It was lunchtime, more years ago than I care to admit. I was in the
high school cafeteria with Alice, enjoying her company. Probably
there were others at the table as well; I don't remember. Memory is
funny that way.
English was my next class. There was an assignment due; of course I
hadn't started it yet. The assignment: Write an essay about an
emotion. I sat, prodding the food of the day around on my tray,
pondering which emotion I might find something to say about.
"Write about love," Alice said. "Teachers eat that stuff up."
I looked across the table at her. She was watching me perhaps a
little too carefully, this young woman who was my girlfriend in some
sense of the word. What 'girlfriend' meant in our case was a mystery
all the more frustrating because deep down I knew she was waiting for
me to solve it. Write about love? Of all the emotions, I understood
love least of all -- but I was familiar with the symptoms.
Plus, Alice was right. Teachers eat that stuff up.
Thirty minutes until class. On any other subject, I could have simply
opened up my notebook and scribbled out the essay, but not love, not
with Alice there chatting with our friends and looking my way every
once in a while, knowing. I excused myself and went to the
library, to ponder the mysteries of the heart.
I thought it came out pretty well, all things considered, a
fictitious memoir of a chance perhaps lost, perhaps gained, just a
moment in a string of moments. Doubt, fear, longing, hope, they were
all there. All the symptoms.
I wonder what I'd think of it now, were I to read it again. So much
time has passed, so much passion, so many symptoms, but do I know any
more now than I did then?
The teacher, true to form, ate it up. So much so, in fact, that she
asked my permission to publish it in the local paper, as part of a
collection of the best work by students that semester. The paper came
out and there it was in black and white; I found I could not be in
the room when my family read it.
At the bus stop the next day, a neighbor asked coyly, "So, who is
she?" It was a small town; everyone read the paper, and whoever the
mystery girl in the story was, everyone would know her. It was a long
day for a guy who didn't really mind not being noticed.
I don't remember Alice's reaction at all. She must have liked it --
I'm sure I'd remember if she didn't -- but perhaps she looked beneath
the surface and saw it for what it was: a story about the symptoms,
but not about love. If she read my words hoping to find in them a
message to her, secret code composed over the remains of a cafeteria
lunch, I imagine she got her answer, even if I didn't understand the
Article © Jerry Seeger. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-04-07