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Finger to the eye: Contacts help see things in a different light

I have always recognized the necessity of eyes to see and am grateful for them to that extent, but the thought of eyeballs themselves have always made me feel squeamish and uncomfortable. This phobia of mine first manifested itself in third grade.

The date was Sept. 11, 2001. It was after lunch, and everyone was anxiously fretting about some catastrophe in New York City that, shamefully, I didn't understand nor care to know of. All I could think about was the morning's anatomy lesson: The Human Eyeball.

I started thinking, and then obsessing, about what would happen if the eyeball -- that mysterious sphere of Jell-O and blood vessels -- were run over with a Mack truck, stabbed with a spear, burned in a camp-fire, dropped from a high tower and onto a busy street. I wondered if, by reversing his eyeballs, one could see his own brain, as the rumor spreading through Roosevelt Elementary held. I would find out soon enough.

I looked at my teacher's earrings, and thought to myself: what if a person were to pierce his eyeballs and put rings in them, like some people do with their nose? What if there was someone like that living on earth right now? I started to feel lightheaded.

The room started to swim, faces warped and turned ugly, and the voices I heard (somebody get the nurse ... Kitzmann's going down!) all sounded distant and robotic. I realized I was about to faint, so I did what I had been instructed to do after having previous, similar spells: put my head between my legs and think about how much my parents love me. But it was too late: I woke up with the school nurse flapping my shirt and a dozen third graders gathered around me.

Thus, the decision to switch to contact lenses was a difficult one for me, wrought with emotion and painful memories. These past couple years as I've slowly been working my way out of my nerdish ways, and to accompany my change in personality and outlook, my parents announced on my birthday that they would buy me a supply of contacts to last me at least through high school. If that's not what I wanted, they said, they would understand and buy clothes for me instead.

On one hand, I was tired of wearing glasses, looking essentially the same as I did in 5th grade, when my eyes started going bad. Not having to wear glasses would open me up to an entirely new array of possibilities for "my look," such as non-prescription shades.

Besides, I've never felt completely satisfied with the visual perception that glasses offer. Glasses inevitably collect dust, scratches and smudges, which unnaturally refract light, and otherwise dull and distort one's perception of the world. Life is too beautiful, too vivid to be seen through a pair of dusty, scratched up lenses.

But I know that contacts mean poking your own eyeballs every morning, with your own fingers. Just the thought of this had sent me over the edge in third grade. Had I matured enough in eight years to be able to handle it, and thus experience the world as it truly should be seen: glorious, bright, and completely unobstructed? That was the question. I decided to give contacts a test-run.

A week later I sat in the optometrist office, full of regrets. The doctor had just checked my eyes and then congratulated me that my vision had worsened only slightly from my last examination. He had a sample contact on the tip of his finger, and he was about to go in for the kill.

I looked at his face. He was smiling, clearly enjoying this a little too much. The suspense was killing me. "Would you just get it over with!" I wanted to tell him, but I kept quiet and let him savor a few more moments of sick glory.

After the longest minute of my life, I had a pair of contacts in my eyes, and was checking out my surroundings with great interest, feeling like I had just stepped off a spaceship and onto a whole new planet. My eyes were still adjusting to the absence of the slight magnification that glasses give, so not only were colors more vivid, edges more defined than they had ever been, but my world was swimming as well, moving even when I stayed still.

It was all very surreal.

The price of this enhanced reality has since become very clear, as I've been forced to confront one of the great fears of my childhood every morning before I go to school. Each day it gets a little easier as my eyes grow a little more used to being poked -- sometimes repeatedly -- and then having a piece of plastic stuck on them for many hours at a time.

I'm enjoying the increased freedom over my personal appearance, as well as the assurance in knowing that it's only a millimeter of plastic coming between me and my reality, not a pair of dirty, scratched lenses with fingerprints on them held in place by a thick metal frame.

But most of all, a childhood fear has been finally put to rest.

Nathan Kitzmann is a junior at Detroit Lakes High School.

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