Jason Keil

Jason Keil is a writer whose work has been published in the Phoenix New Times, AZCentral.com, Phoenix Magazine, and OnMilwaukee.com. He also co-hosts the podcast What The Fork.

My Mother The Spectacle

I get a lot of compliments on my glasses. The thick frames holding the lenses that correct my vision are a part of my image. When my glasses are off, people rarely recognize me. I love how they make me look. My favorite singer-songwriter, Elvis Costello, has the same problem. He is the inspiration behind my fashion choice.

My glasses help me pull off my greatest trick: looking smart. When I remove them, not only to I lose the power to see clearly, but I cannot seduce people into thinking I am a capable high-functioning adult. In my mind, my glasses allow any silly pop culture bromide that comes out of my mouth seem witty and intelligent. Without them, I am a blunt object who simply does what he is told. I feel silly admitting that my confidence is tied to a oddly shaped piece of plastic that rests upon my nose, but I gladly trade in the convenience of contact lenses to project the image of someone who is cultured.

I remember when I picked out my first pair over fifteen years ago. I liked how they fit across my wide face. The gal working behind the counter at the local Wisconsin LensCrafters gave me a flirty look, which is a look I rarely encountered as an insecure overweight college film major. 

My mother shot me a look of disapproval. She insisted I pick out another pair.

I protested. My mother began to cause a scene. That playful glance I encountered only a half minute before from the saleswoman changed to one of empathy. She could feel the embarrassment I was now experiencing at the hand of my materfamilias. After about ten minutes of insisting I find a pair of spectacles she liked, Denise Keil exhibited the rarest of behaviors: she gave up.

The LensCrafters employee was probably scared that in just an hour, she would have to deal with the stubborn woman who brought me into this world again. I was willing to wait until tomorrow to pick up my specs in the hopes that everyone in the store would forget the scene that just took place, but I waited two days just to be sure.

I never did get an explanation from my mom why she felt the need to put her foot down on something as trivial as my glasses. Looking back on it now, I've developed a theory on why she protested: she was scared.

I grew up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, better known as the Mormons. In my early twenties, I exhibited behavior that fit a certain stereotype that the Church did not approve of. I liked David Bowie and art films. I knew a lot of girls but never had a girlfriend. I spent even less time with guys. I also displayed no intention of ever serving a mission for my church.

Just a few days before, I rented the film Velvet Goldmine, which depicted an alternate universe where David Bowie slept with Iggy Pop. Twenty minutes into the film, my mom voiced her disapproval of the film's plot in the form of loud shouting, much like she did inside the LensCrafters that day. In her mind, I was becoming a stereotype of a gay man and the glasses fit her perception of what a homosexual was to her. 

It's been well-publicized in the news that the religion I was raised in wouldn't make things easy for me if I matched that image she was so alarmed by. Sadly, I cannot confirm what caused her outbursts in the mall that day. Maybe she thought the glasses I picked made me look ugly. Maybe they were too expensive. I am unable to communicate beyond the grave to ask her what sparked her protest. 

Yet I wonder how things would be if I came out of the closet she saw me living in? Would she still love me? Would she treat me the same? Sadly, even now, I don't see this happening. I imagine her gossiping with my grandmother about her disapproval of my theoretical lifestyle. I see her asking church leadership what she could have done better. Perhaps she would find a way to blame my father for something she didn't know isn't a choice someone makes. 

None of this came to pass. My questions about that day remain unanswered. My mom would leave the Earth due to complications from heart surgery, not embarrassment and shame.

A lot of factors have caused me to distance myself from my spiritual beliefs. The nail in the coffin for me was how the Church funded the campaign for Proposition 8 in California that burnt the bridge. The teachings still affect my life. I have many friends in the Church whom I love, but my fear of how a religion that throughout my childhood claimed wasn't political suddenly took an interest in politics made me walk away.

My mother feared I was becoming something that disagreed with her belief system and I knew the Mormon church was something that disagreed with mine. I now see that anxiety is something that fueled the behaviors of both my mom and I. Unlike her, it doesn't manifest itself with an argument in the local mall.

Still, we will always see each other as a puzzle neither of us could solve and voiced our frustration to each other over our futile attempts to do so. I wear my glasses not only to give off an image, but to remember my small victory against the fear and misunderstanding my mother tried to oppress me with.