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944 words
SHJ Issue 5
Spring 2012

Eye Strengthening and Other Holy Topics

Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons

Look up left, up right, slide down right, over left and back up. Move your eyes around these four view points in a smooth square. Up left, up right, slide down right, over left and back up. Again, again. Chinese children perform this exercise in the morning and in the evening every day in order to strengthen their eyes. And this is why no one in China wears glasses. That’s what she told us, and nuns don’t lie. “Once again children, look up left…”

Up right, slide down right, over left and back up. I obediently rolled my five-year-old eyes around in my head like a stop-motion character in a Rankin/Bass Christmas special. I like to believe that even then my tiny brain called bullshit, or bull-nonsense as my mother says, but who knows?

In Canada, in May of ’82, Pope John Paul II beatified—which I heard as “beautified” —Brother André, the founder of St. Joseph’s oratory, and Rose Durocher, a 19th century nun, receiving a gift of maple syrup and a copper rooster as a thank you from the Canadian people.

Meanwhile in England, the country was excitedly preparing for the arrival of the very same Pope who was not only wicked holy but also Time magazine’s person of the year and the first and only pontiff to extend a pastoral visit to Britain.

But in Cape Ann, a section of New England named for Anne of Denmark (mother to King Charles I), a group of kindergartners were dutifully rolling their eyes around the corners of their classroom in smooth squares developing their very first headaches; all in the name of Catholicism.

Kindergarten was the first and only year I attended Catholic school in New England before my family started moving around the country and away from my mother’s hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Away from the closest thing I’ve ever had to a “where are you from?” place. It seems to me that Sister Mary What’s-Her-Face had a myriad of other holy lessons she could have been filling our shiny new minds with. I, for one, would have enjoyed knowing that “beautification”—the Catholic Church’s official recognition of a deceased person’s entrance into heaven—is the third of four steps towards making someone a saint and not just the end result of playing hair salon with My Little Ponies. Instead, the lesson I could never get out of my head was, up left, up right, slide down right, over left and back up.

I’m not sure if I ever truly believed that somewhere in the world, or to be more precise somewhere in China, classrooms were packed full of Chinese children all strengthening their eyes. In fact, for years I kept a tally of every glasses-wearing Asian I saw like a racist mental stamp collection. Despite my doubt, this habit of squaring my eyes stuck with me as we moved from state to state, from one birthday to the next. Up left, up right, slide down right, over left and back up. I fall back on this inane source of solace whenever I am nervous, uncomfortable, thinking or just plain bored.

Fourth grade, getting fitted for my uniform in a new school and pretending not to notice when he marks the word “obese” down on my chart, up left, up right, slide down right, over left and back up.

Waiting one brutal summer day for my habitually late mother to pick me up from camp, long after the rest of kids had been retrieved, up left, up right, slide down right, over left and back up. Sometimes I would try to see beyond at the edges of my vision, perversely enjoying the dull pain this produced behind my temples. Push way up left, far over right, push down right, force over left and up, up.

Staying afloat in the swim lane, waiting for my lap to start and flinching away from the unwanted touch of my teammate; he always waited until we were underwater where no one could see. Left, right, down, over, back up. Left, right, down, over, back up. Please give up, please give up.

Drinking a little too much, too fast at my first party, and then working hard to be cool, pull it together enough to actually talk to people. Up left… Right. Left? No, right. Is that right? Right. Down, over, over left and back up.

Staring up at the ceiling, naked and chilly, holding my body just so as he runs to get a towel from the bathroom to put under me because it’s our first time and we don’t know what to expect. Up left, up right, down right, over left and breathe, breathe and back up.

Jury Duty. Left, right, down, over, back up. Left, right, down, over, back up. Left, right, down, over, back up.

Standing awkwardly at the wake of a woman I barely knew, who has left me and my cousins all the money she so meticulously spent a lifetime acquiring. But I’d gladly give it back, if that meant I never had to see my father crying for his sister. Look up left, right, down right, over and back up left. Where else is there to look when you don’t know anyone? And yet, you are somehow related to everyone.

This habit has always stuck with me and much like Catholicism itself, it’s something I find comfort in practicing even if I don’t believe it to be true. And yes, in case you were wondering, I do wear glasses and I’m blind as a bat without them.


End Bug Issue 5

Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons

Photo of Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons, by Jon Reznick
Photograph by Jon Reznick

Playwright and screenwriter living in New York City, whose play, All I Want Is One More Meanwhile, was part of The Brick’s Comic Book Theater Festival in Brooklyn last summer. Animus Theatre Company recently selected her play, Crayon Noir, for their play development series.

An alumni member of the Writers Boot Camp screenwriting program, she is a contributing writer to the original web series, INTERSECTION. A graduate student in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program, she is currently developing a non-fiction storytelling workshop aimed at combining her love for theater and creative writing.


“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury