My girlfriend has a third eye.
It’s in the middle of her forehead. It was hidden underneath her bangs.
We might never have found it if the wind hadn’t kicked up while we were walking on the beach, blown her hair back as she turned to face me. We were on vacation in Newport, celebrating the award she won for one of her virtual reality sites. We just finished cartwheeling along the shore, something she loves to do.
“What the hell is that?” I asked, leaning toward her with my finger.
“Ouch!” she said, recoiling. The third eye snapped shut, reopened when we were a safe distance apart.
She took out a compact from her beach bag, gasped.
Foamy ocean water lapped at our feet, then switched direction, rushed back out to sea.
She turned her head sideways slowly, her dark brown eyes transfixed on the blue eye above. “I don’t know, Brandy. My bangs must’ve covered it.” She zipped up her orange sweatshirt past her collarbone, pulled the bottom of her sleeves over her fingers. I’d made fun of the sweatshirt earlier, called it prison fatigues, but the truth was, with Anna’s ivory skin and jet black hair, she could look good in just about any outfit.
“Can you see out of it?”
She closed her regular eyes. The center eye looked me up and down, stopping at my conservatively cut black-and-white striped bikini top. “Not really. A few shapes, but they’re fuzzy.”
She looked back at the mirror, swept her bangs forward with her fingers. “I’ll just fix my hair.” She put the hood of her sweatshirt over her head, started walking. “No one needs to know.”
• • •
Anna’s bangs are pushed back unevenly in a tortoise shell clip, her third eye bloodshot and blinking back tears. I’ve just come home from work. The spare bedroom, which Anna uses as her office, is a mess, drawers open, website flowcharts scattered on the floor.
“I can’t see out of my regular eyes!” she says, slapping a stray hair off her forehead. “This is the only one that works!”
We make an appointment to see the eye doctor.
• • •
“Holy crap!” the doctor says. His office is filled with pictures of him and his wife and two small children, all blonde hair and white teeth. “Have you ever had any eye problems in the past?” He’s standing beside a large photo of his family in crisp jackets at a ski resort, snow-capped mountains in the distance.
Anna shakes her head. “I never even had pink eye.”
The doctor walks toward Anna, flips over the eyelid of her center eye. He pulls a magnifying glass from his pocket, brings it close to her eye, then away, then close again.
“Here’s a patch,” he says at last, taking a folded black cloth out of a desk drawer. “Put it on your forehead.”
“What’s that supposed to do?” I ask.
“I’m hoping that with that thing covered, survival instincts will kick in, and her normal eyes will start working again.”
He sighs, looks back at Anna’s forehead. “I can add a prescription for valium if you want.”
• • •
The patch is a success.
“As good as new!” Anna says, fluffing out her bangs as she climbs into bed beside me, pulls the blue and purple swirled comforter up to her chest. She slept on the couch the last few nights, since her regular eyes stopped working. I told her she was being ridiculous, that I didn’t care about her eyes, but she wouldn’t listen. Now we’re back in bed together, back to spooning as we drift off to sleep.
• • •
The next morning, Anna has two eyes on her neck, round and green.
“Everything is blurry,” she says, her neck eyes squinting. I reach for my glasses on the nightstand, hold them against her throat. “Better,” she says, taking the glasses from me.
We call the eye doctor. He recommends more patches. We call another eye doctor, schedule an appointment for the following morning.
• • •
Anna tries to jury-rig a string around her neck to hold up the glasses. She can’t get the right tension—either the string is too loose, or she’s practically choking herself. “Worthless piece of shit,” she says, throwing the ball of string on the floor. The cat appears from nowhere, chases the ball out the door and down the hall.
“We’ll get through this,” I say, hugging her, kissing the upper lid of her third eye.
The next morning, Anna has two eyes on her neck. They are round and green.
I get a pair of my disposable contacts from the bathroom. She is squeamish at first, but eventually she is able to keep her eyes open, allow the lenses to cover them.
• • •
There is new age music and green tea in the new doctor’s office, a bonsai tree by the receptionist.
“What were you doing the first time the vision shifted?” the doctor asks.
“About to launch a client’s Web site—a funky line of running shoes.”
“Did your colleagues freak?
“Actually, I work alone—out of my apartment.”
