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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ruminations on the cause of a persistent facial expression observed on a person of passing aquaintence

Andrew stood middle distance from the center of activity and the corner of the room, not separate but not mingling, his face utterly blank and expressionless, his eyes dead and empty as blighted ponds. The sound of someone calling his name slowly penetrated and he turned to see everyone in the room looking at him and Big Dave, the youth pastor saying, “Here’s our song leader kids. He’s gonna lead you in a few your favorites. Won’t that be fun?” Andrew turned and bounded happily to the center of the room with a smile and a boisterous call to the children, to a casual observer a happy bubbly person. He clapped and sang with the children and moved with extreme animation for 24 and a half minutes until he was sweating visibly through his Fishing for Jesus Summer Camp tee shirt and his hair was wet and running down his cheeks. He then walked back to his position between the center and the corner and switched off, sliding back into a deep funk behind a blank exterior. No one in the room noticed or cared, their attention focused on the activities of the children.

Andrew Jason Screwturn Jr, the only child of Andrew Sr and Emily Elizabeth Friddle, his high school sweet heart, was the baby that was supposed to save their marriage. This was a hollow and cynical joke that his parents stayed together just long enough to firmly imprint on his consciousness. They then split up in a way you couldn’t call amicable in the furthest reaches of hell. They spent the next ten years passing Andrew back and forth between them like a football, making the only crystal clear impressions of his childhood the facts that he was only wanted to deprive the other and that he was a constant burden to both. He attended every summer camp, weekend retreat, scout camporee and lock-in his parents could find between his school, two churches and local social organizations. The turmoil of the divorce and the financial burdens it place on both warring parties cause repeated relocations and he changed schools numerous times ending up a year ahead here, a year behind there, always the new kid, never fitting anywhere. He had no single childhood friend and only vaguely understood what it meant to have a friend. The camps and the outings his parents used to get him out of their way was the only model he knew, short term servings of friends in a structured environment, planned activities that filled up the time and kept the mind from turning inward. He grew up toward an inevitable future of working and counseling in a summer camps. It was a form of inertia or gravity that sucked him in. He related to every lonely upset child that came along. The songs and activities were written in his brain stem just like walking and talking. The Mountain Harbor YMCA camp and surrounding off season charities became his home after high school, the youngest full time camp counselor in their history, only seventeen. This was his universe, his safety zone and where he returned between semesters of college and where he returned after graduating.

Two weeks before the start of the fall session in 08, Melissa Costaine came to the camp as an activity director. She could not have more utterly destroyed the sanctity of Andrew’s safe haven if she had set out to do so with malice of forethought. She had not done so. She had in fact fallen in love with him from the first; the cruelest stroke of all was the simple truth of this.

Melissa grew up in as normal an American home as could be imagined. A strict but loving mother who pushed her daughter to excel without bullying and a father who doted on her without being soft. There were a few “cracked nuts” on the family tree as her father always put it but they were on the outer limbs and not near the trunk. She knew stability. Emily dated a lot throughout high school and college as any pretty and popular girl would but she never fell in love. She liked them well enough but she was too independent and self possessed to ever actually need anyone in her life.

Her independent spirit and vitality born of a truly normal and stable childhood made her irresistible to men but in the end drove them away. Men have a need to be needed and when it is apparent that they are not needed, most do not have the ability to accept that with grace.
When Melissa met Andrew in the dining hall at Mountain Harbor she felt something alien to her. She actually felt a need and desire to be with him. It was immediate and urgent and she pursued it without reservation and with gusto as she did everything in life.

To Andrew, this was as alien an experience as the feeling was to Melissa. He knew all too well what it was to need another person, to feel the size of that echoing hollowness inside when the need is unmet, to feel it like you can feel the vastness of a cavern though the walls vanish in darkness. He knew need for family, for friends, for lovers, for companionship. The need was why he had stuffed every available moment of life with activity and campers and sing-alongs; why, on the off seasons he volunteered at innumerable charities. The need was also the reason why he could not bring himself to trust anyone, bricking up the windows of his soul with a thousand cynical rebuffs to any serious situation and avoiding intimacy with anyone likely to take a chisel to the mortar, why he surrounded himself with children. The little ones droned on and on in and endless chord that prevented closeness or self-examination.
Melissa Costiane didn’t take a chisel to the mortar, she dynamited it.

