May 3, 2013 by jamesessj
I don’t know why he did it. He said he had no control over it, but when it gets to be that much of a problem, how can a person not be able to control his own eyelids? I asked him once to close his eyes and keep them that way for five minutes straight — he did it without blinking. Literally. But then I asked him to pretend that he was kissing a girl and keep his eyes closed for five minutes straight, and he couldn’t even do it for one second. In fact the entire time he was pretending he was kissing a girl, he didn’t blink once.
“It’s all in your head,” I told him after that. “It has to be. This isn’t normal. This isn’t anywhere near normal. This is out beyond where normal even vacations. This is out where no normal has gone before.”
“I think I get your point, Steve,” he said.
But nothing he tried helped. Hypnosis; meditation; diet; muscle control exercises; relaxation techniques; prayer; positive thinking; he even tried kissing one girl for seventy-two hours straight, but his eyes never closed until he finally fell asleep — and the moment he did, he fell off the chair he’d been sitting on. And then, when the girl got the bright idea to kiss him while he was asleep to see what happened, the moment her lips touched his, his eyes popped open. The girl screamed and ran out into the night. He just shook his head and went back to sleep on the floor. He had been awake for seventy-two hours.
Not every woman was freaked out by it. But ninety-nine percent of them were. “I’m looking for that one-in-a-million girl,” he’d tell me. “Don’t you mean one in a hundred?” I’d ask. “That’s what ninety-nine percent works out to.” “Shut up, Steve,” he’d say.
There was Sandra, who stayed with him for two weeks, thinking she could put up with it. After one week she insisted they turn off the lights, so she wouldn’t notice so much, and then after ten days she’d only kiss him in complete darkness, and then after two weeks she said, “I can feel your eyes being open. I’m sorry, but it creeps me out.”
“No need to explain, sweetheart,” he told her. “I’ve been hearing it all my life.”
“You were kissing girls when you were a baby? That’s disgusting!”
He sighed and said goodbye. He’d gotten really good at saying goodbye. He had it down to a science. Or an art. An artful science. A scientific art. Shut up, Steve.
There was Vondette, who lasted nine days. And Norma, who lasted six. And Jeri, who lasted eight. After her he called me and said, “I’m giving up on women, Steve.” I said, “You’re turning gay?” He said, “No, I’m just giving up on romance altogether. I can go through the rest of my life without kissing anyone, can’t I? Priests do it. Eunuchs do it.” “Even educated fleas do it,” I said. “Shut up, Steve,” he said.
But his resolve didn’t last long. Three days later he was calling me and saying, “My resolve didn’t last long.” I said, “What happened? You kissed a girl?” “No,” he said. “I kissed myself. In the mirror. I wanted to see what it’s like, to be kissed by a guy who keeps his eyes open. Steve — I creeped myself out. I mean, really creeped myself out. I don’t know that I want to live in the same house with me anymore.” “Not sure that’s a choice you can make,” I said. “I’m still shivering,” he said. “I really creeped myself out.”
That was the catalyst for his traveling to Stuttgart, to visit the world’s foremost expert on eyelids. Dr. Gunther Hauptmann, his name was, though he went by the nickname Skipper. “So what seems to be the issue?” asked the doctor. “I kiss with my eyes open, Skipper.” “Please, call me Dr. Hauptmann.” “I kiss with my eyes open, Dr. Hauptmann.” “Ah. This is not uncommon. You are an evolutionary offshoot. A dying branch of the species homo sapiens.” “A dying branch, Skipper?” “Dr. Hauptmann. Yes, a withered limb of an otherwise thriving organism.” “That doesn’t sound so good. Is there anything I can do about it?” “No.” “Nothing?” “No. Goodbye.”
Outside the doctor’s office, an attractive young man approached him. “I am not gay!” “I’m not approaching you for that reason,” said the attractive young man. “Perhaps you hadn’t noticed the white coat I’m wearing? I am a doctor, as well. A colleague of Skip — Dr. Hauptmann’s.” “That so?” “That is so. And I believe I may be able to help you.” “But Hauptmann said–” “Please — come into my office.”
