I was 15 years old during a fire drill in late summer. Every child herded onto the grass outside my high school where a few unidentified deciduous trees had grow to full age. I walked over to Samantha, the girl on whom I had an unadmitted crush, who by this point, through clumsy actions I thought romantic, was thoroughly afraid of me. I didn’t know flowers and a bossa nova song were unwelcome gifts that would violate her boundaries. We hit the breaking point a month earlier when I looked up her number and called her on my birthday. I’d done this once before, with little resistance, rationalizing to myself the desire to talk to a friend from school. Conversation was positive though I didn’t recognize the nervousness in her voice. I was told the second time to not call again.
So I talked to her during the fire drill and I can’t remember it all.
We weren’t great communicators, either of us. The resulting interaction involved her asking, in relation to my actions, “who does that?” and I reached out with one finger. Sort of how we’d handled lady bugs while sitting on the grass the previous semester. I reached for the tip of her nose but never made contact. Maybe the least or most intrusive place. Maybe my brain, cooked by the sun that cloudless day, thought it would be comforting. Instead she stormed off.
It was strange. I brought personal buckets of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to school lunch one day the previous spring. That was the initiating event. I gave one to Samantha and one to my friend Donna, maybe to a few other people at lunch. I didn’t intend to impress anyone. School lunch, being the quality of prison food, needed a little help. It surprised me, though, how much it lit up their day, how Samantha talked about making her own ice cream with rock salt but never this good. A skinny brown girl with hazel eyes. My skin temperature rose just because she was happy. To answer my gift of ice cream, Samantha and her mom baked a German Chocolate cake and brought it to me at school. I can’t remember if I brought it all home or split it with the other kids. Thinking back, was I starved for kindness or ignorant of how to express infatuation?
When I recollect Samantha storming off, I imagine I’m writing about shame but really I’m writing about time. I pretend the day is a million lifetimes back. I imagine I’ve outgrown poor social skills, made smaller and smaller mistakes, and communicated better until I became the current person. In 11 years, I’ve passed through many gates: ugly miscommunications, failed interpretation of others’ interest, unreturned feelings ending in greater friendship, and two short relationships.
Time dilation comes to mind: the measurable difference in time elapsed between two observers. Perhaps one moves faster than the other. Perhaps, there is a gravitational field between them. As the prime inconsistency of this particle-less fluid in which we have lives, time dilation shows how, from the viewpoint of light, nothing is moving at all.
A week ago, I went to see the Blade Runner sequel with Donna. She kept her blond hair long and had to wrestle with crutches and a cast from the newest foot injury. I’d picked her up in my old Buick and we had a barrel of laughs. Age had made her dystonia a little easier to handle but it still kept her bones fragile, affecting her stomach and speech. It never decreased the pleasure of her company or her excitable gestures. She chatted over Mexican, after the movie, about her bum ex-husband who drove drunk and got kicked out of the Army, her travels over the continental U.S., and especially to Kentucky and the people we used to know. She mentioned Samantha and how they talked, from time to time, as friends do, about their problems. I just said I wished her well.
Is time shorter from Samantha’s perspective or did college and post-college form for her too a wall of permanent change? I hope the worst experience was an awkward me. I hope she understands the awkward boy now. I hope she met no worse examples of confusing and often malicious male activity. No longer nascent, I know the danger a woman faces from a man who feels he deserves her time, her space, or her body.
If I were to meet her again, I don’t expect any grounds for friendship. It isn’t a goal of mine. I don’t I feel I would deserve it. More than being emotional reality for anyone, this reflects, I find, one of the places where age has started to turn me to wood. Somehow, it seems responsible to leave other people alone if I know I am no help.
Now, time dilates internally. I sit on my brown sofa, thinking of this moment as a launch pad from which to careen into the future. I bounce nearer and farther from memory. Nearer and farther to sad confusion, regret and then here, for better or worse, I accept.
Semein Washington is a 29 year old poet whose published work can be found in Light, Eye to the Telescope, Sijo: An International Journal of Poetry and Song, Sonder Midwest, and is forthcoming in Hawai’i Review. Semein’s work is ecstatic poetry discussing topics of nature, science, religion, music, comic books, and human experience. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia and teaches as an adjunct professor of English at John Tyler Community College.