opia-n. the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable—their pupils glittering, bottomless and opaque—as if you were peering through a hole in the door of a house, able to tell that there’s someone standing there, but unable to tell if you’re looking in or looking out. (jkcreative, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)
(Image from stargirl0708.deviantart.com)
I just wanted a peaceful walk around the neighborhood. That’s it.
I just wanted to feel the cool air and take both me and the poodle out for a breather. That’s all.
And there we were–the magnolia trees basking in the whimpering sunlight, the boxy houses reclining nearby in their shade, the decorative metal on the porches rusting in the wet grip of time. Many had their paint torn off as if someone had repeatedly scraped their fingernails across it; also green shutters and rickety metal overhangs that protected tiny glass windows, windows that were almost made for opia–for spying, peep-holing, gazing at strangers.
Squirrels dashed across tiny lawns into the magnolia and dying deciduous trees. One house had the door wide open and a silhouette of a person standing in it, facing inside. Another had a red Mustang parked out front while weeds slithered up the side of the house and bushes crawled into the seat of a rusty porch swing.
I would have imagined other people would want to walk their dogs, ride their bikes, take a stroll with their friends today. The air was crisp but not bitter; it was a Southern January afternoon, something like 45 degrees but sunny.
But the street was silent.
I imagined it was peaceful, but in the back of my mind a little voice whispered to be careful.
I rounded the corner with the black poodle in tow. Sitting at the stopsign of the next street was a red car–maybe a Civic or Camry.
It just sat there. No turn signal, no sign of moving forward.
My heart tightened. I wasn’t walking in the middle of the road, so the driver couldn’t be waiting for me to move to the grass. I reached into my pocket and fingered the pink pepper spray attached to my keys and kept walking forward. No eye contact–maybe they were looking for directions.
Then the car made a right turn, headed towards me. It slowed, slowed, slowed.
I was tense, winding tighter and tighter as I still refused to stare into the driver’s seat. Ignore me, ignore me please, my mind begged.
The car stopped directly across from me. Then I remembered something my Taekwondo teacher had said before: “When you’re walking by yourself, look everyone straight in the eye. Let them know that you will be able to identify them if you ever need to.”
So I looked.
He was about my age–skinny, tight skin, and a small head. Black thick hair shaved almost to the scalp. A hint of facial hair. Maybe a gray shirt. Both hands around the steering wheel, windows up. Staring right at me.
I matched the expressionless gaze.
His eyes looked gray. Gray like tinted glass, ashes, sharp metal, gravestones.
We were locked in that moment and then as soon as it began it was over. He drove away. I felt the shiver of what I had been holding inside flood my senses as I pressed foward. Relief and dread both fought to bring tears to my eyes as I imagined what could have happened-guns, misfired pepper spray, duct tape over my mouth, pinned into the car seat, trapped in a dark room, those eyes smiling at me with an evil gleam.
Thank you, God, I prayed as I walked back to the house.
It was over, just one terrifying moment….a precipice escaped in the real world – but I can only hope those eyes and the moment of opia will not follow me into my nightmares tonight.