Why I didn’t meet your eye last week

Black and white photo of trees and leaves

I began my life in New England, and now, after a Mid-Southern interlude, I’m back (well, almost).

While living the Mid-South, I would often hear the following phrase: “Oh, New Englanders aren’t that friendly. They never meet your eye.” This always distressed me a little. After all, I am a New Englander. But surely I’m not one of those unfriendly people. Surely that’s a stereotype being unfairly perpetrated against my people.  Right? 

Nope.  When the temps dropped last week here Boston, and the sky spat wet snow in my face as I trudged to work, I dropped my gaze and ignored the world.  Mostly. Here’s why:

We walk a lot in Boston, because parking, well, let’s just say those in Fayetteville who complain about parking have. no. idea. When it’s cold, walking becomes about minimizing skin exposure to the wind. Gloves, a warm jacket, socks, a hat…those help, but they don’t cover the face. Scarves can keep the neck and the tender underside of the chin warm, but only if that chin in buried deeply in the scarf, thus making eye contact challenging.  For this reason, I did not meet your eye that day.

Mornings and me don’t really mesh. I left the house that morning with my usual fear that the wrinkles from my pillow were still marring my cheeks. My eyes watered, as if in protest at being awake, and I really, really didn’t want to see your reaction to my zombie-like gaze, so I did not meet your eye last week.

Most days, I’m lucky if I get out of the house wearing two of the same boots.  As I headed in to work, I couldn’t help questioning my fashion choices, wondering if the outfit that I thought was cute was really as lame as all the fashionistas walking by me would have me believe. I didn’t want to see your pity, so I didn’t meet your eye.

When it’s cold, water freezes. Ice forms.  When I step on ice, I fall. I dislike falling. So forgive me if I watched my feet and didn’t smile merrily at you and your frozen and fashionable self as we passed.

And truth be told, last week I was saving my eye-meeting for the one moment when, despite all of the forces above, I did lift my gaze and catch the eye of a passing stranger. Two blue eyes, actually, belonging to a handsome young man, bundled up in his North Face coat, a warm scarf around his neck. Those eyes laughed at me, as if to say “I know, I get it, it’s cold, but hey…good morning.” My involuntary smile made that blue gaze crinkle up in a secret chuckle, and I walked on to work, a little lighter, a little warmer, and a little more ready to take on the day.

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