There was no defense against her invasion. All of the carefully constructed defenses were ripped down in under a week and Andrew did something he never allowed himself to do, he trusted. Her open and obvious interest and desire to just be with him and the casual flow of conversation that ranged topics from the banal to the deepest intimacy had its inevitable affect. He fell. Hard. The howling spaces of his interior landscape were silted full with layer on layer of experience that ran contrary to his expectations and reinforced the trust he felt until it began to be second nature and the veneer of happy that he wore for so long began to penetrate like stain into wood and he was happy.

For Melissa’s part, she loved him. She couldn’t help herself. He wasn’t exactly an Adonis in his collection of cheesy tee shirts and khaki shorts and sandals, with his slightly excess weight and pale complexion and his uninspiring features. What she found irresistible was his earnest desire to do and be good, to toe that line. She respected him at once, he reminded her of her father while being nothing like the man in any tangible way. She found these things and the defects and fears that he was unable to hide from her as he did from the world at large a compelling combination.

For seven months they spent every possible moment in each other’s company and lived each other’s thoughts. Andrew was out of his mind with happiness and would have ignored the little voice of time honored cynicism that kept saying that a fire stoked too hot burns out, had he even heard it.
The first time Melissa canceled plans on him he disregarded it as just a part of life and forced himself to ignore the gentle breeze through the valley of his interior landscape.

When no tangible thing had changed, but the easy expectation of time spent together was replaced by an unspoken need to ask, he chastised himself for not trusting and for being a paranoid fool. She wouldn’t be like everyone else. She wasn’t like his parents, like the kids at schools or the girls in college. She was Melissa and that was all there was to it. He dragged himself up and forced the ‘happy’ back in place. After all, she was still there. It was only a few things, a few times here and there. But there was that intangible shift. What was it, a momentary flash in her eye, the set of her mouth that said ‘oh god here he goes again’? Even though the words were kind and the result usually as he would have liked, there was that something in the air between them, something he couldn’t put his finger on. Or was it that he was afraid to put his finger on it? He feared he knew and it only added to the gulf widening between them.

Melissa had looked at him one morning and found a little voice in her head mocking him. His earnestness and internal battles that made him him were just too much work. She didn’t want to think or to feel the things that he made her think about or feel. She just wanted to go through life enjoying moment by moment and never examining too deeply. She had no ghosts or tormentors under her mental bed, no skeletons in her closets. To her the past was a series of fond memories peppered with a few wistful losses, not the horror show of recurring nightmares that Andrew’s was. She couldn’t get her mind around it and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just let it go and live in the moment. She started to find it a burden and a misery. The weight of his past that her presence had so lightened for him was slowly crushing her.

Melissa loved him, the truth if this he had seen in all the experiences they had shared. It cut far more deeply, bruised far more painfully than it could have otherwise when she began making excuses he could see through, avoiding his company. She loved him too much to just end it and walk away; she wanted him, just the lighthearted and non-emotionally demanding part of him. The part she could understand. He loved her too much to confront her about her feelings lest his greatest fears be made real. So they descended into the silence of people who avoid all subjects for fear of broaching the one subject. They argued the petty arguments of people avoiding the one argument. And he cried with nearly suffocating intensity when alone after the first conversation between them that descended to small talk. For her part, she thought it a victory; they had had a pleasant conversation that hadn’t taxed her one bit.

One day in late June Andrew was dealing with a child who reminded him too much of himself at that age, coming from a lonely and broken home; the child and the stress of the lost communication with Melissa was just too much and he sank down deep into the well of his own mind. No one would know it without knowing him well for he hid well but he was hurting badly and the part of his mind that was waiting for Melissa to appear and make it better as she had every time since he had met her was arguing with the part of his mind that cynically pronounced that 'she wouldn’t be there this time'. Not this time. It was one time too many. A third part, the wounded and hurting part, the needing part just kept repeating, ‘I trust her, I trust her, I trust her’.

When Melissa rounded the corner of the hallway leading to the activity center and saw Andrew’s face, she knew he was battling inside with something, probably something about the past and it would take a lot of listening and time. She sighed and turned and slipped away, thankful he hadn’t seen her.

He had.

And he knew in a way even an experienced self-deluder cannot deny that she would not be there this time or any time again. The wind howled down the canyon of his mind, carving out the layers of Melissa laid sediments and turning them into adamantine bricks. He froze in his spot mid way between the center of activity and the corner and listened to the agonized refrain of the wounded, ‘I trusted you, I trusted you, I trusted you’.
And from somewhere deep below the happy mask was handed up and firmly affixed to his face.

It was needed now.


About Me

I am a husband and a father of two. I work as a network administrator. I am interested in religion and philosophy, though mostly from an external perspective.