When I was little, my mother used to defend the invasive gaze of passers-by with one simple explanation, “They stare because you’re so beautiful.” I accepted this, I took it in and let it rattle around in my little girl mind and I decided after much application that it made perfect sense. Now that I’m older I understand the world’s obsession with beautiful children. You see their small beauty bursting with potential, their perfection frozen for a moment in time; its awe-inspiring. However, as we grow older the last thing we want to experience is someone sitting across from us staring without end. Not a slow wave ‘hello’ to break the confusion, not even a blink.
Today on the train, a man stared at me from Fulton street to Kingston Throop (20 minutes on the subway). He sat shiftless, eyes blankly unfastened targeting my face for the entire ride home. I tried to focus on something else…the lyrics of Karen O. and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs blasting through my ear-buds; the sailboat rhythm of the train as it bustled underground; the lines on the palms of my hands. No matter what I did to distract myself, I found that looking up to see if he was still glaring at me was totally irresistible. He stared as people got on and off the train, his eyes creating a focal point in between the motion that separated us. He stared as the train operator announced a delay. He stared as a mariachi band toting wooden instruments and wearing charro outfits began to play loudly with incredible balance in the middle of the aisle. Nothing seemed to distract his mission.
After a while his ogling became hypnotic. It became ubiquitous, reeling me in like a vacuum, calling me to its mercy. I was one stop away from home when I finally conceded. For an entire four minutes I surrendered to his menacing vortex. We sat four feet across from each other staring relentlessly and I was determined to force his eyes to the subway floor. As we pulled up to Kingston I realized two things. One, that he was clearly retarded. And two, that I had met defeat. I buckled and decided to take the consolation prize. Before standing up I crossed my eyes, scrunched my lips inward like a whistle and held the face until the subway came to a halt and the doors opened. As I stood up to meet the platform and the summer heat outside I could hear the man laughing to himself in deep bubbly chuckles.
He brought the pain, but I arose victorious.