Monday, September 21, 2009

The Other Matt

He has forget-me-nots in his eyes. I noticed this when we were meeting at the swimming pool, by chance, two flip-flopped pairs of feet dragging toweled bodies in the outrageous hours of morning. He asked me something once and I rejoined, perhaps with a clever remark which made him laugh, and then I heard his thundering laughter too. I see him almost every day now and he is still as intriguing, even more. Forget-me-nots rest on me sometimes and he smiles at once, a celestial rise, and I feel as if he’s seen me shiver and given me a coat. “Thank you,” I want to say. “I’m not chilly anymore.”

He likes my take on Thoreau, I suspect. Under his score of “97” I roll down like a crepe and jubilate. But immediately I want to ask “Um – where did those three points go?” because old habits die hard and arrogance is another battle I’ve yet to win. So I smile and say “I’m glad” in a tone that’s not humble at all, but at least the intention’s there and I have to hope it counts for something. He collects his papers under his arm and proceeds toward the door. I did not imagine him as tall, taller than me, and so massive, a friendly teddy bear. Grayscale hair, pellucid eyes and blazing teeth, he is a tonality of the dark room variety, not a man but a portrait, an esthetic interest at most, because he does not really exist, not in this version I’ve collaged of him anyway. We are face to face now and I feel petite, so few occasions for me to feel this way.

“So, what are you going to do when you’re out of here?” So I tell him, I confess my disorientation, probably use some profanity, which pussyfoots into the conversation too fast to detain, but I feel that now is the time to be honest, so I throw the curtains aside and just talk. “But are you set on the States? he baits, the corners of his mouth quivering upwards. “For instance, have you considered Canada?” I cannot contain a smile, my face much too naked for this professional hierarchy that was here a moment ago, but now...? So in this mutual amusement in which I know he knows, he knows I know he knows, he tells me what he thinks is better in Canada and, while I take notes in my mind, the moment of information gives way to the moment of revelation, for the implications of his question are gigantic, an iron bridge across such taboo waters. He is a person and I am a person and we are talking, regardless of how many springs I have behind me or how many words I know, how much politics I understand. He’s read my writing and he knows there is something here, in this coffer on top of my neck, and he does not need more than this to give me a vote of confidence, intimated as it is. My status notwithstanding, he does not see me unfit to do as I do.

So here is my comeback, not a revenge but a comeback I say, one defense to stand against all previous gratuitous evaluations kept covert, under the tables where at surface level there’s only smiling and benign jokes. But it only takes one, doesn’t it, to have a majority of one, and it is still a fallacy to say that an opinion is truth because so many people hold it.

At tables there are always levels, I suppose, even though our chairs have us at the same height. But in the intellectual strata I am the troposphere, this is the consensus. And hereby I must step into the armor of the quiet and passive, because I am twenty-two and what could I possibly know about life or about a culture that’s not mine. According to the Adulthood for Dummies, 46th edition, children must not be allowed to dump their gibberish at our dinner table. You have nothing to say, Silvia, and it is easier to acquiesce to this profile than try to refute it. It makes things more comfortable, if not for you then for everybody else, and doesn’t the greater good supersede the individual, really? As fretful as I am for truth, as averse as I am to lie, I would parrot this cartoon of me, only to make everything easier, if only, if only I had your vote, at least.

Somehow in this simplification it always boils down to an inequality that’s negative across the spectrum except between -1 and 1, a narrow margin, as narrow as my waist, and because I look like this would be pretty much the only reason why a 39-year-old, for instance, would want to be with me. But superstition is not truth unless you believe it, and folklore will always be the intelligence of the many because, well, it is comfortable to think that life fits in stencils and that to understand new things all we have to do is look at old ones.

“Let me know how it works out,” Forget-me-not says as he saunters off, his innocent statement connoting more than what is obvious. So walking back to my dorm room, which although devoid of festoons and paraphernalia of teenage dramas is still the room of a student, I can only be a person. I am a person who considers the world and quite simply tries to understand, if interest and curiosity are the only arguments I can employ in this unpopular defense I’ve improvised. Considerations of status I would have never thought override the reality of artifact. It is all an honest man can do to negate slander, whether frank or oblique, not by rhetoric but with artifact. In the end what you are is tantamount to what you can do and I find that a fair equivalence. Everything that’s not certainty is faith, or promise as it were, a bet in a race where I think that this particular horse has a good chance to win. But there is risk in this speculation, I concede, and although I could really use your vote, which you’re withholding, I’ve yet to be defeated, even with a majority of one.

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