Photo image courtesy of Hana
For me, a moment of magic occurred when something beautiful happened. Since a lot of my time was spent with certain friends and members of my family with whom I shared very little in common, I was not one to regard automatically that my relationships with them were positive. I did not interpret negative behavior as a challenge to move upward. There were too many times when I acted according to what they wanted from me and the results were always an even further step down from where I had been.
During one month, I spent time at my uncle’s house in Antioch, taking care of his daughter, Natalie. She was thirty years old and was able to converse intelligently with me in the past so I wondered why I was asked to watch over her. The reason became clear when I discovered she would not fix any meals for herself. Her father, my uncle Scott, made all the food for them. His wife, Aunt Elena, knew how to prepare a dish but preferred her husband’s cooking to her own. If I had not fed Natalie, while Scott and Elena were on vacation with my mother, she would have starved. I was not sure whether or not she knew how to cook but I knew she refused to do so.
That in itself was not altogether bad but, combined with other problems that arose, an implosion of frustration occurred. I was given one hundred dollars by Uncle Scott so I could buy groceries for Natalie and I. He mentioned the dollar store had great deals on canned raviolis, pasta and fruit cocktail. I looked at the items he mentioned when I shopped there and the ingredient list alarmed me. When I shopped for myself, I looked for organic food or at least natural. If I had to buy something canned, I tried picking the healthiest options possible. There were a few things at the dollar store that had minimally qualified as not too toxic on the body. I bought kidney beans, stewed tomatoes, canned tuna and eggs. My plan was to make an altered version of Shakshouka, the egg and tomato dish.
When I returned with the items, Natalie sat there and smiled happily when she saw the grocery bag. However, she frowned when I took out the groceries. She asked, “What’s that crap?”
I said, “I thought I’d make a simple but tasty egg, tuna and tomato dish with kidney beans for an extra amount of originality.”
She sighed. “Where’s the waffles and maple syrup? That’s what I want. Oh, did you forget the marshmallows and the lemon lime soda?”
“I didn’t forget any of that stuff. I chose not to buy it. You’re three hundred and fifty pounds. I’m not judging you but I think I’d get sick if I ate what you mentioned.”
She shook her head. “Everybody likes waffles! They’re a part of a normal family meal.”
“Natalie, almost everything in that store, especially the frozen foods, have nothing nutritional in them. Even the pizza is made with imitation cheese and the waffles made the pizza look gourmet. The stuff I bought has at least things that I recognize.”
“I don’t care! I want the waffles.”
I shrugged. “If I get you the waffles, which looked really unappetizing to me, I’ll also buy you a vegetable drink because you need something healthy to counterbalance the junk.”
“I don’t like vegetable juice!”
“Have you ever tried it?”
“Then how do you know you don’t like it?”
“I just don’t.”
“Do you like tomatoes?”
“I don’t like any of the stuff you bought.”
“Not even eggs?”
“Eggs are used in lemon meringue pies so I’ll eat the pie but I don’t like eggs or ham.”
I sighed. “So, if I buy the waffles, you don’t want ham with them?”
“Only the waffles.”
“Ham goes well with waffles.”
“I don’t want it!”
“Okay. I’ll get waffles for you but I’ll eat what I brought. I’ll spice up my meal with some black pepper if there’s any on the shelf.”
“I don’t know. I don’t cook. I don’t like black pepper, though.”
I shook my head. “You don’t have to put pepper on your food.”
She sneered. “I don’t want you to put it on yours, either.”
“I want you to eat what I eat. That’s how our family does it! We all eat the same things.”
“I’m not going to eat those horrible waffles. At least let me go to the regular supermarket and get a better brand of them.”
“No! I don’t like the flavor of those other brands! My father gets the good stuff at the dollar store.”
I became fed up and said, “Damn it! Okay, I’ll eat those stupid waffles with you but I’m putting pepper on them!”
That whole month I had to buy things I would ordinarily run away from and the only reason I did not feel physically ill was because I sneaked in some organic fruits and vegetables for myself. However, I was mentally not in the best of moods. I had no inspiration to write any stories and there were no places around for me to watch good looking people at the mall. I tried a few times sitting in the courtyard by the department store but most of the customers were heavy set like my uncle and cousin and the only people who tucked in their shirts were the security guards and they were men.
I settled for buying two CDs of jazz music, the only two CDs that were not totally worthless, in my opinion, but I got tired of listening to them over and over again, which I did to drown myself from the annoying monotony of Antioch, and I could not wait to go back home to Oakland.
One day, while I was taking care of Natalie, I asked, “Why didn’t you go on the vacation with your parents and my mother?”
She said, “They’re staying at a hotel where there are no public stairs and I’m afraid of elevators.”
