As I sat there quietly and curiously wondering if it was possible that Jennie was in possession of the book I had vandalized a year prior, I caught the look in her eyes. Her face may have still been half directed to the math book, but her eyes shifted to me and a coy smile crept across her face. I think it was the first real time I looked into her eyes or seen her smile. She had a beautiful smile.
“It’s yours.” she said through a playfully condemning smirk. Her face communicated more than her words. The subtle smile told me what I really wanted to know. She knew my secret. She knew what I had been up to a year before. She had indeed somehow been issued the very same math book I had improved upon only a year earlier!
In the moment, I couldn’t believe the odds, but I do suppose someone had to have it. We didn’t live in a large town, so I guess it would be easier there than anywhere else. Still, I was lucky at my good fortune that my shameless act of delinquent shenanigans would reward me with this opportunity to carry on a conversation with one very particular girl. I made a smirk of my own, a guilty grin of one who had been caught, but lacked the necessary remorse of his transgressions.
My guilt, obvious by now, beamed as I interrogated further to ascertain the depths of her knowledge.
“So… did you find the monkey?”
She shook her head in feigned disapproval. “Yes, I found him.”
She lightened up further and told me that she enjoyed the “artwork” and that it had gotten her through a lot. I couldn’t know how much then, but I never considered that my little rebellion would place me in the thoughts of a girl who was going through some very hard times a year later.
Her parents were ending a very ugly divorce. She alone was the bearer of so much of the hardship of that breakup. She absorbed it woefully and the time damaged her greatly for someone so young. I’d like to think that in those nights, when she had to do homework regardless of what happened in the world outside of the Algebra classroom, I was there, in a very small. It makes me happy that a comic romp between a wayward fool and an obstinate ape may have given her an unexpected smile when she may have no one else to give it to her. In either case, my presence was in her mind, in much the same way she was in mine, and I never had any way of knowing it as she couldn’t have known that a simple “trusty” look could have put her in mine either.
As we sat there laughing and giggling, for the first of many times, I remembered the depth of my antics. I had forgotten just how bored I was. Then it hit me. Mr. Blevins!
“Oh! Did you see the pictures I drew in the back?”
Of course she hadn’t. I had erased them, but I remembered during my purging that the impressions were deep enough that if I could just get a hold of the book next year, somehow, they could be redrawn. No one else could have known about them and it was doubtful she would have discovered them either. Well here was my chance. I showed her the impressions and begged her to let me borrow the book. She allowed my request and I took it back to my desk.
She watched as I sketched out the delicate lines of the faces I drew on the pages. I decided I would take my time. In the first place, I owed it to the world to give my absolute best in the artistic pursuit of perfection. Secondly, and more honestly, it afforded me a continued excuse to spend more time with her. I finished after a few days, but that wasn’t good enough. I didn’t want the same thing to happen to her that had happened to me. I went over it all again, in pen. The heartless censorship of creativity would not be an affront to the decency of the education system a second time. Idealism aside, I stole a few more days with her.
I know what you might be thinking. “Weren’t we in class?”, “Wasn’t there something we were supposed to be doing?” Well perhaps in a better school, but what can I say? The Oklahoma school system was hopelessly flawed at the time. It still is in many ways. Just suffice it to say that apathy of our administrators also played to my favor in at least this instance.
Then Spring Break happened. The few weeks we shared an hour or so at a time were a pleasant diversion to the monotony of small town life, but it couldn’t go on forever. I had no more excuses to steal her book without seeming like someone who is just a little bit too obsessed with defacing school property. That sort of thing is only an interesting quirk for a short time, I think. So I didn’t have a reason to ask her for time or her attention. Spring Break was also around the corner, but Spring Break was something I wasn’t looking forward to. What probably would lie before me was a week alone in my room with nothing to do and nowhere to go. All my friends were going skiing or to the ocean or something and I was stuck in my sleepy little farm town. It would also mean that I would have a week where the two of us wouldn’t be seeing each other, just enough time for desires as yet still in their infancy to cool and vanish like a vapor. The fact was that I wanted very much not to spend the whole week alone, doing nothing. Basically, when Spring Break finally did roll around I wanted to spend that time with someone and do something new, something exciting, and something fun. Most of all, something involving a girl who I enjoyed being with.
