Jennifer Smith was a girl who never talked. One couldn’t tell if she was simply shy and skittish, or cold and aloof. All I knew was that she never talked.
I met Ms. Smith during enrollment prior to our first year of High School. While we were both new to this school, she was a transfer student from a neighboring town. I had been attending classes just one hundred yards away for the last nine years. Our school’s councilor knew this. While I was conversing with another one of our classmates, the councilor called me over. There, standing in the doorway of my High School’s library, I met Jennie for the first time.
She was pretty, but not so much that you believed she desired to be seen. She was fair skinned with a hint of bronze and her nose and cheeks wore a band of fading freckles, peppered by the summer sun. She had large light brown eyes, green in certain lights. They were focused, or perhaps, showed a sense of age that was beyond the rest of our peers. Her lips were tight, hiding a smile she only reserved for those who she trusted most. Back then, she wore her hair short, a recent change I understand, since only a few months before it had been much longer. It must have been quite the event when she let it go. Her hair was almost entirely dark brown, but with strands of red, giving it a color that would remind one of fine mahogany. She had the cutest nose. It’s such an odd thing, to think of something as mundane as a nose to be considered lovely, but it was. It brought all of her together subtly, a fine centerpiece to accentuate the natural beauty that surrounded it in this lovely being standing before me.
She, however, wasn’t beautiful like you would consider some girls to be. My meaning, of course, was that she was not a girl in possession, by choice or apathy, of the type of beauty that is awarded to girls of a certain mentality. I’m referring to “pretty girls”. Pretty girls are those girls, and sometimes boys, who spend hours in front of a mirror crimping and fluffing, drying and mystifying so that they will be thought to be beautiful and loved by the masses; some not so pretty girls do it, as well. But Jennie wasn’t one of those girls. She didn’t dedicate the time to doing those things other girls did. After all, such things are only skin deep, so they say. In fact, she was quite the opposite. I say that as kindly as I can. If she wanted to, she could have faded away into any room at any time she pleased, as she often would. She was simply an elusive sort of beauty. Of course, as I would one day find out, she could also be a beauty that could command any room, if the situation suited her, that is.
Of course, I didn’t think all this at the time. It is more something that I reflect upon. Back then, she was just another girl, one of those mysterious oddities of my species which confounded and terrified me. Still, this one seemed nice enough.
The councilor introduced us. She would be a new member of the little clan that was my fifty member graduating class. I was asked to show Ms. Smith around the school, find out together where her locker would be and figure out where her classes would be. I was not inclined to deny the request. I, and my fellow classmate, walked Jennie around, showing her everything there was to see. The tour didn’t last long, as people who know us and know of the school, know there simply isn’t that much to see. I was nervous since I wasn’t yet used to meeting new people. Everyone in my class had basically been in my class since we were in diapers. Add to this, frankly, even though I had grown up going to school just down the street all these years, I had little idea of what was in the High School. Think about it. Why would I need to know? It is like the hotel down the street from your Mom’s house. Of course you have never been there. Why would you need to? In any case, I stumbled around, trying to figure out what was there only a little better than the brunette foreigner three paces to behind.
She was new and probably nervous about the complete change of scenery. It must have been very strange for her to adapt to us. It would be difficult to adapt to a coterie of students who have been a holistic part of each other’s lives, for better or worse, for going on nine years. It wasn’t like she was completely alone. She would be migrating with all of her class she had grown up with. Her school only went to the eighth grade and most would join us for high school or other schools in the area. It happened every year. In fact, you might say that they were always part of our graduating class, we just didn’t know any of them yet. To be fair though, “her whole class” is a bit misleading. They were eight people. In retrospect, my class of fifty before they joined must have been a bit of a city in retrospect to eight people. The bonds as well. I can’t imagine how close they would have been before they all had to uproot to join this mob that was her new school. Honestly, people from the cities don’t understand the unexpected oddities of a small town, but sociodynamics have little place in love stories.
