Asymmetrically Incomplete

February 16, 2012
See, there – he’s looking at me again. He is looking at me – I can tell. There with his glowing amber eyes, the soft glint of his pitch black hair, the way he runs his tongue over his incisors and back over his lips in a satisfied, gluttonous way. He stands up, stretches, and then saunters away, totally unconcerned that I’m hissing at him.
Cat – the stray cat.
I sit here crouched on the ground under my umbrella with my bare knees freezing, my school bag soaked, my converse sneakers wet to the shoelaces. It’s rain in this city, though it was supposed to be snow – it’s been December past and already January, but I haven’t seen any change in the climate other than unpredictable drops in temperature. It should snow already, I bemoan to the little sky visible under my umbrella line, watching Cat slither away down a gutter. It should be snow and hot chocolate, not drizzle and damp school socks.
Fifteen is a very awkward year to be living. The Home Economics sub has already explained to us that children our age feel a need to express their individuality – it should explain all these hormones jumping around the school like happy midge-flies. Couples coming, couples going, people crying, people fighting; it seems to me that, in the pursuit of individuality, my peers have become idiots. They throw themselves around with dramatic antics and have a vehement calling to over-analyze anything that happens to unknowingly stroll under their noses; making fusses over little happenings that I didn’t even know were happenings.
And because I refuse to participate in this hallahadoo, I am ‘different’.
I don’t like to think that I am different. I like to think that I am incomplete, or maybe, on the other side of the spectrum, too complete for my own good. My journey of self-discovery started around two years ago, just before my fourteenth birthday; I don’t remember the details – no specific incident or reason – but at that moment I started pursuing myself like sticky fingers pursue clean, shiny surfaces. I painstakingly divulged every detail I could find, nosing, poking; sticking my nose in my head where humans weren’t supposed to usually pry. It’s a funny thing, then, that two years later I’m almost sixteen and find that, the more I unwrap the big box with a bow saying ‘Don’t open!’ the more little boxes I find with more little tantalizing bows, all wrapped in those Boy Scout knots that I never learned how to untangle. I have destroyed myself by trying to know myself – the more I find out about myself, the more confused I become.
It’s not such a gloomy life as that. I wake up, eat, sleep again, go to school, sleep some more – a very atypical life. That’s the cycle that I’m just beginning now, walking the pleasant concrete road leading to school, watching bitterly gnarly plum trees pass me by. This neighborhood is very quiet and very subtle – you can feel palpable changes in the air, feel the silence, feel nature. There is a messy attractiveness to it which can’t be called beauty, because beauty doesn’t involve overgrown, abandoned patches of patty field and red rusty drain pipes, crumbling concrete blocks. It feels like it is – my hometown.
My school is large – a conglomerate of various school sectors around the city – and you can find a lot of children overflowing at the corners. I walk up the stairs and down the long, mud-streaked corridors to my favorite place in the school – my desk, at the back of the classroom, a pillow waiting in my locker and a lap blanket folded on my chair. A perfect place for sleep and quiet. I would like to say that my school life consisted of more than sleep and talking to myself, but I’m not justified to say that.
As I comfortably fold myself up on my desk with a satisfied sigh, I hear the few people around me rustling around – I come to school early for no particular reason other than the fact that I am awake, I like walking to school, and for some reason it is a very nice thing, sleeping in school. Unwillingly, like the jerk of a tantalizing fishing hook, I wonder if he is coming in early today; he sometimes does, to study and goof off with his friends. I quickly convince myself that it would make no difference even if he came or not, and I have a good reason for this – I mean, we would never even talk, would we?
Morning lessons start at the ring of the bell as usual – I rouse myself long enough to tenderly tuck my pillow away, greet my friends with a brimming smile, and then sneak a quick, irregular jerk to my left, probably looking like I was straightening out a dislocated neck bone. Of course he’s there – where else would he be? Ever since entering the new grade, he’s become strangely studious – of course he’s still the same old raucous, silly, and immaturely adorable boy that he always was, but…he’s different. I think the fact that he managed to change so much as to stir a responsive interest in me was what cause me to fall in like with him.
I could go on with his praises all day – I have enough practice inside my head – but I refuse to stoop so low as to fawn over a non-imaginary boy. I know that I don’t love him – don’t be ridiculous – but he illicits interest in me, and I find that attractive. I have fallen in like with a few others like him – namely my best friend’s crush, the unattainable comic hero, the best friend of him – but I’ve managed to convince myself that this one is different. After all, my heart goes ba-thump enough, my pulse palpitates enough, and my cheeks get red enough. I should be somewhat in like with him – shouldn’t I?
