Beautiful Eyes

let(From my Series She Listened With Her Eyes. This is fiction.)

I had come to Simon’s house to ask for advice. I had been thinking about my relationship with Yasmin and about the big decisions we would need to make as things progressed, and boy were things progressing. I wanted to talk to him about the practicalities of being in a relationship, of starting a family, of the money issues basically. I wanted to ask, “How in the world do you afford everything???”

I was standing in the living room of his apartment, looking at a row of frames featuring photos of his family. Mat his eldest son, a future scientist; Josh, the most magnetic little boy you’ve ever met; Diane, the sweet princess; and William. I nearly forgot about William. Born next to Mat, William was the second born, though it seemed like he was the youngest, his autism stunting much of his natural processes. I fixed on a photo of Simon cradling William, both their faces beaming with unadulterated happiness.

“Hey David. Sorry to keep you waiting. I had to get the kids to bed.” Simon called to me as he walked into the room, carrying a sleeping William in his arms, covering nearly his whole torso. I had forgotten that he was no longer a toddler but a growing boy.

“Hi Simon.” I shook his hand. “Thanks for making time for me.”

“Of course, David. Did you bring drinks?”

“Right here.” I said, holding up a bottle of Soylent.

“What the heck is that?” he said, with a suspicious look.

“It’s a meal replacement.”

“Get a wife, David. You’re becoming even more abnormal. Do us both a favor and grab two beers from the fridge. The kitchen is at the door to your right.”

I grabbed two bottles. “Where’s your bottle opener?” I called out.

“It’s somewhere there.” he answered, not being very helpful. I found it anyway after opening a third drawer.

I went back to the living room, put our beers on the coffee table, using old magazines as makeshift coasters. He told me to take the master’s seat while he sat on a long sofa. “I prefer sitting here. Lets me lay William down beside me and still have space. He’s gotten quite heavy now. Carrying an 8 year old is a whole lot heavier than a baby.” he explained without insecurity or the self-righteousness common to people aware of their sacrifices.

Carefully laying William down with his head on his lap, he caressed his son’s hair, smiled, looked at me, and said, “So what’s up? What brings the hermit to my home?”

“I’m not that bad.”

“You’re worse. How can I help you?”

“Can I ask you something? Is it hard to have a special child?”

“All children are special, David.” He replied dryly

“You know what I mean.”

“No I don’t know what you mean.” He said, not making it easy for me.

“I mean a child with a condition.”

“You mean an autistic child?” he said.

“If you put it that way…”

“It’s not how I put it. It is what it is. Don’t worry. I’m not offended. We’ve been friends long enough to know you’re good with words when you have the luxury of drafts, but terrible on the spot.”

“Thanks…”

“It’s true. And that’s what’s important right?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked him a bit confused.

“You asked me a question. You asked me what it’s like to have William. I’m answering you. To have William is a challenge. It’s true. It is what it is. I was featured in our community newsletter once. They interviewed Susan and I about what it’s like to raise a child with autism. For a few months after, we were overwhelmed with support and encouragement. Letters came in, people even sent gifts and money. That was a few years ago. These days, there’s not much encouragement, no letters about on how much we’ve inspired others, no ‘praise Gods’ or ‘God bless yous’. What we do have is an early morning every day, 4:00am to be exact, when William wakes up crying. We wake up to piss on sheets, and piss on me as I carry him to calm him. What we do have are never ending medical bills with no end in sight. What we do have is a responsibility to make daily sacrifices of time, money, energy for him.” He said the last sentence looking down at his son, he smiled, and looked back at me. “But after 8 years, here’s what I’ve learned, more than the things I just mentioned, what we have now, what we’ve always had, is William. We don’t have a special case or lifetime of sacrifice. We have our son. And that’s as beautiful as it gets.”

“I can’t say I completely understand.” I admitted.

“I don’t blame you. You single guys can be efficiently selfish. But you will someday. You’ll understand when you truly fall in love. When the joy of holding someone overwhelms the weight the of the responsibility.

