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Simple Man MAG
He is usually the last one in the door before the tardy bell rings. Every day I watch him saunter in and plop down at his desk. That desk is next to mine. On my other side is a faded, cracked brick wall painted pistachio green. Between that sick green wall and Eddie Diaz – is me. Stuck in that confining space.
Anyway. I watch him every day when he walks in, slings off his bag, and crashes down in the chair like he just got through running a race. Sometimes when I see him collapse and sigh, I forget what class I’m in or why I’m there.
Then I remember. It’s first block, Government. It’s the class I like the most, although I can’t say why. The professor is tough. His lectures are always him nearly screaming the history of Madison and Jefferson, and Federalism and the House of Representatives. But everything is clear-cut. The homework is always reading, reading, reading, and the tests aren’t bad. We’ve only had two essays so far, and I got a B on both. Everything is in order in this class – simple.
Except Eddie sitting at the desk next to me.
Eddie Diaz. The name is romantic to my ears, and every time I hear the professor call it during attendance, I find myself drifting soothingly into Eddie’s presence, his intoxicating ambience.
When I’m sitting there, jotting down the day’s PowerPoint lecture, I let my eyes drift over. His arms are what catch me first. They fill the sleeves of whatever T-shirt he wears, his biceps curvy and strong. His arms are thick, above average. Soft bluish-green veins pop up at the wrists, spreading out like roots that I can see when he rests his hands palm up. He never takes notes, at least none I’ve ever seen, and his hands are always just there, idle. They are beautiful too, like a flesh sculpture, and big – almost fat – but totally omnipresent and bracing hands, I imagine.
I dream of getting a little courage, holding my breath, and reaching over to clasp his hand. Then he would turn and look at me, and I would melt. Because Eddie Diaz also has deep, godly eyes.
They’re not the beautiful, radiant eyes of a movie star like Joaquin Phoenix or Tom Cruise. They’re just brown, and most days the whites of his eyes are a little bloodshot, probably from drinking. Because Eddie is a basketball jock and he always has that let’s-get-ready-to-party look. I’m sure he does – lives it up with beer and girls on couches at some rich prep’s house every Saturday night.
But there is something else in those eyes too. Something flummoxed and a little sad. And maybe that is what makes them so special. The perfect shape and size, the way they invite you in and then consume you whenever he looks at you. At me.
Maybe he’s lonely. I wish I could tell for sure.
Then there’s his face. His fine face, with taut cheeks and a firmness that I have nothing on. He has a prominent nose on the verge of being too big, but it’s symmetrical. His skin is not radiant, but simple. Maybe one or two little marks left from acne. But every other inch is flawless, right down to his long, bulging neck.
It’s usually toward the end of the period that I take a good look at his neck. The skin there is soft-looking too, just barely tanned. His Adam’s apple stands out, taut and ridged. I remember when I was little, Mom told me that a boy isn’t fully grown until his Adam’s apple sticks out like a little hill with ridges. Eddie’s does. So I think dreamily, longingly, that he is a man. At 17, like me.
Stupid me. I am the unknown, with just a little bit of sharp humor for defense. That’s all.
“In other words,” the professor practically yells, bringing me back to reality, “Alexander Hamilton’s national bank had a profound impact on Federalism.”
Blah, blah. I look up at the projection screen, scribble down what I haven’t written, and yawn. A Deftones song creeps into my head – their remake of “Simple Man.” The original came from … who was the band? Not Coheed and Cambria. Lynyrd Skynyrd? Yeah. That’s it.
But I’ve got the Deftones’ version groaning in my head, haunting:
Momma told me when I was young
Sit beside me, my only son
And listen closely to what I say
Oh, if you do this, it’ll help you some sunny day
Where was I? Oh, God, yeah. Eddie. Well, what else can I say about him? Oh … his voice.
Eddie has a surprising voice. At least, I was amazed when I first heard him talk. Because even though Eddie is pretty well built, and handsome, with his Mexican heritage and Caucasian features, his voice is a few years behind his body.
I unzip my backpack, check the time on my phone – only ten minutes left – and steal another glance at bored Eddie.
Yeah, he’s got an immature voice, I guess you could say. Not high-pitched but youthful, with a lax way of speaking straight and plain. He’s always joking or making comments to lighten things up.
Eddie looks at me, and I shift my eyes to say a casual “what’s up.”
“Hey, what time is it?” he asks, leaning back in his chair and stretching. His chest flexes under his red track shirt.
I don’t let it faze me, though.
“9:29,” I reply, looking cool. Which I’m not. Not here, not now.
He gives me a closed-eyed nod and looks away. “Hell, yeah.”
I can tell he’s ready to escape, get out of this figurative rat cage. I want to too. So badly. Just get out of this dilemma. This stupid little affection that’s too useless to be called an obsession. Because I don’t think about Eddie Diaz that much. Not when I’m at home on my bed, staring up at the ceiling fan. Or when I call my friends to hang out. And as for the girl … well, we aren’t fully healed yet.
Boy, take your time, don’t live too fast
Troubles will come and they will pass
You’ll find a woman and you’ll find love
And don’t forget, son, there is someone up above
No, things aren’t right between us. Not after I went to church for Easter. Not after I’ve slept for dozens of nights after that one day – the day I told her we couldn’t, because she was holding on to me and him, still. After three months.
And I was becoming attached to someone else too.
No, I only think about Eddie when he’s visible to me, and sometimes just as a passing thought. But when I think about him, I feel flooded with love and wanting. One and the same. I feel need, but never needed.
And be a simple kind of man
Be something you love and understand
“Ben.” It’s the professor. Surprised, I snap to attention. He is staring me down behind his glasses. He has never called on a student before in class.
“Yessir?” I find the voice to ask.
“Can you tell me who wrote ‘Federalist Number 10’?”
I blink, look around. Almost everyone who’s not sleeping is looking at me. Including Eddie. Ever-present Eddie.
I smile a shaky smile. “Um …” I pause to consider. Then the answer pops in my head.
“Alexander Hamilton,” I say. Surely it’s Hamilton.
“Nooo,” the professor says, drawing out the “o” as if to emphasize that I am a loser. “James Madison.”
He goes on lecturing. People turn away like they’re glad I messed up. And Eddie, shaking his head in joking disappointment, says, “Oww, not quite, man.”
The bell rings. Everybody shoots out of their seats, including Eddie. The professor looks disappointed that he was cut off and says, “All right, study for your exam next week. Have a good day.”
Boy, don’t you worry, you’ll find yourself
But I realize that I have lost it. As Eddie gets up, throws his bag on, and starts walking out.
Follow you heart and nothing else
And you can do this if you try
I thought I was following my heart. With her. With him. Because, you know, even the biggest dreams are a part of reality.
I stand up too, at last, and get my backpack on. I fall in behind him, and look at his back, like a mirror of unknowing and uncertainty facing me.
All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied
I’ll stay hushed, probably forever, about Eddie Diaz. As he turns left in the hallway, and I turn right, I see that that’s just how it is for now. Watching him one last time, at least for today, I see that Eddie may never know, but that’s okay. He may never hear the words I want to speak, or hold me the way I want to be held, but that should be okay.
As I hear the echo of that song in my mind, like a memory of love, faint and timeless and haunting, all I can follow is the shadow of the simple man.
And that is not me.
Momma, that is just not me.