There is a girl at the desk next to yours. You know you’ve seen her before, maybe caught her eyes, if only for a second, across a crowded room. Maybe she smiled. Maybe that’s why you find yourself staring at her. You know that you should be paying attention to the lecture, that Economics is a serious course, that your father will be furious if you fail. He’s making you take this class. You’d rather take creative writing, which you have just decided right this minute will probably be your major… probably. You’ve never been too good at math, a subject to which you can trace most of the problems you’ve had over the last decade. Math has gotten you grounded at least three times, and nearly got you expelled after a particularly nasty incident involving crib notes and calculator programs. Numbers are not your friend.
So you were appropriately nervous when you signed up, against your will, for Intro to Economics. Friends tell you its number-heavy, weighed down with formulas and equations. You have nightmares where prime numbers, in their indivisible insolence, corner you, and take turns beating you into an indistinguishable bloody pulp. With numbers swooping through your head like German biplanes over Normandy, you show up late to the first class. You are fully prepared to wave your white flag of defeat, only to find the only open seat in the room, right next to this dark-eyed siren you can’t stop stealing glances at. You sit down, and she catches you looking. You say “hey,” and she says “hi.” This is a major victory for you. She has a great smile, and you notice that she crinkles her nose in a Meg Ryan, just-too-cute kind of way. Her hair is curly, but not too curly, and she has perfect posture.
You notice, then, that your professor, a delightful little fellow with an Indian accent as thick as his eyebrows, is staring at you. So is she. So is everyone. Apparently, you have just been asked a question. You blank, and suddenly its fifth grade all over again, and you just can’t do long division. Fuck long division, you think. That’s what calculators are for. You still haven’t said a word, and the silence has by now grown into its own fully conscious entity, one whose sole purpose is mocking you. You feel the heat rush to your face, feel the weight of a classroom full of eyes.
“Elasticity?” your siren suggests, and you repeat after her, not once, but a few times. Elasticity. Elasticity! God, it was so simple. With a sigh of relief, you watch your classmates look away, turn around, leave you alone. You look to the girl with the dark eyes. Thank you, you want to say, sweet redemption, grace me with a pittance, your conversation, your company, simply your name!But instead, you say nothing, and bury your shame deep in the pages of your Econ textbook. This goes on for quite some time.
Summer fades into a distant memory, and the nights grow colder. Knee-deep in sweater season, you and your friends run into her and her friends at the all night coffee shop in the student center. You wave. She waves back, and you hear trumpets. You order some kind of way-too-sweet coffee drink, this can’t possibly be good for you, but you get a donut too. While waiting for your friends to order, you manage to strike up a small pointless conversation consisting mainly of questions relating to homework. Did we have any? Did you do it? Was it hard? You answer yes to all three, and she smiles again.
Your friends are arguing with the girl behind the counter, and when her friends get up to go to the bathroom, you sit down. The conversation continues. You learn she’s a creative writing major. You learn she hates math and science, and loves Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson. You learn she’s a senior. You give her your best “sophomoric” pun, and she laughs, Christ, she gets it, and while she laughs she grabs your hand and you’re flying through the air miles above her, just high enough to feel heaven, her hand your only tether to this earth. She lets go, and you plummet, landing back in your seat with a satisfied thud. You’re staring at her, you suddenly notice, and so does she, but she smiles and you melt in the chair, dripping into a sticky puddle under the table.
Her friends come back, hungry to leave, but before she stands, she turns to you.
“I’m sorry, but what was your name again?”
You tell her, and she tells you, and, introduced, you appropriately shake hands. You watch her walk across the student center, and just before she disappears into the cold night, she turns back around, smiles, and gives a little wave. You have class with her the next day. You spend the whole time whispering, writing little notes.
Outside of class, you find your thoughts turning to her. Sometimes, you drink too much, and wonder what she’s doing right now. Reading, you assume, or writing in one of her many journals, or listening to jazz fireside while nursing a glass of red wine. You are playing drinking games with girls who like to watch The O.C. You are thankful that you don’t have her number, for fear that you’d call her in your drunken state and embarrass yourself, and then you wouldn’t even have your fantasies to run to. No. It is better this way. Besides, she’s graduating soon, and you aren’t even half way done with college. Better to silently dream than to publicly fizzle, you think, and the depression settles in comfortably as the snow falls outside.
You’re a mess. You can’t talk to girls anymore; that part of your brain is no longer active, no longer interested. You find no need to make small talk about majors or dorm rooms, about meal plans or how your god damned vacation was. You could be discussing the Beat movement with your dark-eyed muse over a cup of coffee at a 24-hour diner somewhere, where a heavy-set waitress will call you both “Hon” and offer you a slice o’ pie.
You are failing economics. You have been to every single class meeting. You have been early. You toy with asking her out. Where will you go? A play. The opera. A museum. A carnival. A foreign film, art-house even, maybe with subtitles. Maybe you will get dressed up and go out dancing. When you can count your remaining economics classes on one hand, you decide to take a risk. You start to ask her out, panic, and chicken out half way through. She looks at you funny, raising one eye brow and kind of half-smiling. You didn’t know she could do that. You love that. When class is over, she writes her phone number on a piece of paper, and slides it across the table to you. You smile. She smiles. Outside, the sun is setting, and the light is soft and forgiving, and for a few brief minutes, life is perfect.
You meet in the library to study for the final. She spends hours leading you through a semester’s worth of economics. It is only thanks to her that you actually pass the final. When you walk out of the testing room, you ask her if she would like to meet you at your school’s annual year-end fireworks display. She would. You are pleased with the arrangement; it makes you feel like a true romantic. You put on your second best shirt (your best shirt would have said “too much effort,”) and your favorite pair of jeans, and you get there fifteen minutes early. She arrives with two of her friends, who sit to the side and don’t say much. You never fail to be impressed by fireworks, and tonight’s display is no different. When the blue centerlight pops, she goes “Awww!” and you can’t help but smile. When all is said and done, they give out free ice cream and play jazz. Cones in hand, the two of you dance, dance, dance the night away under the stars.
Her friends are going to a bar. She asks you if you want to come.
“Do you have an ID?” she asks. She knows you are underage
You wish there was some way to stop time, to stop everything, to fast forward two years, just two, two fucking years. You would trade those two years for tonight in an instant. You shake your head, and you stare at her, and she stares back. With eyes black as night, she stares right into your soul. You wonder if this look is disappointment, longing or nostalgia. She leans forwards, up onto her tip toes, and kisses you, softly and off-center.
“Goodbye,” she says, and disappears into the night.
Maybe you will stand there waving like a moron, waving until the jazz is done and the ice cream is all melted and the fireworks have been cleared up. Maybe you will cry, and run wild into the lonely night. Maybe you will drink away your sorrows, and leave her a drunken goodbye at two in the morning. But most likely, you will walk away under the stars secure in the knowledge that your life is the very definition of life itself. You will walk through life like a giant, with your head in the clouds, and every now and then, in late night quiet moments, you will remember the girl with the dark eyes, blissfully unaware of her importance to you, and you will smile, and, if only for a few brief minutes, life will be perfect.