He did, and the attractive young doctor, whose named turned out to be Gregor Stanza, revealed that he had been working on an experimental treatment for his condition for the past three years.
“For your condition, Dr. Stanza?”
“No, for your condition. Keeping your eyes open while doing the kissing.” Dr. Stanza shivered involuntarily. “Creeps me out tremendously to think of it, but it is my life’s work.”
“What’s the treatment, Doctor?”
“It is radical. And experimental. It may not work.”
“I’ll try anything at this point.”
“You would ingest your own feces?”
“Good God, is that the treatment?”
“No. I only wished to see how far you would be going.”
“Okay, so I wouldn’t try anything.”
“I thought not.”
“But most things, I’d try. This is a real debilitating condition, Doc.”
“Yes. You agree to my terms, ja?”
“What are your terms?”
“That you not hold me or this clinic in any way responsible for anything that may occur from now until the time of your death.”
“That sounds reasonable.”
“Then we proceed.”
* * *
The treatment consisted of stapling his eyelids shut. This made him blind. But it did prevent him from opening his eyes while kissing. He tested himself out on a nurse, an orderly, a random patient, and in the mirror. His eyes didn’t open. They couldn’t open.
“But I’m blind, Dr. Stanza.”
“When God opens one door, he closes another.”
“I didn’t think the door that would be closing would be my vision.”
“You were coming to me with a problem. I have been giving you a solution. Neither I nor this clinic can be held in any way responsible.”
“So I’m blind forever?”
“Look on the bright side–“
“I would, if I could open my eyes.”
“–You may be blind forever, but you can also kiss forever.”
That’s how it came down to a tough decision. Which was more important to him, seeing or kissing? He went back and forth on the question. He was kissing every girl in sight, going out every night, not coming home, reporting to me the next morning that he’d kissed the crap out of that girl, and no mistake. But was that enough for him? He couldn’t see her face. He couldn’t see anything. He was blind as a bat. But without the compensating ability to echolocate.
“What should I do, Steve?” he asked. “If it were me…” I said. “…Yes?” he said. “I wouldn’t know what to do either.” “Why do I talk to you?” he said. “It’s like talking to a stupider version of myself.” “You lived for twenty-nine years with sight,” I said. “You’ve only lived a few weeks without it. Maybe you’ll get used to it over time.” “You think?” he said. “Or maybe you won’t,” I said. “Shut up, Steve,” he said.
In the end it came down to Olivia. He met her at a bar one night playing chemin de fer. She dealt him a winning hand and he bought her a drink. She didn’t realize he was blind until he offered to drive her home and sideswiped a garbage truck. In the emergency room at the hospital she told him he was the bravest man she’d ever known, except for America’s fighting forces and first responders. He took her in his arms, right there in the ER, and kissed her like Rhett kissed Scarlett.
They were married six hours later. On their honeymoon Olivia made a stunning proposition: half of the year he could have his eyes stapled and they could kiss, and the other half he could have the staples taken out and he’d be able to see. He kissed her and said she was the smartest, kindest, most loving woman he’d ever known.
Unfortunately she was also kind of ugly. The marriage lasted six months and about fifteen seconds.
Once the staples were out, he reevaluated his entire existence. He decided to keep his vision and do without the kissing. I told him I thought he’d made the right decision. You don’t need to kiss, but you do need to see. He laughed and said, That depended on the girl. I said, Well, the stapling option is always there, if you want it. He said, No, the clinic in Stuttgart had been shut down. They’d been experimenting with superintelligent mice who’d unionized and gone on strike and driven the clinic out of business. Now Dr. Hauptmann and Dr. Stanza were unemployed, as were two dozen superintelligent mice, with families to support. It’s a funny old world, I said. He said, You mean it’s a tragic old world. It’s a tragicomic world, I said. It’s both. He looked at me and said, Shut up, Steve.