I never liked eye contact.
I used to sit next to people and talk to them facing straight forward. I didn’t notice that I was doing it or understand why I was doing it. I knew that looking to the side for a conversation’s length made my neck hurt and turning my whole body was a bit crowded in those closely-spaced chairs, but it was an effort didn’t even begin to start making until sometime in high school. People noticed, people commented, I blamed it on my neck (which was not a lie), it kept going.
I used to practice eye contact, picking people at random in crowded classrooms and just…making eye contact. The majority of those times ended less than five seconds later with a “What the fuck are you looking at?” glare. This was not encouraging. Across the room it was bearable, but not for the other person, it seemed. Up close, eye contact was overwhelming. I remember an elementary-school dance in which making eye contact with my dance partner was so intense that I could not endure it for more than an instant and spent the whole time staring at her collarbone, the ruffles on her dress, my shoes, anything but her eyes. And they were very pretty eyes. Other times eye contact with someone I needed to talk to would transfix me, keeping my eyes trapped as a sense of alarm and discomfort slowly swelled in the background.
I got adept at looking at people’s cheeks, foreheads, the space just to the right or left of their heads, some other object of interest in the room, anywhere but the eyes. Even when I made a point to look someone in the eyes at the beginning of a conversation, I would end up in all of these other places without a concerted effort as soon as I shifted focus from that specific task.
I can look at eyes. I like looking at eyes. Eyes are beautiful and warm and inviting and swathed in a dense web of intimacy and connection even when I’ve never seen them before. Eyes are so much that they are too much for me when they are looking back.
I mouth my knuckles.