On the first day of kindergarten, I met a kid whose name wasn’t Ted. Ted had an excellent pack of crayons (sensible and creative!) and was nice to me all morning. He was quiet and looked uncomfortable most of the time. When desk time came around, I was seated next to him.
I looked at Ted’s face. His eyes were brown, but when he looked into mine I suddenly thought of dusty green, so I leaned over and put my head down on his desk, as much in his way as I could. Ted and I ignored each other after that.
In another state, at a laser tag birthday party in high school, I first heard “I Kissed A Girl.” The song made me think of dark rooms and dancing and orange and most of all, soft pink lips. I turned to a friend and asked her, quietly, whether Katy Perry was a girl or a boy. My skull reverberated with the heartless crack of bowling balls on wooden pins, and my friend stared at me as though I had three heads. “She’s a girl,” she said expectantly, the way we both addressed small, confused children at work.
I felt my face screw up with the smell of industrial grade cleaners and the sudden tenseness of the rest of the group, who’d overheard. The space between my body and the outer limits of their personal space stilled, sparking and crackling aggressively against the sudden restriction. Even more quietly, I asked, “But… the song says…”
“Yeah…?” She grinned in a nervous way and shrugged, clearly expecting me to connect the dots myself. The rest of the group circled around impatiently to witness my latest epiphany, and to my shame I couldn’t hold back a lilting “Ohhhh!” as a whole new world of unconsidered possibilities unrolled before me. Disappointed that I was either so uncontroversial or so noncommittal, the party lost interest, and the space began to weave between us again as though nothing had happened. Life went on.
In college, I met lots of very strange people. My flirting had not improved since kindergarten, nor my social inference since high school, but that didn’t matter so much; underneath the warping, cracked layers, I figured, all most humans want is validation. That assumption hasn’t been significantly wrong yet.
Something else did trip me up, though. A strange disconnect surfaced between my senses and my choices. Most eyes did not make me think of colors, but some did—and the colors didn’t match my expectations for who I should feel close with, or what kind of relationship we cultivated, or (most of all) others’ desires and demands of me. Instead of following the colors, I ignored them.
Colors were—are—always unexpected. Yielding to others, on the other hand, somehow made everything from bad decisions to hurt feelings visible from miles away. Staying passive and underwhelmed somehow seemed safer — even though it wasn’t, physically or emotionally, most of the time — than ever feeling enough of myself to fill a whole moment at once.
But colors happen anyway, despite all the careful planning. At any time, someone I’ve known for weeks, months or even years can pull me close for a hug, or make a joke, or comment on pizza. I’ve assumed that the moment is just not going to happen with him or her, and boxed her into whatever kind of interactions seem manageable. Or I’d have convinced myself that I don’t really see colors at all, just associate them in memories.
But then, on that random day, in that unexpected hour, she can look me straight in the eye, and—instead of looking through me—for a moment, it will feel like she can see in. Sometimes even she notices the difference, too. Then I’ll look back into hers, and on top of the cacophony of senses and experiences and emotions I’ve seen in her soul before, I’ll see it. Color. Movement. Complexity. Or dead, empty space. No more passivity, no more deferred judgment. A shade of desire has broken free, and it floods my eyes and mouth and heart, fills my senses and drowns my mind.
Sometimes the shade is faint, ephemeral, and I only remember it under certain conditions.
Other times it’s a specific, intense and distracting hue.
Sometimes it even comes with a slightly hypnotic impression of movement — sunshine streaming through a window, or a pool of lavender water.
Sometimes the desire it flags is platonic, an intense friend-crush that finds nothing more satisfying than gaming together or chatting over tea about Fibonacci numbers. Other times it means wanting to sit outside late at night, drinking bourbon under summer stars and discussing theory of mind, constellations, and ancient mythic literary forms as foreplay to vigorous, passionate intimacy. (It could happen!)
It’s problematic in lots of ways. I’m already prone to staring at people for just a bit too long, simply because I find nothing so worth looking at as a face making expressions. It’s even more awkward to ask someone to repeat themselves because “the yellow distracted me” from the conversation altogether. And searching for correlation between the colors and the kinds of desire feels as forced and gross as pop psychology. What does bright gold have to do with how her smiles were hugs and her shoulders were gorgeous? Why did I see pure, rich red after he looked at me that way, when before his eyes make me think only faintly of periwinkle? Does that guy make me think of aqua just because he’s awkward and it’s alliterative, and how can she be such best friend material on paper and still make me think of nothing? What am I feeling, exactly, and why is it so strong when it all seems so arbitrary?
But feelings don’t ask why. Colors don’t explain their hue. They simply become, and exist, and demand to be experienced in all of their intricate, dazzling, problematic beauty. As do you. So don’t be shy. Come and take a good, long look. Now tell me — what do you see in my eyes?