Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Practice of Waiting

A draft that I'm thinking about converting, working certain elements into a short fiction story.
Very not done- the second half of it is completely absent

My street looks like a snow globe tonight. The air is warm and the snow of past hours has merged into a colorless, crunch-less pulp beneath my boots. The streetlights pick up a swirl of huge lazy flakes tossed against gravity in every direction. It gently coats everything, what was this morning a growling work vehicle is renamed as a part of the landscape. Everything ceases without a whimper or groan and I am alone in this world of hush, silently sifting through the tents of aged light towards home. If I could imagine another in this dark and sepia toned snapshot, I might picture myself through their eyes, a tilted face and a dark figure dwarfed by the sameness dripping down from the sky. Before I stumbled into this non-city I was walking briskly off the Orange Line and shuffling in my black jacket past the waves of other dark coats making their way to Forest Hills.

The music crackling from the headphones of the girl sitting next to me had been stunted by the clamor of machinery. Sitting in the rattling tube with fifty strangers inches away, I wrapped myself in my separateness, closing a door between me and the present company, and choosing to turn this sticky seat into my work chair. I only wasted a moment or two after the train began to shake us home before I had pulled out some of my papers, and began slashing incorrect answers and reaching around in the air for encouraging statements to precede my advice for the freshmen in my class. I was stuffing completed quizzes in one folder, drawing fresh, unspoiled papers from another. I had parceled out my time in as much as I can get done in any moment, hundreds of little projects matched to just meet all the deadlines peppered in the landscape of my future. My brain, meanwhile, reached into the future, planning my next moves once the train pulls into my station, once my walk up the monumental hill has stolen my breath, once I could sigh and sit and stop for a second. And then start working again, typing away at my desk, waiting for when I allow myself to let go and tumble into my bed.

My walk from my station is normally a sensory pothole, a jarring mix of unpleasant sensations squatting down between my A and B. I avert my eyes, nose, fingertips and ears from cat calls, frigid wind and the sickly sweet breath on street corners. Tonight, my winged shields are unneeded, and the snow has nudged and realigned my defensive autonomy. I pass the echoing playground on my left and breathe an unmeasured taste of the night. I can remember days exploring another jungle gym, this one rimmed in lime green paint. I spent my time in elementary school in perpetual awe of the Main Street Middle School students. They were on my walk to and from school, and everything about them was LARGE and fantastic. The school they poured out of was a huge building of four stories, and the students were chic and self-assured as far as I could tell. The girls were pretty and shapely, and the boys were tall and actually had muscles. I’d watch in admiration when I saw mixed sex groups wandering toward downtown laughing and even touching each other. I knew, from Saved By the Bell, that their lives were full of practical jokes, near disasters, dramatic dating antics, and maybe a little schoolwork too. I could barely wait to be a cool and attractive middle schooler, a wise and accomplished adult of twelve. When that disappointment came and went, and I was still the awkward, too-tall, half-Asian girl that couldn’t figure out which Spice Girl to play, I kept looking forward. The parts of my life that were vain and silly and shallow expected, so surely, the arrival of the Hallmark moments at each birthday. For certain body parts to arrive; perk up. Self-confidence never grinned back from that mirror, I had to take it and fight my own tooth and nail, insisting I belong here and will be happy about it, damnit. I’m still working on that cool chic ideal I once watched scamper out of the middle school.

I feel lighter at the top, the flutter in my bright apartment seems far away. From here, the pressures untangle themselves. Before I had these months and years of little increments and a tantalizing horizon of the end of waiting, I had a few Vermont summers, a barista’s apron, and gatherings to explore in peeling barns and smoke filled coal cellars. My mind was sharp and my mouth ready to spread in an incredulous half grin looking up into the eyes of broad-backed young men. I remember nights at the parties that spread across an entire field under more stars than Boston has ever seen, a car stereo crackling, kegs tapped, and EVERYONE there celebrating and skinny dipping and laughing and passing out, passing from elation to nothingness in a moment.

And I remember my first taste of fervor. Evan was a beautiful boy, and I just loved to look at him. I fell for him the first time I noticed him, in a hallway between classes, the truest representation of love I’d seen yet. When I opened the door I interrupted Evan and Carmen exchanging a kiss as they parted ways for 50 long minutes. They pecked each other on the cheek, and Evan ran his hands up and down her arms like he was warming her. They looked at each other for a drawn out breath and parted ways. I was stunned, and hurried off, leaving my mind, that was so useless in Calculus anyways, perched in that hallway, mesmerized. It was the simple sweetness of it, the lack of ostentation, of lust that superseded most romances in my high school. The sweetness of the exchange that I interrupted surprised me more than seeing the girl in the grade above me getting cozy with a boy two years younger than her. Wow. That’s what I want.

At the time, it was not Evan that I wanted, but his sweetness, from someone who would be just as astounded by me. Eventually the outing club made us friends, and Carmen was off at college, presumably out of the picture. And that yearning came back, stronger and more urgently once I knew Evan and decided one of my favorite things in the world was to look at him. Which was nothing compared to having him look at me. I persisted in my addiction for months, knowing he wasn’t over Carmen, but I sustained my end of the gaze for both of us, waiting for his eyes to clear and know me.

And then something amazing happened, and he reciprocated. I was so used to grasping, I couldn’t decide what to do when he slipped his arm down to cover mine. I would pull away and sneak peaks when he bent to kiss me.

What can I say to impress him? I’ll play dynamic and confident tonight.

I was not good enough so I pieced together what I wanted to be; what he wanted. I turned my gaze inward and created “me”, the one that shined and flowed with planned spontaneity. The pauses grew. I had nothing to say and I could feel the creases in my foundation. I never cringed, even if my flaking words might have.

What’s wrong? Why can’t I do this?

And then something terrible happened, and despite my anxiety and plastic smiles, he changed his mind, when I still couldn’t hold him like the shadow of her. He left and our relationship changed only a little after that day. We were friends. No, he was a friend, I was planning, patient, flirting. A manipulator. I was hoping for months. I pushed and tried myself to exhaustion. He still wanted to be around and I was more than happy to be there. I wanted to grab that thread and will myself further. I wanted to hoist myself up by that thin string and climb back into being with him. But the future I wanted evaded me, until I could barely remember why my need was so urgent. I waited myself out. I had to turn my head again, reposition it towards something or somewhere else. I chose Canada and University and the steps leading towards here, the doorstep of my apartment and the beautiful man waiting for me inside. Those red hot days of desperation faded into the Vermont landscape of looming mountains and dipping stars.

I fumble with the lock, the cold seizing my hand as I shove forward and leave the stagnance of the aimless beauty behind me. If I step back and consider all my accomplishments and all my experiences, I would say I am an experienced and able practitioner of waiting. I’ll bide my time with jumbled responsibilities that keep my muscles aching and straining. I’ll take a kiss on my forehead and turn back to the glow of my screen and look forward to you, someone who returns my gaze.

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