Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Kindred Spirits After All

Ever since I learned the principle of the Johari Window in a college psych class, I have found it both useful and highly entertaining to think of people, including myself, in terms of those four panes in a window. Over the years following my first learning about this model, I have thought about it from time to time, and wondered, for example, which window does person X's habit of doing Y fit into? " It has to be one of the ones where others know about it, because I have noticed it, so it couldn't be considered the "hidden" or "unknown" panes. Hmm, is it in the "open" pane, the one where they know about it too? No, it can't be, because then she would've stopped doing it, because she claims to hate it when other people do the same thing. Hmm, it's got to either be in the "open" pane, and she's pretending not to be aware that she does Y, or she really doesn't realize she does that, and it fits in the "blind" plane. Oh God, should I tell her then?" This is what passes as a hobby for me, so do insert feeling of pity here.

But, having given a mini lecture on chapter one of college psych 101 (I want tenure and a parking space now, dammit), the point of all this exposition was to explain how I came to understand that I have great sympathy for people who are "blind" to things about themselves that are so obvious to others. Of all the panes in the Johari Window, that one seems to be the most fraught with opportunities for misunderstandings and humiliation, arguably greater than the "hidden" window pane stuff. I say that because at least with the "hidden" stuff, the person has the opportunity to decide what is to remain hidden and what isn't. (Should I unload all of my skeletons within the first week of going out with this guy? Hell no! Just sneak them out, one bone at a time over the course of the relationship, until the whole skeleton gang is sitting on the couch watching tv with us one night.) But with the "blind" stuff, the poor person doesn't know that there is something, be it a "Kick Me" sign on the back, a noxious body odor, or a complete lack of understanding that their crush simply does not like them THAT way, that might be holding them back from their goals and dreams. This empathy for those poor souls, with such baggage, has grown in no small part because I have at times been one of those blind people.

No, it wasn't a Kick Me sign, or noxious body odor that plagued me. I wish it had been something as easily removed. It was one in an endless stream of embarrassing mistakes in signal reading with the opposite sex.

See, there was this guy at college that I had a huge crush on. I'm not sure what exactly made me first notice him, besides that we took a class together, but once I talked to him for a little while, I was hooked. He was on the high end of medium height, rather thin, brown hair, brown eyes, glasses, face badly pitted with what must've been an acne nightmare in high school. George was shy and smart, and we shared a similar sense of humor. When he smiled, his eyes shone and his laugh was warm and deep, a pleasant surprise after his equally pleasant tenor speaking voice.

He drove an old car, and not knowing terribly much about cars all I can tell you is that it was beige and had smallish fins on the back, with perfectly circular tail lights that for some reason reminded me of the Batmobile. I don't remember what kind of car it was, but it was one of a kind amongst the others in the school parking lot, and it was one of kind in the sense that few other cars have ever made my heart leap into my throat in quite that way.

Whenever I saw George on campus, I would make what I hoped to be a subtle beeline in his direction, and think of any excuse to chat him up. He always seemed glad to see me, and we had lots in common, mostly school topics, but also the same taste in music. (Thank God for music. What did people use to start conversations with the opposite sex before rock 'n' roll?) I was hoping that after a suitable amount of time, this shy guy would get past the music conversation and make his way around to, say, finding out what I like to do on Saturday nights. In old beige cars. With a shy bookish writer with a nice laugh. I mean, just for example. Just throwing out a possible topic, I didn't necessarily mean to imply anything untoward. (Oh yes I did.)

Now, at the same time that I was mooning over George, mostly from afar, there was another fellow slobbering over *me*, mostly from disconcertingly up close. Tom is going to have to be the topic of another, much longer post, because you would need several meals and bathroom breaks to get through all of the Tom stories. In this episode, the most important information is concentrated down to these pertinent facts: We met when my friend and I took guitar lessons at the same place he did, we all hung out together for about a year, he developed an unrequited crush on me, it got awkward and ugly, we settled on the "let's be friends" thing, and about a year after I moved away from home and started college, he came to study at the same school, only to pop up at all the wrong moments, and tell people various outrageous lies about the state of our "relationship". Nowadays, they may have called it stalking.

