Friday, May 23, 2008

The eyes have it

I always remember peoples' eyes. Their mouths and hands too, but the eyes have it. That doesn't mean I know what colour their eyes are but I always remember what emotions they portrayed.

My father had eyes of the palest blue, like the sky directly above on a hot summer day. Bleached blue. They always smiled when he saw one of us (me and my sisters) like he couldn't imagine a better thing to look at. They often looked sad when he didn't think we were looking. Sometimes overwhelmed - I guess raising four girls in the 60s and 70s pretty much on his own can do that to a man. Once, only once they looked both scared and angry.

I was 16 and two hours late coming home from the movies with my boyfriend. We'd driven to a town an hour away on the open highway and on the way home the fan belt broke. We had to keep stopping at farm houses to fill the radiator with water. Not once did it occur to me to ask one of the farmers if I could ring Dad and let him know what had happened. It was in the days before mobile phones, even before car phones.

When I walked in the front door he came towards me and the look in his eyes terrified me. He crowded me until I backed into a wall and wagged his finger less than an inch away from my face. It was the most violent I'd ever seen him. He was so out of control he was shaking. I can't remember most of what he said to me. I know he waited until I told him what happened but everything between "Where were you?" and "Don't ever scare me like that again" is lost. But I remembered his eyes and made sure I never made them look like that again.

My daughter Lauren's eyes glitter with a zest for life that encourages me to join in. I've spent a lot of years studying her eyes and know that most of the time they're brown but sometimes they're bright green. I think it has something to do with her health and what vitamins or minerals her body is lacking. I could look at her eyes for hours and never be bored. Every interest or joy or sadness is reflected there and, by just looking at her, I can share it.

I have no idea what colour David's eyes are. I've been going out with him for 7 years, living with him for two but can't remember the colour of his eyes. I know they're soft and gentle and make me want to sink into his arms and stay there. Over the years I've seen them change from tense to relaxed and content. They smile a lot now. They reflect his personality too - generous and caring.

Most eyes are like that - not generous and caring, but reflect the personality of the person.

I met one person years ago whose eyes didn't do that. It was a student I taught, a girl who was very nice and polite and worked hard. Her eyes were silver. Not grey - silver. It was a hard, solid silver, immovable, not molten or changeable. They reflected the light so strongly it was like looking into a mirror all the time, or a flourescent light. I found it very disconcerting. Even when she laughed or cried, her eyes didn't change. The tears made them look shinier but that's all. The colour was so strong that I could see it clearly from across the room, not like other people's eyes where you have to be up close to see exactly what colour they are. It was always a shock to turn from the board and look at the faces of the students in the room - all the other students were faces, their eyes just part of the shape, but with her I saw her eyes first. I remember being thankful that she was a student and I didn't have to try to get to know her or like her because I found her eyes very difficult to deal with. I also remember hoping her classmates didn't have my difficulty. It would have been awful if her friends had judged her because of her eye colour - something she didn't have any control over.

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