None of her friends were there with us now, so she was alone, and by my guess, probably pretty scared. So I tried to make jokes. That’s what I do; I make jokes. I made fun of our school because I knew its faults. I compared it to hers, implying that where she had come from had prepared her better than we had been by our alma mater just down the hill. I knew this because I had relatives who went to her old school, as well. Jennie, however, didn’t understand my meaning. She thought I was being sarcastic and making fun of her. I had no knowledge of this at the time. All I knew was that, for some reason, I had made her mad. She made concerned or perhaps aggravated faces at me and raised her eyebrow in what I could only guess was disapproval. I didn’t have much more to say after that. Whatever the case may have been, she didn’t have much to say during that stroll either. In fact, I am quite certain I don’t remember her saying anything at all. She was quite cold, by my account.
She puts it delicately that, “Love at first sight was not something we experienced.” Our first impressions of each other were thus; I thought she was a stuck-up snob and she thought I was a flaming jackass.
Had she known that my intentions were only to see her laugh, make her comfortable and see what her smile looked like, she may not have been so suspicious. Had I known that at that moment she was going through such suffering elsewhere in her life, I would not have been so judgmental.
In time, eventually, I grew to know more of her. I said knew of her. Remember, she never talked.
I first met her more, through friendships and acquaintances during art class, freshman year. We both enjoyed art, mostly drawing, sketching, and vandalism. Well the last one was primarily only me, but I will get to that later. The class was, in practice, really only a class where the seniors and other upperclassmen would be allowed to goof off and do nothing while the impressionable and wide eyed freshmen hadn’t learned enough not to care.
I made friends with her and two other girls that year. Well, I made friends with her friends and she was there. I stopped thinking she was stuck up and just decided she was shy after five months and never hearing her talk.
I do remember one time though that will always be the moment that I first thought she was remarkable. She was up talking to the teacher and away from her desk. I walked by and saw a picture she had drawn. It was a still life of a shoe and a basketball. I was fixated on the realism. It was so perfectly drawn, so tangible. I felt if I touched it I could feel the grooves. I’m certain to this day that if you compared it to a real ball, the number of bumps would have been the same. The shoe was amazing too, but seemed oddly disproportionate. It turned out that was every bit as accurate. Jennie just has tiny feet.
I watched her from time to time. She was a mystery, a curiosity. How could one be so unattached to the cares and childhood drama that was the political strife of high school? How could she so clandestinely avoid it? Was she some sort of impossibly wise genius who had discovered, as the rest of us discover years later, how very unimportant it all was? Were we all some sort of experiment to her, our movements under her patient gaze, but like a good scientist, never interfering with her trial? Was it simpler than that? Had something happened to this one? Was she just some sort of frail bird, afraid to fly?
I would have liked to have known, but I had my own problems which were ever present to me in the knowable universe. Always the awkward soul, I found myself embroiled with the mundane problems every young boy of certain age finds himself in at some point or another. I was shy, awkward, teased, unpopular, and couldn’t get a girlfriend if my life depended upon it. Social status perhaps, or maybe just loneliness in the awkward years. I suppose that most of those problems were my fault in hindsight. After all, I don’t ever remember asking anyone out in the ninth grade. So looking back, it is probably safe to assume that most of my problems were all in my head, not too different from today. I suppose that even more then than today the problems that only exist between your ears are the hardest to put out of your mind, but I digress.
I remember one day in particular, where I was more frustrated than most. There was a girl in our art class. She was older than we were, a junior, and a very pretty blonde. She was nice to me once, and to someone like me, that’s all that really mattered. I was infatuated, I suppose.
I wasn’t irrational about it. I never even considered asking her, well… anything. She hung out with the rough crowd, the burnouts and rednecks only there for a C which they did nothing to earn. It isn’t that I hated these guys. I played football with many. I was young, but the field was one of the few areas of my life in which I felt confidence. I had strong legs, and could perform and in a small way, they respected me enough to never bully me, which I felt thankful for, then. Still, strong legs don’t equate to strong knees. Those were weak. I couldn’t bare the idea of walking up there and humiliating myself by talking to her. Their marginal respect for me danced on the edge of a poorly balanced feather in the gale. To lose it would have been devastating. So I just sat and watched when I felt no one would notice.
The cowardice of it all, or rather, the lack of good options available to someone in my perceived predicament was too much. I broke one day.
