Bobby Matthews motions for me to join him on the piano bench of his shiny baby grand. Entranced, and puzzled by his attraction to me–for at 10 I am scrawny and knobby-kneed, with hated freckles–I move slowly across the living room of his parents’ farmhouse, as if in a dream. Studiously avoiding eye contact, I perch gingerly on the corner of the bench, ready for sudden flight should he discover his blunder of inviting me here.
I don’t know what any of this means, this sudden invitation which has resulted in my presence in a house whose interior I’ve yearned for years to explore. I am dumbfounded to find myself singled out–me!–from the more popular girls in our classroom, girls with ratted hair and sly, flashing eyes. Girls who chew gum in class, and who, when Mr. Moore tells them to spit it out into the trashcan by his desk, laugh wickedly in the manner common to such early bloomers.
When Bobby’s hands caress the piano keys, I am transported beyond this moment in time, this moment of shoulders barely brushing, of his sweet smile when I dare to cut my eyes to his own freckled face. Transported back in time to a place inside of me I never visit any more, having lost my map and key, having forgotten the customs and culture of that long ago world of easy acceptance. Having lost, most of all, my way back to me.
Bobby sings “Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me. . .” in his pre-puberty voice, and I am stirred by a haunting sense of things delighted in, only to be lost irretrievably. Am I a fake, a charlatan, that I sit with outward calm, though every bit of me silently cries out to squirm in protest of his misguided adoration? What does it say about me that I fail to clasp my hand over his to still this haunting serenade, and set the record straight about my innate nothingness?
Oh, what crust I must have to say nothing while his voice so lovingly sings to one as undeserving as I! An impostor, I am at once both a cheat and a liar of the worst sort, for there is nothing beautiful about my scabby-kneed self. And dreaming is something I rarely indulge in, something I first began weaning myself from ages ago when life taught me that it is not safe to dream.
(Being a hard worker was a good place to hide.)