The Ones Who Understood
I am a Cassandra of sorts, preaching with quiet words whose meaning is lost in an allegorical heap of symbolic chaos. But I continue with the hope that you will find the means in some combination of your mind and heart to interpret my muddle and discern my soul. It's in there somewhere. I can usually recognize it and therefore choose when to follow it; as such, I thought I had discovered the way. And when I met her, I was convinced that before me stood a knowing comrade and compassionate lover, wrapped up inside one immaculately detailed being.

It was a rainy night, exemplifying a New England April, when the wetness in the air rushes over your face like a river over rocks and you emerge polished. I wasn't supposed to let it cleanse me though; I was taught to wear a big yellow slicker that squeaked when I walked, made me feel like a five-year-old. A seemingly opaque fog had settled over my street, but the downwards slope between the sidewalk and my house, the one that could always provide a sled track and a grass stain, allowed me to lie underneath it.

I looked up at the peaceful haze and saw my good friend Orion's three-starred belt shining dimly through it. Tranquilly content, I laid my head back and closed my eyes, and I began to make imaginary lawn angels, partly for amusement, but mostly to feel the damp, supple blades ebb and flow as my arms moved across them. My skin tingled upon contact with the succulent grass, but I felt no urge to scratch or to shift position to relieve the feeling.

But then I realized I was not alone. Down the street, a gentle symphony of giggling gushed and strayed to my ears; one laugh in particular rose above the rest of the fluttering throng, with its youthful passion. Surely someone capable of such pure delight must have befriended her soul and heeded its inherently sound advice. I was alone, and while internal serenity accompanied my grass and my mist and my stars, I wasn't fully content. So, when I heard their sweet noises and saw their faint shadows, I imagined the one girl who would cuddle by my side, saying nothing while inhaling the same spring fumes as I, and craving me simply for giving them a name.

My eyes opened and I turned onto my side to find the musicians. Two girls and a guy were out for a walk, meandering through the night in a self-contained sea of tickling and laughter and lightheartedness. As they approached, I caught sight of their characteristics through the crevice between the fog and the ground. One of the girls, the one whose laugh held the other two in concert, seemed to approach me more quickly than did the rest, even though the trio walked together. Her cloudy silhouette and her distinctly girlish laugh and her already-imagined personality converged into one feeling behind my bellybutton, probably accelerated by my isolation. Not that I was terribly discontent with my inexperience; I just knew what I wanted--what I would need eventually--and when a new possibility came along I would invariably persuade myself that she could be the one, the first. I was well aware of my naiveté, my unbridled optimism, but I couldn't bring myself to believe anything different. I have always been terrified of becoming too jaded to hope.

I couldn't see her eyes quite yet, and though it bothered me, I felt I already knew enough about her to guess the shape and color of her most expressive part. I anticipated that they would be bright, the kind of eyes that entranced you and then called you to them while banishing you at the same time. She was wearing an adorable, consciously ordinary pair of overalls, and she carried an umbrella in her left hand. I assumed, hoped really, that she was only holding it for one of her friends and would enjoy tumbling down the wet slope with me. Besides, it was one of those Mickey Mouse umbrellas with big black ears, too cute to be ominous.

As they passed my house, she slipped on a newly formed puddle and began to slide down the grassy hill on which I lay. I immediately ran over to her, and I heard her laugh at her own antics, but the laugh was hollow, clearly suffocated by her huddled body. Her two friends harmonized from the privacy of the street, mocking both her clumsiness and my quick response, whispering like adolescents do when one of their kind makes a connection. But I was standing now, above the crevice that had granted me a view of the approaching companions, and so their feathery susurration floated unseen in the mist, intensifying the surreality of the scene.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she replied. "Ego's a little bruised. No biggie."

I smiled and helped her up; the softness of her skin surprised me after such a fall, although now I can't say whether it was indeed her delicate body or a simple betrayal of disloyal fingertips.

