Liane Kupferberg Carter | Longreads | February 2020 | 16 minutes (4,092 words)
I was born with strabismus, an imbalance in the muscles that position the eyes. Strabismus: from the Greek strabismós, meaning “to squint.” People sometimes call it cross-eyed, wall-eyed, or lazy-eyed.
I was still a toddler when my mother started taking me to doctors. They prescribed drops, eye exercises, and, eventually, glasses when I was 4. Mom chose blue and white striped cat eye frames for me. “These are adorable,” she said. If she said they were pretty, I assumed they must be. I wasn’t sure I wanted to wear them. But my mother wore glasses too, and I wanted to please her.
When the glasses didn’t help enough, the doctor instructed her to put a patch over one lens to force my weaker right eye to work better. That afternoon I went down the street to play with the neighborhood kids. There was a new girl with them. She asked, “Why are you wearing that patch?”
“I’m a pirate,” I said.
“That’s stupid,” she replied. “Girls can’t be pirates. You look ugly.”
I pushed her. She tumbled back onto the lawn and started to wail. A door flew open, and an enormous dog bounded at me, nipping and snapping. Frantic, I tried to get away, but a woman who must have been the girl’s mother grabbed me, her nails digging into my shoulder. She wrenched my arm behind my back and hissed in my ear, “Who’s your mother? You’re a very bad little girl.”
Sobbing and ashamed, I stumbled down the sidewalk, desperate for my mom. By the time I burst through the back door I was panting. Mom looked angry. The scary lady must have telephoned. “You know better than that,” Mom scolded. “I’m disappointed in your behavior.”
I was awash in incoherent misery. Why wasn’t she taking my side?
But I knew. It was because I was bad. An ugly, bad girl.