It was a Psychology class trip – our reward for completing the midterm. It actually wasn’t supposed to happen, but our professor, Dr. Roberts, had allocated funds to bring in Susan Cain, who abruptly canceled on us to attend personal matters. Seeing that the money didn’t go to waste, he decided to take us all on a day trip to Carol Cove, an ice skating rink, instead. When he asked for a volunteer to do student check-in, I didn’t raise my hand. But no one else did, so I peeped from the back of the room: “I’ll do it.” The bus ride was about twenty-five minutes, then we all unloaded and I started wordlessly handing out wristbands.
It all went pretty smoothly I got down to a couple names. When I called Rebecca’s name out, no one answered. “Rebecca?” I was getting anxious; I didn’t want to call her name out again and disturb this chatting crowd. In the hot summer heat, I even began to sweat. But this Rebecca girl simply wouldn’t answer. Finally, the hotness and anxiety overwhelmed even my hesitation, and I sputtered out, much, much, louder than I intended, “Rebecca!”
That turned some heads. I felt the glower of the crowd on me. I cracked an awkward smile, wishing I had never volunteered, wishing I would’ve simply holed up back in that seat as someone more comfortable with barking orders took the job.
Then a guy in the back spoke up: “she’s taking out the luggage from the bus.”
I softened, exhaling deeply to lessen the color on my face. As everyone resumed conversation, I waded past them and made my way to the back of the bus, where, indeed, Rebecca, plugged into a pair of earphones, was unloading the various backpacks, jackets, and paraphernalia from the cramped trunk of the charter bus onto the dirt road. When she saw me she took out her earphones and gave me a small smile. She had a round face with curly dark hair combed around it. She moved at a leisurely pace; her eyes undulated, rather than darted, from bag to bag. She seemed unconcerned with the crowd before her, unconcerned with the mingling and mixing just feet from her; she was in her own little world. I hated to break her vibe and I almost didn’t; I almost walked away. But eventually responsibility hit me and I said to her, almost hoping she wouldn’t notice, “Rebecca?”
She looked up again and we made eye contact. She had bashful blue eyes and high cheekbones. She didn’t answer me verbally, but gave me a nod, the slow-boiling, approachable, kind of nod that gave me the confidence to speak.
“I have your wristband.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t hear”-
“Don’t worry ‘bout it – You’re getting our bags right now – That’s more important.”
I stumbled over the cadence, but the words still came out somewhat like a chime, three short stabs at sentences strung together in one breath.
“Thanks for coming here. I do appreciate that. Means a lot to me,” she said, very intentionally, with exactly the same rhythm and syllabification as I did. Then I realized we had both made Haikus.
“You just – you just”-
She bit her tongue coyly. “I couldn’t resist, it was funny… I mean…” but she cooled off, tilting her head back to her work. Briefly I got a little hot again. “You mean?” I said, prodding her.
“I mean you may not have found it funny,” she replied, looking back at it. “I’m just a nerd that way. Sorry…”
“I thought it was really clever,” I broke in. “Most people wouldn’t notice that. Are you a Music major?”
Rebecca paused for a moment. “How’d you know?”
Her eyes flickered over to her “Music Matters!” tee and she laughed out loud. “Oh yeah… I thought you were doing some kind of psychoanalysis on me…”
The call came from Dr. Roberts, whose porky form appeared right behind me. I muttered “speaking of not supposed to be here…” as he lay a paw on my right shoulder. “There are still two guys waiting on their tickets! What are doing here?”
“Dr. Roberts. I’m sorry. I got distracted.”
“By what? Nothing to look at here!” And Dr. Roberts opened his hands to the bags, where Rebecca was, slogging away at the luggage. My brow furrowed. Clearly, he didn’t appear to notice Rebecca, who was before him working on the bags silently. But I didn’t say anything.
“Yes sir. Sorry sir.” I dashed back to the crowd and passed out the rest of the wristbands as quickly as I could. “Everyone have their wristbands?” Dr. Roberts called out. No one objected, so the crowd started making its way to the SkateNation rink. I huddled with the crowd at first, but feeling a pang of guilt, I looked back. Rebecca was a little ways behind us, strolling leisurely alone with her earphones on. Subtly I slowed down, let the pack get in front of me. After I slipped through the back, I turned around and waited for her.
“Did Dr. Roberts just not notice you? You were clearly unloading everyone’s stuff. It’s just seems like he was being really unappreciative. Sorry, I should’ve stood up for you. I really should’ve.” But I realized she was smiling and shut up.
“It’s okay, I don’t mind… I actually prefer it that way.”
“You’d rather not be noticed?”
“Nah. I’m comfortable alone.”
“Are you an introvert?”
“You could say that.”
I found my own voice dropping when I responded. “I mean I’m an introvert too I”-
“What?!” Briefly I got defensive. “You don’t think I’m an introvert?”
“You, yelling out everyone’s names like an army commando?”
“Yes me, feeling very uncomfortable doing it.” My voice tightened.
“What kind of Introvert is that?”
Suddenly I was rattled. Who was this chick to question what I’ve known all my life? Who was she to be all judgmental of who I believed myself to be? I felt a rising in my stomach, an anger welling up deep within me.
