You’re sitting cross-legged in an auditorium folding chair, bolted to the floor. When you get up, approximately seventeen minutes after this snapshot of vulnerability, they will return to their universal uniformity, stiffly upright. But now, currently, this very second, red-faced boys, overheated but happy, share breathing space with a hodgepodge of girls. Some wear jeans, some skirts, some dresses, smooth-skinned girls, rough-skinned girls, no makeup or running makeup or miraculously intact makeup. They slouch, lounge, spread out as much as they can on the eighteen-inch-wide chairs with affixed armrests. Their backpacks and purses are littered around them, holding multitudes of words, some of which have just or will be shared. There’s a list of generic names on a whiteboard, which serves as the back wall of the stage.
But you are not looking at that, are you? No. You’re looking at something, no, someone, else. Who, incidentally, if you were in a bad tween sitcom, would be lit with golden light as the camera panned up and down her body, lingering on smooth calves, thighs, midriff, chest (tween sitcoms usually show a remarkably built bust, though the actors are usually no more than sixteen), and finally they will show her carefully made-up face.
Or maybe not, if only because something’s getting lost in the computation of the thing. She’s got untamable frizzy hair, falling around her face in kinks and abstract curls and a few tangles. They are spots she must have missed with the comb. Her posture’s not the best, as she stands with her mouth almost obscenely close to the small microphone, one elbow propped on the wood of the podium and head cocked to the side. No one’s told her the proper way of public speaking, explained to her that you should stand straight and don’t shift from side to side. But that doesn’t matter, does it? It doesn’t dispute, lessen, or cancel out the fact that your arms feel heavy and strangely electric around the shoulders. How the foot hanging in the air is tapping erratically along with the moody rhythm of her voice. The way that you can hear your heart in your ears, and it doesn’t go with the cadence of her fiction. You see the beauty in her canines, sharper than the norm, in her hair and eyes and clean, covered skin, and in the sharpness of her words, the rebellion, the tongue-in-cheek tone she always speaks in.
The director of this whole operation looked uncomfortable with her very existence, as he has done since the first day that all of these people and you and her were pushed together in this high-ceilinged, horrible-acoustics room. Each person was supposed to tell their name and their state, since you were all a melting pot of different statehoods, cultures, dress styles. A great many spoke their homage to North Carolina, where this gathering takes place every day. A few say that they’re from overseas, the Honduras, one from England. The rest scattered across America’s cities. But you still don’t know where she’s from, do you, because on the very first day she stood up and grinned saucily before stating her origin as Hell.
What she’s reading now isn’t too edgy in terms of content, though, which should serve as a relief to the director of the place, whose name rhymes with Bitch, though he’s not one. It’s about her organs twining up, how they can rebel against her, how she believes you can commit suicide without even knowing it, and you think that both she and her words are unfairly and unearthly and unconventionally beautiful. You wish you could tell her this. But you do not think you could find the words for it.
And so you’re watching her, watching her in her amusing t-shirt and good jeans, her small breasts propped in front of her against the podium because she’s too short to truly reign over it. Or maybe these podiums are just oversized. And you’re thinking that she’s gorgeous, and that you’ve never really met anyone like her, and you recall the conversations you’ve had one by one and it hurts a little.
No one else knows. Your friends are around you, along with the girl you fake-married for fun in a feminist-angled writing class, who texts you I love yous that of course don’t mean anything. She really does like girls, tells you about her ex-girlfriends even as you tell her about yours, but you don’t think you and her would really work out.
You don’t think you and this beautiful girl onstage would work out either, but it does not stop you from thinking about it, doing the inescapable human thing where you imagine yourself with someone for the rest of your life, even if you have only known them for a few minutes. It is unbearably human-like, and of course it hurts because a lot of human-like things do. The dull pain doesn’t stop you from thinking about her lavender jeans and her popular-band phone background and her good-movie shirts, blue tee with a rainbow-shitting Pop-Tart cat residing diagonally to her shoulder, and the one skirt she brought with her, a good pencil skirt that fits her curves and thighs.
She’s tiny, sort of. And yet bigger than everyone here, bigger than you, with the power of her words and the way she speaks and the way she tosses her head back when she laughs. And you think that there’s a lot of people who would do well to watch this girl, finishing her reading now (clap, remember, it’s the least you can do to pretend you’re not head over heels for her), taking a ridiculous, flippant curtsy and dismounting the stage with a bounce in her step and a flip-flop momentarily separating from her foot before she recovers it.
On the second day here, she for a total of one minute and forty-three seconds, and you think that was quite enough time for you to fall in love with her.