The doctor nods. “Don’t you find it lonely?”
Anna crossed her legs. “Not really. Lots of phone calls and emails.”
“You should see her stuff,” I say. “Very cutting edge.”
The doctor takes Anna’s hands in his. His pinky is practically black, like it got slammed in a door or something. “Now Anna, I think what’s going on here—well—I think you need to start telling your body who’s in charge.”
“You need to say, ‘I was born with two eyes, right below my forehead, and those are the only eyes I want.’”
Anna looks at me, then back at the doctor. “Ok.”
He squeezes her hands. “You need to say it now.”
Anna looks at me again. “Oh, ok.” She clears her throat. “I was born—”
“I was born—”
“Shut your eyes, really feel it.”
“I was born with two eyes, right below my forehead, and those are the only eyes I want!”
“Good!” He lets go of her hands, starts clapping. “Very good.” He stands, walks toward the door.
“Ten times a day. More if you need it.”
“That’s it?” I ask.
“You’ll see,” he says, patting me on the back.
• • •
“I was born with two eyes—I was born with two eyes. I was born—” Anna is curled up in a ball in a corner of the bathroom. She has two new pairs of eyes—a hazel pair on the back of her hand, and a green pair on her upper back.
I slide down on the floor beside her. The tiles are cold.
“Do you want me to—?”
“No! No more doctors!”
• • •
Anna buys far-sighted contacts for the eyes on her back and near-sighted contacts for the pair on her hand. She is back to her old self, doing handstands on the roof at night as I watch and clap, as the lights of the Queensboro Bridge sparkle in the distance and passing planes illuminate the sky. She grabs my hand, and I join in, and we both laugh as we point our toes straight up in the air, as we release our arms and roll back on our feet.
The next week, a yellowish, cat-like pair appears on her upper chest.
She skips around the dining table. “I always wanted to see in the dark!”
“Madam!” I say, grabbing a throw from the sofa and covering myself. “I’ll have to be more careful when I undress at night.”
Her neck eyes wink.
Later, in bed, the cat nuzzles by her shoulder.
• • •
“Time to stop traffic?” Anna asks the next night when I come home from work.
“You betcha,” I reply, grabbing a small tin of powdered chalk from the dresser.
We walk all the way east, practically to the river, to a deserted street where a traffic light dangles from a horizontal bar. It’s only a few blocks from the hustle and bustle of our apartment on Lexington, but this area of the city always seems like a ghost town. Maybe it’s because it’s so far from the center, so close to the edge. There isn’t a car in sight. Even the trashcans are empty.
Anna shimmies up the connecting vertical pole using a “No Right Turn” sign as a foothold. She grabs the horizontal bar with both hands and pulls herself up, does one flip, then another, and another. The traffic light at the end of bar sways, changes from red to green and back again, but she is oblivious.
Dr. Dorf lays the cigar on a glass tray. ‘Is this really about the cigar, Brandy?’
The next week I come home from work and Anna is lying on the couch in the dark with the shades drawn. Her hands are covering her cat eyes.
She doesn’t say anything. “Do you have a new pair?” She shakes her head. “Which ones are you seeing out of?”
“It keeps switching!” she says, her face and neck eyes bursting into tears. “I can’t keep up!”
• • •
The third doctor’s office is sparsely decorated, beige and off-white.
He greets us with a nod, gestures for us to have a seat. He looks at each of Anna’s eyes with a large, telescope-like device in his hand. Then he sits at his desk, scribbles notes on a pad. “Laser surgery,” he says at last. He has a faint Eastern European accent. “We need to get to the back of the eye. Behind the eye. It will take several treatments.” He flips open a calendar. “When can you start?”
I put my hand on Anna’s knee. “Doctor—with all due respect—you’re the third person we’ve seen—is all this going to cure her?”
“Cure is a strong word, Brandy. If by ‘cure,’ you mean the other eyes are—for the most part—no longer active, no longer visible—then yes, that is what we hope to achieve.”
Anna clears her throat. “I can do Tuesdays at 8.”
The doctor jots this in his calendar, then pulls a small gold watch out of his pocket and checks the time. “Till Tuesday,” he says with a smile, shaking Anna’s hand.
