So it says the first man was Adam, but the first boy will always be Johnny. Maybe the first time you saw him, you were ten. He was standing in the sun, dark hair swinging over his eyes. Or tracing letters in the dirt with a stick. He was pulling your best friend's hair. Or he cut off an inch of yours in school, during a black and white, educational movie that no one ever really watched. And while part of you was drawn to him, a part of you resisted, wanting to ride off on your bicycle, kick a stone, remain uncomplicated. In the same breath, you felt the strength of a woman yet a self-pity that made you feel small and hurt. Part of you thought: Please don't look at me. If you don't, I can still turn away. But part of you yearned for him to see you.
If you remember the first time you saw Johnny, you also remember the last. He was shaking his head. Or disappearing across a field. Or through your window. Come back, Johnny! You shouted to the sky, come back!
But he didn't.
And though you were grown by now, you felt as lost as a child. Although your pride was destroyed, you felt as vast as your love for him. He was gone and all that remained was the space where you'd grown around him, like a tree that grows around a fence, bending and entertwining to its staunch position.
For a long time, it remained hollow. Years, maybe. And when at last it was filled again, you knew that the new love you felt for a man would have been impossible without Johnny. If not for Johnny, there would never have been an empty space; nor the desire to fill it. You know you can't miss something you've never had, and this is a blessing and a curse. You're not stupid.
Of course, there are certain cases in which the girl in question refuses to stop shouting at the top of her lungs for Johnny. Stages a hunger strike. Pleads. Fills a book with her love. Carries on until he has no choice but to come back. Every time he tries to leave, knowing it's what has to be done, the girl stops him, begging almost foolishly. And so he always returns, no matter how often he leaves or how far he goes, appearing soundlessly behind her, covering her eyes with his hands, spoiling for her anyone who could ever come back for him.
During the Age of Crystal, everyone believed some part them to be just this fragile, their own Achilles heel. For some it was a hand, for others a femur, yet others believed it was their noses that were made of crystal. Some, it was the curve of a hip; and some, the edge of who they were. The Age of Crystal followed the Stone Age as an evolutionary corrective, introducing into human relations a new sense of fragility that fostered compassion and confusion. This period lasted a relatively short period in the history of love -- perhaps a century -- until a doctor named Ignacio da Silva hit on the treatment of inviting people to recline on a couch & giving them a bracing smack on the body part in question, proving to them the truth. The anatomical illusion that had seemed so real slowly disappeared -- and like so much we no longer need but can't give up -- became vestigial. But from time to time, for reasons that can't always be understood, it surfaces again, suggesting that the Age of Crystal, like the Age of Silence, never entirely ended.
See the man walk down the street. You wouldn't notice him necessarily. He's not the sort of man one notices; everything about his clothes and demeanor ask not to be picked out from a crowd. Ordinarily -- he would oft tell you this himself -- he would be overlooked. He carries nothing. At least he appears to carry nothing, not an umbrella even though it looks like rain, or a briefcase though it's rush hour, and around him, stooped against the wind, people are making their way home to their warm houses at the edge of the city where their children lean over their homework at the kitchen table, the smell of dinner wafts invitingly in the air, and probably a dog, because there is always a dog in such houses.
For a man like this, there is a girl. One night when this girl was still young, she decided to go to a party. There, she ran into a boy with whom she'd climbed the grades with since elementary school, a boy she'd always been a little in love with even though she was sure he didn't know she existed. He had the most beautiful name she'd ever heard: Johnny. When he saw her standing by the door, his face lit up and he crossed the room to talk to her. She was in awe.
An hour or two went by. It must have been a good conversation, because the next thing she knew, Johnny told her to close her eyes. Then he tenderly kissed her. His kiss was a question she wanted to spend her whole life answering. She felt her body tremble. She was scared her knees would collapse beneath her. For anyone else, it was one thing, but for her it wasn't so easy, because this girl believes -- and had believed for as long as she could remember -- that part of her was made of crystal. She imagined a wrong move in which she fell and shattered in front of him. She ran away, even though she didn't want to. She smiled at Johnny's feet, hoping he'd understand. They talked for hours.
That night, she went home, her heart bursting and heavy. She couldn't sleep, so excited she was for the next day, because she and Johnny had a date to go to the movies. He picked her up the following evening and gave her a bunch of daisies. At the theater, she fought -- and triumphed over! - the perils over sitting. She watched the whole movie leaning forward, so that her weight was resting on the underside of her thighs and not on the part of her that was made of Crystal. If Johnny noticed, he didn't say. She moved her knee a little, a little more, until it was resting against his. He was sweating. When the movie was over, she had no idea what it had been about. He suggested they take a walk through the park. This time it was he who stopped, took her in his arms and gently kissed the corner of her mouth. When her knees started to shake and she pictured herself lying in shards of Crystal, she fought the urge to pull away. He ran his fingers down her spine over her thin blouse. For a moment, she forgot the danger she was in, grateful for the world which purposefully puts divisions in place so that we can overcome them, feeling the joy of getting closer, even if deep down we can never forget the insurmountable differences. Before she knew it, she was shaking violently. She frenetically tried to control her muscles. Johnny felt her hesitation. He leaned back slowly, looking at her with something resembling pain; he almost but didn't say the two sentences he'd been meaning to say for years:
Part of me is made of Crystal. And I love you.
She saw Johnny one last time, not knowing this would be the case. She thought everything was just beginning. She spent the afternoon making him a keepsake of tiny birds out of folded paper strung together with a thread. Right before she walked out her front door, she grabbed a needlepoint cushion from her couch impulsively and stuffed it into the seat of her pants for extra protection. As soon as she did, she wondered why she hadn't thought of it before.
That night - after she gave Johnny the fragile, handmade keepsake, tying it gently around his neck while he kissed her, feeling only a little tremor, nothing so terrible, as he ran his fingers down her spine. Pause for a moment. He slipped his hand into the seat of her pants, only to pull back as a look came over him that vascillated from humor to horror, the sort of look that reminded her of a pain she'd known. She told him the truth. At least she tried to tell him the truth, but what came out was only half of it. Much, much later, she found she was unable to relieve herself of two regrets: The first, that when he leaned back she saw in the lamplight that the necklace she made had scratched his throat. And two, that in the most important moment of her life, she had chosen the wrong group of words, and said them aloud.
For reasons like these, shall we now defer, then, to Shakespeare?
I need to shut the brain OFF. /I/ can't even figure me out half the time.