A coatroom before our first race. We’re all there, silent while he talks.
Shining metalic blue eyes, like daggers.
Piercing in intensity.
My whole life laid bare.
Paul taking me by the collar and pushing me up against a locker in the 7th grade and bashing my face in just because I was the biggest kid in the grade and unwilling to fight the toughest kid; the football coach who grabbed my facemask and screamed at me in front of my dad for failing to contain the sweep at defensive end; the girls who snickered to one another as the Frankenstein monster-sized kid walked past in the hallway; swimming races that I showed up to defeated before I even started, despite my state champion potential, because of overtraining; and finally, days and days of running at 20 miles at a shot—not out of any athletic aspiration but just to block out the world that caused me so much pain.
The blue of the eyes is so intense it almost seems like they are from an alternative universe. But they don’t go away or leave me alone. They are real.
Those eyes required that I stop playing small, stop trying to pretend that I was less than my true self. They demanded that I see what he saw, a 20-year-old capable of greatness. The words were a violent shaking, delivered with spit to the face like some kind of blessing at Easter Mass.
The fact that his eyes were about an inch from mine, ignoring the etiquette of normal human interaction, didn’t matter. The fact that surrounding the blue eyes was a lumberjack beard, spittle from chewing tobacco running down a chin, and the warm face of man who had done too many drugs didn’t matter.
What mattered were the words.
The words of confidence.
He was talking about a rowing race the next day.
Or was it life?
Those eyes looked into my soul and saw something I had never seen in myself. In his eyes, I finally began to see my own potential—as a rower and as a man.
We won the race, but I have almost forgotten that, a quarter century ago now.
What still burns in my heart is those eyes.
They have carried me through marriage, divorce, fatherhood, sobriety, remarriage… into intense battles on the field of business, and into the continued struggle to find myself.
If I am good, it’s in no small part because a crazed man looked into my very being and saw it there first, when I was still too ashamed of my own being to find a shred of greatness in myself.