“We have to be realistic Simon. There are responsibilities in the real world.” I cut him.

“I never said there weren’t any. Why do you think I work so hard? There are bills to pay! A lot of bills!” he said with a laugh. “And it’s tough” he said in contrastingly subdued voice. “It can get really hard. Especially during bad days. There’s quite a few of them to be honest. But I like how my wife put it in a prayer once, during a particularly trying period, she said, ‘Father, give us beautiful eyes that we may always see Your beauty even though we face dark times.’ It’s when we lose sight of God’s beauty that things get really dark. It’s not the circumstance. It’s our perspective. It’s not William that makes my load heavy. It’s my selfish heart that forgets that to change his sheets is to love him, and to love him daily, to love others daily, is to truly live. Because of William I truly live. It’s not our lack of money that causes me to worry. It’s because I have been conditioned to trust in money too much. It’s not the medical bills that makes me feel deprived. It’s my lack of contentment. We always think a change in circumstances will make all the difference, that a beautiful life is made up of beautiful circumstances. I’ve learned that a beautiful life is a life lived with beautiful eyes.”

As he was speaking, I remembered my conversation with Yasmin just a few hours earlier, “David, promise me that you won’t do bad things to others.” she started. “Even if it will give us more stuff. I’d rather we sleep in sleeping bags than we do anything bad to others. I’d be happier, and I know God will be happier too.”

“It’s not our circumstances that make life beautiful” I caught Simon saying again, clicking back to our conversation, “It’s how we see our circumstances that determine the beauty we recognize. Too many of us are praying for beautiful circumstances when we really should be praying for beautiful eyes.”

I thought about Yasmin’s eyes. She has beautiful eyes. The most beautiful I’ve ever seen. They’re dark sharp, they’re dark brown, and they look like kindness, with no malice through to her soul.

“David.” I heard Simon’s voice call me.

“Sorry. I was thinking about what you were saying.”

“I’m sorry for rambling. You asked.”

“No, don’t be. I liked what you said.”

“So, you still haven’t told me why we’re here. I’m sure it wasn’t to hear me talk about William.”

“How do you afford everything? I know where you work. I have a pretty good idea of how much you make. Yet you never seem stressed.”

“Haha!” He laughed. “Seem is the key word. I definitely get stressed. But that’s why I’m so grateful, despite not being able to afford much, I have Susan, Matt, William, Josh, Diane. I know I’ll never truly be able to afford them, but the good news is this: I don’t have to. They’re gifts. You never have to afford gifts. They’re given to you. To have them, you simply need to receive them.” he winked at me with that last sentence.

I thought about what he said.

“Is there anything else you want to talk about?” he asked, still brushing the sleeping William’s hair.

“No. This was good. Thanks. This was good.”

He smiled. “Come by anytime. Thanks for the beer.”

“The beer was yours.” I reminded him.

“Thanks for giving me a great reason to have one.”

I looked at my friend. How did a foolish guy like me end up with such a wise friend?

“Thanks Simon.” I said as I walked out the door of his place. “I’ll remember what you told me. Beautiful eyes.”

“Beautiful eyes my friend.” he said nodding, carrying William once more. “Oh crap.” He said, as a darker shade of his blue shirt spread across his chest and stomach. “William just peed. Have to go change him.” he offered his hand and I shook it, feeling something warm and wet.

“Is that pee?” I asked more than a little grossed out.

“Haha!” Simon laughed. “Don’t be such a wuss. Welcome to my world. Come back in, wash your hands. It’s not the end of the world.”

She Listened with Her Eyes – Infinite Permutations

On the events that followed William after David left

“It’s been so long. How long has it been?” Mary Jane asked William.

“It’s been more than 19 years.” he answered. “I tried writing you. I don’t know if you ever got them. I wrote a lot of letters. Then you moved and I didn’t know where to send the letter too.”

“Oh. I’m sorry William. I never got them. I would have loved to have read them.”