The conclusions I reached concerning the progress of a human being were that people generally were on their way up in life or they were going down. I tried my best not to be in the category of my family who were mentally depressed and made no effort to improve themselves. I chose to employ the rules of Feng Shui in my surroundings when doing so was possible. If I saw a good looking woman, like who was reading a book in the library, I did not regard the matter as unimportant. I needed beauty in my life, in any way I could get it, even if it came in the form of a person I noticed.
That was why I needed to return to the fiction section and find out if the woman sitting there wore her clothes a certain way. If she was not there when I walked by, I would blame my friend who needed to talk with me for five minutes. He was physically healthier than members of my family but his attitude matched theirs in negativity and I put him in the same category as them. However, if she was still there, I would not think he was responsible even though I still regarded his attitude to be negative.
When I returned to the fiction section, I noticed she was still there. However, she was standing up and looking as though she was waiting for somebody. She was not waiting for me because I did not know her but I felt that my seeing her brought the answer to my question. It was an awesome surprise.
Her sweater was tucked in. That put her in the category of positive people who made efforts for their lives to move upward. I told myself I wished she could be a part of my world, if there was such a thing as a wish coming true, but I was content in seeing her from a distance.
If I had a chance to notice the titles of the books she had with her, I would at least look for them and participate in her type of culture. The information would be interesting because I could relate it to her, almost as if I was wearing her information like an outfit. We would be sharing the same words and that excited me.
I walked towards another aisle of books, with the pretense of finding something to read. I did not want to seem obvious about what I was doing. If I looked at her too long, she could feel self-conscious about her appearance. I did not want to be responsible for causing her change in style. I had no clue if she dressed like that frequently or rarely but she looked that way now and that was what mattered.
Suddenly, I heard a woman’s voice say, “Hello.” I could imagine her as the speaker but I did not want to assume so. There were other people in the library and the law of averages indicated she and I were not the only two people in the fiction section. I was in another aisle so she could have been talking to someone else. However, nobody responded. She repeated, “Hello.”
I was nervous. If she was greeting me and I did not reply, I would be rude. However, if I assumed she was addressing me, I would admit to why I was there. I wanted to appear oblivious, not because I wanted her to think I was ignoring her but because I did not want to appear as though I was pursuing her, either.
For the third time, I heard someone say, “Hello.” Now, if I acknowledged the greeting, I would not seem rude or obvious. I walked towards her aisle. She was waving and smiling at me. Again, she said, “Hello.”
I was nervous because I did not know what to say. I was just barely able to manage, “Hi.”
She asked, “Do you like books, too?”
I said, “Yes.”
“What do you like to read?”
I felt safer now. Literature was my main interest and I could mention certain authors and novels and steer the conversation away from projecting interest in her beauty. I would be talking to an appreciator of books. “Robert Coover and John Barth are my two favorites at the moment.”
She said, “You’re cute.”
That caught me off guard. I said, “I guess so.”
She nodded. “Yes, you are.”
I asked, “What type of books do you like to read? What are you reading now?”
She looked dreamily at me. “I like you.”
I had accidentally looked into her eyes. I did not do so intentionally. Her gaze had sneakily lured me in so I could not avoid seeing a connection. Suddenly, I saw her not merely as a wearer of clothes but a person who was pursuing me. I felt strange because I was not in the best position or circumstance to get really involved with someone in a romantic way. I felt as though she was teasing me.
However, there was nothing in her gaze to indicate she was teasing. She seemed sincere and that scared me more. I had finally broken my gaze, though doing so was difficult, and I said, “I have to look for a certain book.” I walked away.
I went outside, feeling as though I should return to the library and continue talking to her. However, I did not do so. I felt justified in my leaving though I could not give an explanation to the justification.
Upon retrospect, after I went home, I thought about my behavior. I remembered acting the same way during high school, though back then the girls were not as desirable as the Asian woman. There were girls who wore their shirts tucked in back then but they were not who flirted with me. My luck indicated that the girls who were attracted to me wore cropped tops and smoked cigarettes and acted gruff. They were the type who were looking for any boy who would hang out with them, except they kept chasing me even after I told them to go away. Occasionally, another boy would tell me he was interested in getting to know one of them. I would listen and think to myself that, if there was a boy who liked one of the overly-aggressive girls, she should try out for him instead of me.
After a few hours had passed, the memory of her behavior was still vivid but my embarrassment disappeared. Now, I felt a sense of pride. I was no longer merely Victor Goldsmith, a writer of unpublished stories who had a relatively uneventful life dealing with annoying friends and family members. I was also the man who was considered to be cute by a beautiful Asian woman who wore a tucked-in sweater with belted jeans and her sleeves pushed sexily up and the moment was significant because she told me I was cute while she wore that outfit. I had reached a higher level of quality. My circumstances, for that moment, were better. I could honestly believe now that I was desirable. However, I could not admit I used good judgment.