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"He was smiling at me but it didn’t feel like a friendly smile, it felt like something else, and the danger alarm started to ring in my mind."

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04 – Scopophobia

Since my grandpa had died, I’d been fighting with melancholy.  I missed him terribly.  And that was the issue to which people who knew me attributed my blues.  I was so glad that no one knew the other half of my problem:  heartbreak over someone other than my grandpa.  Even I knew it was stupid.  How could someone who wasn’t my love break my heart?  It wasn’t like we had broken up.  And that was the key.  We had never really been together.  Together like the way I had daydreamed (and night-dreamed) about over and over.  Yet, we had spent a considerable amount of time in each other’s company…the best time of my short life, where I worked every minute trying to understand his moods, his comments and the looks he gave me.  The signals were always mixed. 

If it were possible for me to be objective, though, I’d have to admit that Gray had treated me more like a little sister than anything else.  Still, in private moments he had repeatedly held my hand and hugged me and stared into my eyes.  It felt very romantic.  But I had no experience with such matters; perhaps being hit over the head with a stick by a handsome boy also felt very romantic. 

The fact was, though, that he had taken me on adventures in a place that was like being in another world—Iceland.  On each of our excursions he had taken the time and considerable effort necessary to draw me out, and in consequence I had talked to him more than I could ever remember talking to anyone, even my grandpa.  He’d broken down my barriers to the point that I had felt comfortable enough to let my sense of humor loose.  That had never happened to me before and it felt absolutely, singularly amazing. 

My sense of humor was my most secret and precious possession.  And as though it was a baby bird, I guarded it fiercely, so that no one could step on it—accidentally or on purpose.  It was tied up with who I really was, and I had always been terrified to expose it or damage it in any way.   In the past when I had exposed it, very often it had offended my mother, and was generally totally lost on Hoyt or Grandpa Sam.  My dad had nurtured it, but it was still in very early bud when he died.  I had no other close associates with which to exercise it, so it had been locked deeply away for safe keeping until I met Gray.

 Although he teased me incessantly on a variety of issues, he had been very careful with that particularly vulnerable soft spot of mine: my humorous sensibilities. When he laughed at my jokes, it didn’t feel like I was being humored.  It just felt like he understood and appreciated my humor, as born out by his reactions and responses.  Like I said, it felt amazing.  It was a kind of emotional intimacy I never expected to have with anybody, let alone someone like Gray: intelligent, handsome and wonderful.

Every memory I had with him was wonderful…even the last one, at the funeral home, which always made me cry, every time I played it in my mind. 

Eventually I came to an understanding about why my feelings for Gray and the loss of my grandpa seemed to be so strangely connected.  The loss was connected.  Losing my grandpa meant losing my connection with Gray. 

With Grandpa’s encouragement I had spent nearly every day for over a month in Gray’s custody.  In retrospect it was clear that Grandpa wanted us to be together, and had likely even maneuvered things to make that happen.  Gray’s father was like family to him and maybe he was hoping things would turn out to make our connection to the Gregorys ‘truly’ family, as opposed to just ‘like’ family.  That had been a pleasant tangent to dwell upon after Iceland, but it became unthinkable once it was clear my regard was not returned by Gray.

I wasn’t going to be invited to join any more survey expeditions because of what I could bring to the table.  Mr. Gregory had given me his business card and seemed sincere about helping me pursue a career in Geology.  But his son said three words to me at the funeral, which, incidentally, were not ‘I love you’, and I never heard from him again. 

I’d rather die than insinuate myself into their circle again.  The implication of rejection was far more tolerable than its confirmation, though I had to admit, the effects were identical. 

So our association was over now.  I was grieving over his loss like a widow…except he wasn’t dead.  I suppose because no one had ever expressed a romantic interest in me, not even Gray, for that matter, I was totally blindsided by the new experience of unrequited love.  I had mistakenly assumed that his ability to draw me out was connected with a purpose for doing so.  It was embarrassing to admit, even to myself, but I had actually thought that I would be married to him some day.  I even had dreams where we talked about that…and did other things.  So even sleeping through my depression didn’t offer the kind of solace from pain and disappointment that I dearly wished it would.  In addition, it felt petty and disloyal to my grandpa to split my sadness over his loss with some guy I had met and known only briefly.  Unfortunately, concentrating on that didn’t stop it—it just added guilt to the other negative emotions I was already dealing with.

The passing of time had started to make the pain fade.  It still flared once in a while, but I felt like I had the psychosis issues mostly under control now.  I had been working up to this so that I would be able to face school again, which would start before I knew it.  Yet, there was still one strange, negative feeling that constantly hounded me.  It was weird because it seemed like it had nothing to do with grieving, but over time it had emerged as the dominant feeling, beating out the sadness and emptiness that had been so overpowering at first.  It was the feeling that I was being watched; a strange and indefinable sixth sense; the certainty of unseen eyes, observing me from somewhere close by.