Now standing, she tried to wipe the mud off her overalls, to no avail. While I enjoy looking at clothes that served their intended purpose, especially on such a creature, I feigned sympathy. "Man. Sorry about your pants."

"Don't sweat it," she joked. "I'm just lucky I didn't wear the Guccis, huh?" Though the fog seemed to have gathered between our eyes, the rest of her face was now less obscured, and by observing the various lines and shades of the surrounding countenance, I imagined a more vivid portrait than I had before.

"My hero," she teased.

I grinned and asked, with the rain water encouraging my dirty bare feet, "Hey, I know we just met and all that, but, um, wanna go to the movies or something sometime?"

"What, one daring rescue and you think we're gonna just ride off into the sunset?"

"Well, no, but--"

"I'm just kiddin' with you. Jeez! I'd love to hang out with you sometime." My anxiety culminated in a weak laugh, but I recovered quickly. We exchanged numbers and she and her friends disappeared into the swirling haze down the street.

I waited a few days and then called her. I'm sure she felt as awkward as I did, but while my words flooded out like paroled prisoners, disconcerted and disconnected, hers remained in the shelter of her mind. Still, as the disjointed conversation rolled on, she became audible, at least when I asked her a question, and my mystery girl acquired depth.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Rebecca, but call me Becky." I loved that she used a nickname, even though I knew that she probably didn't have any choice in the matter. I learned she was only a few weeks younger than I, but that various parental decisions left me a grade ahead of her. I didn't think it would matter: age is age. And aside from these most pressing questions, I had nothing to ask her; I was so wrapped up in possibility that anything she could have said would have been magic. But she never asked me anything; her primary contribution to the conversation was a halfhearted giggle, obviously staged, after one of my particularly stupid puns. Though it was definitely enough to pique my longing for her. I suggested that we see a movie the coming Friday night, but I guess she didn't want to be alone with me on the first date, because she asked if I'd rather go to a get-together at her friend's. I considered the "safety in numbers" adage and agreed.

I followed the directions she gave me; the walk--I didn't have a license and didn't want my parents to drive me--took about twenty minutes, normally enough time to bore me. But the night was fresh, at a temperature that can only exist in springtime, when you can walk for hours and never feel any resistance from frostbitten toes or sweaty arms. And I made my journey just after sunset, so while there were no exotic lavenders or magentas wafting in the sky, the majestically intense indigo, glistening like blue tissue paper stretched out beneath a fluorescent light, drew my gaze.

When I arrived, it seemed as if no one was home. But after double-checking the address, I went ahead and rang the doorbell. Nobody came to open the door for a few minutes, even after I rang the bell a few more times, but then I noticed that no sound was produced when I pressed the button. So I tried using the lucky horseshoe that served as a knocker, and within a minute I had been welcomed by her friend, the host. It occurred to me that a horseshoe was merely a circle with a piece snatched away, and that it must crave its missing piece. I shook the thought away, and Becky's friend led me into the living room, where about eight teenagers were sprawled in various positions across the floor.

Across from the doorway, Becky was laying in the arms of the lone male from the laughing troupe. Before she realized that I had entered, he started to tickle her. Had I been the guy involved, her reaction, fit for a beloved, would have enchanted me, as she began to giggle with no regard for volume. Then, she turned around and launched an adorable counter-strike. With the current circumstances, however, it wasn't remotely pleasurable. Certainly, I understood that they were friends, and that, of course, it was only our first date. Even so, I was physically repulsed by the sight, not by jealousy of what they had, but by an omen of what we could never if there was no distinction between good friend and boyfriend. I was aware that, as a conscript loner, my perspective was distinct; but with no experience, I couldn't figure out what could be reserved for a couple if not a tickle fight. If we ever were to begin a relationship, how could I ever feel needed or even desired, when I knew I could be so easily replaced?

On one of the couches, there were two vacant seats, so I sat, assuming she would leave her friendly nest and join me. She didn't right away, although she finally acknowledged my presence with a smile and a "Hey." The host put a rented movie into the VCR--a horror movie--and I expected her to sit by my side while we watched. Hopefully, she would nestle in my arms, although after fifteen years of nothing, I would settle for a shred of contact. But she stayed on the floor, near the tickler but no longer touching him.

