Third Place Essay: "Goggles"

by Rebecca Yaël Schorr '93

What purpose do a pair of goggles have if they have never seen the inside of a pool or been submerged in the ocean? Squirreled away in the upper-left drawer of my father’s imposing antique desk for over 20 years sits a blue pair of unused plastic goggles that my mother cannot bring herself to discard. Those goggles saved my brother’s life.

With kindergarten drawing to a close, it was time for Zack to learn how to swim. Before his first swimming lesson, my mother took him to buy some swim goggles. Zack tried on a pair. When he declared that he couldn’t see out of his left eye, my mother assumed that the goggles were too tight, cutting off his vision. She selected a blue pair—the pair that would remain tucked away for years.

Zack tried on this second pair and exclaimed, “It’s not the goggles. It’s my eye. I haven’t been able to see for a long time.” Frazzled, my mother grabbed my brother by the neck, took the goggles to the cash register, threw some money on the counter, and drove directly to the doctor.

We learned a new word that day in June: retinoblastoma, cancer of the retina. The eye exam my brother had passed at the start of the school year gave no indication of the tumor that would ravage his retina and rapidly steal his sight. Just two weeks later, it was all over. Zack’s eye had been removed and would be replaced with a prosthetic eye following a six-week healing period.

Why had he not told anyone when he began to lose his sight? When asked, Zack responded, “I’ve never been six before. I just thought it was something that happened when you turned six.”

It is not hyperbolic to say that my brother’s life was saved by a pair of goggles. It is quite possible that if it were not for those goggles, the cancer would not have been discovered until it had left the eye socket and traveled up the optic nerve to his brain. 

To the best of my knowledge, the goggles’ sole journey was from the sporting goods store to my father’s desk drawer by way of my mom’s purse. Superstitious by nature, my mom would have kept the goggles in the immediacy of the crisis out of the fear that throwing them away might bring catastrophe. Once things settled down . . . well, she would have kept them for the very same reason. To discard them simply because Zack had survived would be tantamount to inviting the Evil Eye to pay another visit to our family. One visit, she would reason, was more than enough for a lifetime.