You, with the sticky fingers. I’m sure you don’t remember me. We never met face to face. You slipped up behind me while I was chatting with a fellow writer at a conference twenty-one years ago. Without a sound, you snagged the $65 pair of sunglasses out of the purse under my chair. I never suspected a thing.
I have something to say to you. Thank you. Thank you for setting me free from a prison of my own making.
Ten months earlier, I’d been at a busy beauty salon, getting all dolled up to be a bridesmaid. One of my dearest friends on the planet was about to be married, and her happiness was mine.
“Oh my God, your eyes are creepy!” the cosmetologist had exclaimed as she leaned in close to paint my wedding face on. “I can hardly stand to look at them. I wonder how your husband manages to wake up next to you every morning. You should never leave your house without sunglasses.”
If I heard her comment today, I would know it came straight from her own fear and ignorance. I would realize it had nothing to do with me. But all those years ago, without two decades of hard-won life experience to fall back on, her words shattered my young soul. They robbed me of my joy, not only that day but also for the better part of the year that followed—because I let them.
The next afternoon, I spent $65 I didn’t have on a pair of small, round, gold-rimmed sunglasses I didn’t want. I put them on first thing every morning, usually before my husband woke up, and didn’t take them off till I went to bed at night. I refused to answer the door or show my face in public without those glasses on, no matter what. The only time I didn’t wear them was when I put on a darker, much less attractive plastic wraparound pair that shielded my eyes from light a lot better. I used the cheap wraparound shades when I suffered from brutal migraine headaches. That was why the expensive sunglasses were in my purse, available for you to swipe at the writing conference.
I lost count of how many times I cried over what the cosmetologist had said. I worried obsessively about my “creepy eyes.” I had never given them much thought before, although they had been part of my face all my life. But suddenly I wondered how anyone had ever gotten past them. My husband tried many times to convince me that he wasn’t bothered by my eyes at all, but I wouldn’t be consoled. I took the word of a shallow stranger I had met once and would never see again over that of the man I loved most in the world.
Then you stole my sunglasses. I was furious. How dare you? I didn’t have the money to buy another pair. Did you know how much I paid for those? Well, obviously you did. You stole them, after all.
The plastic shades I wore when I had migraines worked in a pinch, but I couldn’t use them every day. They were too big for my face. They weren’t comfortable enough or attractive enough to wear all the time. What was I going to do?
Grudgingly, I started leaving my glasses off around the house now and then. My husband wouldn’t mind. I slowly got out of the habit of putting on my shades every morning. Then I answered the door once or twice without them. I figured my neighbors and close friends had all seen my eyes before I started covering them up anyway. I even ventured out in public a few times, glasses free, and life as I knew it didn’t end.
Finally one day, fed up with the clunky sunglasses, I tossed them on the linoleum kitchen floor and stomped on them. I felt satisfied as they snapped under my tennis shoe. I was done covering up my “creepy eyes.” Anyone who didn’t like the way they looked could look somewhere else. I was through with feeling ashamed of myself because of one insensitive comment from a stranger who had most likely forgotten I existed. It no longer made sense for me to hide my flaws so that the rest of the world could be comfortable. Or maybe I had realized how unimportant my flaws were, if they were even flaws at all, in the whole picture of who I really was.
“It’s about time,” my husband said approvingly.
I’ve never looked back. And I’ve never hidden my eyes behind another pair of sunglasses. A few people still get creeped out at first because my eyes wander from lack of use, and one of them is clouded by visible scar tissue. But most people are able to embrace my differences once they get to know me.
So you, with the sticky fingers. Thank you for setting me free. I hope you enjoyed those $65 shades more than I did.