes’ on the red carpet – one side of her mouth was attempting a small smile, and the other side wasn’t even trying. One half was going 90; the other was just going 10.
“Well, that’s good enough for me,” I told Mona Lisa. “I’ll take them.”
I paid for the frames at the reception desk, and was told to come back in a few days to pick them up when they were ready with the lenses. I walked out of the eye care building feeling triumphant (and sensitive to the light).
I went back to the eye care building a few days later to pick up my frames. A receptionist, wearing green polka-dotted scrubs this time, told me to try on my new glasses. My pupils weren’t dilated this time, and my vision was clear. That’s how I discovered I had clearly made a mistake in choosing my glasses. I could feel my own Mona Lisa mouth coming in. The glasses weren’t a cool grey, they were silver (and reflective enough to flag down Batman at 2 a.m.). They weren’t sophisticated, they were boxy and clunky. They should have come with a warning: “CAN’T PASS FOR UNISEX. AT ALL. EXTRA MASCULINE.”
I put them on my face – those OK frames that I had chosen so successfully – and looked into a little handheld mirror. I stared at myself, one poignant question on my mind: Am I a dad?