When I arrived, the lights were on, and she wore trendy, fake Oakley sunglasses, shielding her eyes from some unseen attacker, and from my view. Then the movie began, so someone turned off the lights, and she took them off.

Finally, I beheld her eyes. But even now, the dimness only permitted me to see the contrast between the concentric circles, the black pupil and the surrounding whiteness. I wanted to see her as she was, so I squinted. As my eyelids came together, a flash of sapphire iris burst into my vision and then flew out as quickly. For my own piece of mind, I chose subconsciously to accept that it was real and that it was hers.

The whole way home, I immersed myself in a probably-too- happy-for-my-own-good happiness, brought on by years of a juxtaposition of self-assurance and social stagnation. I had spent a night with a real-life potential girlfriend. And she hadn't dismissed me as odd yet, even if I had myself. So I believed that the situation looked promising. It could have been, for some people.

For the next few weeks, our schedules clashed. Actually, I had no commitments except her, but it seemed that I was last on her list of priorities. Our daily phone conversations were pleasant though--I even harnessed the nerve to ask her if she wanted to date exclusively, to which she agreed--so I began to dismiss my ideal. Maybe this was just how it worked in the real world; maybe a relationship could build to the "next level" (a term I used loosely with no real concept of its meaning) over the phone. At least we wouldn't be hampered with superficial concerns. But it struck me that there was no feeling of any union. She told me nothing that she wouldn't have told her friends; there were no great revelations that brought us closer together.

One day, two and a half weeks into the relationship, her first words were, "Guess what?"

Playing along, I inquired. "What?"

"I found out today what my name means!" she enthusiastically exclaimed.

I toyed with her. "Let me guess: angel?"

"Awww, you're sweet!" I didn't know what else she would expect from a boyfriend. "But no, it means 'bound.' "

"So you're bound, eh? By what?" I teased.

"Who knows?"

"Not me."

As the days without seeing my first girlfriend continued, a problem arose to which she was oblivious. I still had not seen her eyes except when obscured by some external presence. I would walk home from school, looking at everyone I passed, checking if I could see their eyes, the whites and the colors and the black pupils and the frontiers between them. And I could. It seemed that any random pedestrian on Route 1 was more willing to be exposed to me than was my own girlfriend. It infuriated me, but even more it mystified me. From the first day I understood the concept of a relationship, I had trusted that the whole purpose of such a bond was to pull yourself inside-out so that your lover could see every piece of your being, and to encourage her to do the same.

But now I doubted that. Now I distrusted the movies and the seemingly impossible fantasies they had implanted inside me. Simply because she was more comfortable in the social scene, I accepted her ways as right, and dismissed my own as childish daydreams whose only pathway to fruition was blockaded by a wall of fear. And I let myself run into it. I had been running towards my imaginary future, so fast that I had not seen the barricade. So I fell backwards.

We finally saw each other again three weeks after our first date. I convinced her to come over to my house, and by the time she arrived, I had contrived a plan. I heard the doorbell, and I led her downstairs to the basement, where we would watch a movie. She was wearing her sunglasses, but when we were both inside the room, I flipped on the lights, hugged her, and quickly reached up and pulled them off. But the only color in the center of her eyes was black. I moved her head tenderly so that she faced the light, but no iris appeared.

"Hold on," I said, and ran upstairs. I found the biggest flashlight we had in the emergency cabinet with candles and canned food. When I got back, she had turned off the light. Now the room was quite dim, lit only by the light of the television.

"It's more romantic this way, don't you think?" she asked seductively from the couch, and she motioned for me to sit next to her and keep her warm.

But what would have more than sufficed on our first date was no longer satisfying. I turned on the overhead light and next to her. "Rebecca?" I beckoned. As soon as she turned her head, I flipped the flashlight on and pointed it directly into her eyes, hoping to pull back her dilated pupils.

