It’s a year later now, somewhere around halfway through Junior year. I had gone through a string of bad pseudo relationships and was depressed at my complete inability to attract any among the population of the fairer sex. I moved when I shouldn’t have, but worse, I was afraid to move when I should have. The dance baffled and befuddled me. I was hopeless.
I had recently endured a particularly damaging attack on my own self-esteem. Leave it to say that girls of a certain age can be lacking empathy what they are more than blessed with in beauty and grace. Perhaps that isn’t enough to say. I had fallen for a girl who made me feel special, only to find out a few days later, I was just being used to make her old boyfriend jealous. Give it six more months and this same girl got the drop on me again, same story, but with a different guy, and on my birthday, no less. It was a devastating ordeal at that age, but as I understand, not all that too uncommon.
Tangentially speaking, I’m willing to venture that most people remember that one person they just wanted so badly, but that tore them to pieces, instead. I think that we as a society worry too much about the cruelty visited upon each other in war and poverty. I think if we really wanted to avoid unnecessary suffering we should just outlaw teenagers from dating, but if that were the case this story might not have happened, along with so many other beautiful stories as well.
Returning then to my story, I spent about a month mulling over my loserdom, listening to an endless cycle of The Calling’s CD, Camino Palmero. You might remember them for their one hit Wherever You Will Go, which somehow still plays from time to time, serving as the never ending reminder of misbegotten misadventures and misfortunes of an ill spent youth. It also serves as a reminder of mercifully unanswered prayers, at least for me, anyway. Safe to say, that entire album exists as the soundtrack to one of those months every soul goes through at some point or another in isolation alone in their room. Either way, the ordeal made me certainly reevaluate the meaning of beauty, though I wasn’t aware of such things at the time.
Eventually I left the cave and was able to put it out of my thoughts, for the most part anyway.
It was around that time that I started looking around and noticed a certain girl. I had noticed her before and she entered my thoughts from time to time, now for a while. I had actually been thinking about her before the whole thing with this other girl, but then that happened. You’d think by this point I would have learned my lesson and focused on living the virtuous life of the ascetic monk, freeing myself from the worldly burdens of the feminine form. To be honest, I’m not a particularly wise person. I don’t profess to be a quick learner and often need to have things repeated to me. I was open to another mistake.
This other girl was quiet. I mean she was seriously quiet. She never said a word. Literally, in the three years I had known her, she had spoken all of maybe five words aloud, to me or to anyone else as far as I had seen. You probably know the girl I’m talking about. Not even after a rather odd encounter we had endured two years earlier in an art class did she ever have anything to say that I could hear. She always just sat quietly by herself, with her head down in a book or off somewhere else entirely. But she was cute and I was seventeen so that was the only real qualifier. I really didn’t plan anything with her, I just looked over and thought there was something different about her. She was still mesmerizing in her mystery. Something about the look she had that just seemed like she was someone you could really trust.
I suddenly became aware of my thoughts, and as the very young often will do, did what I could to stifle the notion. I remember in particular the very thought in which I dismissed the idea that of a look of trustworthiness would be a worthy trait in a potential mate.
(“’Someone you could really trust?’ What are you, gay?”)
I’m sorry if I’ve disturbed your modern sensibilities, but this is how seventeen year old boys of the age thought. So I did nothing about this idea of the trustworthy girl, and did what I could to dismiss it. After all, a trustworthy look wasn’t a factor in the algorithm of love, or at least not the love which boys of a certain age imagine, which might more readily be described as something between overly enamored infatuations or even more appropriately, lust.
Still, the feeling lingered. It lingered for perhaps another month or two. It lingered even for perhaps another momentary crush or two.
As the months rolled on during our junior year, she became part of my thoughts more and more often, most often of which during this class which we shared. I was distracted from my studies, mostly due, once again, to my own boredom and unchallenging teachers. I had more than enough time to stare off into the nothingness and fantasize about whatever my heart desired, least of which being American History. One day, a day not so uncommon that I can remember anything else significant about it at all, I remember sitting in class watching her again, specifically.
The room was buzzing as usual. Cliques were chatting throughout the room. Most days I would have attempted to be part of those coveted social circles in which the valued relationships of my little society exchanged information, opinions and the other forms of social currency still valued today. Conversations, gossip, storytelling and the flirting that is exchanged among youth was all that could be heard. Certainly not instruction, to be sure. Remember that this whole time we have been in History class.
That day, however, I was more distracted than most and not even on the sidebar conversations taking place around me. Instead, I was quietly watching the unobtrusive girl sitting on the edge of the room beside the wall. She was focused on her math. She must have wanted to get all of her homework done while there was time to do it. Smart girl. She was hunched over intently, shutting the rest of us out masterfully.
