Monday, February 25, 2008

Samson I am not

I got my hair cut today, for the first time in about four months. (I have a good excuse this time - letting it grow long so I could put it up at the wedding.) The lady who cut my hair was horrified at its state. She asked me where I last got it cut ("Here," I replied). She showed me how the lengths were horribly different, when they should have been pretty uniform. Hrm, I thought, that might explain why I had to do my own trimming when I got home, to eliminate the quasi rat-tail the previous stylist had left. Anyways, she cut my hair with more care than her colleague, and I'm pretty pleased. Unfortunately, I have had no noticeable additions or subtractions from my powers. I tried talking to the cat but she showed no more sign of understanding than before. (Yesterday she kept pawing at the kitchen cabinets, opening them two inches before they'd fall shut again. At one point she tried to open the doors at the hinges, and got mad at me when I tried to explain how that wouldn't work.) I also have yet to weave straw into gold, but I guess in all fairness, I didn't really try. Maybe I shouldn't give up so easily. I'll let you know how my effort to psychic-ly influence my husband works out. ("Stop eating meat ... Surprise me with a weekend in Paris ... Cut your hair ...")

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Valentine's Story

I wrote this for a short story contest. It didn't win, so where else but the Internet to put creative detritus?

My mom refers to it as “before” and “after,” but I don’t, not really. My life is a continuum, not two stages. But I can see how, for people looking at my life from the outside, some days are different than others.

As a thirtieth birthday present, my two older brothers took me on a two-week trip to Brazil. I had always wanted to visit the Amazon rainforest, but I worked a lot and didn’t travel much. So when Tom and Drew presented me with a roundtrip airplane ticket to Rio de Janeiro, I balked at having to leave work, but conceded.

Brazil caught my heart immediately. Rio’s vibrant streets spilling into beaches that embraced the ocean were a wonderful welcome. The Amazon’s mysterious green universe, where bird calls heralded brief flashes of color and astonishing insects hid in plain sight, asked me to readjust the way I sensed the world.

Back in Rio, I took an afternoon to relax in a cafe, sipping a stream of lattes while writing my boyfriend, Hinton. I knew I would arrive home before the postcard did, but I wanted to fulfill my girlfriend duties. Hinton and I enjoyed a comfortable, warm relationship, serious by the passage of time and by default. We planned to move in together soon. Sitting in the cafĂ©, I wrote a few words on the postcard, and then stopped. Describing our adventures seemed trite, as I’d soon be able to tell him in person. After long bouts of distraction, I decided to give a snapshot of what I saw at that moment, the streams of colorful people and hodgepodge buildings, and to conclude with a brief, “I miss you.”

I was walking back to my hotel when someone grabbed me and swung me into an alley. My back slammed against the wall.

A voice growled something in Portuguese I didn’t understand. I mumbled back, my tongue thick with fear and confusion. After a few more growled commands, I fumbled to extract my small wad of bills, and handed it over.

The next thing I knew was pain. Searing, blinding, pain engulfed my face. I screamed and crumpled to the ground. I tried to put out the flames on my face, but it only caused my hands to burn. I got up and stumbled a few steps, and when I collapsed again, I heard voices all around me. The voices faded into a blur, and all I could think was pain.

I woke up some time later. My face was covered, with only my eyes exposed to the air. I couldn’t see much around me. After a moment, I concluded I was lying in a hospital bed, closed in by curtains. I tried to sit up, but it moved my skin, so I groaned in surprise and hurt. Drew jumped into the small space.

“Oh sweetie, oh sweetie,” he murmured, petting my hair. “I’m so, so sorry.”

He paused and looked at the ground.

“We found you surrounded by a crowd, down the street from the hotel. Someone threw acid on your face.”

I didn’t leave the hospital for another week. When I did, I flew directly back to Annapolis, where our parents live, to stay in my childhood room, still painted pink with bunnies around the ceiling. I hid, and didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. Hinton called often, but I told my mom to say I would call him when I was ready.

After a month, I was ready. I called him and we chatted a bit, and then he inquired delicately about my health. I told him I was fine, but different.

