When I was five, a red dot appeared before my left eye. It was about the size of a pin head. Wherever I looked, there was the dot, floating in the air. If I closed my left eye and just looked through my right, I couldn't see it. Being five, I didn't understand it and didn't discuss it with anyone. After a while, I got used to it.
It grew. The growth was so slow it was imperceptible, but by the time I was seven, it was the size of a penny. If I turned my head just the right amount and just the right direction, I could position the dot so that it seemed to rest on the tip of my Dad's nose. Or I could place it in the upper-right corner of the TV screen. After some trial and error, I discovered I could push the dot from my left eye to my right. I taught myself to juggle it from eye-to-eye or even hover it in-between.
By twelve, it was the size of a cantaloupe. I used it to cover people's heads when I didn't want to look at them. I blocked out the heads of teachers, aunts and uncles, dentists, bullies, priests and Chinese people.
By eighteen it was the size of a tractor tire. I could cover whole people. I got a job and blocked out my boss. I blocked out the cop who wrote me a speeding ticket. I blocked out the judge in the courtroom. I had sex with fat girls without looking at them. Some people tended to move around a lot: athletes and nervous people. I didn't like them, because they forced me to relocate the dot all the time, and that grew tiresome.
I dated a little, but it never lasted long. Inevitably, we'd have that conversation in which she accused me of not paying attention to her, of being "off somewhere" while she was talking to me. I tried staring intently at the dot, thinking this might fool the girls into believing I was showing them with rapt attention. But was hard to judge just what part of them was where, behind the dot. So they would snap at me, saying things like, "Do I have a big zit on my forehead or something?" or "I know my hair is greasy. I didn't have time to wash it today!" or "stop staring at my boobs!"
One day, when I was 28 (and the dot was the size of a large boulder) I was talking to a girl a party. I rarely looked anywhere by then, except with my peripheral vision, because the dot seemed too heavy to shift. But something in her voice, a slight musical lilt perhaps, made me think she was beautiful. So with an inward groan, I rolled the ball to the right so that I could get a look at her.
I was wrong. She wasn't beautiful. She was squat and had almost no lips. This was the usual pattern: the girls who were sexy in my mind turned out to be plain or ugly when I rolled the dot away to see what they really looked like. Even a pretty girl would be less beautiful in reality – with some subtle but irritating flaw, like a crooked nose or a habit of scratching the inside of one ankle with her opposite foot – than she had been in my imagination while she was covered with the dot. In truth, I was losing my ability to get turned on by the sight of women. I only got hard while listening to a woman's voice and staring at the dot.
But something was different about this girl. Without the dot, I could see she wasn't looking at me. She was staring at me, but her eyes seemed far away. I only had a second to register this, because it took too much energy to keep the ball off to one side. When I relaxed my mind, it eased back into the center, covering her again.
But I was disconcerted. She had been looking at me the way I imagined I looked when I looked at girls. Was it possible that she had her own dot?