When I was a girl, I could never figure out what color my eyes were. I would stand in front of the mirror, my face barely reaching the bottom, just to stare at them curiously. They were not blue or green or brown. Not even hazel. They appeared instead to be colorless, two silvery discs on my small, round face. They were not the bright blue of my father or sister. Their blue eyes seemed to pop like an electrical current, declaring in marvelous splendor the color blue. Nor were they the starbursts of hazel like my mother. They did not seem to absorb light, but to reflect it instead. My eyes would shine like mirrors, flickering from the light surrounding me.
When I questioned my doctor about it, she studied them for a moment before stating quite simply that they were grey. And even though “grey” seemed like an anticlimactic ending to some time of questioning, I at least felt comfort in cementing this aspect of my identity. Not long after, I found a kitten in my neighbor’s driveway. She was squished up in the tire of their pickup truck when I heard her meowing. I crawled under and found a little grey fluff of kitten, not much larger than my hand. She had grey eyes like me. I named her “Storm,” and snuck her into our basement until my parents found her and then she disappeared. I never did find out what became of her, but even as an adult I think of her sometimes.
In Colombia, they like to study the eyes of caucasians like me. When I visited their country as a teenager, I was often confronted with the dark eyes of Colombians staring closely at my face. They were fascinated by the spectrum of eye color white people had. And they’d circulate through our group of white Americans, declaring one color or another. Their eyes were what they called “Ojos Negros,” or “Black Eyes.” I was just as intrigued with their eyes as they were with mine. I’d never seen eyes so dark before. And on my first day in that foreign country, a group of boys and girls gathered around my pale face and announced to the room “Ojos Grises!” —Grey eyes.
As an adult I’ve gotten used to the occasional comment about the reflective nature of my eyes. In dimly lit rooms, I’ve watched people study my eyes and mention their glassy appearance. My eyes have always seemed to me insubstantial in some way, not really a color but a fibrous illusion of smoke colored light. And they seem to evoke questions more than understanding. They say that eyes are the “windows to the soul,” but mine are more like mirrors that keep onlookers at bay, glistening ocean in the midst of a storm.
I’ve been wearing a perfume called Oud Minerale by Tom Ford. It’s become a signature scent of mine. Instead of a flowery bouquet of femininity, it’s composed of seaweed and minerals. It’s somewhere between an ocean breeze and wet stone. I spray it in my hair everyday and imagine a misty scene with occasional sunlight peaking through to streak my sand colored hair with gold highlights. I often spend my days imagining this atmosphere. I pick up stones and carry them in my pockets throughout the day, feeling the rough edges along my fingertips and I feel that I’m elsewhere. I spend my days with a sense of cerebral imagination, and on rainy days, I open the window.
In my reflections, I have learned that words tell a story of their own. I think of words like layers of rocks in the earth, each interpretation or translation like a layer of the culture understanding it. “Red” comes from the Proto-Indo-European root, “to scrape.” “White” comes from the Old English word hwit, which means “radiant.” While the names of colors trace from lively images of green (“to grow”), yellow (“gold”), or orange (“fruit”), grey simply has always meant “grey.” The definition of grey is simple as well, “a color between white and black.” Even in its name, it yields no understanding, but clouds the mind with mystery instead. I think of shades of grey and think of smoke or fog, stones, and mist. For some reason I can’t explain, I’ve always felt comfort in such clouded and moody corners. As a girl, I raced along wet pavement on cold, mist filled days. Once, a fog formed so dense that I could barely see my hands in front of me, and I spent the entire evening trying to capture the grey vapor between my fingers, wondering if I could bottle it somehow. As a woman, I’ve been described even in my most intimate relationships as “mysterious.”
I could seem at moments like I’ve kept the world at arm’s length, seeming that everyone and everything dissipates before my eyes like my hands did in that fog. And at times I’ve been described as though I am walking through a fog. My fingers and toes are usually shockingly cold. Yet, I feel at home in the numbness of the feeling. Searing life flushed through my veins, there’s a sort of contrast in it like hot and cold mixed to form me into a myriad of cold mystery scraped with deep red emotion.
