Have you ever had a moment where you learned exactly what you knew deep down inside but something had been getting in the way of living what you knew?
Recently, something reminded me of one of the first lessons- comeuppances, if you will- I had about vanity and its price.
In seventh grade, I got classes. Glasses are so friggin’ cool now. Not so much in, um, the mid to late 80s (I could do the math of what year I was in seventh grade but I don’t wanna, and I quit doing unnecessary math after my college math credit was done), but I liked school; I liked doing well in school; and I needed those glasses to see the board, even if I was in the first row so I was happy to get the help I needed. My first pair of glasses were clear plastic with blue stripes on the upper rims (the better to emphasize my eyebrows).
By eighth grade, wire rim tortoise shell glasses were in, and I begged my parents for an update. I mean if I was going to need to wear them all the time, I wanted to look cool wearing them, right? Those glasses were REALLY out of the family budget but my parents financed them with our nice eye doctor, and I wore those tortoise shell specs with as close to pride as an 8th grader with glasses can muster.
Fast forward to about 3 weeks after I got my new glasses. My boyfriend (in the vein of “will you go with me?” and then you don’t really talk too much boyfriend)- who went to the other middle school and so wasn’t aware of how dependent I was on my glasses- and I decided to meet for a movie at the theatre by the mall (Cher’s Moonstruck, in case you are wondering. I remember absolutely nothing about the film.). And because I was vain enough not to want my glasses to get in the way of kissing in the theatre and, generally, being considered cute by my boyfriend who didn’t really know what a geek I was, I would take my glasses off for each moment that we weren’t staring at the screen (Mom/ Dad, if you are reading this: there was actually not one minute that I wasn’t watching that movie). So, it will come as no surprise, that when we were leaving the movie theatre, my glasses weren’t on. They were in the pocket of my faux-Outback Red roll neck sweater. And I certainly wasn’t thinking about them.
I wasn’t thinking about them until we were getting lunch, and I needed to read the menu at the pizza place. And when I reached for my pocket, my hand came up empty. Instantly, I was sick to my stomach. My group of friends retraced our steps, all the way back to the road between the mall and the theatre.
“I see them!” My sweet boyfriend hollered and then ran into the road to retrieve them. He came up with gnarly glasses. Heat licked my neck, nausea kicked me in the stomach. What was I going to tell my parents?
Later that day, I sat down at the kitchen table, carefully left out the part about the boyfriend, and ‘fessed up about the gnarled glasses. Unable to do much about the situation, my dad untangled the glasses, took me to get new lenses that could be taped into my once tortoise shell rimmed glasses, taped the lenses into the mangled frames, and told me that I could get new glasses when I paid off the financing on the first pair and could afford the new pair (I am not sure what happened to the cheesy glasses from the year before but I know I didn’t have them anymore to get me out of this jam).
For months, I saved my babysitting dollars to pay off the mangle glasses and earn the money for a new pair. And every morning when I slipped the gnarly glasses onto my nose, I was painfully reminded of what vanity got you.
Looking back now, I’m so glad I got that lesson when I did. I’m glad my parents didn’t get me out of the jam. I’m thankful for the comeuppance. I learned that the stuff I fixated on was the stuff I fixated on- it was rarely- ever- what others were fixating on because, well, probably honestly, we’re all too busy fixating on our own stuff to worry about someone else’s. Early enough, I figured out you couldn’t front and get away with it for long and that, in fact, the front rarely buys you what you are hoping for (in my case, that boyfriend of mine could have cared less that I wore glasses. I projected that onto him). It wasn’t the only time I’ve been vain, but it was probably the most dramatic and expensive moment of vanity I had in my coming of age. The front got me nowhere except poorer. That’s the thing about fronts. They don’t make you more secure. They, in fact, rob you of your truth. Truth be told, that’s probably the greatest price of vanity.