Syllabus

So what I’m gonna say out loud is about how in English we only have one word for it, love, but somehow this is a mistranslation, or a simplification. A simplification of what? Should I say, “of the idea it tries to express,” or should I say, “of the linguistic sign it seeks to encompass-” no, that’s way pretentious, maybe I could just smile knowingly and simply, and say, “of love,” and then shyly look away-

Lane slides the scrap of paper towards me. I can’t believe it. What is this?

She’s still looking at the instructor, who is looking at a guy on the right side of the room that appears to be Hipster John Turturro in gingham and a mustache now stealing my idea before it was even my turn, talking smugly about how Greeks had agape and eros and other words for different kinds of love, but I don’t care anymore.

I glance again at her in a slightly sudden movement, as if I am randomly just looking in that direction, but she studiedly does not notice. Or actually does not notice. She has this alluring overbite, which kind of gives off the impression that she’s thinking hard about what everyone just said, on this really cute face below too-long dark hair. I came in late and took the closest chair to the door that was open, and it was next to hers. She’d glanced at me – the instructor was already talking – and gave me a tiny kind of wave hello. It’s the first day and when we went around the room introducing, her name was Lane and I about nodded, of course it is.

I look back at the scrap of paper she just pushed across the table in front of me. I freeze, decide to act nonchalant – clearly what she’s doing. I can’t turn it yet. What is on it? A greeting? A witty comment about how lame Jew-Fro Jason Biggs is sounding as he spouts on about Greek syntax, stealing my ideas – which she knows we can both laugh about together? A number?

The thought of walking down a street talking to her busts into my brain, something about autumn chill and the darkness of her jeans. Immediately I make a million calculations: can I see myself with this person? It’s been a while since I’ve been in a relationship: I remember the last one like it was fiction, the recognition and claiming of it, how for parties you could assume you’d have someone to talk to, how lucky it seemed she felt that when we sat around the apartment I would read books. I remember feeling comfortable-happy, but I don’t remember how it felt.

She’s definitely pleasing to look at, Lane, but not make-you-uncomfortable beautiful, which I’ve encountered a few times and has been, well, uncomfortable. No, she’s pretty, she’d definitely get looked at, but not enough to put you off kilter, make you think you don’t belong.

Just like that, I swallow at the problems that we create. The insecurity about myself that made me angry at her, in a way that I recognized and felt guilty about, which only made me feel worse, like trying to make her feel bad about talking to her friends on the phone all the time because she had more friends that called.

But then – looking at Lane – I think, maybe she’ll be the one to disrupt the world, this pretty blue-eyed girl with the questioning face and the tiny script all over her notebook lines, the one I’ll sit up with all night and tell about my insecurity, forget all about how I want to look and make that one relationship, the one where others are the stories you tell, and those stories are the things you laugh about when you look back while carrying babies on those stomach-slings. Maybe she’ll be the one nothing is too much to tell.

Did the discussion prime her to write to me, to the person sitting next to her because she sensed something similar, something matching, in my intelligence, in my humor, in my personality, in something under all that – the thing that language cannot describe, maybe the idea even the conscious voice can’t get – because love is the topic of the day, like how the Spring brings people’s minds to it?

Is there a Springtime to every life, and when it was the same season for two people they are open for the first time to joining in a certain way, like they only get married because it was time for them to want to get married, and then – like your parents – all of the wild ways and rising tides of emotion and crazy-bad decisions just become past seasons? Is it all about when a switch hits, whoever you happen to be with at that time, because all the people you loved were love, and it’s only you who changed?

Now another thought hits me – what if there is nothing on the paper? I suddenly snap to it, try to look past the paper, look into it, in the light of the halogen overhead lamps, tell if there is anything written on the other side. All I see is the random dark swirls of notebook paper on a table. What if it was a random gesture, the leftover piece of paper from the response, she was just pushing away from her workspace? It’s not really in front, in front of me, more kind of to my left.

I feel nauseous and ashamed, like I’ve made a fool of myself even though no one knew. Made a fool of myself to myself, my future self that will actually have no future like the one I’ve envisioned, that thought he would live a blessed life like arms on the waist of this beautiful girl, laughing at joke together in the doorway of another couple’s outside patio. In the moment I can’t handle to find out. I want to sink down but have nowhere to go, and the futility of that despair is a horrifying thought – that it doesn’t even matter.

But she did push it towards me, the scrap. What waits on the other side?

The class is over and I freeze. There are the random conversations and packing up of all the people in the room. I can’t think of what to do right then. I stand up and edge to the wall with my chair and I hunch over it, tying and untying my shoe, again and again and again. No one notices. Lane leaves without a word, leaving the paper there, not saying a word. The instructor and the others all leave in time. I tie my shoe.

Everyone is gone and I turn the long banner-shaped scrap over, seeing the back of my hand move like a movie scene almost. It says, “XYZ.” Examine your zipper.

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