And Maybe Then You'll Hear The Words That I've Been Singing, It's Funny When You're Dead How People Start Listening
continued from I Won't Ask For Promises, So You Don't Have To Lie, We've Both Played That Game Before, Say I Love You Then Say Goodbye...
When Eddie Evans agreed to go on this blind date for his buddy Dave he was sure of who was doing whom the favor. From the moment he sat down to dinner with Sylvia, however, he had begun to rethink his theory. As the night wore on, he became more and more convinced that he would be owing Dave big time for setting him up.
To say Sylvia was comely was an understatement; she was brilliantly pretty. And while he had reservations about her demeanor at the outset of the evening, her shyness slowly gave way to an honest joviality he found shocking. Whereas at the beginning of the meal she could hardly stitch two words together convincingly, by the middle of the meal the two of them were trading quips, barbs, and anecdotes like people who had known each other for years. He found her intelligent, but not arrogant; funny, but not insipid; and, most importantly, he got the sense that she was discovering the very same qualities in him.
When their two slices of red velvet cake came, Eddie was ready to make plans with her again. Before he could, though, she asked him a question.
"I usually don't tell people this the first night meeting them, but.... Did I ever tell you I'm kind of famous?" she asked innocently.
"No, you never told me that." In his head, he was thinking model or maybe a writer of some kind. Dave had told him that she was well-off and didn't really have to work all that much. Dave didn't make it sound like she was rich or anything--just that she was sort of gainfully unemployed.
"Yeah, I'm kind of a big deal in certain circles. All the wrong circles," she half-laughed.
Eddie had never been out with a celebrity before. Once he had dated someone who eventually became a reporter for the 6 o'clock news in a town in New Mexico, but she wasn't famous at the time. He didn't know what it meant to be attached to someone a segment of the world at large knew about. That's why he reckoned she was asking him this question, to prepare him for the rigors of dating someone people would recognize. Even if, as she put it, it was the "wrong" people. He was just happy that she had deigned him worthy of inclusion into her celebrity status.
He felt like he should've faked his answer, pretended that he had seen her name in passing. He didn't know if it was a slight to tell somebody who thought of herself as famous that he didn't recognize her. Oh well, it was too late now anyway.
"Why? What'd you do?"
He watched as she adjusted her reddish-brown hair behind her. Then she smiled slightly, with the corners of her mouth curling into an almost devilish grin.
"When I was around eight I disappeared," she said plainly. "One minute I was shopping with my mom and Lily, the next minute I'm gone. Poof. Vanished."
"What do you mean? I don't get it," Eddie replied. As stories go, this one didn't make a lot of sense to him. He half-believed she was yanking his chain to see if she could get a reaction. He furrowed his brow and pursed his lips.
"People say I was there one second and not the next second," she said in between bites of her cake. "Isn't that weird?"
"And then what happened? Did they end up finding you later that day?"
He watched as she playfully placed another bite of cake into her mouth. He watched as Sylvia purposefully chewed her cake, drawing out the suspense. Finally, she ended by taking a small sip of her glass of water before answering.
"Not for a year."
"A whole year. Forty-eight weeks and four days later to be precise , right as rain, I found myself on that escalator as if a single day hadn't passed."
Eddie imagined he must have had a perturbed look on his face because the next few moments he felt more than heard the silence. The whole world stilled itself with the news that Sylvania had turned out to be a certified loon. He began thinking of how she had so many prospects, so much going for her, and to be derailed by the fact she was a tad loosey-goosey in the head was disappointing. He immediately started thinking of ways to excuse himself from her company.
He heard Sylvia laugh before he could come up with very many excuses, however. He watched her light green eyes sparkle with animated energy. Maybe she is mocking me, he thought. Maybe this whole story is one twisted joke she likes to tell all her first dates just to see what they say. She's testing me to see if I can roll with a good practical joke. Eddie felt like he should say something clever to let her know he understood what the situation was and what was expected of him. Of course he could take a joke. In high school he was always pranking people. Granted, most stunts he pulled didn't involve entire back stories about disappearing for years at a time, but perhaps she was just more imaginative than he was. The extent of his pranks involved stealing his friends' clothes from their gym locker or moving their cars while he had a free period.
He knew what his next move had to be. He had to go along with the charade until she was ready to unfurl the punch line. He wasn't about to ruin her thunder by petty quibbles about the veracity of her statements.
"It's okay if you don't believe me. Nobody ever does. I wanted to explain that to you because I've been accused if hiding my past in, well, in the past. It's something that I wanted you to know in case anything, you know, happens after this between you and I." She laughed again, this time a little less boisterously. "I don't want you accusing me of keeping this from you for months or anything.
"I wanted to explain because I'm sure it's going to come up again."
"It is?" he asked. He took a bite from his cake meekly. For all his blather earlier in the evening, it was like his rapport with her had fallen by the wayside when she revealed her news. There she was, almost halfway through her cake, still poised and relaxed as she had been minutes earlier while he was a small wreck. Then again, she had over twenty-five years to get used to the fact that she thought she had disappeared from, he guessed, this plane of existence while he had barely twenty-five seconds to acclimate himself to the news.
It was going to take him a little more time than that.
