I opened up my yellow The Superior Labor (TSL) A5 Zip Organizer to get my credit card to pay the deposit for my new eyeglasses. When I walked into Dawn Opticians, I was surprised the optician, Dawn, recognized me. The local optician I’d been going to since I had to get my first pair of glasses eight years ago at the age of 45 hadn’t seen me in 18 months. I know this because when she pulled my records upon my arrival, she read the date of my last visit from the card and told me it had been 18 months since I’d last been there. My records were written on 4 x 6 cards, which were stapled together. I’m guessing they were stored in an alphabetized box in the office she always disappeared into shortly after my arrival each time. She always came out quickly, so whatever her system was, it was efficient. This was a sharp contrast from the ultra-modern office of the ophthalmologist who’d written the prescription and where everything was sleek and metal and computerized. Whenever I walked into their office, they’d tap away at their keyboards and pull up my records. Funnily enough, for all of the technological modernity, it always seemed to take longer.
When I unzipped the organizer and laid it open, she remarked, “This is beautiful,” as she reached across the table, where she’d patiently helped me narrow down my choices and finally decide on two pairs of new frames. Both pairs were much more daring, much less tame, and traditional than the frames I was currently wearing. I’ve changed a lot in the past 18 months. As for what was beautiful, she was referring to my organizer, which she’d reached over and cradled in her hands. I was surprised to have someone touching my things, even though she’d been helping me choose frames and then measuring me for the lenses. The pandemic has left many of us, myself included, cautious and physically distant from other people not in my immediate family or “pod.” We were both wearing masks, but I was still surprised when she touched my organizer.
I watched her examine it and gently stroke the leather with her fingers. She asked more questions about it, curious about the designer and origin. I shared what I knew with her. And then, she said something that surprised me. I’d hardly thought she recognized me when I walked in. I’ve only been wearing glasses for the past 7 or 8 years, getting my first pair in my mid-40s. So, I’d maybe been to her store, six times at best, and it was never empty when I arrived. Her shop was a local gem and also conveniently located right next store to the Northern NJ Eye Institute, where I had been a patient for many years, from the time I was a teen until I switched to my new eye doctor. All this to say, I wasn’t her only customer. Her business was a busy one. But she was friendly and personable, and she was also observant.
“I remember your last one was Tiffany-blue like the frames you’re wearing,” she remarked. I had to think about that because I’d never had a blue organizer or notebook cover. And then I
remembered the Tiffany-blue stripe I’d painted down the front of my Traveler’s Notebook, and which would have been the notebook I was using when I last visited her store 18 months ago.
“That one was beautiful, too,” she said. “It’s really neat how they hold all of your stuff.”
“Yes, this one has lots of pockets and sections,” I told her and gave her a quick tour of my organizer. I pulled a few things out of their pockets. She looked on curiously. It was a nice exchange, and I could only think she’d remember this organizer too and associate it with my last visit when I come in to shop for frames in another 18 months or so. I will probably return to her shop once again. How can I not? She remembered my notebook with the Tiffany-blue stripe.
When I got home, I went over to the basket I keep on my desk that holds all of my old Traveler’s Notebook covers. I keep thinking that maybe I should get rid of them to declutter. I doubt I’ll ever find a use for them. I never return to using a notebook cover once I replace it with a new one. But, I never replace my notebook covers because I’ve grown tired of them or because I no longer love them. I always replace them like the shedding of skin. I change them because it is naturally time as if I’ve outgrown them or entered a new season. I took the organizer with the Tiffany-blue stripe out of the basket to look at it. I’d forgotten how the cover felt in my hands. It’s a smaller notebook than the TSL organizer I now carry, and it nestles right into the curve between my thumb and index finger. The leather is smooth and soft with age. The stripe I painted on it is still in good condition. I’d forgotten all about the brass charms I’d sewn onto the cover. I still love the way they look.
When I held it in my hands, I could remember the version of myself that I was when I carried it. That was a powerfully transformative time in my life. I think, for the first time, I’d really come to know and fully love who I was. It’s remarkable how things can hold memory. Of course, if you’re still reading this, you probably know what that’s like.