I thought I left girls like her behind when I quit the band, the early morning 19 year old telling me she planned to jump off a bridge – not because the lead guitarist didn’t take her home after the last set ended, but because some professor said she couldn’t act when she’d had her heart set on stage and movies since she was five.
A shy girl, often mocked at school before floating across the campus in a haze of hope, she often talked to me in the student center lounge about small things that bothered her – just the way the groupies often did – shy down deep myself, I guess none of them see me as a threat, or maybe when it comes down to getting what I want, I simply see too far ahead and know I’m going to hurt someone pursuing it, so stop myself, and eat the ache rather than force it onto them.
These episodes happen a lot. Girls like these litter the landscape, unnoticed mostly, disconnected from the hard news and war of wars we hear in on TV or from the spew we get from the mouths of elected officials.
These girls and me are part of some disconnected social thread, full of unrealized passion and pain, I feel but media doesn’t, and I ache over and don’t know why. It’s almost as if we all have radar, me feeling the warning signals as these women gravitate towards me, and we both collide in places like this, a student center lounge or the back of some bar with a bottle of pills or some intention to go somewhere and do something we all will be sorry for later, and the only person between them and doom is me, when all I want down deep is what every man wants, only I have this lousy conscience that won’t let me simply take and often won’t take at all because it never feels right.
This is true of this girl, who is about as fragile as a feather, her self-pride always hinging on the good opinion of some egotistic maniac like an acting professor, instead of some inner gyroscope she can use to gauge her own worth.
“He told me my acting stinks,” she says “But it’s a small thing. You shouldn’t have to hear about it.”
It all starts out small, I think but stay silent, fearful that one of the usual slick crew will overhear us and start to escalate things with their mockery. Someone always snickers at the wrong time. Some people think she’s stupid, and call her retarded behind her back. I see her as unbearably innocent, let loose to wander here without protection, like many of the groupies I knew who thrust themselves at musicians thinking somehow they can get love in the cheap dives we play in, somehow putting together the ingredients the way the bartender does drinks.
Sometimes, I hate humanity and all that status crap that marks one group of people as superior to others.
No one has mocked me since high school, and even then, they only mocked me because I chose to hang out with the losers and geeks, not out of sympathy, but feeling less phony when I did.
But we all have our egos and we all get them bruised. Some people like me can get kicked in the head over and over and not have it affect them, too stubborn to let any asshole tell me what I am or who I can be. But girls like this fold up and die.
This girl isn’t stupid or retarded, just innocent – and maybe not even that inside.
I listened to her fiction in our writing class, her wry intelligence peeking out from behind her shyness like a forest nymph, making me ache, making me want to make love to her poems and her stories, even though she has nothing overtly sexual in any of them, just natural talent I don’t have and ache to get.
“My father is going to be angry,” she tells me, looking around at the passing people – I suppose for signs of the same snickering fools who don’t understand her and would never get the inner meaning of her writing if they had a billboard to tell them. “He’s always angry at me about something, telling me I should just get a husband and forget all this artist stuff. But I won’t. I’ll die first. Maybe I should. Everybody seems to think I’m funny around here.”
“Don’t let them get you down,” I tell her, but I know how easy it is to say, when no one is mocking me. “You’re bright and talented it, and if you’re not around, we’ll all miss you.”
“Yes,” I say, but I know she can’t survive with skin so thin as hers, but if she gets tough, she won’t be the same.
They never are.