Everything in Between (Chapter 3)
THE DISTANCE BETWEEN
(written by my boyfriend and addressed to me)
It was the first day of classes when I first saw your face. We shared the same first subject, Analytic Geometry and Trigonometry. I noticed at once that you were different from the rest. Whereas everyone was either excited or nervous during first class meetings, you were bored. Your eyes were empty, lifeless. You searched the room for your friends, with an expression that said you would be more relieved if they were not there. And they weren’t. So you took a seat at the back and read a Grisham’s novel while waiting for the professor. It was obvious you didn’t want to be bothered.
You didn’t notice that you sat next to me. Or maybe you didn’t care. All the time, I was stealing glances at you but it seemed you weren’t aware. You also seemed oblivious to the looks our classmates were giving you. They gawked at your effortless beauty. They stared at your nonchalant class. I even became self-conscious because it looked like everyone was scrutinizing me, wondering why you chose to sit next to me, of all people.
I was surprised to see that you were also my classmate in my next subject, Creative Writing. I wanted to approach you and introduce myself but you were surrounded with friends. I then took a seat at the far end, like what I always did, and prayed you would notice me. It was the first time I heard you laughing. But when I looked at you, I found out that your smiles didn’t reach your eyes, that your laughs were all hollow. You were still empty, even with friends.
At first, I didn’t know what made me so interested about you. It wasn’t just because you’re pretty, a real head-turner. Then I understood that it was because of your aura. It was so strong I could almost touch it. It was a mix of confusing signals – one craving for closeness, the other one repulsing it. You wanted to have a connection with people but at the same time, you were distancing yourself from them. From us. That was what made me curious, I guess.
I couldn’t figure you out.
The next day, I was dumbfounded when I spotted you in my General Science class. In a school where students in a class were chosen at random, and you couldn’t even get the same classes with your friends or blockmates, it was a miracle that we were classmates in three of them. We were a hundred in that room but I still saw you, and I realized I had been looking for you all along. I sat beside you but you were again preoccupied by something or someone, and I couldn’t break into your thoughts no matter how deliberately I gazed at you. You were so near, but your mind was somewhere else. Somewhere far away. Somewhere nobody could reach.
The following days were basically the same. We were classmates in three subjects but it was as if you didn’t know I exist. We bumped into each other in the hallways but you kept on walking. You always walked too fast, like you were late for something. Or perhaps you were running away from God-knows-what. I saw you at the mall, in the library, at the track oval, and in a lot of places but you didn’t see me. I heard you talk to your friends but you weren’t really saying anything. All empty words. You never told them what was bothering you. You never let them know what was going on in your mind. You pretended you were all right.
No, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t stalking you. It’s just that… it was so hard not to pay attention to you.
You were so alone. So lonely. It seemed that if I looked at you long enough, I would be sucked into a dark pool of nothingness.
I didn’t know if you were aware of it but you were isolating yourself from everyone, including your friends. You wanted to put a great distance between you and the whole world. Every day, I saw you sitting at the back of every classroom, trying to blend in with the wall. I thought I had no chance of talking to you and the semester would end without us exchanging a single word.
But, everything changed that certain July morning, when everyone was running from the cold drizzle outside, and you were the only one walking very slowly, as if in a trance. We were on our way to the Math building. This was the part where you tried to begin this chapter and it went like this:
“One July morning, after a month or so of feeling dormant and ignoring the world, for the first time, I saw my boyfriend. Of course he wasn’t my boyfriend yet that time.”
Yes, that was the first time you saw me, after numerous times of me trying to catch your attention. Your eyes weren’t empty anymore. There were sparkles in them, a multitude of tiny dancing lights that gave you a renewed look. You were emanating a fresh aura. There was something in you that wasn’t there before, and when you smiled at me, it wasn’t fake any longer.
I offered you my umbrella but you declined. You told me you loved walking in the rain. So I shut my umbrella and walked with you. You were utterly surprised and embarrassed when I told you that we were classmates in three subjects, and seatmates in two of them ever since the first day.
“Sorry, I wasn’t myself lately,” you told me, and you left it at that. It was the closest you could get to being personal. But it was a start, talking about yourself and admitting your problem, however vague.
I didn’t push you for answers – answers to questions that had been accumulating in my mind each time it wandered off in your direction. Who was I, a mere classmate, to ask you about things you couldn’t even tell to your friends? So, for the remaining time before our Math period, we reviewed for the exam.
We were at the cafeteria, sitting opposite each other. As we were going over our notes on basic geometry, I asked you some sort of a trivia question.
“I’ll treat you to lunch if your answer is close,” I told you.
“And what if my answer is wrong?”
“Then, you’ll treat me to lunch.”
“Okay, lunch it is, then!” you gamely said.
“What do you think is the distance between you and me right now?” I assumed you would grab your ruler and measure the diameter of the table because that was how far apart we were, more or less.
But your answer was nothing like what I expected. In that brief moment, I caught a glimpse of your soul and saw a different side of you. I saw you as someone who stopped running away. Someone who finally found a connection with the world. With me.
And if I were to capture my life in snapshots, that instant would be my favorite picture. That instant when you leaned on your chair and flashed your lopsided smile. And with much certainty in your voice, you answered, “The distance between us right now is just a heartbeat.”