I had only a vague notion of the sensation after the funeral, when it started.  But as spring phased into summer and I began to spend more time outside the house, sometimes riding my bike, sometimes hanging out in the tiny tree house in our back yard, it became impossible to ignore.  I felt it on the back of my neck constantly.  Of course, I didn’t dare mention it to my mom.  She already wanted to have me committed.  Telling her about this would be like calling the paddy wagon to arrange the pick-up myself.  No, just like everything else, I had to find a way to deal with it on my own and get past it.

One day early into the summer break something happened and I realized that I was not a victim of irrational scopophobia (the fear of being watched) after all. 

It was a very warm and sunny day, late in the week.  Mom and Hoyt were gone for work.  I had gotten up late, like normal.  I was hungry and in the mood for cereal.  After pouring myself a bowl full, I grabbed the nearly empty container of milk from the door of the fridge. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I have some obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and one of them is to check the expiration date on everything, even non-food items—go figure.  Milk was no exception.  So before any milk was poured I examined the blurry print on the front of the carton.  This was a wasted notion, though, since I didn’t actually know the day’s date.  But a sniff of the opened carton communicated very clearly the milk’s expiration.  It smelled like something had expired all right.  I experienced a brief moment of sadness as I considered that not so long ago I would have just headed next door to Grandpa’s house in search of drinkable milk.  Now, if I wanted fresh milk, I was going to have to ride my bike up to the new drugstore on the corner and purchase it.

So I got dressed and rolled off.  It was less than a mile away, but the late morning sun was scorching.  By the time I got inside the store, I didn’t feel like drinking milk anymore.  I needed a bottle of water instead.  How ironic, I thought.  If I’d just stayed home, I could have had all the free cold water I could drink!  To save face with myself, though, I purchased a small bottle of milk along with a larger bottle of water…and a chocolate bar too, since it was calling to me.  The cashier offered me a sample packet of a new kind of gum, which I certainly couldn’t refuse.  I accepted it gladly and tucked it in my pocket after concluding my purchase.

Walking back out the door into the sun I was slightly distracted with trying to open the water.  The lid was on unusually tight.  I set my bag of milk and candy bar down on the sidewalk once I reached the far side of the building where I had parked my bike and tried again to loosen the cap.   My feeling of accomplishment at opening the bottle was cut short when a man came straight up into my personal space holding a piece of stiff paper out towards me.  I didn’t get a good look at his face because he was so fast, but I remember that he was swarthy and kind of hairy and that he had a huge gold chain around his neck.  He was smiling at me but it didn’t feel like a friendly smile, it felt like something else, and the danger alarm started to ring in my mind.  

He spoke to me in an overly friendly tone and said, “Hey, do you like perfume?” 

That was weird.  He didn’t look like he would work behind a perfume counter. 

I hesitated in my confusion and growing panic.  He had come from the van that I was now standing in front of because another man, who could have been his twin, started to get out of the passenger side and walk towards me as well.  This must have been by design.  It drew my attention, just for a second, and that was what he needed to rudely shove the paper with the ‘perfume’ sample under my nose. 

“Smell this!  I think you’ll like it,” he said with an unpleasant sounding one-syllable laugh at the end.

“What?  No…no thanks.”  

But he had surprised me with his quick move and I did get a whiff of whatever was on the card.  And it did smell nice.  Just as I was thinking that, my knees buckled and I dropped my water.  It took a big bounce and splashed all over Mr. Perfume’s mid section and down his legs while he cursed a blue streak in response.

Whatever I had just smelled was obviously more than perfume.  It made gravity stronger and made everything move in slow motion. 

I tried to apologize about the water (polite to the end) while at the same time I could see the partner coming for me, his hand outstretched to catch me before I hit the pavement, having lost my ability to stand up straight.  Though now I realized nobody was actually concerned for my safety. 

Was this really happening in broad daylight in front of the store?  The accomplice was all business, no pretense of false friendliness.  He grabbed me roughly and started to haul me back towards the van.  I realized, with sickening awareness, that the van door was wide open, ready to swallow me whole.   There was a hollow ringing in my ears and the edges of my vision were turning into a vignette, dark and blurry.

Then the situation took the craziest turn.  A gray-haired lady, who I realized was no larger than me once she got close, had gotten out of her car, which was parked across the lot directly behind the van, and came sprinting over with impossible speed, while everything else around me was moving slow, caught in a time warp.  She approached from the passenger side, cutting off the approach to the van door, while both of my abductors were facing me, trying to corral me back to my feet and over to the vehicle. 

It was like watching a scene from The Matrix, a scene that was probably enhanced by whatever was knocking me out.  In super slow motion she literally flew through the air and connected solidly, elbow first, into Perfume Guy’s lower back.  His eyes bulged hugely, like they were the only part of him that had absorbed the inertia from her impact.  But then the rest of him caught up and he flopped, face first onto the sidewalk away from me.

The grip around my arm tightened painfully as I was pulled behind the other man’s body, the way a predator might try to protect its meal from a competitor, trying to steal the kill.  Except that I was passing out now and my body collapsed behind him, pulling his arm with me, and he was forced to either let go or hold on and turn with my inert weight.  He let go and I too, flopped on the sidewalk, banging the back of my head, slightly.

