My last weeks have been full of stories. I wrote my column on books about sartorial storytelling and was inspired by the honesty of my editor David Holub’s show “We Are Broken and We Are Whole” and the Raven Narratives storytelling event.
All of these tales got me thinking about stories of my own. Only my stories are not that great, more like amorphous musings that ask questions and try to answer themselves by pulling anything remotely related into their orbit, streams of consciousness tangle with the tangential threads of emotions, facts, incidents and histories.
This particular musing is sort of about how I got a pair of my eyeglasses. It is a sad story where some questions were answered, but in an unthinkable way.
These glasses are 1950s-era cat-eyes with red and white stacked plastic layers and silvery fans at the corners, made by American Optical. They are kind of “a look,” not my everyday specs.
They were gifted to me in 2002 or so by an ex-boyfriend. He had a vast and varied collection of vintage toys, action figures, robots and weird objects arranged on several shelves in his apartment. This man had an intense appreciation of and fascination for the now-vintage accoutrements of his childhood. These frames were displayed amongst this “kid” stuff and had belonged to his deceased mother.
When I needed new frames, he offered me this red pair; I was delighted with the useful gift but wondered to him if the frames had too much sentimental value for him to let them go. He replied that he enjoyed seeing them on me, and was glad they were being used.
But when we broke up a year later, he wanted them back. At the time I was aghast and offended at the request: The frames had been a gift that now contained my $200 prescription! I used them to see, so refused to return them and got all self-righteous and pissed at such selfishness and fickle gift-giving.
A few weeks after we broke up I received a two-page letter from my ex’s father explaining in detail how he was positive that the breakup was in no way my fault. This man, a veteran of World War II, had on a previous visit been likable and told me stories of the pet leopard he kept while in North Africa and explained how to tell the difference between a loblolly and a short leaf pine tree.
Now in this letter, the father explained that his son, being selfish, childish and weak, was incapable of a relationship. He told me that his son’s tendency towards crippling depression made him difficult to be with, just as difficult as his depressive mother had been, and that I had been wise to have left him.
I was shocked, saddened and felt an acutely sympathetic humiliation for the son, who I had cared about, and his mother, too. Reading it made me feel complicit in their betrayal. Her glasses were now telling secrets of unimaginable disloyalty, secrets I did not want to know and didn’t deserve to know, either. I got angry and wanted no part of these glasses or the people they had seen. I regretted not having been forgiving and selfless enough to return them when asked. I hoped his father was not as ashamed of his son as he had let on to a virtual stranger. At the same time, I hoped he was terribly ashamed of himself. I hope my ex has proven his father wrong, and is happy with someone.
After receiving that letter, I knew much more about why my ex had been so sad.
The letter situation connected me to his mother, this woman who had picked out and worn these striped red and white cat-eyes. I felt glad she chose these for herself instead of a tame, unadorned tortoiseshell pair. I like to imagine she had felt well and confident frame-shopping on that day, wife to a happy husband, mother to happy children.
I still have and wear the eyeglass frames. I love them and am grateful for their still-perfect prescription lenses, comfortable design and flashy styling. In my ex-boyfriend’s dead mother’s glasses I am trying to see beyond the visible to discern hidden reasons and motives. They still remind me to have mercy, and to be loyal.
Post-script: My ex lives in another part of the country. Last time I saw him he surprised me with a visit at work while wearing a Mexican wrestling mask and told me I was about to be robbed. I have no reason to expect him to read this column but still hope he doesn’t. I never told him about the letter.
Heather Narwid owns Sideshow Emporium,, a vintage and modern clothing store for men and women. Sideshow is located in Durango at 208 County Road 250 (at 32nd Street). Sideshow is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. and swears to you everlasting loyalty. Got a style question? Ask her anything at [email protected].