We all have our hang-ups, something that, regardless of rational thought, just makes our skin crawl. For some, it’s the word “panties”, for others it’s nails on a chalkboard. For this guy, it’s a simple gesture, one that I find myself faced with almost daily. The wink.
It’s innocent enough. I mean, all it really is is just blinking, but with only one eye. By all means, it shouldn’t creep me out nearly as much as it does, but the fact remains that it’s virtually impossible for me to have a conversation with a winker. It’s just one of those things that is supposed to be subtle enough as to not really draw attention to itself, but distracting enough that I can’t concentrate when it happens.
But what is it about the wink? I mean, it’s gotta be something, right? I think, whether this is warranted or not, that the wink has just become one of those disturbingly sexual gestures to me. I don’t know how something with the eyes (well, really just one eye, I guess) can seem sexual, but think about the wink in context. Have you ever been winked at without a weirdly sexually charged advance to follow? I mean, it just seems like a given that something uncomfortable is gonna happen next.
It’s a shame too. I remember being a little kid and whenever I would see the mailman, he’d give me a little wink and a wave. It was just one of those iconic, small-town America, borderline Rockwell-ian memories of mine from growing up in Ohio. It was just something that was so warm and inviting about our town. Of course, now that we have countless stories about authority figures (i.e. Catholic priests) molesting children, that memory doesn’t seem so tender anymore… in fact, it just seems kinda creepy. But still, it seems clear that there was a time when a wink was an innocent friendly gesture. So what changed?
I’m not sure anything about the wink changed. It’s pretty much always been the basic combination of quickly closing and opening one of your eyes, directed at a person or peoples. It seems clear that the only thing that changed is me. Sure, I could take this opportunity to wax philosophic about innocence lost or the state of America where we can’t even trust friendly gestures anymore, but let’s be real, I don’t think that big. In fact, I can almost pinpoint the exact moment where the wink lost its sentimental charm and became something to be feared.
I was at a party one time, probably somewhere between six shots and two beers deep, when I was approached by a girl. She was a nice enough girl, kinda quiet, but we knew the same people so I had at least had an idea of who she was. So we were casually talking, undoubtedly about something douche-y like Tarantino’s latest venture (I mean, it was a college party and I did go to film school…) when she just sorta stopped. She looked at me, with both eyes slightly open but clearly in the twilight of her drunken state. Slowly, she forced one of her eyes shut. “… what was that?” I asked, innocently enough.
“I was… I was…” she choked out her words, more out of drunken necessity than any shyness. “I was winking at you.”
“Oh… okay…” I replied. Nothing original, but given the situation, what else was I supposed to do? For this next part, time almost seemed to slow down. She cocked her head to the side, squeezed both her eyes shut, and pouted her lips. At this point, not only was I pretty clear about the whole “being attracted to guys” thing, but even if I was into girls, this girl resembled more of a fish than a woman. I couldn’t quite figure out the words that I needed to spit out and her lips were getting closer. It wasn’t that I’ve never kissed a woman before or that I’d even be opposed to it, but everything about this situation was wrong. My body seemed to scream no as she grew closer. So, without any words, I just stepped back, away from her.
In hindsight, perhaps I should have blurted something out because when I stepped back, she sort of fell forward. Had I been there, I could’ve caught her, but as fate would have it, the floor did most of the catching. What followed was a combination of profuse apologies, tears (on her part, not mine), and an angry exchange about just why the hell I didn’t catch her.
Sure, there are a lotta things about that situation I wish I could change. Maybe I wouldn’t have drank so much. Maybe I would’ve actually caught the poor girl this time. Maybe I would’ve seen that wink and gotten the hell outta there when I had the chance. But hindsight is 20/20, right? All I know is, from that day forth, I never trust a wink.