short stories

Eye Contact is an Implied Vulnerability

One of my favorite things to do lately is to re-watch movies from my younger years– middle school to senior year of college– and pay attention in particular to human interaction: how people communicated without the use of mobile devices, laptops, or the internet. It always ends with a heaviness in my heart: that used to be us. There were days where kids passed notes in class, or mailed cards, just to say hello. Or when boys called the house (I was NEVER allowed to call boys), they had to ask, “May I speak with Christie?” to one of my parents, whom then determined if this boy was indeed worthy to tie up the phone line for a good thirty minutes.

Waiting for the teacher to turn her head, for the mailman to deliver the letter, for the parent to deem permission. We felt like waiting was too much. Now we are instantly connected, with zero barriers. It seems, on the outside, so safe and assuring to know that we can reach anyone at any moment. But is it? Are we safe, or dangerously distracted?

A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I took a trip for our anniversary to Hot Springs, NC and Asheville, NC. I usually keep our trips fairly quiet, and details about our marriage tight lipped. It just seems that over the years I’ve been accustomed to writing about my kids, or the laundry piling up, or living in a small town. But details of our thirteen year union have remained scrupulously unwritten and rarely shared. This, I believe, comes from family ties: my grandfather wrote for the LaFollette Press for over twenty years. And in that time wrote many articles about my grandmother. I never could tell if she enjoyed the literary love notes for all to read, or if she preferred their marriage to be mute, woven between the early years of childbearing and moving to the later years of an empty nest and Jeopardy playing in the background at a two person supper table. But, my argument for the latter is now I have neither to ask: Papa passed away years ago and Gran is still improving in the nursing home. If, by chance, he had shared what marriage is like, really, with full time jobs and four kids and a mortgage, maybe those of us still fighting for “till death do us part” would have a framework by which to model this madness.

When we arrived the first night in Hot Springs, NC, he had warned me that this tiny cabin (which I so creatively renamed “Tiny House”) had no internet, no TV, no radio; really no connection to the outside world, other than your “neighbors” in their own tiny houses next door. I guess a part of me brushed it off, because where in this neck of the woods is internet access completely obsolete? Hot Springs Resort, that’s where.

One of the my favorite movies from childhood is My Girl. In the sequel, Dan Aykroyd tells his teenage daughter in the airport to avoid eye contact with strangers on the plane. “Eye contact is an implied vulnerability”, he cautions.

When we went to dinner that night, it was a scene from the past. We talked, for a really long time. Our phones never rang, beeped, tweeted. I made friends with every waitress we met that weekend. The tiny house became a safe haven. I slept better than I have in months. When we left Hot Springs to travel to Asheville, the Google maps app would not even work. We curved down skinny mountain roads, strictly following road signs. The calm mountain cabin was quickly replaced with bustling nightlife. But we still ignored the digital drive that beckons our daily living. We had real life, meaningful conversation. We shared thoughts and dreams that didn’t involve the grocery store list or overdue oil changes. We laughed, loudly, and didn’t care who heard. We were ourselves, together.

I finally looked at him one night and asked, “I just need to know: why? Why do you plan these trips every year? Seems like after this long you’d be over it”.

“I’ve pursued you, every day since the day I met you”, he calmly replied. “And I will never, ever stop pursuing you”.

One of my favorite things to do lately is to re-watch movies from my younger years– middle school to senior year of college– and pay attention in particular to human interaction: how people communicated without the use of mobile devices, laptops, or the internet. Now I remember. When I shared this diary of digital disconnection with a friend when we returned, her tired eyes met mine and said, “Wow. That sounds like bliss”. And it was.

Maybe eye contact is an implied vulnerability. But be vulnerable. And never stop pursuing what you love.

(Note: The cabin photo in this post is not our cabin from the story. Honestly? I took very few photos on that trip. And that’s okay with me.)

4 thoughts on “Eye Contact is an Implied Vulnerability

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this post as I do all that you write. I pursued my wife the first time I met her and still do today after six kids and sixty six years of marriage.
    In case you don’t know who I am, I am a lodge brother of your father in law Jimmie Elkins.

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