For as long as I have known her, my wife's eyes have itched. In college I remember her enjoying a good eye rub the way a dog enjoys a belly rub for as long as you'll give it. There were times when her groans of pleasure as she rubbed her eyes were almost obscene. Her eyes, almost always behind glasses or capped in contact lenses, have never been kind to her though I've always found them lovely, penetrating, and warm.
Lately though her eyes just hurt. Something has been really wrong. After rubbing she clenches them closed, grits her teeth, and shakes her fists, pain radiating from the sockets. Often, reaching to rub them, she catches herself and its as if she's tying herself to the mast. Must not rub, she tells herself. The pain and burning go on and on.
We had a snow day this week. She and I are paid to teach and did the usual dance of having a surprise day off. I sat down to write (trying to write my way out of teaching) and she grabbed her phone, called the eye doctor, and asked for an emergency appointment. They had one that morning and she took it, got ready and went out into the horrible cold.
She has long figured she's allergic but a downside to living in Syracuse is that we don't have the best doctors. So far no one had determine that she is allergic to anything. But just look at the skin all around my eyes! she says. The doctors shrug and leave her worrying that she's making it all up, that she's weak, or that this is just bad luck. She knows it's not make believe but hasn't found any help.
At the appointment, the eye doctor figured it out: contact lenses. She is allergic to the contacts she has worn nearly every day. They've aggravated her condition like tearing at a scab every day. The doctor prescribed drops, daily (disposable) lenses, and a return in a few weeks. We picked up the prescription at Wegmans and she started on the drops right away.
Oh my God, she said. My eyes don't itch. They don't hurt.
There weren't the moans of her eye rubbing days, but the relief and wonder were a magic to behold. One trip to the right doctor, a few drops, and already relief. So simple yet so elusive.
I have taught in the same school system since 2001 and felt it to be the wrong place at least since 2006. Sunday through Thursday nights I get maybe five hours sleep and wake often, sometimes restlessly shifting from two until four in the morning when I finally get up to write. I wear a nightguard at night because I have ground my teeth down measurably. Since September I have gained up to fourteen pounds. I've seen my therapist every two weeks for more than a decade because I feel anxious and removed from real contentment and balance. I sink regularly into depression, sometimes for weeks.
I feel these things except when school is on break. Summer, I'm a healthy man. Christmas, February, and April breaks I'm a happy man. On the weekend I'm almost happy and healthy but the school week looms large and I cannot come all the way down from anxiety. This seemed like regular life.
My new dentist mentioned my grinding. I asked, "any ideas what I can do about it?" He said, "reduce stress?" I rolled my eyes and, now that I think of it, clenched my jaw. I'm clenching now. A previous dentist suggested a glass of whiskey before bed. There doesn't seem to be enough bourbon in all of Kentucky.
No amount of rubbing makes it any better.
Two weeks ago, writing an assignment from a book, I decided to quit my job. It won't take effect for a few months, but I won't go back next school year. I felt better. Suddenly. Measurably. That feeling surprised me enough I stopped writing and sank warmly into that feeling. The clouds parted. Blue sky. Sunshine. Warmth.
I told my wife and kids. I told my brother and mother. I told friends. I told colleagues at school. This is it, I said. I revised my resignation letter. Each mention of my plan was frightening but leavening. I felt myself rising, buoyed up toward the surface. I ordered business cards to hand out at my next writing conference and will no longer introduce myself as a public school teacher affiliated with that job. Every step felt like a release, a benediction, a healing.
Oh my God, I think. I'm not filled with dread. I don't hurt.
Friday night I read Dani Shapiro's Devotion until I was tired enough to turn out the light. My wife dropped medicine into her eyes. "How does it feel?" I asked. She said, "it burns a little, but the relief—" she shook her head and smiled. I closed my eyes. My thoughts drifted away. I was quiet. The night was still. I slept through the night and rose Saturday morning ready to write, feeling no pain.