photo by Alex Lear




Could You Wear My Eyes?

At first Reggie wearing my eyes after I expired was beautiful; a sensitive romantic gesture and an exhilarating experience. For him there was the awe of seeing the familiar world turned new when viewed through my gaze, and through observing him I vicariously experienced the rich sweetness of visualizing and savoring the significance of the recent past.

I'm a newcomer to the spirit world, so occasionally I miss the experience of earth feelings, the sensations that came through my body when I had a body. I can't describe the all encompassing intricate interweave of spirit reality -- "reality" is such a funny word to use in talking about what many people believe is so unreal. I can't really convey to you the richness of the spirit world nor what missing human feelings is like. I'm told eventually we permanently forget earth ways, sort of like when we were born and forgot all those pre-birth months we spent gestating in our mother's womb, in fact, most of us even forget what it feels like to be a baby. Well the spirit world is something like always being a baby, constant wonder and exploration.

Reggie must have had an inkling of the immensity of the fourth dimension --which is as good a name as any for the spirit world--or maybe Reggie guessed that there was a meta-reality, or intuited that there was more to eyes than simply seeing in the physical sense. But then again, he probably didn't intuit that this realm exists because, like most men, centering on his intuition was difficult for Reggie, as difficult as lighting a match in a storm or imagining being a woman. In fact, his inability to adapt to and cope with woman-sight is why he's blind now.

I was in his head and I don't mean his memories. I mean literally checking his thoughts, each one existing with the briefness of a mayfly as Reg weighed the rationality of switching eyes. This was immediately following those four and a half anesthetized days I hung-on while in the hospital after getting blindsided by a drunk driver a few blocks beyond Chinese Kitchen where I had stopped to get some of their sweet and sour shrimp for our dinner. Through the whole ordeal Reggie never wavered. Two days after my death and one day before the operation, Reginald woke up that Monday morning confident as a tree planted by the water. Reggie felt that if he took on my eyes then he would be able to have at least a part of me back in his life.

He assumed that with my eyes he maybe could stop seeing me when he brushed, combed and plaited Aiesha's thick hair or sat for over an hour daydreaming at her bedside while she slept, looking at our daughter but thinking of me; or maybe once my chestnut colored pupils were in his head then my demise wouldn't upset him so much he'd have to bow his head like he was reverently praying when a woman jumps up in church to testify--like sister Carol had done the day before--and has on a dress the same color as the one I often wore.

Reginald was so eager to make good as a husband and father, to redeem whatever he thought was lost because of the way he came up. I am convinced he didn't really know me. He had this image, this ideal and he wanted that in the worse way. Wanted a family, a home. And I was the first woman he ever loved and who ever loved him. All the rest had been girls still discovering themselves. We married. I had his child. And for him everything was just the way it was supposed to be. For me, well, let us just say, some of us want more out of life without ever really identifying what that more is and certainly without ever attaining that more. So, in a sense, I settled -- that's the woman Reginald married. And in another sense, there was a part of me that remained restless. I hid that part from Reginald. But I always knew. I always, always knew me and yes, that was what really disoriented Reginald. He loved me and I could live with his love, but until he wore my eyes he never got a glimpse of the other me.

I used to think there was something wrong with me. I should have been totally happy. Of course, I loved our daughter. I loved my husband. I could live with the life we had, but... But this is not about me. This is about the man whom I married. I married Reginald more because he loved me so much than because I loved him back like that--I mean I loved him and all but I would never have put his eyes into my head if he had been killed and I had been the one still alive.

After we went through all the organ donation legal rigmarole, we actually celebrated with a late night seafood dinner; that was about eight and a half months before Aiesha was born. Just like getting married, the celebration was his idea, an idea I went along with because I had no good reason not to even though I had a vague distaste, a sort of uneasiness about the seriousness that Reginald invested into his blind alliegance to me. You know the discomfort you experience when you have two or three forkfulls left on your plate and you don't feel like eating anymore, but you have always been taught not to waste food so you eat that little bit more. Eating a few more mosels is no big thing but nonetheless forcing yourself leaves you feeling uneasy the rest of the evening. I can see how I was, how I hid some major parts of myself from Reginald and how difficult I must have been to live with precisely because he didn't really know the whole person he was living with, and he would be so sincerely worshiping the part of me that he envisioned as his wife, while inside I cringed and he never knew that despite my smiles how sad I sometimes felt because I knew he didn't know and I knew I was concealing myself from him. Besides, what right did I have not to eat two little pieces of chicken or not to go celebrate my husband's decision to dedicate his life to me?