• • •
Anna hasn’t gotten any new eyes since she started seeing Dr. Dorf, but none of the old ones have disappeared. Her vision still jumps around, but not, she says, as much as before.
“Dr. Dorf says the extra eyes may be the result of some kind of childhood trauma—like a really bad scrape or fall.”
“You never told me about any really bad scrapes or falls.”
Anna nods. “Dr. Dorf says most people don’t remember that kind of stuff as an adult.”
One Tuesday I stop by Dr. Dorf’s office a few minutes before 9, when Anna’s appointment is supposed to end. At 9:15, the receptionist turns off the computer and smiles at me. “I’m sure they’ll be right out,” she says as she grabs her bag and heads out the door. I walk down the corridor and into Dr. Dorf’s office.
Anna is lying on a couch that has been squeezed against the far corner of the room, and Dr. Dorf is standing over her, looking at her forehead eye with an even larger telescope than the one he had when I was there before.
“What’s with the couch?” I ask.
Anna jumps up in a start, nearly hitting her head on Dr. Dorf’s telescope.
“I bought it a few weeks ago,” Dr. Dorf says calmly. “She has eyes all over. It’s easier to examine her lying down.”
He sits at his desk, lights a cigar.
I wave my hand at the smoke. “Do you really think you should be lighting up in here?”
He lays the cigar on a glass tray. “Is this really about the cigar, Brandy?”
• • •
“Don’t you think it’s a little weird?” I ask Anna on the walk home.
“What?” she asks, sipping a large banana smoothie from her favorite juice bar. “That your girlfriend has multiple sets of eyes, or that my girlfriend feels the need to check up on me?”
• • •
The next week Anna has a new eye. It’s on her earlobe. It’s flat and round, without lashes. It looks like a fish eye.
“Dr. Dorf is a crackpot,” I say.
Anna rolls her knee eyes. She does a headstand against the wall, gestures for me to join her. I remain on the L-shaped couch, my body sprawled across the crack where its two sections meet.
“Dork. Doofus. Take your pick.”
Anna rolls her knee eyes again, cracks her gum. “He warned there might be setbacks, remember?”
I take a dark purple pillow from the couch, slide it next to her on the floor. “I just want you to be happy.” I position my hands and head in a triangle and lift my legs up.
“Dr. Dorf wants me to start taking eye drops.”
“What about all the laser stuff? I thought that was his ‘patented’ move?”
Anna cracks her gum. “They’re more resistant than he thought. The drops may be the only way . . .”
“Then go for it.”
“There could be side effects.”
“What now? Mouths and noses?”
She kicks me playfully, sending my legs careening to the left. It takes me a minute to shift my weight, regain my balance.
“The drops turn the eyes to stone. They won’t be visible anymore, but they’ll still be there. They could be heavy.”
“Isn’t there some Bible story about eyes turning to stone?”
Anna doesn’t say anything. We remain upside down for several minutes. I’m starting to feel lightheaded. I’m looking at the couch, wondering why, when I’m upside down, my vision is still right side up. I close my eyes and slowly reopen them. My vision is the same.
“I think it was the other way around,” she says, bending her leg and rubbing my calf. “The woman had the eyes—people turned to stone when they looked at her.”
I slowly wrap my leg around hers, careful not to brush against the lashes on her knee.
• • •
Anna has been taking the drops for a month. The eyes on her neck are practically flat, like a tattoo. She says they’ll lighten with time. The pair on the back of her palm is shrinking, becoming glassy. They remind me of baby doll eyes—the kind that close when you put the doll down.
I knock on the door of Anna’s home office. “Hey! Wanna do some somersaults?” Anna loves sneaking into Riverside Park after it closes and doing somersaults on the pier. I used to worry that she’d lose her balance on the narrow benches, but she’s never even stumbled.
She opens the door, a half-eaten Big Mac in her hand. It is, without question, the first time I’ve ever seen her eat fast food. “No, thanks,” she says. A yellowish sauce dribbles from the burger onto her wrist, and she licks it. She sits down, swivels her chair toward her computer, where an episode of Wheel of Fortune from the ’70s is playing. “They don’t make ’em like that anymore,” she says, nodding at the computer as she takes another bite of the burger.
