Monday, May 10, 2010
Through Her Eyes
No one seemed to be interested in getting to know me. Next to my roommate, I was mousy, drab, reticent. The young men were certainly civil enough when they came to pick Kate up for a date, or when we invited them for Sunday dinner, but they focused on Kate. I tried not to worry about it. I was paying all this tuition to go to classes, right? Social life was not guaranteed in my acceptance letter. But the apartment was awfully quiet while she was out on the weekends. Occasionally I went to a concert on campus, but the staff in the student center gave me funny looks when I asked for only one ticket. So I would wander the student art exhibits, or do some recreational reading, or just study more. Near the end of the semester, I was on top of my assignments, but Kate was falling behind.
After our other dinner guests had gone home one Sunday evening, Darwin was still droning on; Kate listened and smiled. I had finished washing the dishes, and was typing an email to my parents, when one sentence caught my attention.
"I really can't waste my time dating girls who don't have blue eyes," Darwin announced, smugly. "I wouldn't want to pollute my gene pool."
I raised my eyebrows. I had had a private theory that this might be the case among the male students we knew, but I was surprised to hear someone say it aloud.
Kate, on the other hand, was incensed. She politely thanked Darwin for sharing our meal, and escorted him to the door. Then she started pacing the living room, fuming about bigots and gene pools. Apparently the idea had never crossed her mind.
That night, we traded eyes.
It was Kate's idea. "Let's test your theory. If brown-eyed girls are invisible, maybe you can get a date this weekend, and I can finish my term paper."
I gazed sceptically at the azure orb she offered me. "I'm not sure blue is my color."
"How many dates have you gone on this semester?" she asked.
"Well, there was that one night when Ben and Jeff showed up at the same time to ask you to the same movie, and you persuaded them to double."
"Is that really all? You need these," she said emphatically, and we made the trade. I lent her my glasses, too. It would not be fair to have to write a paper with a blinding headache.
On Monday my face felt rather naked without the glasses. But it was refreshing to be able to see the blackboard and my notes without adjusting my specs. Soon I began to see even more.
For the experiment to work, people needed to notice the blue eyes in my head. So when I went jogging Tuesday morning, I looked up and smiled at my fellow exercisers. My habit was to look down, hoping no one would recognize me. But now I saw that I was not the only one with ratty jogging clothes or a blotchy red face. And some of the joggers smiled back.
After class Wednesday afternoon, I saw Andrea at her kitchen table in the apartment next door, and stopped in. She greeted me pleasantly, but seemed frustrated.
"Did you do something different with your hair?" She was unable to place the difference in my appearance. I just smiled, and looked more closely. I recognized the calculus book on the table.
"Are you having trouble with math?" I asked.
"It's 'integration by parts.' I have to take the exam tomorrow, and I just don't get it."
"That is a tough one. Here's what my professor showed me last year." I sat down and helped Andrea through the process. In half an hour, she was ready for her test. She gave me a friendly wave as I left, and promised to come by if she had any more calculus questions.
Andrea did come over Friday evening, and I beamed when she reported her good grade in calculus. I blinked when she invited me to the campus dance, with her brother and his friends. I turned the blue eyes on them all, and danced more in one night than I had in the past five years. We talked, too, and I found that I actually had a few things in common with these cool guys. The blue eyes were working!
I answered the door Saturday night to find Tommy asking for Kate. I felt bad; Kate liked Tommy, and would be disappointed to have missed him. But she had given me strict orders to not reveal her location in the library, so I looked him in the eyes and told him that she was out.
"Are you and Kate related?" he asked after a moment's thought.
"No, we're just roommates."
"But you look really familiar."
"I've lived here as long as she has."
"Oh, that must be it." He started to leave, then turned around. "Do you like Mexican food? I have a coupon."
So Tommy took me out for dinner. As he toyed with his chips and salsa, I saw that he was preoccupied. I looked at him sympathetically, and soon he was telling me all about his mother, and her chemotherapy. He worried about her, and the rest of the family. He was trying to decide whether he should keep going to school, or get a job near home and try to help out. I had had no idea that Tommy had such concerns, and I did not know how to comfort him. But I listened to his burdens, and soon he was smiling and joking again.
Suddenly I realized what the difference was. I had trained my brown eyes look at books and art; Kate looked on the heart. Could I do the same with my own eyes?
Sunday morning, Kate handed back my eyes. "I'm sorry they're so bloodshot, but I finished the term paper!"
I doused the brown spheres with eye drops before inserting them again. "That's great!"
"So, what about the experiment?" she asked. "Do blue-eyed girls really have more fun?"
"Well, I learned that it's not so much about how you look as, um, how you look."
"I mean, how you see."
She did not understand, probably because it came so naturally for her. But I practiced her technique. A few months later, Darwin came by to announce his engagement to a blue-eyed freshman. Instead of dismissing him as a bigot, I took a closer look. In the girl's eyes I saw trust and security; in his I saw, behind the triumph, relief that he had found a good mate before beginning the rigors of medical school. Kate and I congratulated the couple sincerely. And after they left, we giggled about the surprising turns genetics can take.