070: My Friend, a Character Study

I had a friend who would run up to people in public places and photograph their eyes. He wouldn’t ask their permission. He was, however, good enough to disengage the flash.

To really understand an object, he said, “you must look at it directly.”

“Why eyes?” I asked him once, as his collection of thousands of eyes made little sense to me.

He said, “I’ve never taken a photograph of eyes that have ever been the same. They aren’t even distinguishable by individual if you crop them into their smallest understandable circle, eliminating marks that identify them, such as moles, folds, and the shape of the lashes and brows, everything that surrounds the lateral and medial rectus and then the photograph stands for itself. Unfortunately, I can’t always erase the lid.”

I imagined a character who one thousand years ago might be holding an eye and wondering what was it made of and concluding what a strange thing, really. Do they grow, this character might wonder. Yes, but axially. Is this human or whale or pig? Certainly not horse fly, who carries rainbows its massive arrangements, so much like drums.

He was correct to be fascinated by the human eye. But I learned that by “eye” he meant the fibers that make up the iridescent iris. My friend spent hours peering at the patterns after growing his stolen artifacts on the computer monitor for editing and study and it mattered little whether they belonged to children, the aged, the frightened or the insane.

Leopards on the flanks of sun-washed mountains. One hundred tree frogs. The surfaces of ponds shaded thickly by nameless lush. The little mounds of earth that surround ant holes at dawn. Trails of gasoline laced in puddled water. A small golden bulb erupting out a tar-colored blanket. Clouds smattered across the sky’s width at sundown. The silent broil of hurricanes observed from as near space as possible.

It was an enormous and endless list. Neither human nor animal nor otherwise meaningful beyond analogy or metaphor. “Stands for itself,” he’d said.

What do you see, what do you see? I wanted to ask him, what is it that you understand in these liquids, these amalgams, these terrifying galaxies he showed around the world in galleries. I wanted to ask him, why must you dash out and snap them when people least expect such an assault, so close, so close, so strange?

Our relationship was too quietly intimate for me to ask such questions out loud, indeed we rarely exchanged words. These questions or questions like them would have been inappropriate or presumptuous as I sat on the floor in his apartment studying those freshly printed images he made. The walls of every room were painted white. He had absolutely no furniture, with a few exceptions, a small bed with a white frame and white sheets, always perfectly made, and a white chair and table where he worked, scrolling through clouds and tigers and the striated thicknesses of anonymous fish scale fans.

“Yes, directly,” he said. “It’s what we have to do to understand them.”

I remember asking him once: “Why eyes?” I never repeated the question. But I do find it strange now that I couldn’t tell you the color of his own eyes. I find it terrifying–somewhat terrifying, unnerving, perhaps, regrettable–that when I think of my friend I see nothing but other peoples’ eyes where his eyes should be.

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