Tom was a force of nature. He was omnipresent. If I happened to be talking to someone, and most specifically talking to a guy, Tom would quite literally LEAP out of the shrubbery and hurl himself in my general direction, put his arm around me and say to the startled guy I was talking to, "Hi, I'm Tom, and I see you've met my fiance." He didn't seem dangerous, just mad as a hatter, and not entirely occupying the same reality as the rest of us. That, combined with his, uh, interesting sartorial sense and his habit of stuttering and occasionally drooling (I'm not exaggerating), made for quite an interesting show, and was cramping my style with the fellas, as you may imagine. It's funny now, and it would've been funny then, had I not been already fairly creeped out that he had made his college choice mostly based on the fact that I was enrolled there, and that this sort of thing happened with increasing regularity.

My meeting up with George around campus was beginning to happen with increasing regularity too, especially since I had figured out a few of his regular hangouts and had noticed when he would be at them. There was the study hall on the third floor of the same building that I did my work-study financial aid indentured servitude, and I would find excuses to sneak down and "bump" into him there as often as I dared. I guess I dared a little too often, because sometimes he very politely made excuses to get back to his studying, but only after I had chewed his ear off for a while. Oh, and there were the campus offices where all the student organizations had space, and I knew which one he might be likely to be hanging around in, and just happened to be around when their group's meeting let out.

Of course, there was always the best time of all, the major prize of all crushdom - the possibility of walking him out to his car in the parking lot. On Thursdays, our classes ended at the same time, and I nearly always bumped into him walking out to his car. So I walked a little faster than usual to get from my building far from the parking lot, and maybe it was fast enough that some people might even call it running. I was always sure that the panting had stopped by the time I happened to bump into him (only to find that my panting start all over again when I caught sight of him). He usually seemed happy to see me, and he kept up his end of the conversation all the way out to his car. I just couldn't figure out why, on Thursday, the traditional party night, I could never get past the conversation part to the, "Hey, wanna grab a burger?" part with him.

Luckily, and extraordinarily, Tom didn't pop up when I was talking to George, until quite near the end of the semester. I saw George outside the library, and didn't even have to run to catch up with him. He was obviously making his way out to the parking lot, which would mean a relatively long time to walk together, rather than the usually short, "Uh, sorry, I've got to get to class" kind of meetings. It was unimportant to me that I was actually heading into the library to do some desperately overdue research, because my crush was walking by, and the research could wait a teeny bit longer.

George seemed preoccupied with something when I first greeted him outside the library, and mumbled something about having to get home. I didn't even have time to reply, because seconds later, Tom appeared next to me, draped his arm around my neck and said, "Darling, aren't you going to introduce me?" Since nothing subtle seemed to get through to Tom, I didn't even attempt to be overly polite when extricating myself from his hold, I brusquely introduced them, and then said, "Sorry Tom, we have to go," and walked off with George.

You might have had to see Tom in action to truly appreciate the moment, with his Prince hairdo and his psychedelic psycho clothes, but George was sufficiently intrigued to seem to enjoy asking me all about this Tom person all the way out to his car. I happily obliged, excited to note that George seemed more interested than he had during our last several meetings.

We made it out to the parking lot, and I continued the Tom story. As George stood there listening, with the car door open between us , I kept yapping about how weird Tom was, and how I felt sorry for him, since he obviously wasn't getting the hint that I didn't want to be with him. And I went on to say that it was awkward, since basically he was a good person and I didn't really want to hurt his feelings, but I didn't know how to get him to understand that I wasn't interested.

I summed up my tale of how pathetic and blind Tom was acting by saying to George, "It's really kind of sad that he can't see that I'm just not interested in him that way, you know?"

Oh, dear reader, you already know what's coming next.

After a whopper of a pregnant pause, George, with the most sad and sympathetic expression on his face that a kind man ever mustered, gently said, "Yes..... I know."

And then in a split second that seemed to last twenty excruciating years, I knew, too.

I don't even remember what I said to him just then, right before beating a hasty retreat from the parking lot with tears of shame running down my face. Tom and I, kindred spirits after all.

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