Homework assignments somehow end up making decent postings. I don't really like this but maybe you can figure out why I posted this- cause I sure as hell can't. Maybe I should stop writing and posting late at night. Hmmmm...
The Symbol's the Thing
The final bell of the day had just rung at Northcrest High when Lissa Brown stepped out of her psychology class. She carried her heavy books in the crook of her right arm and started to lift her other arm, wanting to quickly run her hand through her shoulder-length brown hair. Almost immediately after stepping out into the crowded hall her rising left hand was enveloped by the right hand of her boyfriend, William Elliot. He started chattering away the second she looked up at his grinning face. "Hey Lissalicious. How was psych?," he asked as he brushed a stray hair away from her face. Not bothering to wait for an answer, he started talking about the class he had just gotten out of just seconds earlier. Creative Composition (nicknamed by the students as 'Thinking Around Corners and Describing the Dust There') was William's favorite class. As it was every school day, William couldn't wait to tell her about what had happened during class. As they walked through the crowded hall to their lockers William rambled on about the assignment that his class had gotten.
"I love this weeks assignment. I know I say that every week but this is even better. God! I love having Mr. Edwards as an English teacher. He's forever coming up with the greatest things for us to write. Remember that time we had to write a short story from the perspective of a gnat? I know I said that was the greatest but I was wrong. He's topped himself again. You'll never guess what we get to do now." William paused briefly to glance at Lissa as she got her things from her locker. His face was glowing with excitement as he reached to grab his math book from the adjacent locker. He threw the books into the leather book-bag he had hanging off his shoulder. Grabbing both her hands in his he stared into her calm hazel eyes. He shook his shaggy blonde hair out of his face and eagerness shone in his green eyes. "We get to write a poem about love."
It was then that Lissa understood his exuberance. If there was one thing he loved more than her, it was poetry. William spent at least an hour a day reading poetry or writing poems. He had been winning awards for his pieces since he had been ten. As well as writing in his set-aside hour, William wrote whenever inspiration struck. That quirk had gotten him in trouble numerous times. He had been reprimanded hundreds of times by teachers for writing instead of listening to their lectures. Once his mother, Belinda, had yelled at him for ruining a pair of new jeans because he hadn't had a piece of paper to write on and only a permanent market to write with. She had stopped yelling once she read the poem that covered the front of those jeans. William had lucked out that time because it had been a touching poem about the splendor of having a mother versus the misery of not having one. Not only had his mother liked the poem enough to cry over it, but Belinda had understood the impulsive needs of an artist, mostly because she was one herself. She kept a sketch book and some pencils in her purse at all times and after that incident his mom made sure he always carried a little notepad and a pen that could be washed out of denim. William had framed the poem-scrawled jeans and given it to his mom for Mother's Day that year. Belinda had smiled so hard when she first saw the present that her eyes teared up from the pressure of her cheeks. The jeans now hung in the room Belinda used as a studio- for inspiration she claimed.
"What symbol do you think I should use?" William asked. Lissa waited for a second to make sure he wasn't just musing aloud. He remained silent, a rare thing for him, actually wanting to hear her suggestion.
Lissa thought about symbols that she associated with love and couldn't think of any particular thing that William would want to use that wasn't completely cliché. So instead of answering she posed a question of her own. "Why do you need a symbol at all?," she asked. She had tossed a question back at him for two reasons. One- because it would force him to bend his thoughts around until he came up with a solution of his own. And two- because the creation of poetry was something foreign to Lissa. She loved to read what William wrote as well as poetry by other people, but she just couldn't figure out how to write something that flowed together and that evoked images that people understood in so many different ways. If she had to describe walking out the back door of the school to get William's car she would say 'I walked out the back door of the school and crossed the parking lot to William's car.' William, on the other hand, could turn a simple action like walking through a parking lot into a sonnet that would give both a vivid description of the cars he walked by and also spout a social commentary about the segregation of teenagers created by cliques. He gave meaning to everything. Though there were a few people that got annoyed with him for that, most were in awe of him because of the way he thought. Lissa loved him for it- most of the time.
"What do you mean, 'Why do I need a symbol'?," he asked increadiously as he unlocked the passenger door to the VW Bug he had gotten last fall for his sixteenth birthday. He slumped into the driver's seat and reached across to unlock Lissa's door. He waited for her to sit down and get buckled in before starting his car and continuing with his rant. "The symbol IS the most important thing in poetry! By using symbols I can get so many different ideas across. Since symbols can mean different things to different people you can have tons of different meanings in just one poem." William paused for a breath but before he start again Lissa grabbed his hand.
