Times Were Tough

I have a voice in my head, one reserved for noting when I am not acting like a responsible adult and cataloging the consequences. The voice sounds a lot like my regular voice, except whispery and hissier. It is the same tone my mother used when I was acting up in the grocery store as a child.

"Normal adultsssss go buy more ssssssalt when they run out," it'll start. "They don't use leftover soy sauce packetsssss. What did you think would happen to your popcorn?"

Pretty much as soon as I woke up Wednesday, the voice had quite a bit to say.

"You slept in your contacts lensessssss," the voice hissed, "Adultsss don't sleep in their lensesss. What's wrong with your eyesssss?"

Sure enough, my eye sockets ached, which was an unwelcome, unsettling new feeling. I headed to the mirror where a terrible surprise awaited me. Someone had taken away my normal eyes and replaced them with puffy ham-colored eyes.

"Pinkeyesss!" the voice whispered triumphantly.

My regular doctor thought it might be a terrible contact lens-borne infection and sent me over to the eye doctor just to be safe.

When I got there, the nurse obviously felt sorry for me, which made me feel even sorrier for myself than I already did. Over the course of this medical morning, it happened two or three times that someone walked in the room and said, "What seems to be the trouble?" and then I'd turn my head, and they knew right away.

The specter of corneal infection was raised, but it was just run-of-the-mill conjunctivitis, an infection of the eyeball's clear lining or 'conjunctiva' (see how that works?). So ... pinkeye. It made me feel only a little tiny bit better that mine wasn't the "keep her home or she'll spread it to all the other third graders!" kind.

The doctor described it as a "very unique presentation." That sounds nice, doesn't it? And it would be, had he been talking about my table setting or something. I won't tell you what he was referring to, but it made me want to abandon my body like an old mattress on the highway shoulder and go get a new one with no presentations, unique or otherwise.

I asked when my eyes would look normal again. The answer I was hoping for was, "Oh, 15 minutes, maybe an hour tops," but do we ever get that kind of awesome news from a doctor? I certainly don't. There was no clear time frame, but it would be days longer than I preferred.

I asked when my eyes would look normal again. The answer I was hoping for was, “Oh, 15 minutes, maybe an hour tops,” but do we ever get that kind of news from a doctor?

But if pinkeye is my diving bell, then sunglasses are my butterfly. You see, sunglasses are the pink-eyed's natural ally, our strongest protector, our patron saint. They let us walk amongst the white-eyed undetected, just like any other regular ol' Joe who is wearing their sunglasses during the winter inside a grocery store.


The main drawback to this strategy is that you look and feel like an idiot. If you need proof, the next time you go to Best Buy, just keep your sunglasses on the whole time, even while the clerk is explaining the features of various wireless keyboards to you. Don't tell her why you're wearing them; the whole point here is to fly under the eye-disease radar. The only place I felt comfortable shedding the sunglasses was at Wal-Mart because it's wild and wooly like that. At one point, a clerk told me I should work there. I love Wal-Mart.

It probably goes without saying that I'm not allowed to wear my contact lenses for awhile, which makes life even more difficult.

"Why didn't you get backup glasssssssses like your doctor suggesssssted? Now you can't ssssssee."

The dim silver lining is that someday this will be a good "Times Were Tough" story.

"Times Were Tough" stories are a thing that we sort of love doing in the newsroom. This is how it works: You tell a story of times things were hilariously wretched for you, perhaps due to your own bad choices or maybe because of the basic unfairness of the universe. These stories often, but not always, happened during middle school gym class; accounts of having head lice also could work. You end the story by saying, "Times were tough," and everyone listening agrees and repeats that times were tough.

I don't fully know why these stories are so satisfying to tell and receive, but I have theories. Hearing about someone's very worst moments is pretty endearing. There's a little bit of schadenfreude, even toward yourself. A lot of it, surely, is being able to laugh at something that, at the time, was not funny. There is such comfort in the mileage between your current self and that bullied, or ashamed, or eye-gunky version of you. I feel relieved every time I realize that I never have to go to eighth grade gym again. The reason I can write this is that my eyes are now better; my life will not be a river of swollen eyelids and unique presentations.

But still. Times were tough.

K. Williams Brown is the entertainment reporter for the Statesman Journal. She wishes her friends and mother were spending a little more time admiring her quiet stoicism in the face of difficulties, and a little less time worrying whether or not she is contagious.