His name was Henry, and I met him at the optometrist’s office. In the waiting room, there were only two chairs — 10 feet apart, facing each other — and that’s where we first talked.
He was maybe 70, and his pale face — coupled with large indigo eyes — made him look like a Tim Burton character. His waning white hair was evenly combed over, and he wore a red Mr. Rogers’ cardigan over his white shirt. Classy, I’d say.
I first saw Henry before our appointments. He sat there, real still and quiet like old people do, and soon closed his eyes and whacked his palm over them to block out the florescent lights. It was a good thing he didn’t have glasses, because the dude would’ve shattered it right into those wondrous indigo spheres. But the optometrist soon came and said, “Henry,” which slowly woke up the old fellow.
He trotted into an exam room and, soon, I trotted into mine.
It’d been three years since my last eye checkup — mostly because I hate it when they puff air in my eyes — so the doctor scolded me. After a few questions — “One or two? Three or four?” — the doc said I had entirely the wrong prescription. And when he gave me my new contacts, my life was upgraded to HD. I didn’t realize I’d been living with such horrible vision.
Then the doc sent me back to sit with Henry, who was now wearing gold-rimmed glasses. And he was smiling.
So I asked, “How’d it go?”
He didn’t respond. Instead, he stared at my face, then at my cheeks and up and down my shirt. I just assumed that, since he was old, he was staring at the only moving thing in the room: me. I smiled a polite smile. But the old man kept eyeing me. So, louder, I articulated, “How — did — it — go?”
And in a crackly grandpa voice, Henry said, “Very well, thank you.”
His voice sharply echoed in the empty room.
“And how did yours go?” he asked.
“Good,” I said.
I thought this would stop him from awkwardly looking at me. But he continued to smile and looked at me with almost googly eyes. This creeped me out, an old dude checking me out.
So I said, “Henry, right?”
“Yes, I am Henry,” he said.
“Henry,” I said, “do I have something on my face? Is that why you’re looking at me?”
His smile broke apart: “No. I am so sorry. That was a bit rude. It’s just that … oh, you probably don’t care. My apologies.”
“No, no, what is it?”
“Well, as you can see, I am quite old. And these are my first pair of glasses!”
“Oh,” I said, “are you far-sighted?”
“No, apparently I don’t have much sight at all. That’s why they got me these. And, boy, does this world look different. That’s why I was looking at you — just amazed by all the lines I can see on your shirt, and the shapes I see everywhere. I can’t seem to stop smiling with these new things! It’s really quite amazing.”
This intrigued me. I wanted to write about Henry — probably something corny about how even an old man could see life with new eyes. The usual. So I asked him questions: “What’s the most interesting thing you’re seeing with your new vision?”
He said, “I never knew how scratched up my shoes were.”
I figured this would serve as some grand metaphor for life’s journey — this guy was pure Life Of Alvin gold. I kept pushing.
“What else, Henry?”
“I’m just amazed by the stitching on your sweater. I can see exactly how the yarn was put together.”
It was almost as if this man was given to me, by God, so I could have material to write a trite piece about something quasi insightful. He also said, “The lines in the world now are so clear.”
Yes! Yes! Keep going!
Then, Henry paused and looked around the room for another observation, desperate to feed my excitement. Finally, his eyes stopped on my face, and he excitedly — and so innocently — yelled: