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It is odd to know that you could be surrounded by thousands of people and still feel alone. A thought even worse is to see the same people every day as you go about your daily routine but never learn anything besides their face and the time they appear. On an arbitrary April day, I decided to break this unspoken custom. Tired of being alone, and even more so of the depression that comes with it, I decided I wanted to remove myself from this situation. Dressed in a fashionable flannel shirt and some crisp blue jeans, I introduced myself to her, to Athena. This one was unique in that every year I had seen her in at least one passing period between classes, but never learned her name until that moment of truth. Her eyes weren’t gray like the Greek goddess’s, but they beamed beautifully through a pair of glasses that perched on the bridge of her nose. They were a green so intense that their shape burned into your retina for a few seconds after you looked away from them. She wasn’t the next top model or anything like that, but my interest was still piqued. She didn’t know I existed or that I was planning to greet her after fifth period on that arbitrary April day.
I’ll admit, I prefer the lighter side of the rainbow, but it’s just that it is how Hispanic culture views beauty, at least according to my family. Anyway, Athena passed this standard with flying colors, and looking at her face I could tell her last name probably ended with an –ez or could be translated into English funnily. This furthered my attraction towards her, as I began to picture how smoothly I could introduce myself to her parents and her to mine, knowing that we probably shared a similar culture.
I was eighteen, but very inexperienced with courting, dating, and all things related to love. I had never dated anyone, and it was the biggest breach in my manhood. I could pound my chest as hard as I wished and trumpet the weight I could pick up, but I always had to cover up that one fact like a festering sore. Now I was going to remedy that gaping wound in my pride, and I would do it with all the wit and charm I could muster. I stockpiled one-liners, jokes, and daring responses in my head like bullets in a gun. I planned on firing on all cylinders. As mentioned before, I had on a fashionable flannel shirt (supplied by Aeropostle) and some crisp blue jeans (supplied by American Eagle), but I also shaved for the first time in months, popped as many pimples as I could, and strategically applied Ralph Lauren cologne on myself. Looking myself in the mirror on the morning of that arbitrary April day, I loved myself more than anyone in the world. Then the moment of narcissism lapsed, and all I saw in the mirror was a baby-faced kid who could have done without the few kolaches he ate for breakfast. However, that confidence bred by self-centeredness lingered, and it only decayed profoundly after the moment of truth.
Years of schooling from strict teachers and lecturing from even stricter parents had conditioned me to be the ideal student, yet the whole day my mind exerted its power towards visualizing the eventual encounter. Like a competent chess player I planned for every move I would take and for how Athena (I would learn her name when I introduced myself to her) would respond to each one. I was overly optimistic, for I pictured everything that I said immediately resulting in her falling violently in love with me. There was a nagging voice in my head that urged me to have a sense of realism, and it was the voice of my sister who was (and is) three years my junior. She was the only person I disclosed my stratagems to, because I trusted her opinions better than my brutish male friends and also since she happened to be part of the fair sex. She told me generic, clichéd pieces of advice that didn’t apply to me, like being myself (as if) and being confident (in the bag). I did not listen to her fully, so when I drove home with her and reported what went down during the moment of truth, I learned that she had said to not plan out what you were going to say or everything will fall apart.
It was fourth period, Calculus, and we had finished the lesson of the day. There were twenty minutes of downtime left for us to do homework, and I decided to do just that. As I struggled to focus on the integrals on my paper instead of Athena, a song came to my mind. I didn’t know all the lyrics at heart, but I knew how the tune went. Naaa nana naaa na na na naaaa nanaaa na. Na naana na na naaa? Did I abuse her/ Or show her disdain?/ Why does she run from me? Naaa nana naaa na na na naaaa nanaaa na. Na naaana na na nanaaa? If I should lose her,/ How shall I regain/ The heart she has won from me? NAAANANAAA, na na naaaa nanaaa naaa. Agony!/ Beyond power of speech. I stopped, because Ms. Polinsky glared towards my general direction. I continued my musical musings out in the hallway when we were finally dismissed from fourth period, getting a few stares here and there from passersby.
Fifth period, wrestling, would have been my greatest obstacle in seeing Athena on that arbitrary April day, but thankfully the season had ended in February and seniors were no longer obligated to work out. If I had had to exercise, I would be have had to shower and miss my opportunity to talk to Athena. I sat in the locker room with my friends who weren’t in the mood to sweat as well, preparing myself mentally for what I was to do in the next passing period. If you were to have talked to me then, you would have been greeted with an impassive face usually attributed to soldiers heading into combat or an Olympic athlete ready to win the gold. I didn’t converse much, but I made sure my input was heard in whatever was relevant to me. The little I talked felt relaxing and calmed my nerves. My mind, earlier ecstatic, had mellowed enough to where I would be able to exhibit my trademark chill attitude. It had never gotten me a date, but for once I had unbreakable confidence that the results would be different this time. My responses to the current conversation with the guys, which had transitioned from sob movies to Grand Theft Auto for some reason, became increasingly lackadaisical as the dismissal time neared. I was the first to stand next to the door that led out to the hallway, and already halfway to where I usually saw Athena when the bell rang.
Sure enough, I observed her walking towards my direction. The moment of truth was at hand. I slowed my pace, calculating when to turn around and walk next to her. Athena came walking more rapidly than I anticipated, and I turned too late. When I did change direction, I accelerated my easy stroll to a frantic walk, trying in vain to catch up with her but still not awkwardly expose my haste. Finally I was at her side, but I said nothing. She instinctively edged away without looking at me. I adjusted to this, and finally said
All the prepared lines, all the visualization, had been all in vain. Words were as ungraspable as greased bars of soap, and already a full second had lapsed from our exchange of greetings. Quickly I continued
“So, uh, I’m ---. What’s your name?”
“Nice meeting you, Athena.”
Shoot, what now? I finally learned her name, but what now? Athena had faced me when she told me her name, but now she looked forward. A car key was clenched in her right hand, indicating that she had early release and on her way home. I was silent for two seconds this time when I could not think of anything else to say but
“Were you in Mrs. Botz’s chemistry class sophomore year?”
Another second passed, this one the most painful, when I finally ended the little conversation with
“Well, gotta go to lunch. See you.”
She didn’t reply, or maybe her farewell had been barely audible. Every time I look back on it, I always imagine it was the latter to cushion the shame that comes with recalling the whole debacle. I remember afterwards heading to my usual lunch table, sitting down and being silent. I didn’t eat anything; I simply crossed my arms on the table and rested my chin on my forearms, pensively staring into space. I replayed the minute-long conversation in my head, grimacing at every moment I messed up as if I were watching someone break a bone. I had a rudimentary sense that relationships were built with time, and I told myself I just needed to keep talking to Athena so that we may get to know one another. So, in a way, not all was lost. When lunch ended, I dejectedly made my way to Mrs. Botz’s class, who now taught AP Chemistry, and afterwards I could go home.
When I arrived to AP Chemistry, I sat at a new seat in the front. I had come early as usual, so the classroom was vacant save for Mrs. Botz and a couple of other students in my period. I pulled out my phone and started playing some game that was a knock-off of Tetris, but insanely popular at the time. I half-lied; the game was not a complete knock-off, for it put a twist on the objective. In Tetris, you are supposed to fit puzzle pieces (Tetriminos), each composed of four tiny blocks but arranged in four different possible ways, which fell from the top of the screen together to make them disappear. If you failed to do this, the screen would eventually fill up with unfitted Tetriminos, and it would result in a game over. The half-knock-off game also required you to do the same thing, but the twist was that you could arrange the pieces anyway you want in a ten by ten square. However, if you could no longer fit any more pieces onto this ten by ten square, then it would be game over.
I played this game up until class started. The empty desks were now occupied, and the lecture began. It was a short review of acid-base equilibria and of its calculations and concepts that needed to be known for the AP exam. It ended twenty minutes before the bell rang, which was highly unusual in that class. Anyway, I resumed playing the game until I heard a voice from behind say
“Oh you’re addicted to that game too?”
I turned around and saw it was Julia. At the time I wasn’t a hundred percent sure that was her name, but I didn’t inquire her about her name so as to not seem rude. She was admittedly better-looking than Athena, and I didn’t know her last name but I assumed from her facial features it was something that ended with a –ez or could be translated into English funnily. Her eyes were a light brown, and the way her eyelids were positioned made you wonder if she was daydreaming. She was tanner than Athena, who was as fair-skinned as vanilla ice cream, but was still at the end of the rainbow I liked. Now, I confess that I considered chasing Julia instead of Athena, since I still felt the disappointment of that supposed moment of truth. However, I realized something very important. But let me elucidate some things before I tell you the realization I had. Firstly, Julia was a very friendly person, good people, conversing with anyone about anything. So when we talked in those twenty minutes of free time, her good manner did not signify that she was attracted to me, but simply that she was being nice. I began to differentiate when a member of the fair sex simply wanted friendship and when she wanted more. To this day I still don’t know how the latter is shown, but I know how it isn’t. And Julia, as it pained me to know and say, did not want more.
Secondly, it was apparent to me less then but more now that Athena was not interested. I would see that in the days I tried to converse with her again, she would always be already talking with one or two of her friends. There was no opportunity for me to display my “winning” personality to her, and even if I did she would not have been impressed. Eventually I gave up on trying to get her attention, and I sobbed a little. But c’est la vie. Anyway, the realization I had was that I don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy. My happiness should exist without the presence of a “bae” or “sweetheart” or “love”. If I were to truly fall in love, the person who would cause me to get lovesick should elevate my happiness, not create it.