My grandfather used to tell me that you could tell a lot about someone by looking into their eyes. "Take a look at your grandmother," he would say, motioning across the room to where she sat with her knitting in hands, rocking gently in her chair. She'd been deaf for years, and had no way of knowing that the two of us were talking about her. Still, she would give a small smile, and her eyes would meet grandfather's for just a few seconds before she returned to her work.
"What do you see?" I would ask, and I would watch my grandmother while my grandfather answered.
"I see that she's had many, many years of life," he would begin in a slow, steady voice, as if pretending to be a fortune teller. "A satisfying life, though. You can see the crows feet on the corner of each eye that show how much she likes to laugh. She has kind eyes, grandmotherly eyes, eyes willing to serve."
"And love?" I asked. My grandfather nodded solemnly.
"More love than you can even imagine."
I'd cherished the memory, and made a mental photograph of the way love looked. I referred back to it often, when leaning against the bathroom door watching my mother get ready for work in the early hours of morning. She would brush her teeth and pull back her hair and apply too much makeup, all the while talking to me in her familiar, distracted voice. She never took the time to look back at me, but I could see her eyes reflected in the foggy mirror, and most of the time I saw bits and pieces of that look. Love.
I'd seen love in my father's eyes as well, though I only saw him once or twice when he stopped back between some journey. He would look down at me and his eyes would be overflowing with the look, but then he would turn his face away and speak to my mother and leave again. A secret part of me always doubted whether his love was real or not. I never had the change to figure it out before he left for the last time.
Years later, after meeting strangers and teachers and friends and finding traces of love in each pair of eyes, I met her. Her eyes were grey, with dots of blue and circles of green that made her look as though she wore fake contacts. She didn't though, as she told me time and time again. I told her once that her eyes were like watching a forest through campfire smoke. She laughed, ad then laughed harder.
"I get the smoke," she told me, her voice singsong and full of life. "People tell me that my eyes look like smoke all the time." She shrugged, almost apologizing for all those people who went along handing out the same boring comments. "But where did the forest come in?" I didn't answer, and maybe I should have. Maybe she would have liked to know that her eyes weren't only grey, that green and blue decorated the iris, too. Thinking about it doesn't matter at all, anymore. I didn't say anything, whether I should have or not.
I never talked much as a child, or as an adult for that matter. I felt words could never say enough anyway, so why bother? It wasn't that I didn't like people, because I did. I just had a hard time holding a normal conversation when all I wanted to do was read the deeper words that weren't being said. A person could easily answer that they were fine and everything was good, but their eyes could reveal sadness, pain, anger. I would much rather read these emotions than hear the empty words.
"Are you even paying attention to me?" she asked one day. We were sitting in the grass, spread out in the middle of the meadow so no one could use it for anything else. Selfish, maybe, but no one else seemed to mind. "You're always staring at my face."
"Your eyes," I corrected quietly, trying to will myself to look away. She sighed and brushed back a piece of curly brown hair that had escaped her ponytail.
"Because they look like smoke?" She sounded tired, annoyed, maybe angry. Her eyes looked tired, too, and questioning. I felt like her eyes were interrogating me, begging me for answers. I just couldn't figure out what kind of answers she wanted. I tried to remember what we had been talking about. She picked up a few blades of grass and started twirling them in her fingers. I imagined her turning into my grandmother who couldn't hear. I would look up, like my grandfather...
Her face was down, so that I couldn't see her smoke filled forest eyes. I wished she had a mirror in her lap so I could see the reflection of love in her eyes as I had my mother. Maybe she would look at me for just a few seconds, like my father. I wouldn't even mind if she left, as long as her eyes showed that one look before she went.
"Smoke in the forest," I corrected, thinking maybe she would look up to answer. She didn't, didn't answer at all. I waited longer, hoping she would turn her face up. I wanted, desperately, to see her eyes one last time. "Are you angry?"
"I need to go," she answered, her face lifting at last. Our eyes met, and I realized sadly that I could no longer see any traces of blue or green. Her eyes were sad, heartbroken. I reached a hand out, but she pulled back and lifted herself to her feet. I followed, and she led me away from the meadow, out of the park. "Goodbye," she whispered softly, suddenly drawing me closer. Her lips planted a soft kiss on mine, and went she released my arm and I stepped back I saw the look filling her eyes. I saw love in her smoke filled forest eyes, and for a minute I could not breathe.
By the time I recovered she had gone, taking her eyes along with her. I followed the path to all the places where we had sat, to every sidewalk where I had seen her beautiful eyes. I found her nowhere. I traced steps back to her home, where all I found was a gaping hole, a pile of ash, and smoke rising up through the space where her house should have stood. Behind it, past her yard, I saw the trees of the forest rising into the sky. The smoke drifted on, and she was gone.