So, basically, you all just think I'm a big, stupid whiner.
Hey, you'd be right!
It's so much easier to whine and complain and be endlessly introspective when nobody's listening. So, maybe I feel a little sorry for myself. Maybe I'm a big downer. So, what's your point? I'm trying to tell you a story here, about something important that happened to me last week.
On Tuesday, I saw him for the first time.
Ooh, that was dramatic, wasn't it? There was almost an echo there. Ok, I'll stop being a smartass. I hear what you're thinking—this guy whines so much about being known and finding love, and the whole time he's bitching and being sarcastic to make sure nobody has a chance. Sheesh. Rough crowd.
You might enjoy a little background before I get to my point. Or, maybe you just want me to get to the point, but where's the fun in getting it over with all at once? I believe in delayed gratification; it's good for building character. Ha, I sounded just like Gram again. I guess living with the old lady since I was small has taken a noticeable effect on my personality. She's a little grumpy too, but you try being 68 taking care of a seventeen-year-old know-it-all. I know it can't be easy for her, but we both try our best. See? I'm not completely insensitive to those around me! I love that old lady more than anything else in my life. She's given up a lot to be there for me since my parents died and I'd do absolutely anything for her, not that she'd ever ask.
Anyway, me and the old lady get along great, even if she doesn't always get my weirdness. I think it might just be a generational thing, because I don't think I'm all that strange. I never got into the goth or punk looks, I dress fairly normal, no blue hair or anything like that. My pants don't hang to my knees like I'm a toddler wearing Daddy's clothes, I can't stand rips and laces hanging off of me, so…Okay, maybe I don't really fit in. I'm not preppy either, and not geeky…I'm just me. Boring old Martin Brown. I do have a couple of piercings in both ears, but they're mostly hidden by my hair, which is the requisite shaggy mop of the high school boy. I'm not straight-edge necessarily, but that's mostly because I'm too anti-social to be with the groups that are breaking the rules. Oh well, their loss, right?
Groups in my school are very small. Well, my school itself is pretty damn small. I'm a senior this year, and if nobody fucks up too badly at finals, we should be graduating a pretty healthy class of forty-two. That's actually one of the largest graduating classes this school has seen in years. And most of us have known each other since kindergarten, if not nursery school. So, when you ask, "How could you never have seen this guy before?" it seems like a good question. I guess I've known him since about third grade when his family moved into our tiny town, and yes, we have interacted on occasion, but no, I don't think I ever truly looked at him. Familiarity breeds contempt, or, in this case, indifference.
So what made this Tuesday different?
Hell if I know.
I was eating lunch with Rob and Katie, pretending to listen to them bicker as usual, when I heard a humongous crash from the direction of the tray return window, followed by a round of laughter. It was kind of that hyena-like cackle of the hunter surrounding its prey…Remember that episode of Buffy? Never mind. The three of us turned in our seats to see Josh Robinson, one of the primary geeky people of the class standing at a loss, the contents of his tray scattered and splattered on the floor at his feet. The spaghetti sauce had reached to the knees of his cords and the apple was still rolling its way down the aisle as he blushed furiously behind his oval glasses. Contrary to most high school instances of cafeteria-related humiliations, there was no Big Ugly Jock laughing and pointing to his victory. Seems Josh had just tripped over something random and had lost his balance and his grasp on the tray. Happens to the best of us.
However, the best of us must not have been present that day, because after laughing a minute, they all turned back to whatever they were doing, forgetting the poor boy and his lost lunch within seconds.
And then, something pretty cool happened.
I kinda couldn't take my eyes off of poor Josh, but I didn't exactly jump to my feet to help him either. I hate being noticed too much, and to be standing over next to the mess at that time would have made me the focus of many unwanted eyes. Yep, I'm a bit of a coward, too. I admit it. I don't want to stand out. I don't want to be seen. I just want to keep my head down, do my work, and graduate. I swear I'm not a freak! I just…get wicked uncomfortable when people look at me. My self-confidence is kinda…how should we say? Minimal? Anyway, enough about me and my inertia.
Dan Bishop, semi-popular, almost-jock, nice-looking, average guy, who happened to also be in the chorus and the band, in other words, generally liked and fit in without seemingly ANY of my own messed-up social issues, stood up and pushed back his chair. No, it didn't make any kind of attention-getting squawk and no, all eyes did not turn to him. The early people were starting to finish their lunches and take their trays back, so he didn't stand out in that way. This was so unbearably normal that I can't believe I'm trying to tell you what kind of impression it made on me. It's a little embarrassing actually.
The guy stood up, pushed back his chair, stepped into the aisle…and picked up the apple. He grabbed a handful of napkins from his tray and walked over to Josh, who by now was at the nuclear stage of red cheeks, trying to clean up the mess without being further noticed. Dan bent down and said something to Josh, too quiet to be overheard, but the movements of his lips were clear. He was smiling, and I think he said something about it being ok, happens all the time, and did he want his apple because it wasn't too bruised.
Oh, come now, you say. How could you have gotten all that from moving lips and the roar of the cafeteria when they're all the way across the room? Did I mention that my school was small? The other side of the room was not that far away, and there really weren't that many people in the room at this point. Plus, I had gotten pretty good with Gram talking at me when I had headphones on. Plus, it just seemed that it was right, because Josh smiled a little too and the burgundy color had begun to retreat a bit. The two boys cleaned up the rest of the spaghetti and tossed Josh's tray, then walked back to Dan's table, at which point Dan offered to share the remains of his lunch.
So, you ask, what's so special about that?
Weren't you paying attention? Because I was.
That simple act of kindness and compassion, and I mean the most basic and elementary form of both, was enough to make me notice a guy that I had known for almost ten years for the very first time. Here I was, too embarrassed to move from my seat and be a real human to help somebody in need because of my pride and reluctance to be noticed, and there he was, standing up and being the kind of person I wanted to be. He could stand up. He could help. I couldn't. I had been glued to my seat, even though the look on Josh's face was one that I had known before and empathized with. I couldn't move. My fear held me back.
Yeah, fear. I was scared to death over something so tiny and so inconsequential that ninety-five percent of the population wouldn't have thought twice. I'd never have admitted it to anyone before, but I think I may have changed a bit right there. Normal guy, doing normal things, and suddenly, I had an example. I could do that. I could be that.
My jaw hung open a tiny bit as I pondered that earth-shaking idea. It hadn't been difficult for Dan to stand up and help; he'd just done it. What kind of person must he be? A lot of high-school students are idiots that way, my way, but he'd only done the compassionate thing and helped a person in need.
Okay, so I'm going on and on about this kind act I had just witnessed. To you, maybe, it's really not that big a deal. To me it was the start of a whole new way of thinking. It could really be that simple. I should talk to him. Maybe his kindness wasn't a one-time thing. Maybe the fact that he didn't seem to care what others thought was what made him suddenly so fascinating. Maybe he'd be friends with me, too? And right then, I wanted to a part of his life so badly I could taste it.
Kinda scary on my part? Yep.
Felt right? Yep.
Confusing? You betcha.
All I knew was that this guy was something different from the rest of the herd. But, how am I going to break through my own hang-ups long enough to make contact? I mean contact in the lasting sense, like…Oh, hell. I don't know what I mean. Like I said before, we have interacted, worked together on projects and shit like that, but it doesn't make a relationship of any kind, now does it? I wanted more. I wanted him to see me in that new way, too. How the fuck was I going to do that?
ARGH! You mean I have to leave my comfort zone? Oh, God, is it worth it?
I peeked over at his table, still completely ignoring Rob and Katie as they continued in their gossip and fighting. Josh and Dan were laughing over something, but this time I could only see them from the side. No lip reading to help me out now. Dan just seemed to make friends so easily. I was so envious. I wanted to be the cause of that easy smile. I wanted to be able to smile as easily.
Oh, my God, I'm such a freakin' whiner! I told myself to shut up and make a plan to catch his attention. This wasn't some cheesy Eighties movie, so a surprise makeover was out of the question. I wasn't willing to embarrass myself like a jackass to get it either. No way in hell was I going to try the anonymous note method. Like THAT ever turned out well! Didn't want to bump into him in the hallway, it was too late in the school year to join the band or chorus, not that I could sing very well anyway. I did have gym with him, but you learn pretty early on not to make anything remotely resembling a come-on in the boys' locker room, and that's pretty much how it would have looked. I grinned to myself, picturing the scene.
'Hi, Dan. How are you?'
'Ok, Martin. How are you?'
'Oh, fine. I saw you at lunch today and just wanted to say Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!' Imagine a very breathy Marilyn Monroe voice coming out of my very non-feminine body.
'Uh…Are you ok, buddy?'
'Can I be your friiiiieeeeennnnnd?'
'Fuck no, man. Back off!' And I'd run away crying, humiliated in front of everyone, laughing at the weirdo once again. I'd had enough of that in grade school, thank you very much. But let's not go there either.
So, that wasn't going to work. I couldn't show up at his job because No. 1, I don't know if he had one, and No. 2, I did, and couldn't leave to go stalk my new fascinating friend-hopefully-to-be. Where did that leave me?
Keep in mind that all this ran through my imagination in like…four seconds. I sighed, stumped. Rob and Katie broke off from their Joan and Melissa moment to look at me with questions on their faces.
"Yo, Martin. What's bothering you?" Rob raised an eyebrow in manly concern.
"Yeah, Marty, you look down today." God, I hated it when she called me that. I never wanted a nickname, damn it! I frowned at them both.
"I'm fine, just having a minor epiphany. Go back to your conversation. Don't mind me," I muttered as they had already done so after the first part. Good to know I made such an impression. See? It's not totally my fault that our friendship is so superficial. We hung out mostly due to proximity and a couple of shared hobbies, not because of any super-emotional bonding type deal. And THAT is why I craved more. Just to make a real connection for once in my freakin' life.
When I looked over at the table again, Dan and Josh were gone, probably already on their way to their next classes. I sighed again, this time in frustration, as I cleared my tray and left the cafeteria at a slow amble. I still had ten minutes before the bell rang and I had very deep thoughts to go think.
Oh, wait, I think I'm getting something here…Total brain fart! I'm such an idiot. I had my last two classes of the day with Dan! Duhhh…I told you I hadn't really paid much attention to him before! We had assigned seats and I didn't sit anywhere near him in the first class, but last class was Art and we could do whatever the hell we wanted, within reason of course. I'd sit next to him and observe him before I made my move. Muahahaha…uh…ahem. Sorry for the evil laugh there, I'll try to keep it under control.
I had a plan. I had a target. I had to pee.