She shook her head back and forth slightly in amusement. "It was just a question hon. I wasn't saying that you shouldn't use a symbol." Lissa smiled sweetly at him. He was so passionate about what he wrote. She couldn't imagine feeling so forceful about anything. A passive person by nature, Lissa slid through live calmly. She looked out the window and watched the town speed by as William headed to RiverWinds, the gated community where they both lived. About five blocks away from the school she saw a giant oak tree in someone's front yard and the massive oak gave her an idea.
"Hey William, could you use a tree as a symbol for your poem?" she asked. Cocking his head to the side to think it over he looked like a puppy that was deciding whether or not to chew up a shoe. He closed his eyes and let his imagination roll the idea around to see if it would work for him. Lissa let him contemplate the idea for a moment before squeezing his hand to get his attention back to watching the road.
"A tree would work," he said. "I could depict it growing from something weak and young into a gigantic tower that shelters and protects. Oh- and I could use the idea of fertile soils and maybe how trees, like love, may be different and yet so similar. Like the difference between the love a child has for his parents and the love between men and women are so different but they're still love. " William's eyes flashed with inspiration but then quickly clouded over. "It's a great idea, Lissa, but there are going to be a lot of people in my class who'll think of the same thing. And I want mine to be different, unique, ya know- original." William glanced over at Lissa to see if she was disappointed. She wasn't. She had known that anything she came up with would be thought up by others and William wanted to be as original as possible. Lissa leaned over and kissed him on the cheek to make sure he wouldn't think she would get mad.
A short time later they pulled up to the gates of RiverWinds. William tapped the code in on the security panel without looking. It was habit for him. After three years Lissa still had problems adjusting to the codes and regulations of the community. The only security measures in her old neighborhood were locks on door and decorative bars over the windows.
Five years ago Lissa would never have thought she would end up living in a place like this. But then her mom had met Simon by accident. Literally. Simon hadn't been paying attention while driving and had hit the back of her mom's car. It had only been a minor fender bender but Simon had insisted on paying for the damages and for an apology dinner. They had hit it off at that dinner and continued to date. A year and a half later Simon had proposed. Lissa had been happy for her mother but worried that she wouldn't fit in when they moved to Simon's house.
He was a nice guy- well, as nice as a lawyer could be- and his daughter Cassandra was thrilled to have more girls in the house but Lissa had been hesitant about them. Luckily Cassy had been full of exuberance over Lissa and her mother moving in to become part of the family. Her own mother had died when she was young so she had readily accepted Lissa's mom into the house. Since she was only a year older that Lissa, Cassy she had been a big help as Lissa had adjusted to her new surroundings. Cassy taught her the proper way to act and dress for the more formal affairs. She showed her how to get around some of the more annoying community rules and introduced Lissa to Bob, Trevor, and George- the security guards ("Always be nice to these guys," Cassy had told her, "They're the one who can bust you."). Cassy was such a kind and generous person that Lissa couldn't help but like her. Last year Cassy had been accepted into a prestigious private school in Massachusetts where uniforms were mandatory so she had given most of her wardrobe to Lissa. The thought of owing so many nice clothes had almost made Lissa cry. She wasn't used to having nice things and being treated like a person instead of a shadow.
Before leaving, Cassy had done something else that Lissa couldn't ever stop thanking her for. She had dressed Lissa up for the end of the summer party that the RiverWinds held each year and introduced Lissa to William. The passive shadow had fallen in love instantly and drifted out into the light.
William pulled up to her house and startled her out of her reminiscing by asking," What time do you want to me to pick you up tonight?"
Lissa blinked, "Tonight?"
"We're going to see that play tonight at the National Theater, remember?," William said. Lissa groaned. She had forgotten. Now she had to get dressed up without Cassy here to help pick an outfit or do makeup. 'I should be able to dress myself nicely by now' Lissa thought. Outloud she said, "Does two hours sound good? I have to figure out what to wear."
William nodded. As Lissa got out of the car he said, "Don't worry about what to wear. You'll look great no matter what." Lissa smiled at that. He always knew what to say to make her less stressed. She shut the door, walked up the sidewalk to the front door, and went up to her room to get ready.
