I looked up and handed her my credit card and ticket so she could tally up my parking fee. She looked intently at me and said, “You have beautiful eyes.”
I smiled, probably the first time all day. “That’s the nicest thing that anyone has said to this 51 year-old woman in a long time.” The woman attendant looked shocked as she grabbed the counter and looked at me incredulously.
“Oh my, I thought you were the same age as my daughter.” I smiled and told her that comment would keep me smiling for the rest of the week. As I drove off, I wondered if in her attempt to fight off boredom of taking tickets in a glass cage, she dispersed compliments to customers and measured their reactions. And then I chastised myself for not living up to an adage that a good friend of mine has about compliments and paying the dinner check: Be gracious and accept. I looked in the rear view mirror to see what she saw in these eyes. I hadn’t done anything special, a swash of beige and brown eye shadow (rumor is that brown brings out the blue in one’s eyes) and a quick whisk of mascara. I noticed the fine lines creeping in, was relieved that the morning puffiness had time to dissipate, and wondered whether I should try to mask the dark circles that appear more often than not. Ever since my daughter proudly brought home her portrait of her mother at age seven, I’ve been sensitive. She proudly pointed out that she had captured those things under my eyes, carefully drawn in as half moons under my eyes in her rendition. She hung it in a place of honor above the family dinner table next to her portrait of her balding father and every day I would see those baggy eyes staring back at me. I’m sure nine years later they don’t look much better.
I reminded myself that beyond being gracious, I should be thankful. Both of my eyes are fully functional despite near misses. When I was four or five, I was a habitual tag-along. My older sister had her best friend Debbie to play with and my only other choice was Gordy down the street who was one of five or six boys, who had trash in their yard and their house smelled like human urine and dirty diapers. It didn’t help that they lived next to the cranky woman that would yell at you if you came close to putting a foot on her beautifully manicured lawn. Gordy said she was a bona fide witch. Debbie had Barbies and baby dolls with bottles whose milk magically disappeared when you tipped them. Gordy had a pile of dirt in the back yard. It's no wonder I shadowed Debbie and my sister. If I was persistent and quiet, they would let me join them.
One such evening, following an afternoon when I was lucky enough to be invited to be the tag-along, we were called home to dinner. My sister sprinted across Debbie’s back yard and swung through their ornamental wire gate as I lagged behind. I came barreling through just in time for the gate to swing closed, hitting my face with one of the ornamental wires and puncturing the skin near my left eye. As I ran home, I could see the blood splat against the sidewalk as it dripped through my fingers and I couldn’t figure out why my tears had turned red. Needless to say, I was rushed to the emergency room with an ice cube wrapped in a hand towel against my eye. After a few quick stitches I was pronounced “a lucky little girl, because one-sixteenth of an inch was the difference between a superficial wound and losing an eye.” We were treated to a rare stop for ice cream cones before returning home. From that point on, whenever those commercials would come on the television about kids with a “lazy eye,” I would test my vision in what I have come to think of as my “lucky eye” just to make sure it was still in working order.
Last year, shortly before Christmas, I was helping my daughter hide her present for her chef-in-training father. He had wanted a salt pig, something that sounds much more ridiculous than it looks. We had found the preferred brand and we were looking for a good hiding spot and the drawers under my daughter’s twin bed seemed like the perfect place. Perfect, except the drawers are on wooden sliders sitting on carpet and they weren’t sliding. I braced my feet and pulled with all my might and when the drawer gave way, I lost my footing and the corner of the drawer crashed into my right eye. Another emergency room visit 47 years later ended up with x-rays and this time the stitches were replaced with surgical glue.
“You’re one lucky woman. Another fraction of an inch and the impact of this blow would have either taken out your eye or resulted in an orbital fracture.” My daughter and I now regularly refer to the line in the holiday movie A Christmas Story chronicling a young boy's quest for a long yearned-for B.B. gun whenever we see the salt pig.
“Careful of that salt pig. It’ll take your eye out.”
I can still see the scar from the salt pig incident, so my right eye is affectionately known as my “salt pig eye.” I sometimes fantasize that I will master the Sophia Loren style eyeliner that my daughter is such a fan of and paint right over the scar and channel the extrovert that I’ve never been. But for now, I will just enjoy the fact that someone out there still thinks that my “lucky eye” and my “salt pig eye” are beautiful, even at fifty-one years of age.