Friday, May 5, 2017

All He Did Was Stare



We were never introduced but we certainly knew each other's names. Or at least I knew his. We were young university instructors at the time, though we belonged to different departments. I would not have noticed him at all had it not been for his strange behavior. It was a habit that simultaneously annoyed and intrigued me.

He stared.

In the beginning, I thought it was a fluke. I thought maybe he thought I was someone else. But as the months went on, I noticed how consistent the behavior was. I taught Sociology so you must understand how trained I was to observe things, gather my data without immediately jumping to conclusions. 

So that's what I did. I observed. I let it go on. Our faculty offices were in the same building, on the same floor. Conveniently, even our classes were in the same wing and again, on the same floor. As such, we would often pass each other by on the way to and from the two buildings. And every time this happened, I would see him staring at me from afar and by the time we were side by side, he would turn his head my way and just look at me. It was one of those things that you just feel and see from your peripheral vision. I didn't have the guts to actually look back at him and just suffered through my self-consciousness for a while.

Since I'm not one who readily assumes anything, not even when it's obvious, I had to test the reliability of this data. And the truth was, I was sure it was me he was staring at because it would happen even when there was no one else for him to turn his head to and stare at other than me. There were also times when I had to walk with a couple of my colleagues and they all confirmed that this man was, without a doubt, staring at my face. He also did the same every time he walked past my classroom and I would be in the middle of my lecture. It was a bit distracting at first but I quickly learned to adapt.

I was flattered, but more importantly, I was deeply intrigued. The mystery was killing me. Why was he doing it? If he was attracted to me, why doesn't he introduce himself? Why just stare instead of smile and say hello? Or maybe he found me repulsive? Yes, I thought that too. 

Finally, I decided to end my passive role in all this. I had allowed it for so long that I felt all that odd, conspicuous staring was getting old and I was feeling exasperated. I was certain that doing something about it would accelerate where it needed to go. Either it would escalate and he would pursue something more if indeed he was attracted to me, or he would get tired of it and stop. When I made the resolve to be pro-active, I wasn't sure which outcome I preferred. All I knew was that something needed to change. 

One day, I decided that was it. I saw him walking towards me...10 feet...5 feet...2 feet away...and then we were side by side. Just as his head was still turned towards me, I abruptly turned my head towards him and I obviously caught him off guard. I finally confirmed for myself that I was the object of his attention. Strangely though, as my gaze met his, I felt momentarily stunned. There was no smile, not even a hint of embarrassment from him for being caught staring at me. There was nothing. His face remained expressionless, yet I felt bulldozed by the intensity that I was the one who felt embarrassed and had to quickly turn away. It was as if I owed it to him to allow myself to be pierced like that. I didn't take pleasure in it. Apart from realizing he was really not that cute, I also felt violated and wondered if he was a misogynistic freak. 

From that point on, I vowed to give him a dose of his own medicine, albeit a much smaller dose, and throw in a slight smile and hello for good measure, at least whenever I felt like it. I was especially brave at doing those during faculty assemblies since I knew they were justified and had minimal risk of being misconstrued. The strange thing is that I still didn't get anything back. I don't recall him ever smiling at me, let alone truly engage me in a conversation. Eventually I found out he had a girlfriend so that pretty much extinguished all the thrill for me. I never reached a solid conclusion to my shallow adventure, never truly found out his motive for staring. But the reasons don't matter any more because I had lost interest in the mystery. Him staring back at me with a cold, brazenly arrogant look tasted too bitter for me to continue craving it. 

It was an exciting and fun few months for 24-year old me, when being mysterious was a prerequisite for attraction. But that's the thing about mysteries. They're evanescent and have a fragile existence. They entice and hook me, inviting me to dig and uncover. Unfortunately, sometimes there's nothing much to see, nothing more challenging to keep my attention. With a very limited lifespan, mysteries are not very reliable foundations to relationships. I'm not sure how long this man kept his 'routine'. The point is, I just stopped caring and knew there were other deeper mysteries ahead of me worth exploring. I was 24 and hadn't found it yet, but I was certain it was still out there, packaged in a much warmer, friendlier set of eyes. 




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