By Angela Acosta

According to ornithologists, birds glisten a panoply of colors when illuminated by ultraviolet light. Bathed in this light, they see into a range of wavelengths human eyes could never visualize unaided by technology. The robins’ well-insulated plumage makes them simply irresistible as they puff their bellies to attract potential mates. 

Amelia wore corrective lenses, but she always considered herself a tad colorblind. Oh, she saw the entire visual spectrum as well as any human could. She took Buzzfeed quizzes to prove she had a discerning color palette, but she still wished for avian vision. Everyone else, she mused, could see as well as the robins. All the other humans in her life could see each other’s skin and fresh plumage of clothing, makeup, and hair styles as if they sparkled, identifying potential mates from across the room and even through pictures on dating apps. At age twenty, her plumage just hadn’t come in yet. 

On her way to class, Amelia noticed the troupe of birds scooping up fallen berries on the strip of grass that had recently emerged out from under inches of snow. She leaned over and tried to snap a photo on her phone of the robins scampering about, but it proved too difficult. Every week she sends her friend pictures of the robins, a hearty species they don’t see much back home in Florida, but the photos always come out blurry. Her dear friend still accepts them with gratitude. 

College for Amelia should have been a world of discoveries as shockingly bright as a baroque church for those who could see its gilded ceilings. As her classmates grew into themselves once their downy feathers disappeared, they bragged about their 20/20 vision far into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Some friends could see the beautiful lavender hues of sapphic love or the turbulent gray tones of unrequited desire. A girl in her dorm bragged about the deep cyan they could see in the eyes of her boyfriend and others swooned over an entire rainbow of colors, from mahogany to bright yellow. No matter how pretty lavender and chartreuse looked or how much she tried to see the colors of others, she was like a bird without ultraviolet vision.

The few times she admitted her unusual sense of sight, her fellow students scoffed at her. They told her that she should get her eyes checked or that she just wasn’t looking right. Amelia turned her head to the side, almost touching her ears to her shoulders, like the curious robins who looked up at her when she interrupted their daily scavenging. She so often pretended to see what she knew would never appear, professing her affection to boys her age with all sorts of colorful metaphors. She knew the robins wouldn’t approve, but she tried. 

Amelia thought that she could see enough of the world, appreciative she was of the hues that painted her life. Over time, she would meet other humans who quietly mentioned their own trouble with avian vision. Many wished they were “late bloomers”, anticipating a delayed onset of fiery reds and calm blues that would point them towards romantic relationships. Others spoke of their peculiar vision as a language they could not speak, a yarn they could never thread, a hope they held onto yet never dared utter to loved ones. 

Ever the bibliophile, Amelia would seek words for the missing tones and hues, wondering if she could teach herself what her eyes could not discern for lack of perspective. On a spring day as the robins milled about, she found her answer: asexuality and aromanticism. Not to be confused with her astigmatism, these new words were delicious on her tongue and helped her eyes better focus. Asexuality, a lack of sexual attraction towards anyone of any gender, meant that she may see but not always understand others’ colors. Aromanticism, a lack of romantic attraction towards anyone of any gender, meant that she may not desire romantic relationships. She would be like a bird without a nest, without a mate. 

Although this realization meant she may never see into the ultraviolet like the robins, her eyes could finally rest from the strain. She was not lacking anything in herself and, if she found the right ragtag group of friends, she too could be like the vivacious robins. There were other ways of seeing the world, other ways of whispering her secrets in the dark of night and spending the rest of her days loving others just as she is and just as they are. Perhaps the photos of robins were just her way of saying “I love you” after all. 

Angela Acosta is an emerging bilingual Latina creative writer and scholar. She won the 2015 Rhina P. Espaillat Award from West Chester University and her work has appeared in Panochazine, The Stratford Quarterly, Pluma, and Eye to the Telescope. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in Iberian Studies at The Ohio State University and resides in Columbus, Ohio.