Tenth grade, Mrs. Agee’s computer class. A notecard with your name sat propped on the F-keys of the keyboard signaling your assigned seat next to me. Upon seeing your name, elation swept over me. I tried to hide it so as for it not to be visibly written on my face when you appeared. Play it cool, is the phrase.
“Hey, that’s funny,” I would say as you removed the chair from under the table to sit. “You got stuck sitting beside me again.”
The previous year in ninth grade was the first time we’d ever had a class together—Ms. Hybl’s science class. Back table, left. You and me. I didn’t know you until then. I knew of you, of course. Like every boy in middle school, I thought you were beautiful. Beyond beautiful actually.
You were smart too. The local newspaper confirmed as much at the end of each grading period when the honor roll was published. Straight A’s. Sometimes I would appear on this same list with you, but a little further down—before algebra introduced itself into my life.
Somehow, during our entire stay in middle school, and despite our rural upbringing, we managed never to have a single class together—not so much as even gym. It would take high school for our paths to cross more frequently, and even then, it was minimal.
One by one, kids entered the door of Mrs. Agee’s classroom and took their seats. The clock ticked on the wall. The second hand inched forward. The bell rang and Mrs. Agee shut the door.
The seat beside me was still empty. The seat where you were to sit. I kept waiting for the door to open behind Mrs. Agee and for you to walk in. When you searched the room for your seat, I was going to make eye contact with you and point toward the seat next to me, and watch you smile and hurry over. You’ve always had such a beautiful smile.
The clock’s minute hand advanced, then the bell rang again. Class was dismissed. A feeling of sadness washed over me as I put on my book-bag and pushed in my chair. I looked at the keyboard where your notecard rested upright on the F-keys. I’d have to wait two days to try my prepared line on you that I was going to pretend was entirely spontaneous.
I didn’t know what you were going through.
“She’s lost a lot of weight,” I heard someone say at a lunch table near ours. “Like so much she could die.”
Someone put a couple of quarters in the cafeteria jukebox and played Skatman John and everyone at my table started laughing. Normally I would have laughed too, but all I could hear was, “Like so much she could die / Like so much she could die.”
We used to drive everyone crazy playing Skatman John over and over during lunch. That, and “Girl on L.S.D” by Tom Petty, which was always a humorous selection considering we were on school property at Randolph-Henry.
Ski-bi dibby dib yo da dub dub
Upon the at once noticeable intro of the song, someone unamused at the table adjacent to us said, “Really?”
“She’s down to like eighty pounds.”
“She didn’t come to class today.”
“I don’t think she’s coming.”
I didn’t know what you were going through.
Two days passed and Mrs. Agee’s computer class came again.
“Do you not know how beautiful you are?” I was going to say to you as you sat down beside me.
I didn’t know it had little to nothing to do with looks, that what it really was about was control.
“You’re beautiful and smart.”
You’ll never say that to her, I said to myself. You’ll lose the courage or stumble over your words. You’ll never do that. “She’s lost a lot of weight . . . so much she could die,” the voice said. “So much she could die.”
I knew my inner voice was right. I’d never have the courage. So, I wrote you a note. A note, that’s something I could do.
I was going to give you the note on a Friday as we left class then depart immediately in a different direction. That way I could spare myself the embarrassment of your initial reaction. The weekend would then assist to ease the lingering awkwardness.
A note I never gave you—because you didn’t show that day, or that week, or that month.
Just an empty seat next to me—the name card Allison Watkins no longer resting on the F-keys. A reminder that you weren’t there beside me.
I used to watch the door waiting for you to appear. Eventually I stopped. But occasionally, even as days passed into weeks, I would glance over my shoulder in hopes you would appear as the clock’s hand ticked forward to announce the beginning of class.
“Hey, that’s funny,” I would say as you made your way over toward me. “You got stuck sitting beside me again.”
“Do you not know how beautiful you are?” I was going to say to you, but I didn’t understand what you were going through then.
I bet I could cheer you up, I thought. You always laughed at the things I said. I bet I could cheer you up. Here, I saved you a seat…
This post is filed under “Let Me Count the Ways,” a series of vignettes and journal entries about my love for my wife.
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This particular vignette may be of one person, my wife, but millions of Americans are affected by an eating disorder every day—women and men. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a result of an eating disorder; one in five anorexia deaths are by suicide; and 13% of women over age 50 engage in eating disorder behaviors. Learn more about how to spot the signs of an eating disorder or what to do if you or a loved one needs help by visiting the National Eating Disorders Association. They have a free live chat and hotline.