“I’m sorry too.” William said, feeling bad at his wasted feelings on paper.

Sensing the shift in his mood, Mary Jane spoke, “It’s so good good to see you, William. I was having a bad day till now.”

“I’m glad I saw you too. So what’s going on with you? Update me.”

“A lot has changed. I’ve been a little foolish.”

“Foolish?”

“Silly. Simple minded. Foolish.”

“I find that hard to believe. You were always such a smart girl.”

“In school, yes. Real life is very different from school as you know.”

“That’s true.”

“Real life is… well… more complicated.” Mary Jane said looking down.

“Only because we make it complicated.” William said. “I guess being in a wheelchair has forced me to live simply, and living simply has taught me that life need not be complicated. That each day can be beautiful without having to climb a mountain or run a hundred miles. Sitting in a corner, seeing the world, observing the world, can be amazing in itself. We don’t always have to go somewhere to arrive.”

“You were always wise, William. I wish I had your wisdom the last 12 years.”

“What happened Mary?”

“I’m embarrassed to say.”

“Don’t be. It’s just me.”

“I don’t want you to think bad of me.”

“I’ll never think bad of you.”

“You don’t know what’s happened.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“William, things are different now from when we were in college, when we were kids. Things are much different.”

“MJ, there you are!” a man’s voice said angrily. “I’ve been looking all over for you! You missed the mayor’s speech.”

“I don’t really care about his speech. I hate that crook.”

“Watch your words! He gives us our projects. All your fancy things, that dress your wearing, your purse, even the paint on your face, comes from his kindness to us.” the man corrected her. “You think about that before you talk so righteously. Now let’s go!”

William watched this conversation between this tall, strong looking man and the love of his life with anger, “Excuse me sir. Don’t talk to her that way.” he said bumping the man’s legs with his wheelchair.

“Ouch!” the man said more out of surprise than any real pain. “Watch where you’re going.”

William frowned at the man who was talking down at his love.

Mary Jane interrupted, “William, this is Don. Don, dear, this is William, we played together as kids. We were best friends.”

”Were.” William thought to himself. “Ouch.”

Don eased his initial irritation and politely yet insincerely extended his hand, “Hi William. Very nice to meet you.”

William shook it without removing his frown. “I thought your husband’s name was Jim?” he asked Mary Jane.

“It was. We’re separated now.”

“I’m her unlucky boyfriend.” Don added.

“You always liked guys with bodyguard sounding names.” William said, unhappy that two other guys were able to claim the woman he couldn’t.

Don’s frown returned.

“William…” Mary Jane admonished gently. “Let’s go Don. Let’s say hi to the mayor. It was very nice to see you William. Give me a call ok?”

“You gave him your number??” Don asked surprised.

“Of course! He’s a good friend. I want us to catch up. I want you to get to know him too.”

Don rolled his eyes. “Let’s go.”

“Bye William.” Mary Jane said as she bent and touched her cheek to his. “I’m happy I saw you.”

She took Don’s hand and they walked away.

William sat there watching them, and when he could no longer see them, he spun his chair to face the downward sloping hill. He looked up at the sky and lifted a prayer. “Father, thank You for the evening’s gift. Please be good to her.”

And he made his way down the hill.

As I listened to William recount these events, I wondered at his resilience, at the purity of his heart, to love so much, lose, yet never let bitterness take root. The key of course was his ability to stay defiantly grateful. Gratefulness was his weapon, and he was a seasoned warrior.

“William, you need to teach me how to do that one day.” I told him as I put my hand on his shoulder.

“Teach you what?” he asked.

“How to be grateful like you.”

“Oh! That’s easy. You only need to look around you!”

I thought to myself, “I guess I’ve been blind.”

David’s Cocoon
After the party, I had not seen William for a few weeks. Which is understandable, that’s what happens to friends when they meet someone prettier than you. I would probably do the same if I had someone like Mary Jane. Technically, he didn’t have her, just reconnected, but that seemed to have encouraged him to busy himself.

I was also busy anyway having to take a trip to Hong Kong to meet with a business partner for a business I took over a few years back. This business has been quite the challenge but full of lessons and promise. Sometimes the success of a business, the success of anything is a single breakthrough away. Maybe it’s an idea or a chance or a hire, it could be many things. The key is to stay in the game, survive, learn, grow, and persevere until you find it or it finds you.

Walking through the tunnel connecting the plane to the airport, I heard someone call, “David?”

I turned to see a friend I had not seen in a long time.

“David! It’s me!”

I knew who she was but wasn’t sure if I had her name. “Dementia?”

“It’s Demetria!” she said without losing a bit of enthusiasm.

“Close enough.” I whispered to myself.

“How’ve you been?” she said in a voice loud enough to wake every sleeping person in the waiting airport.

“I’m normal. How are y…”

I hadn’t finished the question when she answered, “I’m great! Been busy on my way to Hong Kong!”

“Really?” I told her in mock surprise. “So that’s why you’re also entering this plane.”

“Are you being sarcastic?”

“Not at all.”

“You are.”

“Ok, I am.”

She frowned at me for a minute, then, as if nothing happened, resumed her sunny loudness, “This must be God! I’ve been wanting to get in touch with you.”

“I have been falling behind on my building reading…” I muttered.

“No, silly. I’m not going to ask you about the Bible.”

I debated in my mind whether I was going to explain what I meant but decided that it would ruin the sarcasm.

“I wanted to ask…”

It was my turn to interrupt her, “Here’s my seat. You better find yours. Enjoy the flight.” and I tucked my carry-on above me, sat down, fastened my seat belt, put on my earphones, played Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, leaned-back, and shut my eyes tightly.”

“You’re such a kid, David. You’re really such a kid.” I heard her say but I didn’t care anymore. I was in my imaginary cocoon, and no one and nothing was allowed inside.

It wasn’t long before I fell asleep.

Plane would land, I would take my things and make my way to the hotel Kurt and I had agreed to meet. I had no idea the gems I was about to discover.
Infinite Permutations

“Hi Kurt. Thank you for waiting up for me.” I shook his hand as I sat down to dinner.

“David. You’re looking good. Your hair isn’t but that’s nothing new.”

“Thank you… I think. You’re looking very well yourself.”

“I feel better. I nearly died remember? But I’ve slowed down. And you know why you’re here. It’s time.”

“I know. I know. It is time.”

“Funny how life works. We do our best to organize and plan, then you hit a point in life when it’s time to step back, and that’s a point that’s difficult to prepare for. The documents may be in order but I don’t know about my mind. there will always be the unplanned, the surprises the, the flukes, the unforeseen and unpreventable. Yes despite these we build and rebuild, and despite these, maybe even, because of these, we live even more fulfilling lives.

But when you’ve been around as long as I have thing are different. I’m turning 83 for goodness sake! When you’ve been around as long as I have, and if you don’t let the downs of life outdo your ups, you’ll find that many times even the most difficult of experiences are steps bringing you to where you are now, where you’re supposed to be.

“How do you know if you’re where you’re supposed to be?” I asked him.

“You’ll know. It’s like love, you’ll know when you have it. You’ll have peace. If you’re not at peace, if you’re defensive, if you’re too affected by the opinions of others, if you’re restless, you don’t have peace.” he said.

“I can’t say I’m at peace with everything.” I admitted.

“You should have more peace than me. You’re the religious one.”

“I’m at peace with dying.” I said. “Maybe I’m not at peace with living yet.”

“You’re young, David. We make peace with life as we understand its cadence. Your problem, the problem with you young people, is that you’re all in a rush. You’re all trying to be somebody. And for what? The day you were born you were already somebody. Yet you’re stressing yourself trying to appear like a somebody to everybody, when what’s important is that your life’s a gift to someone.

I’m at peace with my life. Now, death? That’s a different story. But I know whoever is out there, He has been good to me, and I’m grateful to Him. I’m grateful too because I know you pray for me.”