* * *
Exactly two hours later that doorbell rang. Lissa carefully walked to the door to answer it. She had to walk near the walls for support because she was having trouble walking in the four inch cream colored stilettos she had chosen to wear. They were the only shoes in Cassy's closet that would match the cream and tan dress that Lissa was wearing. The outfit looked great but Lissa was glad she was wearing it to a play instead of to a party or somewhere else requiring nice clothes. At least you didn't have to walk much at a play.
William stared at her when she opened the door. "Such a vision of beauty I have never seen before." He bit his lip and his face shone with admiration. "Ya look absolutely gorgeous Lissa. The outfit is perfect." Then he smiled impishly, "But you look like you could use some help walking."
Lissa laughed and took his hand. Raising an eyebrow she asked in a voice that oozed with mock aristocracy, "Would you be a gentleman and escort this lady to her carriage?" William chuckled and took her hand to help her walk to his car. He opened the door for her and helped her to sit down without falling. When he got in on his side he turned to Lissa and smiled, "While you were transforming yourself into a goddess I thought up some ideas for the symbol I want to use in my poem. Could you help me decide?"
Lissa nodded and listened to the unusual array of symbols he had come up with in the last two hours. He described his ideas to her for the entire hour long drive to the theater. She listened and gave supportive comments when ever he paused to take a breath but inside she thought that some of his ideas were a little strange. One idea was to use a tattoo as the symbol because 'It was permanent just like true love should be. And it didn't just grow on you, it became a part of you.' Another idea that Lissa thought was strange was his idea to use a pair of old shoes as his symbol. His reasoning for that one was that when shoes are new and pretty, it's like puppy love but eventually the shoes become more comfortable the way people become increasingly comfortable with the person they love. Some of his ideas were pretty good, like the one about electricity, but he kept on coming up with weird symbols that Lissa couldn't understand how they delt with love at all. After an hour of listening to William brainstorm, Lissa's brain was ready to shut down. She was baffled and bewildered by William. He constantly told her how he felt for her and now he wanted to compare those feelings to radiator? Lissa was relieved when the theater came into view. She would have the two or three hours during the play to let her brain rest. 'Hopefully he'll want to talk about the play on the way home,' Lissa thought as William turned into the entry to the parking complex.
As they were driving in a BMW pulled out of a spot near the theater exit. William smirked happily. "I love getting the best spot. Somehow it makes the day seem better." Lissa giggled. The strangest things made him happy. 'He's probably going to use the best parking spot as his symbol of love,' she thought. Imagining the poem he could write with that Lissa started to laugh harder.
"What tickled you, Lissalicious?" he asked as he opened her door. Still giggling she waved his question away and reached up to grab the hand he offered to her. Wearing stiletto heels not only made it difficult to stand but damn near impossible to walk. But William kept a firm hold on her hand so he could catch her if she started to sway. Together they walked out the exit and down the five blocks of sidewalk to the theater. The city nightlife wasn't quiet but Lissa could hear her heels clicking loudly against the concrete. The sound seemed to echo even more when the passed by the first alleyway. Amazed by the amount of noise created by such a small heel, Lissa jumped when voice came out of the darkness.
"Excuse me miss, but could ya spare some change?" The owner of the growlily, yet polite voice was slumped over against wall in the alley. He had an upside down hat sitting near him with a couple of dollars and change in already in it. The man wore two ragged mismatched shoes, a pair of patched pants, and layers of shirts under a dirty brown overcoat. His longer blond hair was tied back in a ponytail as though he had tried to make himself more presentable without the use of a mirror. His gray eyes wandered vacantly around without focus.
Lissa pulled a twenty out of her purse and placed it in his hands. The man rubbed it in his hands and smiled. "Thank you ma'am for your kind donation to National Theater's Blind and Homeless fund." He was about to put the bill into his hat when Lissa stopped him.
"Sir, I think you may want put that in your pocket. It's only a twenty but someone might exchange it for something else if you leave it in your donation plate."
The blind man beamed. "Well, miss I believe I must thank you twice then. Once for the generous donation and secondly for the sound advice. I hope you have a wonderful time at the play."
William's eyes bugged out. "How did you know we're going to the play?," he asked.
"I could smell the nice perfume the lady is wearing and those shoes sound like they're to nice to wear anywhere else around hear but the theater." The homeless man bobbed his head and said, "Now I wouldn't want to make you miss the beginning. You two go on now. I hear they do a great performance. You two hurry up. Don't miss a minute on my account."
William grinned at Lissa and they strolled down the rest of sidewalk. At the bottom of the steps that led up in to the theater William stopped so suddenly that Lissa almost tipped over. "What's up?," she asked.