It wasn’t that I was interested in watching her study. I’m relatively certain that a poll of any number of young men at that age wouldn’t rank “The way she studies” as a key turn on. No, it was just her. She was the focus. Something about her was now engaging my attentions more than just her dedicated and scholarly aura. As the days went on, leading to that day, I began to realize just how pretty she was. I am not sure I could have articulated it as such, but that was what I started to see. She was a very attractive girl, I just never noticed it before. Her hair was bobbed again, shorter than two years before. She had experimented with a very short, spiked look during Sophomore year, which was rather flamboyant for the quiet mouse. I thought it was different, in a good way, despite what others openly thought. By now, it just flowed down to the nape of her neck, the waves dangling over her bowed head catching the light fancifully. Her lightly freckled skin accented a subtle tan. Nothing she wore was particularly amazing. Her fashion sense was clean and conservative, modest, but not prudish or pretentious. Just an ordinary look, barely worth mentioning except to note that to her, dress was a function. She gave it only so much focus as to not attract any unnecessary attention either for caring not enough about her looks, or for caring too much. Her eyes also lacked an intensity and vibrancy, which often I coveted in the girls who want to be noticed. It might sound odd that such a statement be said as complimentary, but the way her eyes rested their gaze was a calming one, which is not valued as the eyes of those too easily excited. No, she didn’t seem to be the violent gale of other storm ridden waters, but instead she might be the soft warm breeze on the water’s edge. She had a soft expression, one which showed her focus, but little particular attachment to the activity with which she was engaged. I never would have noticed such a girl if not for the rare and misfortunate experiences which had befallen me, but today, I really didn’t want to stop watching.
I remember being so curious about this mysterious girl who tried so hard to disappear from the rest of our view. I could have stared all day if I had wanted to do so. She would never have noticed if I had, but nothing comes from looking at things be pretty. I was in luck that I was in the middle of a phase that suited me. Personally speaking, I had been engaged in something of an adventurous streak, as much as such a streak could get for me at the time. I had started taking more risks, nothing noteworthy, but a lot for me. I was overcome with the foolish sense of adventure that has led to the greatest expeditions as well as the sinking of the greatest ships.
Eventually, I worked up the courage to go over and talk to her. Not all of a sudden, mind you. These things must be done delicately. I had to be cool about this sort of thing. You don’t just walk up to a girl and say, “Howdy,” with whom you’ve barely ever shared a word with. I’d have to find a way to show interest. I have to open her up. Let her know that I was interested in her without telling her I was interested in her. This was a dangerous situation, you know. All my friends would be watching, to be sure, if she turned up her nose and dismissed me. Plausible deniability had to be maintained, lest my intentions become the talking points of their gossip throughout the whole school.
Of course, even if such a thing were to happen, it’s funny to consider it such an important issue as to necessitate the illogical strategizing of teenagers trying to appear aloof in spite of very fervent desires. It’s a thing of beautiful nonsense to be young.
Of all the thought that went into it, the best plan I had come up with was what might be rightfully described in some applications to have been an ambush. I walked over and plopped right down in the seat directly in front of her, one arm on the desk, one arm on my new chair and leaned against the wall behind me. I was looking directly at her with a smirk as I said in that first second,
It would appear that one could simply walk up to a girl and say “hello” like a fool. All that really mattered was the rationalizing that took place prior, if a defense were needed. I think my plan was to catch her off guard. I doubted that asking her for permission to have a conversation would have come off as anything other than odd.
The interruption indeed gave the impression that it set her off balance. She was indeed working on homework and didn’t change its focus as her face remained locked to her textbook. Her eyes, however, told a very different story. They made her confusion, and perhaps annoyance much more apparent. They danced back and forth as if searching for explanation from some otherworldly source within her view.
With a closeted defensiveness, she politely replied to my greeting with little more than a nod.
And then nothing else. It was awkward, to say the least.
I wondered what I was doing. She was doing the same, I am sure. I knew I had to find something to talk about or this would be a quick exercise in how not to approach girls.
“So… watcha’ workin’ on?”
It was obvious and in hindsight kind of a stupid question. Still, it filled the void.
Her reply was less than inspiring for further conversation. This would indeed be harder than I thought.
“I see… Whose class do you have, Blevins or Hunt?” I replied.
She answered back, “Mr. Blevins.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I know how boring he can be. Almost everyone in our class would fall asleep, like, every single day.”
She laughed a little. A crack in the oaken façade!
“Do you like him?” I asked.
“I guess. He’s not bad, but I guess he is pretty boring.”
She was smiling just a touch. Still reserved, still shy, but I could feel as if I wasn’t unwelcome in this space. It was only small talk, but it was nice. There was still the issue of the horribly awkward, forced moment we were sharing, but it was at least pleasant enough not be too unnervingly uncomfortable.
I was trying to discover somewhere else where our conversation might go, trying desperately to discover some sort of inspiration. The conversation was dry and I was beginning to wonder if I actually was welcome or if she was just polite. I was about to give up when I thought that maybe I could find something by looking at what she was studying. I had been in her math class the year before, so maybe I would remember it and we could talk about that. I’m sure that many a happy marriage was founded upon deep discussions of mathematics. I looked down to see if there was something worth starting a conversation about.
Among the facts and figures I noticed a peculiarity in her book. It had a small clock drawn on the bottom corner of the page. I recognized that clock. I recognized it very well. I too once had a math book with a clock in the bottom corner of the page. In fact, it had many, and in fact, I had drawn them. At first, I wondered if there could be a possibility that two people in this tiny school could have vandalized their Algebra books in the very same way.
Inquisitively and hoping not to reveal too much, I quietly asked her,
“Jennie… who had your math book last year?”