“Kurt, do you have any mistakes you regret?”

“This business of ours. Investing in it was a mistake! We’ve lost millions!

But working hard at it, doing our best, working together, fighting together, those things have benefits on their own. Sometimes the benefits aren’t financial. Sometimes we’re luckier to earn more than just money. Just make sure your wins are more than your losses. Losing too many times doesn’t make you much more than a loser. Mistakes can be made, they will be made. The only thing to do after every mistake is to redeem it. It is through the redemption of mistakes that man learns and grows. When we don’t redeem our mistakes, by either not learning and repeating them, or denying that a mistake is a mistake, we don’t develop. You young people don’t know how to recognize mistakes anymore, you keep saying you have no regrets so end up compiling more.

The question is not whether we’ll make mistakes. We will. The question is what are we going to do to redeem our mistakes. What do we redeem? Lessons. A wiser way of doing things for next time.”

“Kurt, maybe the reason for all of this is that you would someday teach me. I mean, it’s not like many 23 year olds are thrown into a fire with a man in his 80s. You once told me that we live on through the lives we’ve touched. You’ve touched mine in incredible ways. I’ve learned so much from you. Sure we haven’t achieved all our goals, but we’re moving forward, slowly, yes, but forward.”

Kurt smiled, “Yes, we live on through the lives we’ve touched, and when those lives touch others, we live on through them as well. David, it’s your turn now. See to it that I live on forever.”

I smirked. Felt my burden of expectations get a little heavier. “I’ll do my best, Kurt. I’ll do my best. I’m really not as good as you all think.”

“You’re better than we all think. No one knows yet just how good you’re going to be. Rolly said you’re very talented, too talented. That you need a wife to slow you down before you burn yourself out. She’ll help you figure out what’s most important.”

“I think I know what’s important.”

“Do you?”

“I’m pretty clear about my priorities.”

“Just because they’re your priorities doesn’t mean they’re important.”

I kept quiet. He sounded more like my parents than a business partner. He sounded like an ex-girlfriend right before she became an ex.

“Many of the things I thought were so important when I was your age mean nothing to me today. Nothing. There was no need to prioritize them.”

“So Rolly helped you prioritize.”

“She did.”

“What did she do? Can’t I do it myself?”

“You can try. But I don’t think you’ll succeed.”

“I won’t. What did she do?”

“It’s not what she did. It’s who she became. She became my priority. That’s what loving someone means, to make them your priority. When you know your priority things fall in line.”

I had heard this before and let Kurt know. “I know that. I know my priorities. It’s God, my family, which include my parents and brothers and their families, my work, and…”

“And all the the things you want to accomplish, all the stories you want to write, and all the businesses you want to build, and all the programs you want to launch, and all the people you want to save. Your real priority is yourself.” Kurt interrupted.

“I get things done. How can you say I don’t know how to figure out what’s important?”

He smiled to himself. “This is just my opinion. I agree, you do get things done. You’re incredible. But you never let anyone affect you. And I don’t mean your mind, you’re a learner, a processor, you have a formidable mind, but you never let anyone affect your heart.

The most important things in life are the things that affect your heart.

If nothing affects your heart then you have nothing of true importance.”

I didn’t know how to respond. We had never had a conversation like this before. We’ve always had insightful discussions but rarely about matters of the heart. maybe after more than five years of working together our relationships had become a true friendship.

“Did I ever tell you about how Rolly and I met?”

“No. But I have a feeling you’re about to tell me.”

He smiled.

In the Garden of Whispers

Chapter 2 of She Listened with Her eyes

“Do you ever get lonely?’ William asked me while I pushed his wheelchair down a brick path.

“No. Not really. I actually feel like I’m always surrounded.”

“You never get lonely?” He asked me again disbelievingly. “Never wish you had someone or miss anyone?”

“Why do you have to ask these questions? Ask me about work. Ask me about math or history or why the moon looks gold sometimes. Don’t ask me things I don’t have answers to.”