And it was Jennie that I wanted to be with. For whatever reason, I went from being curious about that quiet girl… to wanting her… really, really wanting her. I made up my mind. I was going to ask out Jennie. I was done debating with myself about if it would be the right thing to do or not. It also didn’t matter that she gave me no actual indication that she had any more romantic thoughts of me than she would have had for a puff of wind.
It was the Friday before Spring Break started and there was only one hour until school let out. I was heading to the field house for athletics and she was about to head off to her class. We wouldn’t be able to see each other after this. There wouldn’t be another opportunity when we might just walk past each other. There was no possibility of that one last chance encounter passing one another in the hall again whereupon I might finally be able to steel myself for the courageous encounter. This was that last time and this was my last chance.
So I made the long march down the hall, teaming with students eagerly bustling around, their minds already completely checked out for the holiday to come. I proceeded down the hallway to where her locker stood. As the crowd thinned I could see her standing there, as if the nothing else really mattered. My eyes were fixed and my footsteps purposeful as I made my way to her. I got closer and closer until I finally was even with her, and then…
I kept on walking.
I kept on walking like the hopeless coward that I was. I made it about ten steps, all in shameful self-loathing. I made it to the door to leave the High School. As my fingers touched the exit I was overcome by a seemingly inexplicable force. I was compelled to turn around as if by some otherworldly vigor. It was as I was being empowered with the most vehement compulsion of my entire life.
“Turn around!” was the message clearly being communicated to me by the ethereal impulse.
I’ve often believed that when the beyond reaches out to you for seemingly insignificant purposes, you should just give into wherever that spirit may lead you to. To be clear, I am not one to normally believe in accounts of divine intervention. The vast majority I dismiss as senseless superstition, ignorance of much more rational explanations, or outright fraud, but there are some things that even a rational skeptic can’t deny. For seemingly inexplicable reasons, things just happen within yourself which are beyond rational account. Sometimes you just accept that perhaps things more powerful than you are putting you into certain places at certain times to do certain things, of which you may not be invited to know the significance of in the moment, if ever. I believe, if ever I was actually guided by more than me, it happened in that moment. It was extraordinary, and I was suddenly fortified with the courage that I had failed to muster on my own.
I turned around.
As I turned my head, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps she wouldn’t be there anymore. Perhaps she had already gone and I had missed my window. Would I chase her?
Such fears were relieved when I turned and saw her there, still at her locker, completely unaware of me and my miraculous moment in which she was the focus of forces beyond our knowing.
I walked back over to where she stood, quickly calculating a plan on what to say and how to approach her. So that you know, ten steps is not a lot of time to prepare a well thought out plan of action. I greeted Jennie in what had to have been the creepiest way possible. I just kind of sprang out of nowhere, at least from her point of view that is how it happened. It would appear it was another ambush. It wasn’t my intention to do so, I just lack skills in the delicate art that is romantic courtship rituals for teens. I swear I was trying to be cool about it, but in reality I showed up like the creepy butler from Adam Sandler’s Mr. Deeds.
“HeY, JeNnIe!” (In this narration, you can see the terror in my voice as I shakily attempt to force what is supposed to appear a casual encounter.)
“Hey.” (A simple narration of quoted words can’t accurately describe the obvious look of surprise on her face. “Frightened,” or “startled” may have been more appropriate choices in phraseology.)
“So I wAs JuSt SoRtA WoNdErInG (Pull it together man) if you were doing anything for Spring Break.”
“No, not really.” She replied.
“Oh cool.” (Really Jon? ‘Nothing’ was cool now? Flippin’ idiot. Get to the point!)
After a pause that would have probably amounted to the longest single second of my life I took the plunge.
“Well I was just wanting to know if you would like to go out sometime next week to see a movie or maybe go bowling or something.” (Bowling?! Why would you say bowling?! You don’t even know how to bowl! You haven’t bowled since you were six!)
“Oh? Great. Well could I get your number?”
Yes, for those paying attention I literally said, “Oh?” as if to ask if she was sure. Still it worked. We went out (didn’t go bowling) and then we went out again and a few more times. That first month was the perfect way to start off the next year together, and so much more to come.