“Cheer up,” S. said. “Dance with me.”
About three months had passed since my mother had died. My cancer-riddled grandmother would be gone a month later. Perhaps I was prone to sudden silences and fits of restlessness. S. and I were in his room. We worked together in the dorm and we were friends.
S. knew I liked to dance, and though I felt silly, I accepted his hand. We danced around his room until I was laughing, and then it was time to get to work.
A few days later I ran into S. at the front desk. “Hi!” I said, checking my mailbox. He crossed his arms over his chest and said, “You take that woman’s studies class, right?”
“Sure,” I said, looking at my mail.
“You take a lot of those women classes.”
I stopped looking at my mail. “Yes. That okay with you?”
“My girlfriend’s never taken those kinds of classes.”
“Oh. Well, good for her,” I said, thinking how I wanted to get to lunch and how he’d react if his girlfriend did take a women’s studies class. “Gotta go.”
A week later, we were at an employee retreat weekend. All of us were in this hotel conference room with paper, magazines, scissors, and glue. We were told to draw lines down the paper to make four sections, and then to cut out magazine pictures and words. Some of the cut outs were the way we saw ourselves and other pictures were the way we saw our coworkers. So, if I saw a picture of, let’s say, a carrot, and I thought of a coworker as healthy or rabbit-like, I would cut that carrot out and give it to my rabbity colleague. Okey-dokey.
S. had avoided me since our dance, but I hadn’t noticed. And while I sat on the floor flipping through magazines and joking with other Resident Assistants, he marched across the room and handed me two cut outs–one of two women holding hands and another of the words women love. “Here,” he said. “You.”
I glued the two cut outs onto my page and when anyone asked me about them I said with a shrug, “Oh, that’s how S. sees me.” I didn’t have the energy to figure out why.
In fiction, characters often do not see each other clearly. That’s where conflict comes from. Right? But sometimes writers don’t see their characters clearly either. That may not be the conflict you want. Some characters I know immediately. Some hide from me for a long time. Sill others try to reveal themselves but I’m not paying attention or maybe I don’t want to see. Who knows? Maybe I should have my characters cut up magazines too. Ha.
Is there a particular type of character that you aren’t seeing fairly? Someone who shows up again and again but what you want from them isn’t what they want to give?