The Terrified, the Blind, and the Lost

“He wants to meet you,” she says.

I look up from filing photographs. “What? Why?”

My co-worker points to the silly staff photo on the wall. “He saw that and was like, ‘hey, introduce me and is she single?'”

silly staff photo
silly staff photo

I walk around the counter and stare at the photo. “Are you sure he meant me?”

“Of course he did.”

I shake my head and walk back to the photo bins. “That’s not me.”

She looks at the photograph, looks at me, and looks back at the photograph. “What are you talking about?”

“Yeah, okay. It is me, but is isn’t me–I mean, I don’t look like that. That’s a joke.”

She tilts her head and frowns. “But he wants to meet you and he’s cute.”

“No way.” I feel queasy and ridiculous.

“When was the last time you had a date?”

“Two months ago.”

“And before that?”

It had been a year. “Look, I just don’t want to meet him. Okay?”

“He said you looked hot.”

“Yeah, and he’s going to come in here and find me!” I shook my head. “And I can’t, I mean, he’ll be…it’s a stupid picture. You can’t believe a picture. Tell him I’ve got a boyfriend.”

She looks at me, and I figure she’s now thinking I’m too nuts to introduce to her friends. “Suit yourself,” she says. “But I don’t see what’s so bad about just meeting him.”

I make her promise she won’t let him come into the store, and that if he does come in, she’ll tell me. If I know he’s in the store, I’ll hide in the breakroom, I say. At this point I assume she’ll warn him off–that girl’s a mess. Stay away.

As far as I know, she kept her promise. I kept wishing I had a date.

In fiction, characters often lack an understanding of how others see them. If they are told, they misunderstand or refuse to believe it. They may miss out on what they want because they are too afraid of looking foolish. Or unattractive. Or…(place your fear here).

Some stories make me feel like I’ve been gutted. These tend to be stories where the main character is his own worst enemy. My first thought is of The Glass Menagerie. Everyone in that play is so deluded, I can barely watch. Or stories where the man knows he’s got the Great Idea and it is going to Save him and his family, but of course he’s a fool and loses everything.

But hey, great literature is filled with such people. Who can you name? The terrified and the blind and the crazy–who always think they got a handle on things but the world knows they’re hurtling towards disaster. Often times their fellow characters push them to crash faster.

I can’t help it. I like my characters to figure things out. I do terrible things to them, but in the end they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and are not broken or depending on the kindness of strangers. They have lost bits of themselves, sure. They’ve understood something new, yes. They are probably sadder. They are definitely tired. But they are not lost.

This is not to say I wouldn’t a kill a character in the end. I would. All the same, they still wouldn’t be lost.

As for whether photographs tell the truth…that’s for another day.

6 thoughts on “The Terrified, the Blind, and the Lost

  1. You deftly bring us back to point of view, as in whose truth is being told, an enigma you compound by raising the issue of which tells the truer truth, the writer or the photographer. Well, okay; enigma is fun, nearly as much fun as ambiguity.

  2. Yeah, as Shelly implies, you could almost do a Citizen Kane-style story, at the center of which isn’t a dead multi-millionaire whom nobody really knew but rather the girl in a photo.

    I am (as always) fascinated by your story and what you do with it to induce us to an epiphany. Here, we’ve got the guy who wanted to meet the girl in the photo but maybe didn’t really want to meet YOU. So we wonder about the might-(not-)have-beens with you.

    But I also wonder about the guy who saw the photo, thought to himself, “HER? Why would I want to meet HER?” and never bothered following up. I wonder about the girl who saw it and thought “Now, there’s somebody I am so glad I don’t know.” I wonder too about the elderly couple who saw it in their separate wanderings around the establishment, and were reminded — in quite different ways — about the girl in the man’s past. Heck, I even wonder about the vampire who saw it and thought, “…”

    That there are a half-dozen others in the photo, just by itself, suggests a half-dozen stories those others might think of when they saw you perched on the counter.

    Couldn’t help noticing that this is apparently a camera place of some kind. Why am I not surprised that you were working with photography back then, too?

  3. I definitely prefer stories where the characters learn something, and grow from it. If they don’t, it’s just too depressing and nihilistic, sometimes even misanthropist. I can take terrible zombies and dead babies, as long as in the end, the characters are brought higher. If they don’t go there, I feel, as you say, like I’ve been gutted.

  4. Have you ever watched SIX FEET UNDER? My husband and I rented that show on DVD, and we loved the first season. Liked the other seasons okay, but all the characters just kept going down. There was no redeeming character. We stopped watching it in the fifth and final season because we were afraid they were all going to commit mass suicide in the end. It made me see that somehow you need a character in a story that is the strong one. The moral center. Someone to keep me from wanting to kill myself. And you need some hope and as you said, somehow keep them from getting completely lost. I always kind of want to finish it, hoping that maybe it came around in the end and that at least one character would end with hope for a happy life, but the show didn’t give me much hope for that.

  5. Shelly, I didn’t do it on purpose.

    JES, I didn’t get to work at the photo place long, but I’ve loved photographs since I was five and my mother set me free with her Pentax.

    rowena, I hope you’re using that feeling in that novel of yours.

    shelli, I tried to watch Six Feet Under and I wanted to like it. I did like its imagination and cleverness, but I never connected with any of the characters. I’ve had people tell me that was the point of the show and that these characters are like real people, and that I just didn’t “get it.” Of course, it drives me crazy when people think that another person is dim because they don’t agree on what is brilliant. In the end I found that show to be too depressing–and not because of the death.

  6. Marta, I think we felt the same way about the show. My husband and I also wondered if the creators of the show were doing it on purpose, but we really hated where it went. We hated that all the characters made such bad decisions. I really don’t think that’s like real life. Sure, there are nuts out there, but there are some quality people out there too. Like I said, I need some or, at least, one redeeming character. And, yes, it had nothing to do with the death. That was the part that we thought was so clever. But they even let that go near the end of the series. It was less about the death and more about the characters and their screwed up lives. It was too depressing.

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