Parts one and two of three?
The clock said 7:15. As I was slipping on my left sock, you squinted drowsily and rolled onto your stomach.
“Turn off the radio,” you mumbled, shielding your eyes with the crook of your arm. And so I did.
I was trying to dress quietly so that you could keep sleeping, but I wasn’t doing a very good job of it. I was still groggy and I fumbled all over the room in search of a wristwatch carelessly discarded the previous night. I felt like I was forgetting something.
“What are you looking for?”
“Nothing. It’s fine. Go to sleep.” If I needed to know what time it was I could always check my phone. A wristwatch is a luxury; something one can quite easily go without. There was something else I was missing. Something essential. I couldn’t think of what it was.
Even though I knew I was overlooking something important, I shuffled out into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of orange juice. I drank it and splashed a handful of cold water in my faceâ€”a morning ritual that has served me much better than the de rigueur cup of coffee, which has only ever made me stale and drowsy and irritable.
One of these days, I told myself, I’m going to cook an egg for breakfast. But I was running late—and hey, I’m no master chef. Some morning it would be fried potatoes and onions, fresh grapefruit and eggs over easy. But a granola bar would do splendidly for the moment. I grabbed one and stuffed it into my pocket. I could eat it on the way.
Had you asked me just then where I was headed, I might have been able to tell you. But now, it’s a bit hazy. Some kind of drudgery; not stifling or massively unpleasant, just not the sort of thing I’d had in mind for my future self. But whatever. Gotta buy the groceries. Got to keep my debt in check. Plus, I was saving for something nice.
I absently patted my pockets on my way out the door and remembered what I had been forgetting: my keys were sitting on the night stand.
I slipped back into the bedroom as quietly as I possibly could. The trick is in swinging the door open fast enough that it doesn’t squeak but slow enough that it doesn’t bang into the wall, and then avoiding a few key creaky floorboards on the way over to the night stand.
Once I got to the bed I realized that—silly me—I did have my keys. In my left front pocket, right where I always put them. I don’t know why I missed them before.
You really were something to look at. Fast asleep, tangled up in the blankets, a tuft of your hair sticking up at an odd angle. I was making a big show out of trying not to make any noise, but I really didn’t need to worry. You know how you get. I could have thrown my typewriter through the window and you wouldn’t have flinched. The clock said 7:32.
The sun was starting to spill in around the edges of the ratty old venetian blindsâ€”the ones with all the broken slatsâ€”and it made your face glow the softest of glows. I could have lived in that glow. I could almost have sworn that the glow was coming from somewhere inside of you, that if I blocked all the other light out of the room and let darkness engulf the two of us, you would still be lying there, glowing just the slightest bit. I envied that a little, your ability to glow.
I reached out and brushed the hair from your face. Your nose wrinkled and you let out a deep, long, expressive sigh that managed to say everything I was thinking. It said, for instance, that I was scared about the future. It said that I was forgetting something important, it said something truly beautiful happens in the world every single day. It said I was worried that maybe you really didn’t love me as much as I loved you. It said that you loved me.
One thing that I was thinking about was that poem by William Carlos Williams that everybody knows—the one about the plums—and your sigh said that too.
Your sigh said that I wished that you would open your eyes, just so that I could see them, but it also said that no, you’d rather keep right on sleeping, thank you. Your sigh was a free-form love sonnet. Your sigh was the great American novel.
I didn’t want to wake you. I just stared at your closed eyes and imagined what they would look like if they were open eyes. Full of potential energy, and wit, and when they looked straight at me for more than a second or two I would feel something turning upside-down at the bottom of my stomach, towards the back, on the left side…
The clock said 7:45. I didn’t want to be late. So I left. I was still forgetting something. Maybe I’d found it and then lost it again. Maybe it was waiting for me.
I get distracted sometimes looking at light. There are so many kinds: soft, hard, warm, cool… some of it comes from you…
I get distracted looking at light and I forget that there’s other, more important things to look at. Like feet.
I can tell a lot about a person by their feet. I don’t really know how I do it, but I can. Just looking at a person’s shoes is a good start, but take off your socks and I can really get specific.
I know, for instance, that you’re generally healthy and will probably live a long life. That you’re a morning person. That you’ll never be a vegetarian. That you like listening to Queen but would never admit it.
Oddly enough, I can’t tell anything about myself from looking at my own feet. I’ve tried before. I thought there might be some useful information there. I took off my socks one afternoon and stared and stared and stared. I just drew a blank. It was just another pair of feet. Nothing special or unique about them. They might as well have been furniture.
I also like to look at feet because that way I don’t have to look at faces. Faces scare me.
No, that’s the wrong way to put it. Faces don’t scare me, they… they worry me. And sometimes what I see inside those faces seems dangerous, and I have to look away.
I remember one time I was riding the train and there was this guy sitting across from meâ€”short, skinny guy in a suit. Least imposing fellow you could ever meet. Coke-bottle glasses and a beat-up old briefcase. And so I thought I’d try my luck, and I looked up at his face, and he maybe was thinking the same thing I was thinking, because at the exact moment that I looked at his face, he looked at my face, and for a split second our eyes met, and I saw something in those eyes…
There was a war going on in those eyes, and both sides were losing. You’ve heard that saying before, that you can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake? That was what those eyes felt like.
That eye contact must have lasted only a half a second at most, but I had to get off at the next stop and walk the rest of the way home.
That was the week that I couldn’t look you in the eyes and you got really annoyed with me because you thought I was avoiding you or something. I wasn’t. It was that war in those eyes that did it.
Same thing goes for my eyes as for my feet. I look at them in the mirror and they’re just shiny, dark marbles. People tell me they look kind, but I don’t know. I’m not really one to judge. They don’t say anything to me.
Your eyes are different. They’re not too different, yeah. But there’s something about them. They seem at first to be joyous and electric, but the more I look at them the more I realize that they’re seeing way more of me than I am of them, and there’s a little fleck of something in the left one that makes it seem like it’s seen something that it doesn’t want to see. And if I keep on looking, oh it makes me dizzy and self-conscious, but if I keep on looking, there’s something hiding back there. I don’t really know what it is, but it’s something entirely foreign and secretive and probably powerful, even though it doesn’t look it.
I don’t think I’ll ever know what that is, but I do my best sometimes to find out.