“So you do you miss someone!”

“I never said that.”

“Yes, you did. In so many words.”

“I did not.”

“What’s her name?”

“What’s who’s name?”

“The person you miss. What’s her name?”

“Her name is Ms. Don’t Ask Stupid Questions Anymore.”

“Don’t be a spoiled sport. I’m just asking what her name is.”

“Change topic.”

“You can’t just change topics David.”

“Yes, I can. Change topic.”

“She hurt you, didn’t she?”

“Change topic.”

The look on my face must have scared him because he stopped prying.

After a few minutes of no talking, William started, “You do know that you’re going to have to learn to open up sometime?  You’re going to have to let someone in.”

“That’s what she said.” I muttered to myself and said no more.

We had just attended fundraiser,  one of those dinners that costs more than the amount raised. It was a  cool December evening so we decided to take a stroll through the clubhouse’s garden, a place called the Garden of Whispers. Music continued to flow from the orchestra in the main hall serenading couples on the dance floor and garden benches. The path inclined a little, and at the end was a deck, also accessible by stairs on the side, overlooking the sloping hills of the property.

William sat in his chair with his eyes closed, enjoying the cool breeze. I sat on the ledge to rest my legs.

“You might fall.” he warned me.

“I won’t. And if I did, I’d go straight to heaven.”

“Up to you. I didn’t realize you’re so stubborn. You’re…”

“Hi William.” a woman’s voice interrupted us. We turned to see a beautiful fare lady standing in front of us. Her hair was cut neatly to her shoulders. Her face was kind with a hint of sadness. It was the face of someone who had fought and lost.

I didn’t know who she was but William looked at her in some sort of shock. She was smiling at him and his face would melt into a smile as well. It’s as if they were talking without words, like those irritating new boyfriends and girlfriends who think they’ll love each other for the rest of their lives but obviously won’t get past the year, except this one looked more convincing.

He looked like he’d fallen – and went straight to heaven.

“Um…” I tried to insert myself, “How come I didn’t get a hi?”

Her smile disappeared into embarrassment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t…”

“It’s ok. It’s ok Mary.” it was William’s turn to interrupt her gently. “David, it’s my privilege to introduce you to Mary. Mary, this is my friend, David.”

“It’s his privilege to introduce me to you too.” I told her.

William gave me a stern look. Then he turned to Mary, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m attending a party. I really can’t stand these things anymore. So I went out here to get some fresh air.”

I looked at William. “You knew she was going to be here, didn’t you?”

“Of course not!” He said defensively. “I told you the story. I had no idea where she was, well until now, and standing right in front of us.”

“You told him about me?” Mary asked confused.

“I was telling him about my childhood. That’s why I mentioned you. I wasn’t…”

“My friend had a crush on you.” I said cutting him. “I mean, has a crush on you.” I corrected myself.

Mary blushed. William blushed even more. “I…” he couldn’t finish his sentence.

“Can you excuse us, David?” William asked me. “I have some catching up to do.”

“Of course.” I said, smiling at them. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Mary.” She bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement.

“William, keep the car and driver. Stay as long as you like. I’ll catch a taxi.”

“Thank you David.” he replied without taking his eyes off her.

I started down the stairs of that grand garden and as I was on the last step I turned for one last look. There were William and Mary in one silhouette,  even for just that moment, together at last.

I had no idea what they were talking about though I would have liked to hear. How serendipitous this evening that we should on our stroll encounter her. How many prayers had my friend lifted to cause their stars to align so well. I smiled to myself and walked away, accompanied only by the shadows of my own memories.

“You’re going to have to open up someday. You’re an amazing guy, I don’t know anyone like you, but you’re impossible. It’s not all about just making things happen or about fixing things. Women want to feel needed, and you won’t let yourself need anyone. Women want to be adored and all you see is what needs correcting.” I heard her voice telling me.

“Oh shut up.” I told the voice in my head