When brushing your teeth alongside a housemate or hallmate, do you not stop brushing until the other person does? If you’re not one of those people, the person sharing the sink with you probably is. There’s a 50/50 split between people who brush their teeth until they are “done” and people who know that “done” is a relative term. I am one of the latter.
I become competitive over insignificant activities. The “spirit of competition” may permit some people to thrive. My spirit is not so kind. Instead of devoting itself to fueling my success in school, athletics or juggling, competition leaves me frothing at the mouth, stripping enamel from my teeth and silently hoping that my sinkmate hurries the hell up.
This spirit possesses me at unpredictable times. Over break, it inconveniently possessed me while I was at the eye doctor.
I made an appointment at LensCrafters in order to seek help for the eyestrain I feel whenever I am within 30 feet of a typed page. From the outset, competition saw a clearing and pitched a durable, rainproof tent. The stage was set when I refused the glaucoma test. A sharp puff of air to the eye 10 years ago was not a battle wound I could easily forget. Thus the antagonistic doctor-patient relationship was established. The eye doctor explained, reprimanded and finally pleaded with me about the glaucoma test. Little did she know that I had been in training for this moment for years, tirelessly visiting optometrists every year to get a new prescription for reading glasses, which I would then refuse to use. Along the road to the prescription, however, I also became more and more deft at refusing the glaucoma tests.
The doctor saw that this was not going to be an easily won fight. She took me into a different room, an obvious attempt to disorient me, and asked to “take a photo of my retina.” For those of you who have not been subjected to this particular torture, it’s similar to having an extraordinarily bright flashbulb go off?in your brain. My only countermove was to curse a few times and shake my whole body violently. Then came the other eye.
Completely unable to see, I was led to yet another room where I was told that I had to sit in front of a board, stare at a central point and click a button every time I saw a flash of light on the periphery of the board.
“But I can’t see anything,” I whined.
“Just click the button when you see points of light,” the doctor responded, trying to hide her glee at my helplessness.
“I can’t even see the board.”
The only way I could respond to this unmatched battle was to cheat. Instead of staring steadily at the central point, I moved my eyes around wildly, a starved frog suddenly put into a fishbowl of flies. I couldn’t see where the doctor was (I was still blind), but she could see what I was up to.
“Stop moving your eyes around. Stare at the point,” she scolded.
“I am staring at the point,” I said.
My technique discovered, I opted to still my eyes and resort to incessantly clicking the button in my hand, figuring that, no matter when the lights flashed, a click would not be far behind. After a few minutes of this, I was led into yet another room where my chart was examined.
“Well, you didn’t miss any of the light points,” the doctor informed me.
Then came the eye charts (for which the ability to memorize five letters helps incredibly when those same five letters are used repeatedly in decreasing sizes) and the various lenses held dangerously close to my eyes.
“You have a very short eyeball,” the doctor told me, having resorted to childish insults. “I think contacts would help.”
And there it was. The familiar feeling of defeat crept over me, reminiscent of the first time I journeyed to the optometrist and was told that I would need glasses when I was in my 20’s (a good 10 plus years down the road at that point) and burst out crying in the examination room. I soon learned the ultimate embarassing truth: I was like a helpless, blind mouse if I didn’t have the aid of a doctor or some annoying lense in front of or on my eyeballs.
Thus, I was prescribed contacts … and I couldn’t see with them. Lights tripled, and I couldn’t slow my blinking to less than 10 times per second. Two visits and several different pairs of contacts later, a different doctor informed me that I would “just have to get used to wearing corrective lenses.”
Spending weeks feeling as though I was at a laser show in order to adjust to little pieces of plastic and a lot of eyeball-touching seemed illogical. I took my new trial contacts and placed them on a bathroom shelf at home, where they remained untouched until I tossed them into my suitcase, just so that they could remain untouched on my dresser here at school. My spirit of competition is content to have this match declared a draw and funnel its energy into my toothbrushing marathons.