And this: these are the same eyes

It always comes down to this.

The thoughts, they always come, in pulses and gasps and stuttering flows of intuition all at the wrong times. The attempts, futile, to pull it together, to make sense of the images and flashes of thought that come at me when I'm more interested in attempting to live my life: the images that stay with me when my eyes close at the end of the day.

How I see the same things in people, over and over, as the years pass. The names change, the people change, yet these are the same eyes and the same mind still looking out and observing, the still point of onlooking that can't seem to look away.

The intellectual part of my mind registers the differences between people, knows their intrinsic differences that make them into different people, but there's still the less cognizant part of me that still comes to a shuddering standstill when confronted with inexplicable strangeness and similarity.

To focus on a swinging red braid poking out of the back of a baseball cap. Another tall woman, another baseball cap. The same tinted red hair, plaited into a thick braid, and for a moment it's another friend, another state, another person, another life, and I am not sure where I am. The head swings around, and for a split second I am not sure if the face that turns around will be the friend who I've lost touch with or the friend that is still with me.

Does it matter? In the end, does it matter, really?

Glimpses, always, into life. I would look up from shoveling rocks, slash the dirt-scummed sweat from my brow, and the snapshot would fall into place. A male arm competing with gravity for control of a wheelbarrow, exertion shortening muscles and turning venous tracery into high relief. Brown, so brown, unlike my skin, the occasional mole.

Earth, spongelike, newly tilled, sinking me to my ankles as I attempt to walk on it. Laughter. The promise of a blister at my thumb's middle joint, my legacy of a day's shoveling. The world disappearing as I concentrate on the rhythm of throwing the shovel down, grabbing a scoop of rock and bark, and throwing the shovel of waste material into the wheelbarrow with a clank. Repeat. Listen to the sound of my heart and my breath and the laughter of the people around me, and struggle not to lose myself in the rhythm of the work.

The difficulty of writing is not in the writing itself; it is the imagining. There is more work in the moment of the leap of intuition than of any other moment in the writing process: the moment when the familiar images and thought patterns are replaced with those of another. It is at that moment that you can write convincingly with another's voice, to replace oneself with another—sometimes wholly fictional—self.

The proximity of others can be comforting and most alienating, all at once. To be so close, to have shared experiences and jokes—and yet to be able to measure with one's eyes the distance from your perspective to theirs. To know that the foot and a half between their eyes and yours makes all the differences in all the novels ever written; to know that if the two of you got up and changed places that the perspective will have changed before you'd even had the chance to sit down.

Holding the phone in my hand today, I heard the voice of an old friend. This is an old friend, someone I've managed to come to know despite his reticence and mine. I could recognize his eyes (thoroughly distinctive and absolutely beautiful) in any picture. I can recognize his writing through six years of learning its tone and deadly accurate phrasing. The familiar cadence and accent of a personality I've come to care about, and I found myself wishing that just for a split second I could leap into his mind.

One second, to answer all the questions I've never even known that I've needed to ask. A one-second leap, from one end of the phone to the other, to see things in his perspective, would tell me more than we have managed to communicate in the entire course of our friendship.

So infinitely close—a shared conversation, a shared train of thought, and yet there stands an impenetrable wall between his mind and my own. No amount of monitoring facial expressions and eye movements can give me any more than whatever inferences they will allow me to take.

So infinitely far away.

And this, and this….and it all comes down to this: sunburned skin hot and sticky to the touch, muddy feet propped up on the long edge of the coffee table, toes splaying as they grasp the rounded horizontal edge of the table.

A table for seven, dinner for one, dessert and drinks for six. Seven people approach the table with different thoughts on the course of this weekend of flowerbed destruction. Six of whom I could ask at any point in time for their thoughts on the matter; seven differing opinions, only one of which I'll ever fully understand.

The names change, the people change, yet these are the same eyes and the same mind still looking out and observing, the still point of onlooking that can't seem to look away. I come away from the weekend with sunburned legs and haunted mind. The flowerbeds will grow into something beautiful. This, and many things, given time.