I sat staring at this girl and finally just decided to vent. My eyes caught Jennie. She was alone, sitting at an easel painting. It was odd for her to be alone, missing her usual party of two entourage, that is. My attention was averted from the blonde and I watched Jennie paint quietly to herself. She was an enigma, a subtle sort of splendor, but an enigma.
I decided what I would do at that moment to relieve my pent up frustration. I gathered my courage and I walked over to her.
This story doesn’t end the way you think.
I pulled up a chair beside her. I somewhat ambushed her, in all honesty. Never expecting company, she was quite startled by the sudden direct attention.
At that point I did what I had come to do.
I blurted out to her, “Jennie, why can’t I get a girlfriend?”
I can only imagine exactly what she would have been thinking at that moment. For some reason, I was completely all right with having no idea what it was. She had a shocked look of stillness. She completely stopped what she was doing, and had a look I can only imagine on a frightened rabbit, or perhaps a person suddenly worrying that they are about to be eaten by a crazed peer. She remained still, and from what I remember, never dropped the look for the rest of our conversation. Conversation is probably the wrong word, but at least for the duration of the time I talked at her. Either way, for some reason, I knew exactly how this encounter would end, though I was wrong as to the reason why. Still, the girl had to have been shocked at the brazen, social recklessness of it. I gave her not a second before continuing on.
“No, it’s OK. You don’t have to say anything. I just wanted to talk to someone. You look like that kind of girl that you can trust, so I decided I would talk to you about it.”
I laughed nervously, but began to give in to the letting go.
“Besides, I know you won’t tell anyone, because I know you never talk. I just wanted to get it off my chest.”
That was actually a bit careless. It must read as rather offensive to the third party, too. And besides, just because I never saw her talk, didn’t mean she didn’t. For all I knew, she would write signs and pass out little slips of paper declaring my complete and utter ineptitude. I know gave her the power. She could really destroy me if she wanted. Also, between you and me, I am and have always been a horrible judge of character. I always give people more credit than they are worth. That trusting look on her then, whether true or not, was really just a naive calculation of factors I couldn’t possibly understand. In spite of all this, I continued on anyway, foolhardy as it was.
“I don’t really get it. I’m a nice guy. I am nice to everyone. Everyone else are jerks to me, but I am nice guy. I would think that girls would like nice guys like me.”
I thought of the blonde behind me. I may have even looked at her.
“You know what? I really think that girls don’t want nice guys like they always say they do. I really think they like jerks. I don’t know, though.”
I probably rambled on a bit more, but the details escape me. I just remember finally reaching the end after what was probably a magnificent display of verbal nonsense. I breathed deeply with a sign of relief and said to her finally,
“Thanks Jennie. I needed that. You take care.”
Then I picked up and walked off. I thought to myself what an idiot I was and how crazy she must have thought I was. I walked out the door and turned down the hall to get a drink. I thought to myself about all the horrible damage she could do with what I had just, for no reason, entrusted her with.
There was still plenty of time left in the hour. That meant we would have to sort of just exist together for the next twenty minutes or so, probably not talking about what had just happened. That’s exactly what happened, too. I sat down and pulled up whatever project I was working on and pretended to focus on it. My eyes darted periodically to see if she was ever looking at me. She wasn’t. It’s odd, I don’t remember ever looking at the blonde again. To tell the truth, I don’t even remember the blonde’s name. Tabitha? Samantha? It doesn’t really matter. It never really matters what the extras in stories names are. Jennie continued on painting as if nothing had ever happened. Her gaze and somewhat stern face never faltered. For some reason, I knew then that she would never tell what I told her, not even to the two friends of hers. It would probably die with her if not for me telling you now.
It was still remarkable to me how unattached she seemed to the rest of the world. She was a strange one. That much was sure. Ethereal. Yet, in spite of that, she was a beautiful mystery that would one day be unraveled. Today, though, she just continued to paint in chameleon silence.
Then I didn’t know the value of the trust I put in her. I also didn’t have the wisdom to act upon a person who showed so capably that she was worthy of it. Perhaps if I did have the wisdom, I would have realized what was underneath. I might have understood the why to why I could trust her. If I had been any smarter I would have known that she had a crush on me for weeks. But had I done so, this story would have turned out far different, and not likely for the better…