And it worked, to an extent.

Her eyes were like the sun during an eclipse, struggling to let their light shine through even while completely blocked by colossal pupils. The result was a sparkling blue corona leaking out from under the blackness. "I knew it!" I proclaimed, and I'm sure she thought I was a lunatic. But she stayed after I convinced her it was just a silly prank. I felt a new burst of energy, and began to tickle her. She did not react lovingly, instead jumping off the couch and moving to a piano bench on the other side of the room.

The next weekend was our one-month anniversary, so I spent most of the week working on a somewhat cheesy but heartfelt poem. That Friday, she came over to my house again. She brought a movie--another horror movie--but I didn't think that would create the romantic mood that I desired for this special night. Before we did anything, though, I turned on the radio to an easy-listening station, and gave her my poem. I could tell by the expression on her face while reading it that she was touched, but she could only let a simple thank-you escape through her mouth. It would have been enough for me if I knew that was all she had to say, but it wasn't. Behind the emotionless, ordinary pupils of her eyes, I knew there lay color exclusively hers, and I wanted her to liberate it. "Happy anniversary," she all but whispered.

"Is that all you have to say?"

"What else do you want?"

"I don't know. I want you to say whatever runs through your mind, whatever your heart tells you to. I want you to stop being afraid to let your feelings run free."

"What feelings?" she asked with genuine confusion.

"Do you even have feelings for me?" I charged.

"Well, yeah--"

"Then show them! I get so damn frustrated with this adolescent bullshit, dancing around the issue like it was guarded by hot coals!" She looked down, and there was silence, so I suggested we go for a walk to cool off. She agreed, sniffing to keep herself right-side-to.

It had rained the last few days, so I took off my shoes and socks and asked her to join me on my watery lawn. A little bit of innocent fun could only pacify the hostility. But she just shook her head in disdain.

"When are you gonna grow up?" she asked, still thinking about our argument, I'm sure. "Maybe I act like an adolescent, but at least I'm not a little child playing in the mud! I don't know what you expect, but there aren't too many girls that could give you what you seem to want."

Challenged, I began to orate what I had previously kept confined in a journal.

"But you can! I know you can! And so could everyone else! What is a relationship when the couple hides their true emotions? I'll tell you exactly what it is: doomed to fail. Miserably. I don't want that for us."

But she could not believe me. "Look, I have plenty of friends in relationships just like ours and they're perfectly content. They're not crying out for some imaginary ecstasy. What is your problem?"

I paused a few moments before responding, because a new influence had entered the conversation. And because I understood what bound Rebecca. "I'm content too. But I could never be content with simply being content. Don't you see? We could be something special. I know, because I've witnessed it, that deep down, inside that beautiful heart of yours, you're just like I am. I know you crave what I crave; I saw your face while you were reading my poem."

"Why do you say things like that? You don't even know me well enough to say that! Your fantasies are running away with your mind or something, 'cause I've never done anything to make you think that."

"Sure you have. Almost everything you've done has made me think that." At that I stopped myself, and I looked down at a puddle on the ground, chastising myself. She began to walk away, so I tried to wrap my arms around her.

"Don't touch me!" she screamed, as she wheeled and pushed me backwards. I slipped on the wet asphalt and tripped over the curb, plunging down the dripping slope until I had reached the bottom. I smiled as she scowled and deserted me, for I had felt the grass massage me, breaking my fall. And I rolled over and over, disregarding the expensive clothes I had worn to please her, feeling the rainwater purge me.

I wasn't sure, nor am I sure now, whether the azure my brain understood to be present in her eyes was introduced by my impartial sight or my lonely heart.

But I know this of myself: I have seen it in every girl I have adored since, and none of them have admitted to having it yet. But I know I will find her someday, the one who understands, just as I do, that fantasies would not be coveted so if they could not be achieved; I will find the one who sees rainbows with her eyes closed, who feels floods pouring over her and does not lift her arms in resistance.

Copyright Jeremy 1998.
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