Through These Eyes: Rebecca


“I have just one more question,” I say and close my notebook. I’m nearing the end of a Skype interview for this column.

“Rebecca, why did you volunteer to share your story?”

She hesitates for the first time since our interview began two hours ago. She stares at me in silence.

I’m not prepared to hear her answer.

My regular column in this space recounts some of our readers’ most life-changing memories, written in first person—always in the present tense—to put you in their shoes, to relive their most important memories through their eyes.

Courageous volunteers share with me stories that have ranged from reconciling with ex-boyfriends to overcoming drug addiction. The stories I hear are often astonishingly tragic, but typically end with glimmers of hope and lessons to learn.

“Interviews” for this column are conversational. There are no pre-determined questions, and the story becomes about wherever our conversation takes us. Interviews last about two hours, and by the time an interviewee and I are done, we’ve usually laughed our asses off and cried our eyes out. Due to the extremely personal nature of the content we cover, interviewees and I bond quickly. We become friends on some level.

I keep their identities secret. I record every interview for note-taking and archival purposes, but Lavender and I publish only first names and middle or last initials, or cover up identities with aliases. Still, despite the anonymity, I find it remarkable that people are willing to share their tragedies with me—a stranger—who’ll pass it along to thousands more.

At the end of every interview, I ask my subjects why they volunteer their stories. To this question I get two replies most often: “It’s cathartic,” or, “I wanted to help other people realize they aren’t alone.” Either way, I admire their candor.

But with Rebecca, the woman at the other end of my Skype stream, my final question leads to an answer I haven’t heard.

Rebecca has short walnut-brown hair; it’s pulled back into a ponytail when I speak with her. Her face is full and porcelain-smooth. A light pink blush highlights her cheekbones. She’s wearing a UT-Austin hoodie and chews on its pull strings. She’s 32 years old.

“Rebecca, why did you volunteer to share your story?”

Rebecca hesitates. She takes her hoodie’s pull strings out of her mouth and stares at me.

Her face changes. The pink blush on her cheeks transforms into a splotchy red flush.

“Because, Justin,” she says finally, “I don’t have anybody.”

The Skype stream pixelates as she adjusts her laptop. She wipes the corners of her eyes and takes heavy, short breaths.

“What do you mean?” I suddenly feel nervous, hoping that she intends, at most, her answer metaphorically.

“Well,” she says, “I don’t have much of a family, you know, but I don’t any have friends. I have Facebook, and you’re on there, but I don’t know anybody. And that’s all I have. I mean, I…”

She stops, clinches her eyes shut, forces her lips closed, and breaks down into loud, uncontrollable sobbing.

“I don’t have anybody, Justin,” she says, exasperated. The helplessness in her voice is palpable. She chokes on her words and can’t catch her breath. The redness on her cheeks spreads across her face. She shakes as she tries to hold down her cry. “I don’t have anybody.”

“You’ve got me,” I say, holding back my own tears. I want to reach through the screen and hold her. I want to grab her and force her to know that she isn’t alone, that she’s going to be OK. I have to make her feel better somehow. But I can’t.

The video stream jerks around as she cries. She moans. The pain is unbearable for her, I can tell, and I feel terrible for asking her that final question—look at what it’s done to her— and now I can do nothing but watch her and try to calm her down.

Her laptop settles, she gets off her bed, and she walks to her dresser. She stands by a Kleenex box, blowing her nose and wiping her face, jerking as she cries.

As I write this, CNN reports that Congress has lower approval ratings than zombies. Hysteria surrounds Lady Gaga’s promotional efforts for her new album. Rand Paul is in flames over claims of plagiarism. And, until this moment, I was pissed that my hair was cut too short.

Then there’s Rebecca, standing at her dresser, holding a ball of Kleenex, so enveloped in loneliness that she’s literally writhing in pain.

“I’m sorry,” Rebecca says as she returns to her bed. Her cheeks are red and glisten under the ceiling light.

The Skype stream pixelates once again as she adjusts her laptop. When she comes into focus, she’s staring at me, waiting for me to say something, waiting for me to give her company, to be the someone she’s missing who’ll make her feel okay.

And I notice for the first time that her eyes are blue. They’re beautiful. They’re the kind of beautiful you’d otherwise never imagine could hide so much pain.

Rebecca J. lives in Dallas. We’re working on that loneliness business.

Contact Justin to share a memory @ [email protected]

Link to YouTube audio column:

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