New Eyes (an essay)

By Lindsey Burns

The Pigeon Press (Portland, Oregon)

A blackbird hops awkwardly from tree to tree. The pale grey sky, drained of most of its color, stares blankly down through the branches. A tall bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln looks down on the park, frozen mid step.

A couple walk down the street hand in hand. A woman, possibly a third wheel, is behind them. The girl and her third-wheel-friend talk with concerned faces while her boyfriend plays with the imaginary piece of gum in his mouth, looking in the opposite direction. A thin gold chain hangs around his neck, he has dark, ripped skinny jeans, and the Blazers logo is buzzed into his short, black, hair. He looks like a knockoff version of ‘90s rapper. Trashy. His girlfriend wears a loose, grey sweater, faded blue jeans, and clunky leopard print jewelry. She has deep smile lines but she isn’t smiling, and her forehead is creased with worry.

I watch a college student hunch forward under the weight of her backpack. She hurries away after checking her watch, clearly late for something important. A class maybe? A bus? A date?

A balding man, maybe in his thirties or forties gets off a bus. He waves goodbye to the bus driver, calling her “mom” even though there couldn’t be an age difference of more than five to ten years between them. His old, blue T-shirt advertises a strip club on Broadway in bold print. It looks as if he hadn’t shaved in a week. A pregnancy advice packet is stuffed into the back pocket of his jeans and he mumbles in an almost unintelligible, comically low voice about a baby. He converses with no one in particular in a throaty, gibberish language that reminds me of tires rolling over a dusty gravel road. He’s the type of person that I would cross the street so I wouldn’t have to walk next to him.

A city worker with a leaf blower spins leaves into dust devils. I doubt she gets paid much for her job, but it’s better than no job at all. Judging from the amount of leaves still clinging to the trees, I bet she’ll be back tomorrow.

A child, on some sort of group tour, sits down in the middle of the sidewalk and attempts to fit his entire body inside his small, neon-yellow rain jacket. While his peers jump up and down with their hands raised, eager to answer their teacher’s questions.

A homeless man limps by wearing tattered jeans and a faux sheepskin jacket, grasping his shoulder with one hand, a cigarette with the other, hunching inward and looking down. His left foot looks injured or deformed. I can’t tell which.

I watch a woman casually walk down the street with a polyester cat tail pinned to the back of her designer jeans, and furry clawed boots on her feet. She walks proudly. Or at least it looks like she does; leading with her chest, nose in the air. Her loud clothes and proud walk make her look like a cartoon. She glances suspiciously at the man walking next to her. She looks offended by his grease stained T-shirt and the sickly green slushy that he eats using his straw as a spoon. It seems strange that she would judge him with that tail sticking out of her pants.

I watch chickadees, bluebirds, and jays flitter around near my feet, foraging for worms and twigs. When I was little I thought that bluebirds followed me; I had my own personal army of happy bluebirds to protect me and give me good luck. I made a game, spotting as many of my soldiers as possible when I went outside. I don’t see many bluebirds anymore. Maybe I’ve grown less observant, or switched my focus to other things, like the people in the park that I unhesitatingly judge. Or maybe my warriors have left me now that I’ve begun to grow up, protecting some other little girl now. Someone innocent, young, and naive.

I wouldn’t say that I have lost my innocence yet, and I’m most definitely still young and naive, but there’s something about being a teenager that makes everything complicated. It’s almost as if I have new eyes. When I was younger my perspective was clear, innocent and unprejudiced. As I grow up it has become increasingly foggy and now I have strange, new eyes. For the most part I can control how many judgmental clouds, careless rays of sunshine, and broken-hearted drops of rain enter my vision. I used to be able to manipulate my sight with just a little bit of imagination, now I see everything, and it surprises me how much I don’t want to see. Sometimes I wish I could trade my eyes back for the ones of my childhood. Sometimes I wish I could close them; entering a metaphorical slumber, and never open them again.

Ashy clouds hang overhead. The autumn leaves fall to the ground before the jealous wind attempts to pull them back to their treetop homes. I pull my thin, green, jacket closer to my chest and yank on the drawstrings around my waist. Trying to squeeze all the warmth it has tighter around me.

I look through the island of scrawny Japanese maples, berry bushes and weeds at a young man, asleep on a park bench under a pile of jackets, mostly windbreakers. I wonder where he got all those jackets. There must have been a dozen at least. I hope he’ll be alright once winter sets in. It’s cold enough as it is.

I wonder how I would’ve viewed these people if I had my old eyes, but I’ll never get them back, and it’s better that way. People are meant to grow up. What type of world would we live in if people had the choice to gain a sort of mental immortality?

While I understand the fear of death, I’ve never thought much of immortality. It seems so lonely. I remember back when the Twilight Saga was popular all of my friends wanted to be vampires; to be young and beautiful forever. I never saw the appeal. I wasn’t the Twilight type.

Most people want what they can’t have. Whether it’s immortality, money, good grades or a pet. Human desires are often in vain. We think we want something but in actuality we want only a small fraction of it. Maybe it’s human nature to want the impossible with no strings attached. Or maybe it’s the nature of all creatures to desire a perfect life.

A little girl and her mother pass in front of me. The little girl tries to skip ahead, but her short toddler’s legs can’t keep up with her mother’s long strides. The girl’s shoes flash hot pink and blue and her blond pigtails bounce as she clomps down the sidewalk.

City workers struggle behind me with some type of sewage equipment. One of them jumps onto the bed of a pickup truck and poses with one hand on his hip and a fist in the air. After unloading the contents of the pickup they sit by the art museum and smoke.

I look to my right. A hand is waved, and a voice reaches across the park, telling me it’s time to leave. I flip my notebook closed and stuff my pencil in my pocket, staring up at the tired grey sky through the branches that are crowned with dying golden leaves. Above me, geese fly in V formations, squirrels bounce on branches that look much too thin to support their weight, and groupings of maple seeds spiral to the ground. I hop off the park bench and walk away from the islands of scrawny trees and bushes and the surly bronze statue that looks over them. When I breath out, a small cloud of steam comes out of my mouth before quickly fading into nothing. I see a bluebird twitching it’s head inquisitively and I have to smile. I begin my walk back to school, leaving the park.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

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