By junior high, the power of the right eye exploded into my brain when Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America. There was no denying that it had everything to do with those eyes. Think about it, wasn’t it the only thing that separated her and runner up Suzette Charles? Both were beautiful African American women, but one had those eyes and the other one didn’t. The way I saw it, all I needed were eyes like that to blast off into the stratosphere and become the first black something.
So I got creative. Everyday I would come home from school and dedicate an hour to willing them into existence. I did this by burying my head into a pillow, squeezing my eyes tighter than Simon Cowell’s ass, then declaring over and over again that by the time I opened them they would be BLUE! Needless to say, it didn’t happen. At least not right away. A few years later, my prayers got answered.
Hello Colored Contacts!!!
It was one of those times when you’re so happy to be alive at the advent of something so game changing. Like a flash, my future became so full of possibility. It was as if someone had given me the key. While other sixteen year-olds were fixated on buying their first car, my obsession was Colored Contacts. I went out and got my first job just so that I could get a pair. Okay, two. When I got my prescription and tried my lenses for the first time I thought I would cry. Time stood still. I stared at myself in disbelief. I FINALLY had blue eyes. Well, kinda. They made my brown eyes blue-ish. There was still some brown showing around the pupil. That brown-eyed devil was not going down without a fight.
But really, did it think it was a match for me?
Come on, now. I’d waited my whole life for this.
Since I had a green and blue pair, I decided to do what anyone in my position would do. Double up by putting both pair in at the same time! Problem solved!
Now the side effects included splitting headaches, dry sandpaper eye, blurred vision, dizziness, fever and hallucinations, but other than that it was just perfect. Not a trace of brown. I had the brightest aquamarine eyes that anyone had ever seen. I know this by the way people would stare. Oh, to see their faces so full of curiosity, admiration and disbelief. Now I could go and be somebody!
It was also around this time that something else was brewing. I was dating this guy who was always in trouble, getting kicked out of school and whatnot. It was while attending a school for juvenile delinquents that he ended up in class with his cousin’s girlfriend. Now this girl was a real prize. She was in there for fighting and it seemed her mouth was the culprit because she was always talking sh*t. For some reason my name started coming up in her mouth. Okay, to be real, my boyfriend liked to talk sh*t too. He was always trying to make me jealous and I suspect he was doing the same with this girl. Who knows, maybe he liked her or maybe pitting us against each other was his way of competing with his cousin. I don’t know. But anyway, he started telling me stuff that she had said, like she bet she could kick my ass and I wasn’t that cute anyway.
Seriously? This was so beneath me. As an Honor Student, Most Popular and Homecoming Queen I was used to some girls not liking me. I couldn’t go around fighting everyone who had something to say. She would have to find someone else to focus her hate. Besides, I hadn’t had a fight since a boy named Mike called me a n*gger in the sixth grade. It just wasn’t my thing.
Then one day all that came to a screeching halt when he showed me her picture. My jaw dropped. Homegirl looked just like me down to the damaged sandy-brown hair from too much peroxide. But there was one distinct difference. B*tch had GREEN EYES! Real ones. I could spot phonies a mile away and these were the real deal.
Did she think she was better than me? Is that what this was all about?
Oh, this was war. Now I was passing messages back and forth like Muhammad Ali gearing up to fight Joe Frazier. I was going to murder this girl.
Sure enough, the day came.
I was going to work Downtown at a mall on the waterfront. This particular day I was feeling pretty studious and had my new green and black-striped briefcase to match my eyes. It was just a little something I had picked up from one of the shops the day before. So I’m downstairs walking through one of the underground tunnels leading from the bus stop to the mall when I see her. I know it’s her because I would recognize those eyes anywhere. And that jacked up hair. She sees me too because we both slow down. My blood is now boiling and I can barely control the adrenaline. Oh, and let me add that she’s mixed. Her mother is white, which only adds to the fuel I feel and my confidence in my ability to beat her ass. I considered her a white girl and everyone knows white girls are all talk. Honestly, this fight was personal. I needed to teach her a lesson.
So I stop dead in my tracks, me and my briefcase, look at her straight and say, “I heard you wanna fight me.”
“Yea!” She responded and it was on.
Next thing I know, I’m flat on my back getting pounded. I’m getting it in the face and the gut, I’m getting kicked, I’m getting my ass whooped something super-natural! At one point, when I’m able to see, I grab her by the hair and pull for dear life. It was all I could do. Finally, someone breaks us apart and gets us off the ground. There are people everywhere. Just standing like it’s a chicken fight. Then as we’re both panting, trying to catch our breath, she screams, “With yo’ fake eyes, trynna be me!”
Why did she say that?! I lunge for her and we go down again. This time I get her leg in my mouth and go Mike Tyson on it!
When it’s finally over. Really over. I lose my $400 contacts, and end up in the emergency room with two black eyes and a nasty red blood clot in one, busted lips, a flat nose, cheeks swollen twice their size, a plastic bag full of hair that used to be attached to my head, and a bite on my leg because she just had to bite me back. Now who’s trynna be like who?
To be fair, I find out a week later from my boy Aaron that I had been jumped. Apparently, she and a few of her thugged-out buddies were known for jumping people Downtown after school. I breathed a sigh of relief because up until that point I had questioned whether I had indeed fought Joe Frazier.
But as luck would have it, I didn’t have to return to school right away. Months earlier, I had signed up to be a counselor to 5th graders at a winter camp. I got a full week away from all the drama at a farm at least two hours away from my hometown. It became my hideout and allowed me time to recuperate. I wore big Jackie-O sunglasses that my grandmother had given me that practically covered my whole face, and every morning I would wake up before the kids to put concealer around my eyes. When anyone asked me what happened, why I was wearing Jackie-O sunglasses all day, every day, in the dead of winter? I told them, “I fell on some tires.” I know, who happens to fall on some tires? What kind of tires? Was I walking in a junkyard or something? It was such a preposterous story that I knew people would be too confused to ask follow-up questions. I was right.
So behind my Jackie-O mask, I was able to think.
That “fake eye” comment hurled at me by my nemesis hurt worse than any blow I took in that fight. Up until that point, I had deluded myself into thinking that those eyes were real. And since no one ever asked me about them I had no reason to think otherwise. It was me and my beloved aquamarine eyes on top of the world. The fact that this girl saw me trying to be something that I was not, made me feel angry and embarrassed. I was mad that she knew I wanted those eyes, her eyes, and embarrassed because it wasn’t a secret. For all my accomplishments, I was just this insecure girl searching for validation. It occurred to me, for the first time, that she probably wasn’t the only person who could see me for who I really was. Whether people asked me about my eyes or not, they were IMPOSSIBLE to miss. It made me think about a schoolmate who was flat chested and stuffed her bra. When she walked around with her chest stuffed, she was confident and strong, without the stuffing she was quiet and shy. I couldn’t bring myself to ask her about it, but I wanted to tell her that she didn’t need it. That she was so much bigger than a 36C. I actually preferred her without the fluff because at least she was real. It’s funny how I could see it so clearly on her but I failed to see it on me.
Until that fight.
So with my lenses lost, probably smashed on the bottom of someone’s foot, perhaps someone who had witnessed me getting my beat down, I was finally able to see what had eluded me for years. I was somebody long before I changed my eye color. It was probably the reason my delinquent friend hated me so much. I actually had what she wanted: a life, and possibility for the future. Silly.
But sometimes life has to literally beat us over the head for us to get it. I was grateful that I could be so lucky. Gone were my contacts but not my vision for the future.
By Erickka Sy Savané