Friday, July 6, 2012

Look into my eyes, so that I know I am real

“I believe there is nothing more thrilling than eye contact while speaking.”

Her words echoed through me.  So many images. Images of time past and of things that are yet to happen. Eyes that have haunted me for almost as long as I can remember. And eyes that have left me cold, forlorn.

“Do you believe in love at first sight?” she asked me.
“No, I believe in love at second sight,” I answered.
“What do you mean?”
“When you really see someone for the first time.”

Can you know someone for hours, days, months, years... and then one day fall hopelessly in love with them, simply because of a momentary glance. What has changed? Is it the light, the angle, a lingering smile - how all these things come together for one perfect captivating moment? A moment that passes, but leaves the image engraved in your mind.

I am a people watcher. Perhaps this is to make up for my lack of social skills. Or simply  because of my curiosity - this obsession to unveil the mysteries that lie beneath the surface. I sit back and observe, often capturing the nuances that most people miss. Those subtle unconscious gestures of people trying too hard to be accepted, when in reality they simply want to be recognized for who they are. Witnessing their vulnerability, vulnerability which they seek to hide, yet shows in their eyes.

We live in a society where we are told not to make eye contact. “There are a lot of crazies out there.” On the subway it is not only - “Mind the gap,” but also “Look away”.  As if we must put our humanity on hold, until we are once again in a safe room.

“I believe there is nothing more thrilling than eye contact while speaking,” she told me again, undeterred.

In my so-called formative years, I closed myself off almost completely, seeking to conquer my emotions, in a battle against bouts of depression. I soon discovered that I could conquer my emotions, but not master them, as they were pushed so far back that they were no longer accessible. “You don’t feel anything,” Arlene said to me, crying, yet another girl breaking up with me.

Until a late winter evening. Not yet twenty and already convinced that I would never really touch, nor be touched. I had seen her first when she entered the party. Just another face. Then heard her arguing her feminist views. Still, just another voice in the crowd. And then, sitting with my back against the wall, I felt her. She sat on the opposite side of the room, staring at me. Our eyes met and she penetrated me, like no one had ever done before. I was captivated, lost. All of my intricate defenses crumbling in a moment.

I can still see her staring at me, into me. Feel the thrill. I need not even close my eyes to experience this again. Even though we haven’t seen each other for more years than I can remember.

“We don’t need to be physically with someone, to look into their eyes,” I said.
“You must have a very good imagination then,” she said. “Or is it memory?”
“Sometimes it's imagination. Sometimes it's memory. Sometimes it is something else.”
“What is left?” she asked.

“Have you ever looked at a profile picture on facebook and seen much more than what was there?”
“I don’t understand,” she said, “A picture is just a picture.”
“Confucius said that a picture is a poem without words."
“Do you think he was talking about facebook?”
“And Ernst Haas,” I pressed on, “wrote that each of us on earth is but a mosaic of a picture we will never see.”
She hesitated then.
“Yes, I like that,” she said finally.

“Do you believe we can look through eyes of paper and see into the soul?” I asked.
“I believe some people do. I have been in cultures where the taking of pictures is forbidden. They believe that you are trying to steal their soul.”
“But what do you think?” I persisted.
“If it were my picture, I think it would be too dangerous.
"Because you may fall in love with my picture. And then you will have a part of me which is frozen in time. And I am not that person. I am different, from moment to moment. You must let me change. Please, do not make me stand still."

I remembered the character, then, in my novel. The character, Guy, that Michael created to seduce his wife in the desperate effort to bring intimacy back into his marriage. There was a point when she needed something to reassure her that Guy was real. So Michael, after much searching through the Internet, found a man whose eyes he was sure Julia would fall in love with. And Guy became real, not only for Julia, but for Michael also.

“Look into my eyes, so that I know I am real.”