There’s a woman in my office that works in HR and only today have I realized why she bothers me so much: she doesn’t make eye contact.
For a while, it never dawned on me because she’s so good at it, so good at being personable, that I wonder how many people she fools on a daily basis. In my head, everyone sees through her fake smile and politeness and charm, but I always hear people chatting with her in the halls and in the break room. Plus, it took me this long, who knows how long it takes everyone else. Maybe it’s easy for people to hold a fake conversation with another fake person. I’ve caught her eyes before, and they looked in shock that they met mine, and before I could study them, she looked past me and kept talking, saying, “hi,” and asking, “how was your weekend,” and I kept walking thinking she was talking to someone behind me, only to turn the corner and see there was no one there.
I know she’s fake because she never waits to hear a response, and she never calls you out on not answering her “chit-chat” type questions. Once she came to my desk to get something and I thought she was talking on a Bluetooth.
Her smile is cute and she’s “pretty enough.” I thought for a while maybe she’s just ashamed of working in HR, because that would keep me from looking in the mirror every morning, but this has to be something else.
It’s always right over my left shoulder, almost like she’s blind. But she is cute and so nice. Once, I saw her putting dishes in the dishwasher, even though we have a cleaning service that does that. I know its fucked up, but it annoyed me that she did that. She could do anything and I’d never find it genuine, and that’s my own fault. I can’t grasp it, and I want to shake her and ask her why, why?
I had a friend, more of an acquaintance, we had mutual classes starting our sophomore year until we graduated, but never really got close in the way that makes you tight with someone. She was burned on half her body, mainly on the left side: her face, her head, her neck. Maybe it was a birth defect, but it was burns. Half of her face was scarred and melted, her ear was small and shriveled. You could see in her what a real skeleton might look like with just skin pulled over it. Her voice was gravely, like even her vocal chords were burned. She had hair, crazy hair, wild and frizzy and a bright orange red.
She never made eye contact with anyone, but it never bothered me. Talking to her and being around her took some getting used to, just because it really was a bit shocking.
In my mind, she didn’t make eye contact for fear or shame of seeing the look in other people’s faces as they stared at her, or didn’t. It must have happened years before I met her, because she was a seasoned vet at avoiding people’s gaze. She’d move her eyes, these emerald green balls, darting around you, looking anywhere but straight ahead. It was like she rolled her eyes, but it was with more control and with a direct intent. It was as if she avoided contact for the other person’s sake.
She was funny too, never self-deprecating. I really had respect for her. I wonder if that bothered her, people believing things about her because of her burns. Completely unwarranted feelings. Like people saying she was brave. Brave for what? Existing? In that sense, I guess we all are.
And now I think of April, my girlfriend from the semester abroad. She wouldn’t make eye contact when stating an opinion, and at first I found it adorable. She seemed smart and deep, like she was pulling the comment with her eyes out of the stars and bringing it down into fruition like she was the first one ever to say it. She’d look right up, never squinting into the light that shrunk her pupils into dots.
Later on I realized she didn’t make eye contact in order to keep you from interrupting, because she wasn’t done with her statement, whatever it would be, until she looked back at you. Only then was it your turn. I found it sexy. Other times, when she was selling an opinion on something she didn't know enough about, she'd do the same eye tilt. This was a subconscious way of not having to look into the eyes of the person she was lying to for fear of them finding the truth through direct gaze. You know, like a child.
She controlled conversations with her eyes, orchestrating everything with who and when and where she looked throughout.
She hated her name and all the times people referred her name with the weather or the date. She hated spring. She had angst toward something she had no control over and I loved that. But as it usually unravels, what once was intriguing inevitably grew dull and paper-thin until I could see directly through her. I told her once how I wanted to name my (future) daughter Caroline, because she’d grow up hating the people who sing Sweet Caroline to her and hate all the people who drunkenly sing the only two lines they know but are so desperate to fit into the group consensus. Because in general, those people suck, and I figured naming her Caroline would give her a shortcut, a secret doorway into seeing who people really are. When I told her, April nodded and agreed and loved my humor (I wasn’t joking).
We told ourselves we would stay together once we came back to campus, both not wanting to admit we were only together in order to give one another some kind of comfort from home. Somehow, I was the one who pushed for us to attempt the relationship back at home. One of the first weekends back, we were at the bar and the inevitable song came on. I refused to take part in singing, “Sweet Caroline, BAH BAH BAH,” with a group of people I didn’t give a shit about. I didn’t want to sing it with a group of people I did give a shit about. The same reason I don’t take part in the YMCA or the Macarena or some other public group dance. April sang along, absolutely in love with the scene, her smile wide and drunk and “living in the moment,” while I sat silently and drank my beer. I wasn’t pouting, I just wasn’t going to do it. She tried egging me on, telling me to “just enjoy yourself,” and I knew that was the beginning of the end, because she looked up when she said it.
Just enjoy yourself. Just enjoy yourself. Just enjoy yourself.
I wonder what she's doing now.