On Staring

By Heidie Raine

The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.

–Flannery O’Connor

Sitting in the library, looking through the thick-paned glass of the upper-level windows, I am staring. I am squinting and watching and questioning all that passes below. This is what I see:

I see a boy with olive cargo pants and a faint mustache topple off his longboard, roll like a bowling ball and land in the frosted crunch of cold spring grass. His board continues past him, catching on sidewalk divots until it veers off the path and into the cattails that line the lake. I wonder what his most immediate concern might be: the grass stain on his left hip, the whereabouts of his rogue transportation or the pride lost in being flung from wheels.

If I were him, I’d feel most embarrassed about being hurt, however minor. There’s something humiliating about the body’s ability to fail. Even though I know that everyone stubs toes and sprains ankles, I feel a quiet shame when I’m in pain. I think I dislike how it obligates bystanders to interact with me. Or maybe I dislike masses of attention directed at my ailment. Often, when I miss a stair or crack my head on an open cabinet, I compensate with a joke. Only then will concerned eyes shift back to whatever they were looking at before.

But nobody stops to check on the boy in the cargo pants. Small clusters of people whisk past him, some shielding their laughter better than others. And I know that all of these people have been the boy in the cargo pants—spilling coffee on white pants, ripping jeans when they squat to pick up a box, falling during a soccer game and taking too long to get up, tripping on mangled shoelaces, dropping piles of papers that fly away in the April breeze. But it’s easier to bury memories of personal embarrassment when the present serves you a fresh example, just right of the sidewalk.

I wonder how many of their eyes the boy in cargo pants feels. I wonder why he sits for a minute, taking shallow breaths, peering out over the lake. He looks like he’s counting passersby, trying to number how many watched his wipeout. At least 16. Maybe he’s trying not to cry. Maybe he’s trying not to swear and is actively asking Jesus to help him with that.

He does not see me, quiet behind the library glass, fishing for his thoughts, sympathizing with his scraped knee and bruised pride. He does not hear my other questions: Did his mother ever make him wear a bicycle helmet? When was the last time he fell? Is he in a class with any of the people laughing? Does he know how to remove grass stains? Will he carry his board for the rest of the day?

These are the questions that baffle the mind, that come from staring, that make the critic and scholar and poet and writer. They are the questions that keep me from finishing graphic organizers but enrich my essays and mind.

When I eventually leave the library, I pass by the spot where the boy in cargo pants fell. I see a patch of matted grass where he landed, and I know that he’ll see it and remember it even when it springs back up anew. And I will, too.

Heidie Raine is a junior English major at Cedarville with concentrations in creative and journalistic writing. In addition to working at the writing center, Heidie loves perusing her local Goodwill, drinking iced cortados, watching videos of sea otters and caring for her small forest of plants.

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