In bed, we still spoon, but it’s different. I’m always the one facing her, and we’re several inches apart. I reach over her, try to hold her hand. “Sorry, Bran,” she says, blindly patting me on the head, not even bothering to turn over. “I’m wiped.”
• • •
The eyes on Anna’s hand are almost gone. The ones on her back are getting that glassy look, like they won’t be around much longer either.
When I ask her how she’s doing, she says, “Good. Can’t complain.”
She hasn’t done a handstand or a cartwheel in weeks.
Her Web business is flourishing. Her sites now are more mainstream, functional. Her biggest client sells a weight-loss pill. “Dietary supplement,” she says, correcting me. “It suppresses appetite naturally.”
We make plans to meet by an outdoor pool in Astoria when I get off from work. Every year we sneak in the pool at night, do underwater acrobatics. We love having the water all to ourselves, the Manhattan skyline aglow in the distance.
I wait half an hour by the fence in my bathing suit. She doesn’t show.
When I get home, she’s sprawled on the couch watching E! True Hollywood Story, a large bag of chips on her stomach.
“Sorry, Bran, my body just doesn’t feel very spring-y these days.”
I slam the bedroom door and hurl myself on the bed.
A few minutes later Anna knocks on the door.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” She sniffles. “I love doing flips. And I love doing them with you. I’ve just been feeling so damn weighted down lately. Everything is such an effort.”
I take her hand. “It must be the stones Dr. Dorf talked about. You are getting better though, right?”
She sits down on the bed, covers her face with her hands. “The other morning while you were at work, I went to Riverside Park, tried to do some flips on one of the benches. I could barely even walk on the damn thing—my balance is totally shot.”
• • •
“I want off the drops.”
Anna and I are in Dr. Dorf’s office. We’re sitting on the couch, holding hands.
Dr. Dorf looks down, then back up at Anna. “You understand what this means?”
Anna nods her head.
“They will come back. Full force. There will be new ones too. More than you can keep track of.”
Anna nods again.
Anna holds the bottle of drops upside down over the toilet, squeezes the middle until all the liquid shoots out. The toilet water turns a stony gray. The cat stands over the bowl, hissing. We have to flush the toilet three times before the water clears.
It doesn’t take long for all of Anna’s old eyes to return. Maybe a week.
She has a new set of eyes. We call them Elizabeth Taylor.
The following week she has a new set of eyes, above her belly button. They are a very light blue, practically violet. We call them Elizabeth Taylor.
Sometimes she sees out of one pair consistently for several days. Other times her vision changes suddenly from one pair to another or from a single pair to multiple pairs. One night when I come home from work, she starts walking toward me, then turns around and walks backward, then turns again, sideways this time, leading with the turquoise pair on her right shoulder.
We do our underwater acrobatics in the pool in Queens. She even wears a fuchsia flower in her hair, à la Esther Williams.
She does one-handed and no-handed cartwheels in Central Park. I do my usual two-handed ones, and she applauds thunderously, like it’s the best thing she’s ever seen.
• • •
Anna is bent over her knee, applying mascara to her eye. She freezes when she sees me.
Her eyes are thick with liner and lashes, her irises—browns, blues, greens, and amber—more vibrant than ever.
“You probably think I’m crazy,” she says, slowly standing upright. She’s wearing a sports bra and boy shorts, a little pink bow in her hair. Over the past few weeks, as her eyes have multiplied, she’s worn less and less clothing, to make sure she can see when her vision suddenly shifts.
I take a step toward her, my head shaking, my arms reaching out. “Beautiful.”
I pick up her multi-eyed arm, hold it out to her. “Just look at these baby blues. Like sapphires!” I wave my hand by her stomach. “And Elizabeth Taylor! Dazzling.”
She looks at herself in the mirror, strikes a pose with her leg up, all eyes exposed. “Bet I could do a pretty fierce makeup commercial.”
The first time Anna and I went to Miami, I joked that they should’ve filmed her for a tourism ad. As soon as we got off the plane, she grabbed a cab and took us the beach, dropped her bags and coat on the sand and started doing somersaults by the water.
“Absolutely!” I say now, turning her wrist slightly so the pair on the back of her hand is visible in the mirror.
• • •
Anna’s eyes are bloodshot. “I feel like I’ve been punched in the eye,” she says, covering her neck eyes with her hand. “All of them.”