"Yeah, unfortunately. That's all I do now. After it happened all these various organizations asked to study me, interview me, you name it. Now I make the bulk of my money speaking at every sci-fi, supernatural, and scientific meeting or gathering you can think of it. I get paid to tell that same exact story I told you. All I have to do is dress it up with nicer words and then explain in a dozen different ways that, no, I don't remember what happened while I was gone. No, I don't know where I was all that time. And, no, I don't believe I was dead, abducted by aliens, or what have you. Honestly, I don't have a theory to explain it all and I'm not even the least bit curious to discover one, you know?"
Eddie sat there with his mind reeling. This wasn't a joke it began to dawn on him. She really was telling him what she firmly believed had happened to her. As he sat there listening, the more it sounded to him like she was just recounting a story from her childhood in the exact tone someone else might have recounted the time they fell out of a tree or went fishing at the lake once when they turned twelve. This was just a story that had happened to her personally. No big deal. Nothing to get worked up about.
Except that it was. To Eddie it was akin to discovering that Bigfoot was real or that Loch Ness was currently swimming around Lake Michigan. This was huge. This was possibly the most bizarre story he had ever heard in his entire life. Now that Sylvia had finally convinced him that she did what she claimed to do, he had all sorts of questions to pose to her. Did she feel a year older or did she feel the same age when she left? What did her parents say when she showed up all those many months later? What was it like adjusting to her newfound fame?
the sharp knife of a short life
He took a quick glance at his date and reconsidered.
He didn't know why all of those questions somehow got translated down to one direct one. He didn't even mean to ask it. Yet looking at her face, the knowing grin, the expectation in her eyes and in her jaunty posture, Eddie knew he couldn't be just another random face that asked her all the same questions again. This one was special, he could tell. He wanted to be different than all the rest. He wanted her to like him because he wasn't like all the rest.
"Are you alright now?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, aside from the fame thing, how are you holding up?" he clarified for her.
"I've adjusted. I've made my peace being the freak of the week," she clarified for him. "It's amazing the freedom being alternatively dead, taken by aliens, or being sucked through space/time vortex--whatever that is--gives you. I say all these things that are just my opinions, but they're giving added weight all because one day long ago I went missing without a trace one day and came back almost a year later. I don't feel all that special, but because of that day I get treated like some precious commodity."
"I can imagine," he said, even though he couldn't. "You have all this authority behind your words that isn't real."
"Exactly. The worst is with my family. They're convinced I died and came back from the grave. Funny, I don't feel like I died. But now everything I say it's like I have a direct channel to God or something."
He watched as she polished off the last of her cake. Once she was done that, she sat there watching him watch her. It was an awkward silence that lasted maybe a minute, but it was a strange because it was the first pause in conversation that he could remember there being all night. It wasn't distressing or off-putting, just awkward for the sheer anomaly that it was. One good outcome, he thought, was that it gave a chance to truly see how stunning she was, how calm she was despite the wild and outlandish events she was relating to him. With some people they would exaggerate the details, play up the Twilight Zone aspects of her story. Not her. If anything, her whole tone spoke of it not being so out there. She wasn't scared or contemplative about the whole ordeal. She had made her peace with it a long time ago, he figured. What she was doing now was giving him the first opportunity to start making his peace with it.
"Can I ask you something, Eddie?" she asked after the moment of silence had come and gone.
"You don't want to know more about it? You don't want me to go into the specifics of how or why or what?"
"Well, we've got to save something for the second date, now don't we?" he asked, trying to act just as casually as her.
"And you don't get the heebie-jeebies from being around me?"
"And you believe my story, every word of it?"
He watched as she shook her head slightly, her reddish brown tresses twisting in perfect unison.
"Then I don't get it. Aren't you the least bit curious?"
"What's there to know? You say you're alright and I believe you. That's the most important part of that story, I think."
Eddie was beginning to understand now. For most of her life, Sylvia had been gawked at, put on this pedestal for having all the answers to what lay beyond this world--either in the afterlife or other parts of the universe. For most of her life, Sylvia had accepted the mantle of interpreting her own experience for others so as to give them hope that there is more than what this short, sometimes dull life had to offer. It wasn't a job she wanted, but she never once ran away from it. It was a true that there was a large part of her that liked the attention. Yet there was another part of her that decisively didn't like the attention, didn't want to simply be known as "The Escalator Girl". There was a small part of her that wanted to be seen by the casual stranger as something more than the reputation one story bestowed upon her. There was a part of her screaming to be seen as just Sylvia--no more, no less.
He saw her as Sylvia, but he also saw her as something more than that. He saw her as the woman who quite possibly was the woman he was meant to be with--not because she had all the answers to life, the universe, and everything. He didn't feel this way because she had died or been to another planet; that didn't lend her the spirit that he was finding himself attracted to at that very moment. No, he was smitten with her because she had told him that story without an ounce of pretense. She had trusted him with it earlier than most, she admitted, because she felt that she could trust him.
It wasn't the what of the story that hooked him. It was the why that was important to him.
Dead. Abducted. It just didn't matter to him. All that mattered at that moment was she was sitting across from him, smiling directly at him just then.
"Sylvia, I have a question for you too."
"Do you want to get out of here and maybe continue this conversation over coffee or something? Maybe at Starbuck's?"
She shook her head slightly again.
"Or my place, whatever's clever..." he heard her add.
And that's when Eddie knew he'd have to thank his buddy Dave in a big way tomorrow.