Some people cry too easy. In biology class two years ago we talked about osmosis and how some membranes are passive, allowing water to come and go through them. I wonder if that’s why those crying people are like that; their eyes must have passive membranes. They spend much more time crying than thinking.
Murdle was not one of those people. No, he was not. If anything, he was the polar opposite, always searching for a logical argument in that library of a brain, which must have been stuffed with every science textbook and survival guide known to mankind. I had never looked at Murdle and seen a hint of emotion. Sure, we had laughed together before, but humor does not require feeling. Humor is a logical process, just like everything else. At least, that is what Murdle would say.
On this particular day in January, Murdle and I found ourselves in the same English section, debating the concept of “love at first sight,” as assigned to our class by our bubbly professor. The room had been split into halves: one side argued for the concept, the other against, and Murdle not at all, though he stood on the “against” side. I stood on the “for” side, not that I had had any experience with the subject matter, but I enjoyed a challenging argument. Also, I wanted to see Murdle lost amidst a debate of emotion. I anticipated it would be interesting. I was not wrong at all.
“So! Here is our broad question for today’s debate, brought upon us by our readings of Shakespeare and Dickens: Can love be found at the first sight of someone? So! Let us begin with the defendant; Hunter, start us off!” The professor sat down in a giddy excitement, as if she had waited for this debate all semester.
I stepped forward from my group and read our opening statement, “Love is found at the searcher’s own pace, so it is up to him or her whether he or she recognizes the emotion immediately, as Romeo did, or in time, as Charles Darnay did.”
Trish annunciated the opposing side’s opening statement, something about “developing emotions takes time,” but I was too busy observing Murdle, his face set in the most compact concrete contortion of blankness and vacancy I had ever seen. His arms hanging awkwardly at his side like wings on a car, he appeared to have an air of unbelonging about him. Murdle was standing amidst a foreign marketplace, people were speaking in tongues he had never heard, and the items for sale were too exotic for him to notice their usefulness and value. Every now and then, a foreigner would explain something to him and Murdle would just nod his head in feigned agreement, just wanting it all to be over and done.
His eyes said it all. He was not even present that day in class. He had retreated deep into the catacombs that lay inside his head, and the conversation happening about him slammed into a thick eardrum that was too dense to vibrate the message through to the brain; all that Murdle heard were muffled voices.
And so on went the debate. My side said something, cited something from the text, said something, ended turn. Trish’s side said something, cited something from the text, said something, ended turn. After thirty minutes, the professor realized that the riveting and profound debate she had expected was not the one she observed before her. She grew tired of the long pauses between exchanges, the lack of evidence from outside sources, the slacking participation, and everything else that optimistic English professors find wrong with mediocre debates about a topic that, by God, should exhilarate everyone! Look at these sad souls, she must have thought, dragging their feet through the muck of reality, too occupied to care enough about the possibilities they debate! That’s it! I am going to call on someone. Whoever’s name I see first on my attendance list, that is who I will call! That is who will revive this disaster into something spectacular!
“So! It seems that we are having a little trouble here, which is fine, which is fine.”
She obviously meant that it was not fine and that she had become irritated.
The professor looked at the clipboard in her lap, cocked her head sideways in contemplation and spoke in a decisive, final manner.
“Murdle! We haven’t heard anything from you today. Tell us why you are against the idea of love at first sight.”
It was as if Murdle had just entered the classroom. He lifted his head, eyes darting to and fro in panicked ponderment. His consciousness had risen from the catacombs, his eardrums vibrated clearly, and he could just make out what was being said to him by the foreigners. Just barely.
I had stopped breathing at this point. This was exactly what I had waited for. I had no idea what to expect, no idea what to prepare for.
“Love…uh…is a chemical process in the brain,” the terrified teenager stated shakily, “but, it is not love—or what chemical reactions are defined as love—that occurs at the first sight of someone…uh…It is actually considered lust.”
“Well! That certainly is an interesting way to look at things, Murdle, but let’s think of love as a more spiritual, or emotional, reaction. What would you say then?” The professor smiled the way an old southern woman might after offering a glass of sweet tea to a guest, awaiting a specific answer, the answer she wanted: “Yes, I’d love to have some sweet tea, ma’am.”
Murdle did not smile. His lips stuck straight ahead in a required silence. He could not answer the way she wanted him to, there was no possible way. But what other way could he have answered?
Murdle then did something that I still look back on as astonishing and perplexing.
He walked out of the classroom.
With his awkward gait and cylindrical legs he escaped to the door, away from everything foreign and unknown, to a comfortable predictable world. The people in the marketplace all stared at him in confusion, as if they had expected something from his visit. But how could he have done what was expected if he did not understand what was expected?
I swear that I heard him mutter something under his breath as he left, something like, “I don’t understand, I don’t understand…”
Murdle must have withdrawn from that English section after that session; I never saw him there again.
Some people think too much.
Bryce Langston is a dual-enrolled junior high-school student in the small town of Avon Park, Florida. He enjoys composing music and short stories.