I read somewhere that people who have brown eyes, like me, are supposed to be more resistant to sunlight. They are supposed to be able to go easily without sunglasses: standing deep in baseball fields ready for a pop fly; laying exposed on the decks of boats with no thought of unsightly tan lines; posing uninhibited for outdoor photos.

I on the other hand, used to cover my face with my softball glove to keep the sun out of my face. When I go boating, it is only after I have triple checked that I packed at least two hats and two pairs of sunglasses (because if one of either went overboard, I would be up a creek, so to speak). I close my eyes on purpose in outdoor photographs because they begin to water so badly that I figure it is better to look like I blinked at the wrong moment than like someone off camera is dicing the biggest onion in the history of the world just for my benefit. There is not a single photograph from our family reunions in which my eyes are open.

When I was really little, before I could really compare my sensory experiences to others’, I didn’t know that I was significantly more sensitive to light than other people. I thought that everyone must experience the sun like I did. So instead of making a big deal out of it, I turned it into a game: Lead Me! Any time I got out of our car or burst out of a movie theater, or left a family grocery shopping bonanza and emerged from a suburban cocoon into the bright white light reflecting off the parking lot, I would close my eyes, reach out my hands in front of me, and cry, “Lead me, Mommy!” She would dutifully take my hand, and steer me to our destination, even if the other hand was holding my brother, pushing a cart, balancing her purse, and pulling out her keys.

Not much has changed. Obviously, I am now a devotee of sunglasses. I have a pair to live in every purse, in every glove compartment, and a few extra just in case. My eyes are still dark brown—my father’s eyes. But my sense of direction in the world—where I am headed, why I am going there, who I look to for guidance—comes from my mother. Because of her, there are so many things I can do, even if sometimes I have to close my eyes and just go.