Monday 30 April 2018

Mary-Jane Jessop

     I have never really been able to discern the hand of Fate guiding my life, except in the case of Mary-Jane Jessop.
     When I was in primary school, in the Northern town of Prince Rupert, there was this girl in my class. She was slightly built, shorter than average, blonde, with one green eye and one blue, and smart—she always made the honour roll. Her name was Mary-Jane Jessop and I was in love with her, and every year I'd stare in awe while she stood at the front of the assembly to receive her certificate of achievement. In grade three, her desk was at the far end of the room from mine and though I had never been an honour student, I resolved to get on the honour roll just so that I could stand beside her.
     That year, I made good on my promise. As I recall, it wasn't difficult. I just had to actually start paying attention and do the assigned tasks. So, at the end of the year, I got to stand in line with Mary-Jane Jessop and a handful of others as we received our special certificates. Because we were from the same grade, I did end up standing right next to her and people probably mistook the smile on my face as pride in academic achievement when in fact it was the silly grin guys get when in the presence of grace and beauty. I don't really know why, but I had no deeper plan than to stand beside her and was completely satisfied with having achieved that single thing. I don't recall ever making another move. A year later, my family moved from Prince Rupert to Victoria at the extreme end of the province, 500 plus miles South.
     Mary-Jane and I were done.
     As it turned out, also done were my days on the honour roll.
     The years passed. I got through primary school, high school, and started attending University, and rarely ever thought about Mary-Jane Jessop. But, I never forgot her face or name.
     One morning, a bunch of friends and I were sitting in one of the university cafes drinking coffee, talking sciencey stuff and generally trying to avoid going to class when I overheard someone in a group of girls behind us mention Prince Rupert. When I glanced over, I saw a slightly built, short, blonde girl who instantly reminded me of Mary-Jane Jessop, though it'd been more than 14 years since I last laid eyes on her. I returned to the conversation with my friends, but a large portion of my mind remained focused on the conversation behind me. Eventually, I heard the name "Mary-Jane" and I stole another glance—directly at her, and intense enough to cause discomfort, had she noticed. She had one green and one blue eye!
     In my mind, I was freaking out. It's her! This is a meaningful, preordained moment of destiny that has taken almost 15 years to form. This is the stuff of legends, ballads, movies!
     With no thought to the abruptness of the move, I left the table and walked directly over to Mary-Jane's table, my eyes homed in on hers the entire way. I sat down with my coffee as if invited and took my time settling in, confident that what I was about to say would justify the bold moves. Three young women were now staring at me in stunned silence, waiting for some kind of pickup line. And, for the first time in my life, I thought I had a brilliant one to deliver.
     "Mary-Jane Jessop, my name is Bill. I was in your class in grades 1 to 3 and was so in love with you that I got on the honour roll just so I could stand next to you."
      It was perfect. I was perfect. I delivered the line smoothly and with a sexy smile that would only have been creepy if we were not each other's destiny. Next, I assumed, she would surely gush and we'd start up reminiscing about our old teachers or Prince Rupert, and from there branch off into the different paths our lives had taken, our likes and dislikes, our tastes in music, what we would name our kids, and from there, naturally, to a whirlwind romance and an eternal love that would be written up in great books and sung in songs not by Taylor Swift—or, at the very least, casual sex—both outcomes being quite equivalent to me, back then.
     Mary-Jane and her two friends stared at me in what I initially assumed was appropriate awe. The silence got awkward, then very awkward, and just before it became unbearably awkward the petite and beautiful Mary-Jane Jessop looked directly at me with those perfectly unmatched glistening orbs and said, "Umm. O-k."
     All of the punch went out of my punchline. The jet of confidence I had been piloting stalled and I suddenly became eight years old again. I sputtered the only thing I could think, which was exactly what she'd just said, "Umm, ok..."

     Mary-Jane Jessop's expression was as blank as a mannequin's, seemingly unimpressed by the revelation of her being my first crush and the incredible machinations of Fate that had steered us both to this moment. I might just as well have been a cafeteria server delivering an order of toast and flatly declaring, "Toast."
     I became extremely conscious of the eyes of my friends, her friends and Mary-Jane herself bearing down on me and I segued with, "Well, anyway, nice to see you again," and slunk back to my humdrum, Fateless existence.
     That was about 30 years ago and I have not seen or heard of her since. I'm now old and happily married, with two great kids. I am a hopeless romantic, but I think it's safe to say that the lives of Mary-Jane Jessop and myself are no longer intertwined any more than me and the random stranger who said, "Right on!" referring to my new Superman T-shirt, as we passed in a movie theatre, eight years ago.
     Fate, huh. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!


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