I get out of bed, start to draw the curtains.
“Ouch!” She pulls the blanket over her head. “The light hurts.”
• • •
“You have iritis,” Dr. Dorf says, turning the dimmer down in his office.
“What the hell is that?” I ask.
“The iris—the colored part of the eye—is inflamed.”
“Why does the light hurt so much?”
“The iris, when it works, controls how much light gets in.”
“Isn’t there anything we can do?”
“Sometimes, if untreated, it can be fatal.”
• • •
We huddle together in the apartment with the curtains drawn. We spoon, sometimes her facing me, sometimes me facing her. One day she spends the whole afternoon in bed, doesn’t get up even when it’s dark outside. I tell her I’d rather be with someone who takes in too much light than none at all. She laughs, tells me I should consider a career writing those corny little notes they put in fortune cookies. She puts her sneakers on, and we climb the stairs to the roof, do back handsprings against the sky.
• • •
Anna wants to go to the beach. Do cartwheels.
It’s October. The trees are already losing their leaves.
Anna says we can go someplace deserted, at night so no one sees us. She is sitting on the couch, petting the cat, her face obscured by black, oversized shades.
I’m afraid it’ll be too dark.
“Why do you want to go the beach anyway?” I ask, grabbing a small, fuzzy orange ball—one of the cat’s favorite toys—off the floor and shoving it in a drawer. “It’s where this whole damn thing started.”
“Don’t you remember cartwheeling on the shore together?” The cat stretches in her lap, starts to purr. “Vacationing? Celebrating?”
• • •
I drive for what seems like hours. The road goes from navy to ink blue to black. I haven’t seen another car for miles.
Anna tells me she wants to feel the water licking her hands as she raises her legs in the air, the gritty, damp sand on her palms after.
Eventually, we find the beach. There’s a faint light in the distance—like there’s a ship out at sea, but I can’t tell for sure. The surface of the water shimmers in the distance.
We walk closer, the surf pounding, the foam luminescent. My eyes adjust a little to the darkness. The waves turn light blue as they stretch upward, as whiteness frames their tops and they crash down in a muffled
“Time for cartwheels!” Anna says, lifting her arms above her head in preparation.
I raise my own arms, then lean forward, brace myself for the frozen daggers that, I am certain, will slice into my hands and feet as they brush against the water’s edge. But I am wrong. The liquid is refreshing, soothing. I finish my cartwheel and breathe in, feel the crispness of the air in my lungs.
“Let’s do that really circus-y one,” Anna says as she runs over to me, breathless, puts her hands around my waist and kisses my shoulder.
I know the one she’s talking about. We only did it once before. Years ago. She ran up to me and grabbed my hands, did a somersault above me. She called it an assisted flip. I called it dangerous.
She stands back, holds my hands in hers. “Well?”
I can barely see her, just the outline of her body, her hair wild, her bangs long outgrown. Bubbly water rushes onto the shore beside us, sizzling softly as it burrows itself in the damp sand.
• • •
“Sweetie, you worry too much,” she said one night early in our relationship, when she wanted to do somersaults on the roof, and I told her I’d have to close my eyes.
“No I don’t.”
“Did you or did you not bring an umbrella on our first date?”
“There was a twenty percent chance of rain that night.”
She mock gasped. “Twenty percent. I stand corrected.”
Even I had to laugh.
• • •
“Ok,” I say now.
“By the surf,” she says, pushing me a few feet back until my feet touch the water. My toes flinch from the cold, and I step forward, out of the water, then slowly back in.
“A little further,” she yells, already some distance away. I take another step, the water to my calves. It’s cold, but my body is adjusting.
“A little more.”
I oblige, the water on my knees.
The first time I did a somersault on the beach with Anna, we started on dry sand and landed with our feet in the water. I didn’t realize how far our bodies would travel, how silky the water would feel against my skin.
I hold out my hands. “Ready.”
I imagine the pressure on my wrists as Anna grabs onto me with her fingers, as she shifts all her weight to her hands and forces her legs up. I imagine the sudden weightlessness as she lets go, catapults herself into the air. She is high above, turning her body in on itself, upside down, then right side up, then back again.
Photograph: Ken Albritton