In my teenage years I found myself sneaking away to sit by myself in the library or out on the dimly lit street. It was a habit that grew to become a ritualistic lifestyle. In my 20s I snuck out onto neon smudged rooftops in Manhattan to smoke and reflect in ash speckled air. And instead of settling down or having kids, I chose a life of self-reflection with nights spent in smoky corners of my mind, sipping steaming cups of tea, believing that I could reach the depth of a human soul.
In moments when I’ve been told that men are “wild at heart,” I’ve felt defiant and thought that I too could be wild. Once when a cop pulled me over, I carelessly snapped at him for wasting my time. And instead of reproach, he stated simply that my eyes were indeed unique and drove off.
I’ve puzzled over societal structure often. Some times I’ve challenged those I had no right to and much of the time I’ve simply bypassed and drifted between the mirage of figure heads and rules, remaining somehow between the black and white and instead in shades of grey. When people ask my religion I’ve responded that I had no concept of it. When asked about politics I’ve drifted into the in between place of some of each and none of either. And with the cultural divide of race, I’ve felt strangely in between black and white. Some of my ancestors were oppressors, but many more of them were tortured in dungeons in the Alps for beliefs that were not accepted by the laws of their time.
It has always seemed to me that every institution, accolade, and definitive label was something oppressive to all free thinking individuals. In the paper chase of degrees and money, people forfeit the depth of belief for the comfort of convenience. And life becomes not the farmer with his crop or the carpenter with his table, but a brightly lit aisle of necessity. The gift of gratitude, individual craftsmanship, and the freedom of choice is somehow lost when we are reduced to just this aisle with this produce from so-and-so with such-and-such a degree, or a license and registration.
They say Aphrodite formed from her father’s blood which mixed with sea foam and I imagine the process of life frothing up in a salted wound. And when the Alps formed, they formed through a collision of tectonic plates in the earth. Beauty does not form according to popular demand or predictable algorithms, but springs up from our earth organically and without reason. In its way, only as itself completely, without cause but to be whatever it chooses to be. To apologize for it would be a shocking violation of it. To demand that it bends or changes for its bystander is a contradiction to its nature. To define it, to reconstruct it, or control it would be an abomination of it.
In my life I have experienced primarily those who have demanded an explanation, a destination, a number, a protocol, a constitution, or formula; and I have vaguely produced riddles for them instead. When discussing philosophy, I’ve lamely expressed that understanding it means to never define it. And when women demand that beauty is one thing or another, I’ve seen their campaign as not beautiful, but a crude imitation of itself. Beauty does not define itself, nor declare itself. Beauty does not need to.
When man has demanded submission, I have neither yielded nor held their narrative as valid. And when woman has demanded guilt of me, I have not complied. To go into the world as either slave or master is the language of those enslaved by their own vulgar minds. And those who understand our words to function as cages of beliefs or categories will never fully understand the depth that lays buried beneath.
I have felt for some time a devotion for the things felt deep within—those things that breathe in mystified corners of the mind and draw life from the soul. To feel within the heart, neither fear nor judgment but freedom. And to believe it so fully that it does not have to be demanded or complied, but mysteriously granted.
I sat once with an Amish woman that explained to me that God was found in the stillness of the soul. Ancient cultures did not even name God, but simply referred to such a divine force as “I am.” And the Buddhists describe such greatness as vibration. There are those who believe that vibration is within all of us, within all of our world, even in the rocks. And even Benjamin Franklin himself experimented on rocks to understand electricity.
For me though, such power lies within the most beautiful and most mysterious chambers of the soul. In the undefinable shades between. And to bottle up the mystery, or to measure, manufacture, and apply value to it would be a contradiction to its very essence. I read recently that Mary Magdalene hid in a cave in my ancestors’ homeland, the French Alps. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it leaves me with a sense of longing to be her, burrowing into the earth and echoing out something that comes solely and soulfully from deep within.
For me, it forms in shades of grey, in ashen embers and stormy seas. It forms in vaporous and luminous visions and that place in between. For me, it’s cold stretches of mystery. And maybe as well, it’s that swelling red of an emotion held secretly within.