“Will you get better?” he asked.

“Better? I had acid thrown on my face,” I replied. “I don’t think there’s a very good cure for that.”

“I know. I’m sorry,” he said in a low voice. “Listen, I promise I’ll come and visit soon, in just a few weeks. Just give me some time to sort out my plans.”

He never came, and I never heard from him again. I didn’t pursue it, because I understood. I did wonder if he got my postcard.

As the months passed, the claustrophobia of home and family pushed me out into the world. It took time to become better at refocusing myself, disregarding strangers, but I did. Ignoring the wide-eyed looks of surprise was impossible, but I imagined they were looking at someone else, someone I didn’t know. I think they were.

One night, on a girl’s night out, my friend Laurella knocked back a shot of vodka and looked straight at me.

“When are you going to start dating?” she asked.

I laughed. “Dating? Hmm … That will be about … never. Come on, people like me can’t date.”

“People like you? What does that mean. You’re being ridiculous,” she pressed. “You’re fabulous! The right guy is out there for you.”

I stared into my glass and swirled the contents around. I could feel my fears and pain rising into my throat, but I pushed them down with a drink.

“You know when people tell each other, ‘Oh, he’s way out of your league,’ or, ‘You don’t have a chance with her,’ they’re not talking about dazzling personalities,” I replied. “They’re talking about looks. That’s the first stage of attraction, right?”

“Attraction goes nowhere without personality, though,” Laurella retorted. “It’s the whole package that counts.”

“Yeah,” Sandra interjected. “I have some friends who weren’t physically attracted at first but they found themselves interested in each other as their friendship grew.”

I shrugged, and let them talk.

“What about internet dating?” suggested Mayra.

The other girls chimed in, but I told them I didn’t want to hide. I am who I am.

But loneliness wears, and, well … I set up an online profile – without a photograph. I took care in writing my profile, saying nothing about my appearance but being otherwise expressive. I could check off my physical attributes – blue eyes, slim, 5’4” tall. There wasn’t a box for “pretty,” thank God.

I admired numerous profiles of men, but I never wrote to a single one. I decided that if there were someone who’d be interested in me, he’d find me first. For weeks, the only messages for me were spammers and creeps asking if I was hefty and looking for a lay.

Then, Jeremy wrote. He told me that my profile intrigued him and wanted to know more about me. His profile didn’t have a picture either, which made me mistrustful (ironic, I know), but I put that aside and I wrote him.

Soon, we were corresponding several times a day. I got butterflies in my stomach every time I checked to see if I had a new email (which was pretty constant since all I was doing was working at home on my computer). After a few weeks, I gave him my phone number.

That night, the phone rang and the caller ID displayed an unknown number. My heart spun into my stomach, and I almost didn’t answer. When I did, his voice replied, smooth and deep, although a little nervous. I laughed, and we both relaxed. Our conversation unfolded easily, and the night flew by until the next thing I knew, I was wrapped up in my sheets with the phone barely cradled in my hand, exhausted and ready to fall asleep, but unwilling to hang up.

We talked like that for months. Jeremy asked, a few times, if we could meet, but I demurred, after explaining to him what happened in Rio. He told me I seemed beautiful, but I resisted. He told me he was no Cary Grant, but I’d seen a picture of him, and I knew he wasn’t on par with the woman in my mirror either.

I know it’s a regular refrain in these days of online fantasies, but I feel it so I’ll say it again: our conversations sparkle, and when I talk to him I feel spiritually connected like I’ve never felt before. But can I trust him? Do I deserve to be loved?

I’m writing this on a Friday night, sitting here at my computer in a blue silk dress, with my blond waves styled loose around my face. Tonight I’m going on a date. We’ll meet tonight. I’m scared, and I hope my eyes don’t water up and mess up my mascara – not like the mascara helps that much anyways.

I ask myself why I am doing this. Why open myself to the judgment of a man I don’t know? Who’s likely to avert his eyes and try not to look at my face? Why go on a date that could end as soon as it begins? I guess I don’t know. I just have to try.

All text © 2008

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma