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I always sit in the front row. College demands it of me. I used to do this so that teachers could see me, know me, like me. Now I do it because otherwise I’ll have to wear my glasses. I like my glasses, so my logic might not make complete sense. They’re black and nerd-rimmed—basically they’re what’s trendy today and embarrassing two years from now. But still, reaching into my backpack, unzipping my front pocket, and pulling the frames from their case is a job I’m too lazy to do. So I sit in the front row.
I watch my professor as she paces the front of the classroom. I watch her black, dress-pant leg. The hem has come undone. There is a piece of black thread dragging along the floor like a child unwilling to let go of his mother’s leg on his first day of pre-school. He’s crying, he’s screaming—can’t you just rip it off? The thread. Rip off the thread. Rip-it-off. Just twine it around your index finger and pull.
I think she saw me watching the small child attached to her ankle. I’m sorry. I wasn’t supposed to notice it. I didn’t notice it. I didn’t see it. My face is blank.
I think I’m good at not noticing. Correction: I’m good at looking like I don’t notice. I notice. I definitely notice. You’re not supposed to notice a lot of things though. Pimples on people’s faces, for instance. One, singular, stately pimple sitting squarely in the middle of a shiny forehead is no less noticeable than mini, red-faced pimples crowding for elbow room around the nose and chin. But somehow, miraculously, you can’t see them. Well, I see them. But I don’t notice them. Just look a person in the eyes and it takes away the temptation to fixate on the grotestation.
But then there are things you wish you didn’t notice. Mom’s stifled cries in the bathroom. I can hear them over the hum of the noisy shower faucet spouting hard water. She’s not in the shower. She’s sitting on the seat of the toilet with a wad of Cottonelle doubling as mucus-catcher and muffler. I wish I hadn’t noticed when I tiptoed past the bathroom on the way to my room. My face is blank. My insides are fighting each other. I can feel my heart shrink and tighten, and then get hot. Mommy, I mouth. I may have noticed, but I was too young to understand. Noticing was enough. I walked back to the bathroom and opened the door. It was unlocked. I didn’t expect it to be. She looked up at me as if she didn’t know me. I remember hugging her while she was sitting down. I was standing and hunching over. I was still shorter than her then. My arms were too short to fit around her middle, but I nestled my head into her warm neck as if I was the one in need of comfort. She smelled like baby powder and tissues. It made me sad.
My professor was handing me my paper. She held it facedown, with her thumb on the bottom and her index and middle fingers on top, making a crease halfway down the middle. I turned it over. Eighty percent. I did not look up. I focused on the letters of my name at the top left-hand corner until the print became fuzzy. I let my eyes scan down the page until I read the singular comment she made: a little short. Short. Does that mean that the quality of my writing fell short, or does it mean that there is an inch of white space on the page that she wanted me to fill with BS? BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS BS. Look how much better my writing is now.
I wanted to stand up and point to her hem. How would life be different if we didn’t pretend not to notice things we’re not supposed to notice? At first, the noticers would be considered rude. “Ha-ha! I caught you picking your nose,” you’d yell to the drivers beside you after rolling down your window a smidgeon, simply to call them on their grossness during rush-hour traffic. Eventually though, people as a whole would shape up. You can’t do something in public that you wish people wouldn’t see because you know that everyone really does see you. As a noticee, you’d have to be on your best behavior at all times. I think I’d like people better on their best behavior. Manners are nice.
I didn’t point at her hem. I stayed seated, ever so gently crossing my eyes back and forth with my head tilted downward. I should probably look up now, I considered as she asked us to pull out our textbooks. I kept my head down in the hopes of creating a small resistance. Maybe my fellow classmates’ essays were glazed over too—maybe they would join me. We’d band together and start a revolt. But what could we possibly do to teach her a lesson? We could pull out our makeup, smear bold colors on our cheeks like war paint, and make yelling and growling noises like wild animals. Yes, that’d be frightening, but it may not be effective. We want to do something that will really get her. We could all stand up and leave. Yes. That’s good. Not as dramatic of course—yet very simple, classy, and victorious.
I peeked up to look at her. She was pacing the room, lecturing. I didn’t have the guts to do anything other than sit in my seat. I wish I had the guts.
I wish I had the guts for a good confrontation. I wish people had more guts in general. One where we acknowledge things we’ve been pretending not to notice in the first place. The shoes left by the door every night. The overpowering cologne or perfume. Hair left in the shower drain. Simple things that make our blood pressure rise that can be fixed so easily with only a word or two. Why don’t my roommates ever ask me to pick up my shoes and take them to my room? What are they so scared of? What am I so scared of?
For some reason, it’s embarrassing to tell someone how much they mean to you. Someone needs to sit down with people and tell them that it’s okay to be open about your love. Why is it awkward to tell good friends that you love them and value their friendship? Why is that corny or inappropriate? We’ve grown embarrassed to show our emotions. As children, it’s acceptable to hug and kiss and wrap your arms around your parents and your friends, but as we get older, it isn’t proper. But I say that it’s okay to notice. Notice, and then love.
I think about the way I hugged my mother that night in the bathroom. I remember the steam and the warmth and the tears. I remember the sadness and pain I felt. I remember I was young. I remember her whispering thank you in my ear. I didn’t think I was doing anything worth thanking. She was my mother. I noticed.