Eye to Eye (A Digression)

My local writers group is connecting for a collaborative project. We’re all writing creative pieces exploring a common theme: Eye to Eye. So this posting is a digression from the entries on “being” for the month.

Here’s my short piece . . .

• • • • •

Meditations in a Hospital Room

Eyelids drooping. Cheeks both slack and thin-skinned, fringing her jaw in narrow hanging folds. Mouth somewhat agape.

Inside, I was a bit horrified by the sounds, the saliva, coming out of that mouth.

And, deeper still, I was ashamed of my own horror.

Ashamed that, though this was my own kin, my dearly loved flesh of flesh, part of me stood back, hovered over, gawked at the strange spectacle of tubes and needles and humiliating gowns and hospital smells. Though an adult, I felt like a child – so unaccustomed with death. Stunned, and like a toddler raging, part of me utterly refused to accept the very physical, corporeal, reality on the bed in front of me.

My Nana lay dying.

And it was – it still is, so much later – so difficult to accept that the small, thin body under the impersonal, white blanket was the strong woman who taught me how to hike in the woods. Who invited me to prick up my ears and hear, really hear, the warm and droning buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz of the bees, skipping along the black eyed susans and ragweed. Who bent over a garden and pulled forth life. Who dug into ocean mudflats in the dead of night, harrowing out angelwings. Who whispered stories of fairies and gnomes and woodland creatures, great and small. Who told me—and believed—that little girls could do anything boys could. That I could become whatever I wanted when I grew up.

One hand weakened by yet another stroke, I held her strong one . . . and she squeezed back. With a ferocity that surprised me, even scared me a bit, she squeezed tight.

Until I saw her.

Until I raised my eyes above the blue-veined skin and the sterile sounds and the so-her-but-not-her frail body and the curious expression on her lax-muscled face

. . . up to her eyes.

That were still her.

That looked, stared, intently at mine.

No raising of eyebrows or pinching of eyelid or other muscular action to frame those eyes. To help send a message. To aid in shaping a familiar ocular expression.

But the eyes, themselves. They were steady, clear . . . and speaking.

We looked at each other for a long time, my hand squeezed tightly by hers.

And I’ve tried, in my memories, to insert words into that speechless exchange. Because that gaze said so much to me: so much that a body, rendered helpless and mostly inert, could no longer say.

It said I love you and stay with me.

It said I know you. Perhaps it said I’m afraid. Or maybe it said the opposite.

Maybe it was my own love, my own begging prayers, my own fear that I saw in those eyes. Maybe we echoed these messages to each other, round and round, as we stared – she unwavering and determined, me meek and mustering courage.

But it said, I am sure — that gaze holding a defiance beyond sound —

I’m still here.

dream seeds

• • • • •

Follow these links to read the “Eye to Eye” contributions from the following writers (and friends): 

• Amber Robinson

• Darcy Wiley

• Ashly Stage

• Jen Petro

• Charity Singleton Craig



10 responses to “Eye to Eye (A Digression)

  1. Kelli – This is so beautiful and painful and haunting. Her eyes. Your eyes. Connected. Speaking. Silent. I know this must have been difficult to remember and write, but it’s so beautiful. What a wonderful reflection on truly seeing.

    I couldn’t wait to read all of the posts in our little project. I think we might have to do this again!

  2. Pingback: Amber Robinson » Use It Up

  3. Pingback: Eye to Eye | Charity Singleton Craig

  4. Simply stunning, especially the way you ended the scene: “I’m still here.” Your story reminds me of this quote from a Huffington Post article, “‘Eye contact, although it occurs over a gap of yards, is not a metaphor,’ psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon write in ‘A General Theory Of Love.’ ‘When we meet the gaze of another, two nervous systems achieve a palpable and intimate apposition.'” There is really something to the cliche that the eyes are the window to the soul. I’m glad you did the hard emotional work of writing this. It’s beautiful.

  5. Wonderful work! Struck a chord with me – very vividly remember a lot of eye to eye “conversations” that I had with my “special” baby long before she signed or spoke. There is something haunting about unspoken soul-speak that lingers, long after the moment.

  6. Kelli, this is so painfully lovely. I cringed, cried, smiled, and just soaked in your words. Your willingness to be real and raw–in both your writing and real life–inspires me.

  7. Pingback: Eye to Eye | DropLeaf Communications

  8. Such poetry. I’ll admit, I was apprehensive to read this because I knew it would involve a painful memory, and I hate to think of my friends in pain– but this communicated a hope and a story and a promise that made me smile as I think of women in my own life who taught me what your Nana taught you. It also motivates me to inspire the same in others, so thank you for allowing us to share in your memory and for providing some inspiration.

  9. Beautiful. Life is best lived messy, painful, but showing up anyway.

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