In hindsight I came to realize I shouldn't have let him give me things I didn't want. Reginald would have died if he had known that having or not having a baby didn't really make that much difference to me. He wanted... You know, this is really not about me. When we went to celebrate our signing of the donation papers, I didn't know then that I was pregnant but even if I had, we wouldn't have done anything differently; stubborn Reginald had his mind made up and, at the time, I allowed myself to be mesmerized by the sincerity and dedication of Reg's declaration--my husband's pledge to wear my eyes was unmatched by anything I had previously imagined or heard of. When somebody loves you like that you're supposed to be happy and if you aren't well then you just smile and, well, I think when he saw the world through my eyes he saw both me and the world in ways he never imagined.

The doctors told Reginald there usually weren't any negative side effects, although in a rare case or two there were some unexplained hallucinations but, even for those patients, counseling smoothed out the transition. The first week after the operation went ok and then the intermittent double visions started. For Reggie it was like he had second sight. He saw what was there but then he also saw something else.

Sometimes he would go places he never knew I went and get a disorienting image flash from a source about which he previously would never have given a second thought, like the svelte look of a waiter at a cafe, a guy whose sleek build I really admired. Reginald never envisioned me desiring some other man. I don't know why, but he just never thought of me fantasizing sex with someone else and now suddenly Reginald looks up from a menu and finds himself staring at a man's behind. Needless to say, such sightings were disconcerting. Or like how the night I got drunk on Tequila would flash back every time I saw limes. Reginald is in a supermarket buying apples and imagines himself retching, well, he thinks he's imagining dry heaves but he's really seeing the association of being drunk with those tart green, lemon-shaped fruit. And on and on, til Reggie's afraid to go anywhere new, afraid he'll run into another man I had made love to that he never knew about, like this person he saw in a bookstore one day, a bookstore Reginald never went in but which I used to frequent. That's how I had met Rahsaan. Reggie just happened to be passing the place, looked inside the big picture window and immediately peeped Rahsaan. When he looked into the handsome obsidian of Rahsaan's face with it's angular lines that resembled an elegant African mask, Reginald got the shock of his naive life. He didn't sleep for two whole days after that one.

And when he closes our eyes to sleep, it's worse. A man should never know a woman's secret life; men can not stand so much reality. Their fragile ego's can't cope. It's like they say in Zimbabwe: men are children and women are mothers. Being a child is about innocence, about not knowing the realities that adults deal with every day. Men just don't know the world of women. So after Reginald adopted my eyes, you can just imagine how often he found himself laying awake at night, staring into the dark trying to make sense out of the complex of images he was occasionally seeing: awakened by the terror of a particularly vivid dream in which he saw how he had treated me, sometimes abusing me when he actually thought he was loving me--like when we would make mad love and he wanted me to suck him, he would never say anything, just shove my head down to his genitals. Sex didn't feel so exquisitely good to him to see his dick up close, the curl of his pubic hair.

Although the major episodes kept him awake and eventually drove him down to the riverside, it was the unrelenting grind of daily life's thousands of tiny tortures that propelled poor Reg over the edge. Looked like every time he turned around in public he felt unsafe, felt vulnerable to assault from men he previously would never have bothered to notice. Seemed like my eyeball radar spotted potential invaders everywhere Reg looked: how to dodge that one, don't get on an elevator with this one, make sure there's always another person nearby when you're in a room with so-and-so. And even though as a man Reg was immune to much of the usual harassment, it became a real drag having to expend a ton of precautionary emotional energy in the course of taking a casual stroll down the block to buy some potato chips. The strain of always being on guard was too much for Reg; he became outraged: nobody should have to live like this is the conclusion he came to.

He never knew when the second sight would kick in and the visioning never lasted too long but the incidents were always so viscerally jolting that they emotionally disoriented him. In less than two weeks it had reached the point that just looking at make-up made Reg sick. He unconsciously reacted to seeing some shades of lipstick by wetting his lips with his tongue, like there was something inappropriate about him having unpainted lips--a vague but powerful feeling that he was wrong for being like he was started to consume him. And he couldn't bear to watch cable anymore.

The morning Reginald blinded himself, he stood on the levee staring into the sun without squinting. Silent tears poured profusely down his cheeks. He kept saying he had always thought our life together was beautiful, and he never knew I had suffered so. And then he threw a twelve ounce glass, three-quarters full of battery acid onto his face, directly into our unblinking eyes. A jogger that morning found Reginald on his knees, shrieking. The runner ran to a house and begged the people who lived there to call an ambulance for a Black guy folded over on the levee screaming about he didn't want to see anymore, couldn't stand to see anything else.

—kalamu ya salaam