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mark hollock

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by Mark Hollock

      I can barely talk about it. One of my wife’s eyes has turned color. Not the whole eye, just the iris. She had the most beautiful deep brown eyes. In those eyes I curled and rested, felt safe. Now her left eye has turned a very pale gray. It's extremely unnerving. She claims it isn’t anything, goes about her business as if eyes of a different color are as common as dandelion seeds. But from as brown as a football to as gray as a silver Lexus, I’m bewildered.
      When we sat beside the canals of Venice, gondoliers standing tall, the water was as rich and muddy as her eyes. But no longer. I love Wendy. She’s the tight jeans I’ve broken in rather than the stiff pair straight off the line. My adoration of her eclipses any of her faults. Except for this eye thing.
      People notice Wendy’s change right away, the new jauntiness in her step, her perpetual good mood. She’s pleased with herself. She’s started wearing hats and going out with friends of like mind. She buys new eyeliner or clothes that accentuate her figure. “And why not?” she’s asked me a dozen times. I have no answer. Wendy has abandoned any tug-of-war she once had with self-esteem.
      People gather around her wherever she goes. Some have begun to imitate her look, with one colored contact lens. She’s the spearhead of a ‘So What?’ movement and her appearance is discussed in earnest, as if it’s one among many legitimate options.
      She says she loves me, still loves me. But I hear it like she’s hiding something; as though she’s involved in a robust affair; or squirreling away money to leave me; or dancing every Tuesday night rather than attending her book club. I feel left behind, like a dinosaur in the age of nostril jewelry, orange hair and mismatched shoes. This eye-color change has rewired her entire being. I no longer know her. Last night she said she was happy. But I don't understand how she can be.
      When I accuse her of changing, she takes it as a compliment. And that, right there, defines the gulf that’s opened between us.
      “Peter,” she says. “You’re getting benefits, too. We’re talking more. We haven’t talked this much about how we feel in … we’ve never talked this much about how we feel.”
      She’s right, but … but…. As delightful as the topic is for her, it’s painful for me. Like an affair, she tells me the only thing wrong is the secrecy. She says there’s no sense hiding the obvious; if it wasn’t for the torment I’m going through, she’d be carefree. I see her vibrant with heightened senses. She raises her face to misty morning rain and appreciates a sunset as though it will never happen again.
      Wendy claims this change is allowing her to be more fully herself. But it’s a self I don’t recognize. The comfort I've known in her gaze is now gone. I’ve taken for granted her easy companionship. At parties, she used to stay by my side. Now she mingles and talks with anyone, explaining to me, “They just want a look, have a good see.”
      Everyone tells me she’s still the same person inside. I suspect they’re right, suspect too that my image of her needs catching up with reality. Nonetheless, when she refuses to cover her eye as we dine with friends or she gazes this way and that through outdoor markets, I wonder what people must think of me, knowing I’m married to this woman who clearly shows signs of imbalance.
      Lately she's standing with better posture and displaying a self-confidence I’ve never seen in her before. When self-doubt dripped from her every action, I knew how to be with her. Now her distinction—as she calls it—undermines me, brings out the pimply-faced boy who no longer knows how to act in the world I created around her.
      When I say my manhood is in question because of Wendy's eye change, I feel foolish. But it’s a limp truth. The other night she said, "Listen, Peter, we'll turn off the lights, you close your eyes and we'll just do it," as if I could easily be sexual with her while imagining the looks she gets, her intimate eye contact with people I don’t know. Strangers gaze into her eye and she doesn’t turn away. She lets them forage, examine, and probe her innermost essence. What was once mine she now shares with any who look her way, feeling it’s her duty to give consolation, connection, and contact to anyone suffering from separation.
      I know what she gives to others is not less for me. She’s attentive and loving but won’t share my concern for this … this change that’s bringing out the best of her. She’s different than she was. And if she truly was a different woman, I could have sex with stiff conviction. But with this new woman impersonating my wife, I can't maintain an erection because I'm too obsessed with worry. I want more comfort in sex, more knowing and safety. This I miss while Wendy’s feeling courageous and experimental—a brilliant object of her own self-assurance.
