Jim’s tall, lanky frame had made him a target in his teenage years. It didn’t help that he wore glasses with thick black frames when wire frames were the style. His mother bought them at an estate sale and told him that he looked arty. All he could think about was the dead guy who wore them before. Plus, Jim wasn’t convincing as an arty type of guy. He couldn’t keep up with his successfully arty mom. He wasn’t smart, either. The glasses might have given that illusion but he was a mediocre student. Straight Cs.
Fast forward ten years to a different Jim in his mid twenties. He had the same lanky body, but it had started to mature and fill out. The pimples were gone and he was left with a decent enough looking face. The kind of face that women usually just wanted to be friends with but Jim had developed a confident attitude that made him super attractive! And he had a new pair of designer glasses that the store clerk had convinced him to buy because they made him look sophisticated. The purchase was put on his already ballooning credit card.
It was Jim’s fault, though because he was buying himself cool. Anytime that little doubting voice whispered in Jim’s head trying to cut his cool, he would shush it. He had fought against everything he was in high school and won! Except that he continued to be harassed. Now, he chalked it up to people being jealous of him. Instead of slipping out of sticky situations invisibly, he fought back.
“Get out of the street you idiot!” A guy driving a fast car could hardly wait for Jim to cross the street at a perfectly legal stop sign with a cross walk. Jim clenched his jaw and then took a breath.
“It’s a cross walk,” he announced with a calm, arrogant smile and stopped in the middle of the street. Jim continued at a slower pace, out for a leisurely stroll. His canvas blue sneakers were faded and worn, but purchased brand new. The red-faced guy in the sports car shouted something indiscernible and squealed his wheels after Jim had crossed.
“Look at his license plate, he’s a super nerd!” Shelly pointed and laughed. She was standing at the street corner waiting for Jim. He turned to look and Shelly hung her index finger in his back jean pocket. This sent chills down Jim’s back.
The vanity plate read ‘NVERLA8’. Jim politely stared at the rear of the black car but knew that he would be unable to read it. Whenever he looked at license plates, they were blurred out like in reality television shows when they didn’t want it to be seen. He didn’t want Shelly to know so he graciously laughed along with her. He couldn’t recall when it started, but knew that he was once able to read license plates. It was ridiculous. But the problem interfered with his job. Jim seemed to manage and no one except his mother knew about this little annoyance. Anyway, if he ignored it, it would eventually go away.
Jim treaded lightly through life, building a perfect invisible wall for protection. Those years of being bullied had created the wall brick by brick and now there was colorful graffiti on the outside of it. He took Shelly’s hand as they walked down the sidewalk, chit chatting about nothing.
“Oh, do you have change?” Shelly asked as they approached a homeless guy, sitting on the concrete.
“The guy has a cell phone. He doesn’t need change,” Jim huffed and reached into his jeans pocket. “I’ve seen him on it.”
“C’mon, he looks like he needs it,” Shelly looked way up at Jim and batted her brown eyes and pouted. Her short light colored curls fell back. Jim couldn’t resist her. They had been dating for about six months and he was head over heels. He pulled out a chunk of change and gave it to her. She bent down and dropped the change into the ragged plastic cup at the guy’s tattered feet. The ragamuffin looked up and smiled with yellowed teeth. He thanked her as she passed and she smiled warmly at him. Jim narrowed his eyes at the guy but kept walking. He had just passed the man when he heard, sucker, Jim halted.
“What?” Jim turned around to look down at the man. “What did you say?”
“He didn’t say anything,” Shelly furrowed her brow and tugged at Jim’s hand.
“He said sucker. I swear he said sucker,” Jim tensed his jaw.
“Naw, man,” the man waved the air with his soiled hand.
“He didn’t say anything, now c’mon,” Shelly persuaded. She was embarrassed.
“I swear to god he said sucker.” Jim gave a piercing look straight into the guy’s muddied eyes. Just then it struck Jim that he was looking into a depth of vastness, nothingness . . . there was no one there. The man was lost. This frightened him. He quickly unlocked his gaze and moved forward.
“What was that all about?” Shelly stopped Jim. She pushed her hands into her jean pockets and rocked to the outsides of her tennies.
“Nothing,” Jim replied.
“I feel like you’re holding back . . . like you’re hiding something. You know you can say anything to me. I’m really confused about what just happened,” Shelly looked softly into his green eyes.
“I’m confused, too.” He responded and then paused, “I don’t know.” He took her hand and they continued to walk down the sidewalk.
To be continued . . .