It never occurred to me how messy I can look. It’s almost finals week. I’ve been wearing my friend’s navy hoodie with noticeable white writing reading, “Aeropostale” on the front for the past three days. I have on rainbow colored striped flats that guarantee no support and a pair of blue jeans that do not smell dirty. I am following the black college girl trend and have decided to go natural, so my hair is slicked back with gel into a ponytail with a poof at the end. My face is currently being attacked by acne, and although I am black, my skin is fair so the redness is excessively noticeable. I look slightly approachable because amongst all the other college students scampering to their 11:15’s, I’m not in a rush.
Outside the air is muggy. The vibrant green wet grass and puddles of gray water sit still as I sift through the crowd of young adults cradling textbooks while texting on their way to class. Their pace twice as fast, in hopes to make it to their vehicles, across campus and in a free parking spot in the next fifteen minutes. But not me, because at 11:00 my Fridays are over, and my next destination is in the cafeteria upstairs. So I head there.
With a possible glum look on my face, I head there. In my repetitive nature of walking past the people going uphill as I go downhill, I head there. Their faces disappointed as if they expected something to be different today. As if their Tallahassee route to class would change or their majors would suddenly be promising. As if tuition would be free or the weekend parties we all look forward to would be any different from the ones last week. As if anything would suddenly be different. But we only have one destination so we head there. And as my journey downhill comes to an end to start another down the stairs, I see you.
It was then it occurred to me how messy I can look. I had been wearing the same musty old hoody for the past three days, dirty faded blue jeans and worn out striped flats that were now soaked from the wet grass. Up until then, no one was my friend because they chose not to inform me that my face was drowning in bright red spots in efforts to compliment my bushy, black ponytail. It did not occur to me that I looked disgusting. I know I’m not too easy on the eyes, but I could make an effort. And as you catch me staring, know that I can honestly do better.
Two weeks ago when the sun was out, I wore a short dress with brown sandals. I had washed my hair and it was nicely pressed, lying down like the shampoo said it would. Two weeks ago I had a smile on my face and perhaps everyone else did too. For the air smelled like ripened spring, the ground warm like sweaters and dry like bread. Students leaned on railings as they spoke to friends. Professors rolled their papers to their classrooms. 11:15ers took their time to bask in the still morning light as I sifted.
As I always do, I combed through the crowd only with intentions to arrive at my destination. I went past the girl with the army fatigue backpack leaned against the post, past the couple that looked like brother and sister, and around the boy slowly walking in front of me. But when I see you, it becomes a fact that you are not amongst the people in my routine. When I stare at you, I know that you do not belong on this path. On my path. And the way you stare at me gives me reason to believe that I do not belong here either. The way you blankly gaze, head tilted to the side to capture the entirety of little ol’ me. Brows furrowed, hair wild, mouth slightly parted as warm breath escapes from your lips into the day creating a small cloud of fog that slowly subsides into nothing. And just like that, you’re gone. And I would look back to see if you are real, but I simply don’t. I continue down the hill, to later go down the stairs, and back up a hill. I order the same pizza and sit by the same table with the same group of friends to have the same conversation and laugh at the same jokes. We go to the same house, with the same people who throw the same party every Friday and I later crawl into the same bed with the same thoughts on my mind.
When Monday comes and I see you, I say it’s a coincidence. As we stare blankly at each other I am sure we can both only assume that this is some sort of accident. Everyone going up the hill has seen everyone going down, I’m sure of it.
Everyone has went around the kid slowly walking with no purpose, past the lonely girl by the post and has witnessed the couple that could pass as siblings, I’m sure of it. But as we slowly glide past each other, eyes locked, head turned, and brows furrowed, the unknown bothers me. Who are you?
With eyes so still, hair thick with coils, skin so fair and lips so parched protruding from a face full of scruff I ask, who are you? Much like Columbus, I have accidentally stumbled upon the America that is you. A discovery that confuses and fascinates me at the same time. A presence that has entered my path in what seems so suddenly. A placement so perfect though it does not follow my routine. And as Wednesday sails around I decide to ask you, but my words become muffled with a simple “Hello,” only to receive one in return.
You’re a boy in the south with no southern accent. Soft spoken, yet firm. Clear, yet uncertain. All of this conceived from a simple hello.
It was enough to satisfy my wondering soul. A tune to replay over and over again for the remaining school years. I could have stopped there, and after you moved I should have, because two years later we’ve said more than hello. We’ve said our ‘til thens, and we’ve asked our ‘til whens? We’ve said our forgive mes and silently our forget mes. And we’ve said our goodbyes.
We’ve wanted more and have wanted less, but finally came to a conclusion that a four hour drive to Tallahassee will not bring us closer. No matter how much I try to convince you that this could work, the distance is in your favor. So now we only argue simply because there is nothing left to do. I delete your number but respond when you want me because I want you too. And now every face I see that resembles yours leaves me with the guilt of losing someone I could never call mine.
Moments like those bring me back to our only memory that Friday. I swallowed my routine and stepped off my track before you could get away with staring me down. I stopped you. And as I held your hand for those few seconds and welcomed your everlasting smile into my loosely woven memory, I never would have guessed that today I would be going down that same hill, eating with the same people, going to the same parties and crawling into bed with the same thoughts of you on my mind.
The featured image accompanying this piece, entitled ‘Gumdrop’, has been used with the permission of artist Lois Van Baarle.
About Lois Van Baarle: I’ve been drawing since the day I could hold a pencil, and started teaching myself to draw digitally in 2003. Although I was born in Holland and have dutch nationality, I’ve lived all over the world, including the United States, Indonesia, France and Belgium. Upon finishing high school in 2004, I studied animation in Ghent (Belgium) for a year and then moved back to my home country to study animation at the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht (HKU) in Hilversum. I am currently a freelance illustrator and animator located in Utrecht (the Netherlands) and living with my boyfriend and fellow animator Arjen Klaverstijn.
To see more of Lois’ work, visit her website at: www.loish.net.