      Medical experts, though astounded and bemused, don’t suspect illness or disease. Friends open their palms in submission and encourage me to value the honesty she has shown. I give it my best shot, but Wendy grows tired of my whining. And once her patience drains, she says things utterly true but regretful anyway. “This isn’t about you,” she has thrown at me numerous times. “Get a grip. See it from my point of view.”
      So I try. If change is the game of the day, I can play as well as anyone. I can do what she’s doing and we’ll see if she likes it. I lie awake at night and develop plans to modernize my life. I'll get a tattoo on the flank of my neck. I'll install pastel-colored laces into my shoes. I feel devious with these dark ideas. I imagine painting tiny landscapes on each of my fingernails; of shaving the sides of my head. I want at the very same time to embarrass her and also gain her acceptance. I want to show her, without uttering a word, that I too can be more fully myself.
      But it’s a sham. She won’t be embarrassed and I won’t be more fully myself.
      She assures me that she wasn’t on the prowl for an eye color change. It just happened, doesn’t mean anything, no one’s fault. Yet when I see both men and women mesmerized by her eye, I want to warn her, men are scoundrels wanting only one thing, and the women, too, hunger to consume her. She claims her new experiences are satisfying—while I wonder if she’s now willing to do those things she’s never done with me.
      But she hears me as controlling, devilishly trying to be the sole and selfish dictator of her life.
      When I imagine this change in some other couple, people I don't know, it seems a minor problem, hardly worthy of heartache. Every day people die of starvation, are killed by war, terrorists, or gangs. The cruelty displayed by humans casts a light of reason on my situation. Yet when I arrive home with this insight on the tip of my tongue and I’m ready to share it with Wendy, I look in her eye and my smile drops, my stomach sinks and I'm suddenly lost again in the unfamiliarity of her.
      I've lately been argumentative, clenching my fists and kicking furniture. I've found some temporary solace in storming around slamming doors. I am as often as not accusatory.
      Two years ago when she started a new job as an office manager, Wendy became tyrannical at home. I considered that natural, to be expected, and I swayed like a willow in a gentle breeze until she came back to her senses.
      But from this eye color change, there will be no return. I have desperately sought a solution. If she won’t have laser treatment to recolor her eye, nip it in the bud and put a stop to all this tomfoolery, then I’ve suggested a deeply tinted contact lens. But she won’t even consider it. Dark glasses? No way. I even imagine living more happily if she wore an eye-patch so I could ignore the deeper problem and keep it hidden from my view. Out of sight, out of mind. I could live that way. Others make it work.
      It might’ve been different if she had mismatched eyes when we married. I would’ve known, could’ve made decisions based on the facts, accepted her for who she was. If I’d only known. She let me believe I was the first and only to look passionately into her eyes, the first to deeply satisfy her. Now I feel cheated, as though the floor on which I've built my love has slipped from under me. Wendy is no longer the girl I married and I feel fooled, tricked and betrayed. Absurd? Perhaps. People change, I know. But my feelings are genuine. Do mine have to be more reasonable than anyone else's?
      I want her promise that she’ll only let others look. I want her vow that she’ll never share her soul with anyone but me. Is that too much to ask?
      I quietly wonder if my reaction to her eye is more childish than accurate. But I tell myself my emotions are real. I feel them. Then I play with the idea that my feelings are clairvoyant and what she’s going through is simply a stepping stone to more, a precursor for worse: Botox, breast enhancement, a road trip with the girls, an apartment of her own. I fear these things now, having never thought them before. This fear turns my stomach and makes my limbs heavy.
      Wendy will leave me. She says how I’m now acting is exactly what will drive her away. We're growing apart. Other than putting my foot down and not permitting it, I fear there's nothing I can do. She’s becoming someone beyond my reach while I retreat into the person I was before I met her.
      It’s not fair. The only thing I know for certain is that as the distance between us grows, the louder I must speak to make her hear me.
      The other day she summed up an argument with, “Oh Peter, just grow up.” Then she turned her back to me and walked away.

Mark Hollock lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA with his wife and two black cats. He has written for many years, sometimes struggling knee-deep in loose manuscripts. His appreciation of the absurd comes from a lot of travel in distant and exotic countries, where not everyone lives as he does, nor cares about the same things. This story, Gray Eye, comes from a desire to appreciate our differences, and sometimes the difficulty in doing that.

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