“Hey,” Rebecca said from, it seemed, miles away. Her voice shook me. I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted to block it out. I wanted to leave her to be all alone and content by herself because that’s all she wants in life, clearly.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
She could tell it in my face, in the stiffness in my body, in the dryness of my lips. She could tell it like she could tell the tone from the timbre of a musical note. She was attending to me, caring for me even when no word was begin spoken. It was that attention that released my own tension. I turned to her again. This was the same girl that gladly kept to the back and unloaded our bags with no need for attention, with no need for praise. She was pure. She was different. And she was trustworthy.
I took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry I just…”
“No. Don’t apologize. Can I tell you something?”
“Is it about your introversion?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But it’s the kind that lives in an extrovert’s world,” I added, abruptly, and then continued, because I could. “The kind that gets up in the morning to the sound of other people’s demands, other’s people schedules. The kind that wants to be by himself, but can’t. The kind that wishes for a place where he could just stow away, but then receives ten text messages with eighteen different obligations. The kind that has adjusted himself, piece by piece, to every single social network out there because he needs it to socially survive. The kind that wants respect, but knows he can’t get it without stepping up and being the big guy.”
I looked back at Rebecca, who was still staring at me with those deep blue eyes.
“You know what I mean?”
“Yeah…” she answered. “I think it’s… it’s brave of you to do that. I could never…”
“No.” I shook my head. “Don’t romanticize it. It’s literally just insecurity. I feel like I have to keep up with everyone else to have a life. But – I spend all my time doing that, and never learn to appreciate my own.”
As we got our wristbands checked, and ducked into the rink with our skating blades in tow, Rebecca turned to me.
“Did you know that I skate?”
“You skate?” I didn’t know. But then again, she wasn’t exactly the type to broadcast it around the world.
“Yeah,” Rebecca stuck her green socks into her skates. “Skating is an introvert’s sport.”
“Really?” I said. “Why is that?”
The ice sizzled under her feet as she skated with compass-like precision, passing me for the umpteenth time and leaving a wake of cold-blowing air to descend upon my spine. When she hit the rink, she sailed, smooth like a five-star schooner gliding across the ocean. With one move, she covered more ground than I could with five lurches. I dug my blades into the ice and took off jaggedly to catch up to her, but she giggled and kept ahead of me with a simple push off. She didn’t waver; she didn’t stumble. She was in her element. The rink was hers.
I was in awe. I could only watch reverently as she roved around on her nine-inch blades completely unfettered from the crowd. In this rink, she was unlike that girl who unstacked everyone’s packs from the back of the bus. Or maybe… or maybe she was exactly like her.
Rebecca, disjoined but unconstrained from the crowd, would gladly stick to the back of the pack, taking thankless work without complaint or need for social acceptance. But in the same way, she would rise above the crowd in these skates, totally above everyone in grace and form. She didn’t need anyone to tell her she was great. She knew it already.
It was in seeing that power, that enrapturing devotion to her craft, uninhibited by the crowd, when I realized two fundamental truths at the exact same time:
One. I mistook her introversion for weakness, for something that needed to be protected and pitied. Rather, she had strength like no other. Strength that I didn’t have – the strength to be totally, freely, herself.
Two. She was beautiful.
When we were all done, and she was cleaning her skates at the bench, I stood behind her dark curls, where she couldn’t notice me, wondering if I should, if I shouldn’t…
“Zach?” she said without looking back. I blushed. Of course she’d notice. I thought about making some excuse and leaving. But something took over me then that made me instead move closer, at dire risk of making a fool of myself, but one that I nevertheless threw myself into with absolutely no insurance to cover me if I fell.
“I know you told me before I was brave,” I said. “And I don’t mean to tell you you’re wrong, but the way I see it, you’re the brave one,” I said. “You don’t – you don’t cave to this or that. You’re you, and fully you. You’re not only brave,” I said, with such an undignified air that there could be no question now about how I felt for her, no question now about how I wanted her, “but you’re kind. You’re observant. You’re patient. Everything anyone would ever want, but you’re fully your own. It bothered me at first, but now I realize the reason why it bothered me was because in you I see what I could be – what I’ve always wanted to be.”
Instantly I regretted it. It was too soon, too much, too forward. I braced myself to be let down easy, to leave this rink emptyhanded, to have her not understand a thing I’m saying and have it go completely over her head. Briefly I turned away. But I heard nothing. Two seconds passed, then five. Then ten.
Finally I looked back at her, most undoubtedly failing to hide the pained expression in my eyes. But then she turned around, her curls gently swaying back, and looked at me. In that moment, I saw only her, nothing else. She was so gorgeous in that understated way, her dark curls just far enough over her eyes so as to draw me into her mystery, her enigma. Her blue eyes were Dentyne mint blue, Swiss peaks blue, electric blue. They dazzled me.
“You understand me,” she said.
And when she spoke, in that misty, reflective voice of hers, she reminded me of waking up and looking out at a still lake during sunrise, grass glistening from the morning dew.
In that space, a silence came over us, not a cold one, but one warm and rich and crackling with electricity. A silence only people like Rebecca and I could understand. A silence neither of us wanted to break.
I’m always grateful for people who show their support for my artistic endeavors by liking my page on Facebook.
With thanks to Bethany Kirkpatrick, Davidson College Class of 2019, for editing.
Read: Song of Solomon