The lesson goes on – my desk is in an ideal position to spy on the back of his head. He’s wearing that knit hat he always wears, the one with the cracked white skull and crossbones – he’s wearing his uniform sloppily despite the fact that he’s seriously taking notes of the lesson, back as straight as a poker. The rolled up sleeves of his shirt show manly forearms, the kind that every girl fantasizes about sometime in her life. He’s nut brown and has a bad case of pock-marked skin – not the handsomest in the batch, I know – but I doubt that I’ve ever been as uncomfortable around any other boy I’ve ever known. I think that he’s brilliant.
Of course, this is all just a puppy crush; I’m certain. After all, it’s ridiculous to think that I’m in love just because convention says that I should be. I’m not the kind of person to allow stupid love midge-flies to rule my life; after all, why waste time wishing after things that I don’t even have the willpower to talk to?
At the end of the lesson, I loiter with my best friend, occupying a chair near her as she yammers away with another friend, allowing me time to crash on some stranger’s desk for an acceptable reason (I’m here with my friend). I had a crush before him, you see – a childhood friend who was and still is a complete nerd, anti-social, un-amicable in every aspect. I was crazy after him – still am, actually, clinging onto hopeless spider threads, afraid of letting go of something that I feel so strongly about, even if it’s just a stupid crush. It’s rare that I feel strong emotion about something, you see – it’s rare that my heart flutters, that I lose myself in thinking of someone else, that I catch myself off guard. I feel so disappointed in myself, then, because at almost the same moment I fell in like for the first time, I also fell in like with him. A good friend once told me that if you have two people you liked, then you should go with the second one, because if you really loved the first one, then you wouldn’t have fallen in love with the second. I wonder if I’m allowed to look at the world in such plain colors as that. Maybe I really am getting desperate, struggling to identify with any kind of human emotion that everyone else feels.
I stare emptily at another friend who’s come to talk to me, smile bright and misleading, and I realize that she’s said something quite profound. I shake the sleep away and pay attention.
“H wants to talk to you.”
I twitter with my friend a bit more, gasping and wondering in a high pitch what he wants with me, and then stride my way to the door of the classroom where I see the gathering of ‘midgets’. These midgets are the crowned clowns of the class, a group of five comedians who follow trouble and popular people wherever they may lead, poking jokes with refreshing vigor and never-ending enthusiasm. They’re there right now, blocking my way as they giggle among themselves. I sigh and start to feel reluctance. I remind myself that all boys are a bit gay at this age, and then wait.
I’m not expecting to have to speak to H first; I never initiate conversations with complete strangers, after all.
H isn’t, admittedly, a complete stranger. I’ve known him since the third grade when I moved here from the north; we were in the same elementary school. He was something of a celebrity, I guess; I wasn’t too keen on the social gossip at the time – I still am not. He is…how shall I put it…scrumptious. He’s got perfect milky skin, perfectly jelled and highlighted brown hair, perfect half-hooded eyes and perfect puffer-fish lips. I myself am amazed at his endless supply of hipster checkered wristbands and studded pink belts, but other than that I find him extremely annoying. H is, to my limited knowledge, self-absorbed; he uses people around him as he pleases because he’s as sexy as a pin-up boy and actually believes that such a thing is okay. I also know that he has a girlfriend – a small, pretty girl who I remember being friends with once.
“Hey,” H says normally, as if he comes to greet and meet me every other day. I jut my chin out in response, immediately afterwards subjected to the torture that is remembering too late everything so much smarter that I could have said. Somehow, though, the will to talk has deserted me, what with a complete hot stranger suddenly talking to me and the midgets ogling like bored housewives.
“You mind if we talk outside?” he asks in a lazy voice, smoothing back his hair. I notice a flaw – a suspicious yellow stain on his shirt collar, probably from his breakfast that morning. It comforts me to see flaws – they calm me.
“Sure,” I say, among the jeers of my classmates. I feel like a complete Hester Prynne as I follow him out to the corridor, down the hallway, into the outdoors bridge-like thingy connecting two buildings. It’s cold and frigid, but H stands there with a confident smile on his face and I start to get a bad feeling.
“Hey – go out with me.”
Now if there was a more direct and selfish declaration of love I had ever heard, this topped it all. I stared with polite complete blankness, eyebrows crooked in incredulity, a little bit frozen. A part of me was laughing with outraged insult, to think that H thought that he could just say ‘boogey’ and I would comply gratefully. Another part of me, a part of me that I was ashamed of, though, was racing like a mouse with a heart attack. Isn’t it human nature, after all, to wish to reciprocate the feelings of another person who is attractive, even if those feelings don’t exist in the first place?
I was tempted to query the reason first but I contained my overexcited hormones and instead gathered my womanly pride. “You have a girlfriend.”
“Not anymore,” H says with a smile. He doesn’t even try to look wounded or damaged. I find that extremely unattractive in a man. I move to my next question.
“Why me?”
H laughed, and then scratched his head with a big, toothy smile. “You’re hot, yeah? And I’ve always kind of liked you – go out with me.”
I smile at him, my question just wavering on the brink of my tongue, loaded and ready to be fired.
Two days and a couple dozen gropes later, I stand at the same place in the road, crouched under my umbrella, staring at Cat the stray cat saunter away, ever-so composed and sly. I am crying – I don’t know why. Those salty tears just don’t stop coming; I am as able to stop them as I am able to command the tides of the sea to recede. I realize that I am so much guiltier than all those other gullible girls – so much more idiotic and led around by my emotions. I knew in all my heart the answer that I should have given two days ago – I should have said with all the fire left in me that I would not go out with you, H, because you are a self-centered bastard and you will never treat me right. But then, naturally, I said yes – because isn’t that human nature? That feeling I had then – that scarily prosaic feeling that this chance would not come twice, that desperate feeling of clinging to broken strings with my weak roll of cello-tape, refusing to give up on something so obviously already impossible for fear of not finding the next strings to depend on, and strings after that. I am afraid that if I do not force this passion and humanity, then I will never be human – I am so collected, so asymmetrical, that I am incomplete – there is something fundamentally human missing in me, because otherwise I wouldn’t have said yes to H when I am so madly in LOVE with him.
I hear footsteps near me, and under the line of my umbrella, I see shiny purple sneakers, sloshing around in the depressing sleet. I know those shoes – I stare at them every morning between the gap in my arms, just staring, imagining what could happen, daring to wish for something that I’m not sure I really want. I let my umbrella drop to the ground and look up, noticing that the sleet has stopped – the morning sun is beaming. And he’s there, standing with a smile, blocking out the glare with his tall, tall frame.
“Hey, what’s wrong? Why are you crying? Did he do anything to you?”
I sigh very loudly, very low – my tears have stopped magically, as they always do when people are around. But still, I cannot remember ever being so broken down in front of another human being – I can’t remember feeling so hopeless, so cold, so entirely uncaring of what the outside world thinks of me. I just look up at him through the blur of my recently-shed tears, for the first time really looking him in the eyes. He has beautiful eyes – soft, brown; kind.
“Do you ever feel,” I blurt out to him suddenly, talking in such a low whisper that he has to crouch down beside me to hear, “that everything is so hopeless…because all that you’ve done, all that you’ve discovered can’t be undone…because you are already so…too much so…old?”
He’s looking at me, only at me. I can feel him looking at me, pitying me, and I hate it. I hate pity. I hate appearing weak in front of other people. He says nothing, allowing me time to collect myself piece by piece, shell by shell, building up those concrete picket fences which daintily protect the part of me that is so convoluted that I can’t show anyone. I bark out with sudden laughter, wiping away the dredges of tears and tossing my head backwards, looking away. But I have something I need to say – just one more thing and I swear that I am done garnering pity.
“Sometimes,” I whisper to him, feeling very empty as I said this, “I feel like I don’t have a right to be unhappy.” I laugh and looked down; I can’t look him in the eyes anymore, the moment has passed. “The world would be much simpler,” I told him, half to myself, “if we had a reset button.”
I was about to stand and go with an apology – I had half-stood when he suddenly grabbed my arm and yanked me down, forcing me to crouch near him. My skirt hem was dragging in a puddle, but I didn’t care – I was just staring at him with wide, wide eyes. His eyes were frightened – like a little boy – but he was speaking as if the words couldn’t trip out of his tongue fast enough.
“I like you. I’ve liked you since the moment I saw you – I’ve always wanted to be the kind of guy who was up to your level. You’re so beautiful, so kind, so smart, so awesome – every time I saw you I wanted to be with you. But I didn’t dare even wish for that because…because I was scared, and because I tried to convince myself that I didn’t even really like you. I thought that the only reason that I liked you was because I needed to like someone, because if I didn’t feel some sort of human emotion in myself, I was afraid that I couldn’t be called complete. I was scared of myself, because inside I’m really twisted, but in the core of that I’m just a coward, and I never wanted anyone to find that out. But last year it changed…last year I decided that I would be with you no matter what, and it didn’t matter if I was scared, or if my reasons weren’t straightened out, or if I was just under the misconception that I liked you. Because…because I finally realized that I had to have you, because whenever I’m around you I feel a way that I haven’t ever felt in my entire life, and if that feeling isn’t love, then I think that life isn’t worth living.”
He tries to sputter out more words, to explain more, but I interrupt him with a kiss; not a sensual or lustful kiss, the kind I always imagined sharing with him in my daydreams, but a light peck on the lips – a mere brush of skin, yet it sends such squirms up my stomach that I gasp in shock. We stare at each other for a long while, engrossed in the others’ brown eyes, and then I smile and look away, up to the sky. Nothing was by any means sorted out – there were questions in my mind, loose ends to tie, stray emotions to categorize, selfish boyfriends to dispose of.
But there was a rainbow in the sky. And for some reason I found that that, above anything else, was really what mattered.

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