I could never forget that terrible morning at church. I minimized my involvement as much as possible after that. I was also an outsider in high school, but it was where I discovered photography. My unique gift for seeing things as they are had the side effect that I could look through a viewfinder and capture images that no one else had seen.
The library was a place of great solace for me, because there were carrels where I could actually take off my glasses and read clearly. But woe betide me if anyone happened to walk up. The most beautiful and popular girl in the school turned into a desiccated stick-figure that looked as if something were draining the very life out of it. The big and strong athletes were little more than mewling children, the intellectuals, ugly, haughty, preening beasts; and don't even ask about the goths and druggie crowd. Only here and there was anyone who truly shone. One was Jasmine. To the rest of the world she appeared an ordinary, slender girl with middle eastern features and long, black hair that she usually had tied up in a bun. She wore oversize glasses and dressed quite conservatively.
One day while I was working my way through Silas Marner for my junior AP English class, I heard a girl’s voice say, “Hi, Sam.” Forgetting my glasses, I turned and was dazzled. Here stood a veritable goddess: she was wreathed in light, her black hair shimmering blue; her brown eyes danced in a smooth and flawless face, and the colors of her clothes were rich tones I’d never seen before.
“Oh, um, hi,” I stammered, blinking.
“Are you okay, Sam?” she asked. Oh dear, I’m staring, I thought and pulled my glasses down off my forehead. The iridescent immaculateness muted into the Jasmine’s cute, bespectacled features.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” And then it just broke out, “Jasmine, why do you shine?”
“I shine?” she said, cocking her head to one side with a queer little smile. Then she giggled. “Maybe it’s because I believe in Jesus. My mother always says that He makes us shine.”
“Oh,” I mumbled, not wanting to purse it anymore, but that simple statement sowed a seed that would take another five or six years to sprout. All Jasmine really wanted was to get my notes from the previous day’s chem class; but after that I could never look at her the same way again: I was completely smitten. I never told her, but I wanted to see that glory again and I’d sometimes sneak a look over my glasses, focusing on her rather than the monsters that surrounded her. She went to a different church from my parents’ one; one that my parents said we shouldn’t have anything to do with because they were “charismatic”. At that time all I could figure was that they had a band with drums and guitars, sang songs we didn’t and their services were supposedly “more wild”, though what that exactly meant was a mystery to me. After all, all I knew was my parents’ church. So Jasmine and I only crossed paths intermittently, which was why I lost track of her after we graduated from high school.
By that time, I was making a name for myself as an amateur photographer. My parents encouraged it as a career choice, so I decided to study art and photography and enrolled at a small state-run liberal arts college.
College was mostly boring. I kept my head down and kept away from Christians and pagans alike. I made an attempt at having a girlfriend, but that relationship died after about the fourth date, when she insisted on taking off my glasses and I found myself sitting next to a rotting corpse. Besides, no one could ever replace the lovely Jasmine.