He’s leaning out of his chair sideways, slowly making his way to having his head down by the floor. This is odd, since office chairs weren’t built for this kind of activity, he’s a rather tall fellow and probably hadn’t been called upon to be that flexible in some time.
“Um…what are you…?”
“I’m trying to see where you’re looking, because it’s not at me.”
No one likes a smartass psychiatrist.
It’s not that I’m not listening, or that I’m lying to you or somehow not interested in whatever you’re saying or doing. It’s mostly that there’s a LOT of stuff to look at in any given room and I’m taking it all in. The smell of the room, the things in the room, whether one of the chair legs is nicked. My eyes are taking in the weave of the rug pattern and trying to make it make sense. If we’re standing, you’re probably not in my eye line anyway. Unless your name is Frodo.
I never even realize that I’m doing this until hours later, at which time I yell at myself for not making better eye contact. “Amy, other people think you’re disinterested or lying when you do that.” “I know! I can’t help it.” (Self and I have similar discussions about interrupting people. We’re also working on that. We do not mean to be assholes.)
My shrink accused me of having some kind of “intimacy issues.” I really did give that possibility some thought. I mean, he’s a doctor and everything, but I think he’s wrong. I don’t care if you know everything I’m thinking. Hell, ask something. I’ll tell you. It’s just words coming out of my head. I do it on the internet all the time. I don’t secretly think that I’m a terrible person. I’m not plotting much of anything. Well, ok, there may be some light plotting, but I promise it’s all for the common good.
What’s the problem? Why will it take months for me to reliably LOOK at you?
Part of it is because, when I look at you, I am REALLY looking at you. It feels terribly personal, and I don’t want to invade your personal space before I’m allowed to. Part of it is because, while I’ll tell you anything, I can’t always do it while LOOKING at you. Part of it (a big part) is just habit. I used to be terribly shy, terribly nerdy, little, awkward, pale and usually had my nose stuck in some dorky non-fiction book about fashion, music or European history. I didn’t get teased much because I was good at hiding.
I’m still a lot of those things, but I just don’t care anymore. The stuff in me that I don’t want you to see isn’t something horrible like “I’m secretly a murderer.” It’s stupid stuff we’ve already discussed: panic/anxiety disorder, neurosis, the occasional insanely bitchy thought, and a speech impediment that I could totally tame if I would just not talk so quickly.
I guess sometimes the lack of eye contact is shyness. Or that eye contact feels too intimate to do someone else’s husband or boyfriend. Or that I don’t know you well enough to let you wrap around my spine like that. People who wrap around your spine can hurt you, ripping that spine out like a pull on a zip car.
Not that I get protected much on that last one. You can not look at someone all day and still end up missing the way they smell or what their voice sounds like. Or the thing they do with their hands when they listen to music while driving. Or the way that one piece of hair curls. That one dimple. An ear lobe. An oft-worn bracelet. Every loved person isn’t just a pair of eyes; everyone I love is a puzzle of up-close pictures, but I still know what color everybody’s eyes are.