My wife and I had dinner with some friends the other night that we hadn’t seen in a long time. Before dinner we were sitting in the living room and talking when my wife asked about a portrait that was hanging on the wall. I had been looking at that painting, which was of a young woman, since I got there because of her eyes. I might be a little strange, but sometimes I see a picture or a painting of someone and I can’t forget their eyes. This picture was like that.
A person’s eyes can tell us so much. There are times when a person is smiling in a picture but their eyes tell a different story. You can see the hurt, the pain or the sorrow despite what the mouth is telling you. Sometimes the eyes are just vacant, like there’s no life behind the face. Other times there’s just something about a person’s eyes that says that this person is fun, interesting or maybe a little crazy. It’s like they’re sitting all serious for the moment, but at any second they’re just going to burst out laughing uncontrollably. Again, this may seem a little strange, but sometimes a person’s eyes in a picture or a painting just seem to follow you wherever you go in the room. This picture was like that.
It turns out that the painting was of our friend Lesley’s great grandmother when she was younger and was from the 1850’s. When I first got to Tony and Lesley’s house, I was standing straight across from the painting and noticed it and how the eyes seemed to be looking right at me. Later, I was off to the right of it and noticed how the eyes seemed to still be looking right at me. Standing up so the painting was below eye level or sitting down so it was above eye level made no difference; the eyes were still looking right at me. I figured I was imagining it. So when my wife asked about the painting I started to say something about the eyes, but Lesley finished my sentence about how the eyes follow you. So maybe I wasn’t imagining it after all.
When I was in high school and my first year of college, we lived in a big, old house with a semi-creepy basement. My older brothers had a fairly realistic (for the time) ugly old man mask and one year around Halloween they found some old pants, an old boy scout shirt and some old boots, and stuffed them with leaves to make a body for the mask. They stuck an empty beer bottle in one “hand” and a pool stick in the other hand, and Bill was born. To add the finishing touch, they drew eyes on pieces of white paper and taped them in the eye sockets. Bill was placed in the corner of the basement and became our constant companion down there, hanging out with us as we played pool and ping pong, listened to music and did the stuff teenagers do. Here’s the really weird part: No matter where you were in the basement, Bill’s eyes were looking right at you! Two people on two different sides of the basement would swear on their lives that Bill was looking directly at them. Quite a few people thought Bill was alive and some were afraid to go near him. There were a few times me and my friends could have sworn we saw Bill move.
I have always liked to read and one year I decided to read The Amityville Horror. Because the house was usually noisy, I decided to read it in the quietest place in the house – in the basement. I’ve already mentioned that it was kind of creepy in the basement and I did have a vivid imagination, but there were times I put the book down and just stared at Bill for a few minutes to make sure he wasn’t getting closer. I’d pretend I was reading but was actually looking at Bill out of the corner of my eye because I was sure he was moving. I really didn’t want to get hit over the head with a pool stick or a beer bottle, so I wasn’t going to let Bill sneak up on me! I actually even started thinking that maybe my house was haunted, too, due to the Amityville effect. It got to the point that I didn’t want to go into the basement myself, whether it was the middle of the day or the middle of the night. I’m pretty sure that I finished reading the book in my room, noise and all. The amusing part was that when I saw the movie, I actually laughed because it was so mild compared to the things I envisioned in my head, especially while I was reading down in the basement with Bill watching every move I made and plotting how he was going to get me.
I don’t know when Bill was finally laid to rest, but I do know that imagination can be much scarier than movies and reality. Bill is a testament to that. Sometimes imagination can also be more interesting than reality. I had already created multiple scenarios in my head about the girl in the painting when Lesley told us who she was, all more involved than her being her great grandmother who lived a normal life. Because in the end, those eyes that followed me told me there was something more to the picture. I just haven’t figured out what.