I Am Here, and I Choose to See Myself as I Am.
My eyes were unprepared for this.
I return home from the grocery store with an elevated pulse and tired eyelids, having scrunched and squinted them in an attempt to convey kindness, warmth, and friendliness to harried shoppers while simultaneously shielding them from my germ-laden body.
I’d like to view my path in the grocery store from the perspective of a bird, or better yet, an extraterrestrial being: the route would be jagged and predictably unpredictable, my body skirt-skirting past the woman hacking in Aisle 9 and high-tailing it toward the ground coffee and Pop-Tarts like a bat out of hell.
Tell me, Tyra Banks: how do I smile with my eyes? How do I express kindness, concern, caution, or curiosity with eyes that are simultaneously overused and underused? Because I have not left the house in days (save for my soul-restoring daily walks), I can visualize the dusty innards of my downstairs bathroom and the golden-brown packaging of the Cheerios box.
Its crunchy contents push me through the morning haze, peeling back my crusty eyelids to unveil the spanking newness of a baby day.
The morning is an infant in my arms — gentle, mostly quiet, yet also anxiety-inducing, much like the demands and unpredictability and potential mishaps signified by the hours ahead (and by my sheer existence, really).
The little man inside my brain is especially averse to uncertainty: this conniving and fussy little guy, who I once mentioned during an interview — rookie mistake — subsists on fear and self-deprecation.
Perhaps the healthier counterpart to the little man emerges when we still have “soft spots,” which my mom cautioned me about when I first held my baby sister. “It just lets her brain grow a bit more, and then her skull will close up,” my mom had explained to me.
Yes, we need adequate space for our big-ass brains, but we need to at least set aside a guest room for the uninhibited and joyous gremlin that lives inside each of us: you know, the one who wears a tie-dyed bodysuit and knows how to pole dance and sings “Hey Jude” on repeat.
How did I get here? Oh, yes, photographic memory of the Cheerios box and the bathroom: such knowledge may be effective for cleaning purposes, but my eyes long to see the unexpected and the unseen, like the lower half of the face of the beautiful masked woman I passed on my walk this morning.
Instead, my eyes are whipped and jerked by the reins of the little man, such that I’m hyper-focusing on the bags under my eyes, distracting myself from myself with YouTube videos of roly-poly seals, and ultimately boring holes into screens and mirrors alike.
The rational part of my brain acknowledges that self-demeaning behavior is fatiguing, and knows that these squishy orbs, however tired and misdirected, also hold sun-splashed and dirt-tinged memories that lend vibrancy and spunk to profoundly un-spunky days.
The same eyes that droop with fatigue at 3 pm have persevered into many dark nights filled with youthful hope and rowdiness and nocturnal angst, ft. Faye Webster and sometimes ft. Usher ft. Pitbull, if I’m being nakedly honest. On any one of these nights, my eyes soaked up the blurred intricacies of unmasked faces as they sped past my own.
One specific night, my well-meaning pupils scanned hundreds of sweaty bodies packed like pickles in a local piano bar, and I would be lying if I said they were searching for no one in particular.
These eyes have locked onto a vast, colorful assembly of “love locks” in Salzburg, padlocked onto the Makartsteg Bridge as a glittering testament to friends and partners and lovers and any other form of soul-singing, stomach-clenching love. I fingered the locks absentmindedly as I walked across the bridge, my eyes quietly locking the scene into my parietal lobe.
As my fingers grazed padlocks that had been touched by thousands of other romantics and tourists and lonely travelers, I did not think about the germs left by the fingers before mine, but instead my two closest friends from high school, the esteemed Julie Andrews, and the all-at-once abstract, terrifying, and alluring pull of romance.
Because my eyes witness the passing of time, they also interpret and preserve discrete moments. Routinely, they threaten to fail me at 3 pm (the little man shrieks, “nap time!”) and again at 11 pm (“bedtime!”), but they persist as keepers of color and pain and unexplored form, offering visions that meld with rough textures under my fingertips and sharp spices on my tongue and unfamiliar voices in my ears.
When I wake up tomorrow morning, my eyes will be crusty with sleep juice. I’ll rub off the residue with my face towel, but my actual eyeballs are perpetually ringed by purple bags and the physical reminders of emotional scars: tiny crinkles that trap tears but also deepen when I laugh, forming the stubby corners where top and bottom lashes meet like a messy kiss.
And so my eyes, like the moments they preserve, feel both physical and ephemeral. They represent the literal, biological machinery needed to see, but they also invoke the emotional energy to see what must be seen, even if uncomfortable or frightening or painful or ugly.
Because I can see, I choose to see. Eyeball fatigue is a reality, but not a real excuse.
I am here, in my body, in the grocery store, in Philadelphia, and I choose to see myself as I am, as well as the people around me: the whirling colors in their irises, the creases between their brows, the subtle movements of their fingers and the nervous tapping of feet that accompany audible sighs, fogging up glasses and puffing up face masks like week-old balloons.
I’ll return home soon, but I’ll take these visions home with me: place them in my brain box, secure the latch, tenderly pat its side before settling onto my stomach and sinking into the hazy pink comfort of my eyelids for the night. Eight hours later, I’ll wake up, wipe off the sleep juice, bid good morning to my gremlin, and choose to see again.
Sophia Maggio attended Gonzaga University and studied Psychology and Art with a minor in Leadership Studies. She is currently serving in Philadelphia, PA as a member of Jesuit Volunteer Corps. As a young adult during COVID-19, she hopes to find unconventional ways to connect to Philadelphia community members and her fellow volunteers, and to ultimately work at the intersection of art, spirituality, and social justice. Sophia loves to draw and paint while listening to podcasts (favorites include This American Life and Call Your Girlfriend), speed-walk, shop for the latest Pop-Tarts flavor, and read in a dark room with a flashlight.