“Look at me,” the teacher said.
“Look at me,” said a friend.
“Look at me,” said a boss.
“Look at me,” said a customer.
Look at me.
They were the words that followed me around until I was twenty. Then finally a friend asked something that no one had.
“Why can’t you look at me?”
Ironically it would take me until I was 38 to completely answer that question. But that one friend wouldn’t let it drop.
“You need to do this,” she would say.
“Why?” I’d ask and wonder if the wall needed painting.
You see I couldn’t look at people. Faces scared me. They held too much information. I couldn’t process it so I wouldn’t look at people. I’d see walls, clothes, shoes, ceilings, anywhere but the face.
Imagine trying to hold a conversation with someone who will only looks at the ground, or behind you, or anywhere but at you. It’s hard to impossible.
“You have to do this,” she would say.
In the end I agreed. Then those three words became something else.
“Look at me,” she would say and move her hands to her eyes. “Just the eyes.”
I did it. No monsters came out to eat me, nothing bad happened. So, we talked and I held a whole conversation without looking away.
“How was that?” I asked.
“Intense…” she said.
We laughed. But that wasn’t it. There was no quick fix. No immediate change. This was something we did for a year. A year of her moving her hand to her eyes and saying ‘look at me’. A year of me staring before I learnt how to moderate my looks.
Then uni finished. She went home. I went home. I kept at it. I kept practising. We wrote. For years we wrote. Then one day the letters stopped. I carried on. But they never came again.
In the end the friend who taught me to look at people was overcome by the big C. I hate that disease.
Still I remember her though. My friend who’s mantra will always be – look at me.