It’s a few minutes past midnight, and I’m standing in front of the old, chipped sink, looking at my reflection between the two fluorescent bulbs. My stomach’s fluttering from too many gummy bears and even my heart beat is tired, but I don’t look too bad, I think. My hair’s a little messy from frequent exasperated pulls at the board meeting as the hours crept later and later, and there’s a light coffee stain on my white shirt, but otherwise I look normal and professional and not like how I feel – that I could sleep right here on the bathroom floor.
Except for my eyes.
They peer back at me from half closed lids, blurred and watery and bloodshot until there’s almost no white left. They look beyond tired. They show every minute of bickering and insults and long, confusing arguments and bond issuance terminology and nonsense masquerading as sense that come from a long meeting with clearly drawn battle lines. They reflect the long drive home on curving, hilly roads, blinded by coal-truck headlights, anxiously watching for deer. They blur with computer glare and small black words on a too-bright screen.
They betray my entire night; they betray me.
My eyes have always been treacherous, but at first I blamed it on my mother’s sixth sense of just knowing when her offspring felt that first wave of tiredness. As a newly speaking toddler, family lore has it that I loudly, frantically denied what my eyes were telling her. (Literally, “My eyes not droopy, droopy.” I blame my mother for the odd terminology.)
I tried keeping my eyes open extra wide in a faux surprise as a distraction; it didn’t help.
Older, I’d realized that my eyes always told her, even when I didn’t feel tired at all. So as the night wore on I’d avoid her. “Stay outside, we can’t go in, you don’t really have to get a drink of water that bad,” I’d tell my friends as the sun set. “They’ll see us and remember that it’s bedtime!”
If needs prevailed and we dared remind them of our presence, I’d keep my head turned away, avoiding eye contact. One look and I knew I’d be on my way to bed, my friends packed into their vehicles.
I always figured this betrayal would be outgrown. My eyes had made a pact with my mother, but at some point I’d be gone and the agreement would be void.
But my eyes have no loyalty.
I remember my first excursion into the adult world. A preteen girl tagging along to a women’s retreat to babysit the infant daughter of my mom’s friend, I got to stay up late and eat chocolate and listen to a world I was expected to join: stories of childbirth and silly toddlers and husbands and PMS and home school curriculum. I felt the sleep waves coming but didn’t worry too much; mom wasn’t here to notice and no one else knew about my eyes.
Except they all noticed. Everyone of them, and I was bundled off to bed and my make-believe adultness was gone. Apparently my eyes made a pact with all mothers, not just my own.
They still do that, I realized last night, looking into the mirror. Now there’s no one to send me off to bed, but no matter what make-up I use and how cheerfully I talk and how widely I open them, my eyes always, always tell everyone in the room that I’m tired.
I guess that’s why they call eyes a window to the soul; there’s just no controlling what they choose to reveal.