"I have a great idea for another symbol! That homeless guy could be such an interesting metaphor. Ya know, love is blind. And how-" Lissa sighed loudly and rolled her eyes upward. "What? What's wrong Lissa? Don't you like my idea?" William watched as she closed her eyes and counted to ten under her breath.
"Do you love me William?" she asked. William's grew wide. The question surprised him. Anxiously he whirled around to face her and grabbed her hands in his.
"Of course I love you! Have I been doing something to make you think otherwise? I'm sorry if I did but God! Lissa, I love you so-" Lissa smiled as she pulled her hand out of his grip and pinched his lips together. The sight of his shocked face so dramatically lit up by the streetlights made her want to laugh.
"I know you love me but I want to make a point here," she said. The anxiety faded from William's face but was quickly replaced by a look that screamed curiosity. "When you think about how you feel for me, do you think about some smelly- albeit nice- blind, homeless man? Or a tattoo? A pair of shoes?" she asked.
William shook his head. "It's just for a poem Lis. It's not about how I feel for you. I need something different for the poem. I want a symbol that represents love but at the same time isn't something that had been reduced into a cliché." He stared into her eyes hoping that she would understand his point of view. She saw everything he was thinking as the thoughts danced behind his eyes. It wasn't about how he felt for her. It was about the poem. The poem couldn't be a sappy limerick about the heart. It needed depth, purpose, a life of it's own. If he could find the right symbol to represent love he would be set. The poem could write it's self once he got the right symbol.
Lissa bit her lip while she tried to figure out how to say what she was thinking. She understood why he wanted something new but some of his ideas were too strange and too out-there to make sense. She wished he could understand that a symbol might be overused but it didn't have to be cliché. "What do you think of when you want to describe our relationship?" Without waiting for his answer she continued with her line of thought. "I personally think of us holding hands. I know you think that it's an overused symbol but I say it would only be cliché if you wrote it as a cliché." She lifted their clasped hands up into the space between their faces. "This is a symbol of love. This is a joining, a comfort, an intimacy in public. These two hands not only show how much we care for each other but also create a physical bond between us. And it isn't just a way to show how we feel about each other. Watch parents and their kids. When they hold hands it's about love too. It's about trust and closeness." Lissa shook the clasped hands slightly for emphasis. "This is your symbol for love."
William stared at her for a second. He had never her speak so passionately (or so much) about anything. And yet she could see that he didn't want to use that image because it had been done so many times before in the past. He pulled the intertwined hands towards his face and lightly kissed the back of Lissa's hand. "Holding hands may be a great way to depict love but it's one of the most clichéd symbols in love poetry," he said gently. "I need a symbol that hasn't been done to death."
Lissa closed her eyes and resisted the urge to scream. William's stubborn insistence on certain subjects was one of the few things about him that frustrated her. Once he had an idea he held onto it like a dog with a bone. But Lissa felt she was right this time. She had to make him see her point. She opened her eyes and let out the breath she had been holding. Looking deeply into his eyes Lissa found the words she wanted to say.
"When you start thinking only about the symbol- you forget the meaning behind it. The symbol is NOT the most significant thing. It's the meaning behind the symbol that makes it so important. And if you forget about the meaning of what you write, then your poem is going to be crap no matter how spectacular your symbol is."
William stared at her. She could see his thoughts whirl around in his brain. As frustrating as he could be at times, Lissa didn't want to belittle him or his extraordinary ideas. He did have great ideas but sometimes there were things he just didn't get. She didn't want to make him mad but she wanted to make her point. Hesitantly she looked over at him. He didn't seem angry at her outburst. Rather, something had clicked inside of him. Finally she had made an impact on him. Good or bad, she had said something worthy enough for him to dwell upon.
Without a word he looked at his watch, turned and walked into the theater still holding her hand firmly in his own. When they got to their seats Lissa leaned over and whispered, "Are you mad?" He shook his head no and absently kissed her cheek to reassure her. The distant look was still on his face as the house lights went down, signaling the play was about to start. She squeezed his hand gently to bring him back to reality. Smiling, William squeezed back. As the curtain went up he leaned over and murmured in her ear, "I think you're right. The hands are a great symbol. But better yet is the meaning behind it." She felt the grin on his lips against her ear momentarily before he sank back in his chair. Her own lips twisted into a tiny smirk as they watched the actors strut onto the stage.
Soon Lissa became so caught up in the play that she didn't even notice when half way through the first act William took out his little notebook and pen and began to write.