I viewed the rest of the fight from this angle.  She used the brief distraction I had created to spray him in the face with what my stoned mind at first thought was silly string.  But when he started screaming and jumping up and down, batting at his eyes, I realized it was something much better.  Then she jumped up in a kung fu looking move and kicked him full in the chest.  The screaming stopped, but I couldn’t see what happened to him after he fell out of my field of vision.  For good measure, she turned and sprayed my felled fragrance advisor as well. 

In a deeply menacing tone she said, simply, “Smell this.”

He whimpered, but didn’t fuss like the other man had.  It was probably because there was damage to his rib cage or spine…I hoped.

Then she turned her attention to me.  Initially her face had been a mask of rage, but it had transformed into deep concern as she looked me over, her hands brushing my face and then exploring the back of my head.  The vignette around my vision was almost closed now.  It was getting very dark, even though the hot late morning sun was shining straight into my eyes.  Someone else was there now too, bending over me as they were talking, but I couldn’t see any more.  It felt like fingers on my neck…checking my pulse?

“Should we take her to the emergency room?” A man’s voice asked, quietly.  His accent was strange.

“I don’t want to stick around for a police report, do you?  No, let’s just take her home.  I don’t think she’ll remember any of this.  She’s not hurt.” 

It felt like I was being carried now.  My heroine’s voice was sort of gruff, and distinctly German sounding in the accent.  It reminded me of something…was she the Terminator’s older sister? 

“We’ll just put her back in bed and she’ll probably think she over-slept.” 

And that is exactly what I thought, at first.  I woke up at three-thirty in the afternoon.  I was fully dressed.  But that wasn’t abnormal for me…I did that all the time.  I had a terrible headache and I was loopy from sleeping too much.  I was also seeing flashes of an extremely bad and vivid nightmare about being abducted…and rescued.  The recall made me shiver and breathe faster.

I got up out of bed, a little unsteadily, and went to the bathroom.  As I pulled my shorts down and sat on the commode, something dropped onto the tile at my feet.   I bent over to get a better look and was instantly rewarded with a head rush.  When my eyes cleared, I refocused on whatever had fallen.  It was rectangular paper packaging of some sort, with blue and white print announcing ‘New Longer Lasting Peppermint Flavor!” 

My gum sample!  Were my dreams leaving behind product endorsements and freebies?    I wasn’t dreaming now, and the gum was real…which meant so was the part where I had acquired it…at the drugstore…this morning.

I puzzled over what had happened to me.  It all seemed straightforward except for the part where I ended up back in my bed.  Somebody was trying to snatch me.  Somebody else saw it and stepped in (in a kick-butt kind of way) to help me.  That was logical enough.  But how did they know where I lived?   My keys had been in my pocket, so I understood how they could get me in, but I didn’t carry any ID.  I just had the keys and some loose change in my pocket, but nothing to indicate where my bed might be.  Yet here I was, and I shuttered to think how different things might be for me at the moment if they hadn’t come to my aid. 

Then I began to ponder the intervention.  So someone was at the drugstore at the same time as me.  And this someone had no trouble taking down two men twice her size.  And finally, this someone somehow knew where to return me while I was unconscious.  And it wasn’t just a return; it was a cover up.  Why wasn’t I at the hospital or the police station, filling out a crime report?  Instead, I woke up under the covers of my bed like it had never happened.  If the gum hadn’t fallen out of my shorts, I may never have thought about it again.  So was it purely coincidence that kung fu Helga was there to save me?  And if it wasn’t a coincidence, as suggested by her prior knowledge of my residence, and the way the situation had been handled afterward, then what did that mean?  Had she been watching me and followed me to the store?  If so, why?

That was how it had started.   Afterwards, I was more aware than ever of that strange ‘someone is watching me’ feeling.  Only I didn’t think I was crazy anymore.  I became far more observant of my surroundings and embraced my instincts more than I ever had before.  I tried to concentrate and pinpoint the times when I would have that ‘being watched’ sensation, because its intensity would fluctuate…it ebbed and flowed during the day, but somehow it was always there. 

I had once heard the aphorism (a clever observation) that even though pieces of a puzzle make funny shapes, they fit together in the end and the picture becomes clear.  Believing in the truth of that, I set to work on gathering pieces of this mystery and putting the bigger picture together.

Musical inspiration for this chapter:

Theme to ‘Lobby Scene’ from The Matrix
Sorry, pirated , don’t know.

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Chapter Index | 2 Comments

2 Comments (Leave a comment »)

  1. I think the feelings that she expresses are spot-on with how teens think, especially girls about boy issues. Everything from reading between the lines to adoration for the smallest comments.

    Rich descriptions as well– protecting her humorous side like a baby bird– wonderful.

    Comment by Alicia — June 29, 2010 at 6:37 pm

  2. Nice!!!!

    Comment by Shiann Kirk — June 9, 2010 at 10:44 am

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