This excerpt is taken from the beginning of Sophia’s Story. My hope is that it gives a glimpse into how our story began, nine years before we met our Sophia.
“Do you have 100 pesetas?” I ask, sheepishly, to the guy standing behind me in line. I am not used to talking to strangers, much less asking for money.
“Sure, no problem.” He says this in a friendly way. He seems so kind, but I am so frazzled with this money issue, I don’t take much notice. I’m not sure if I look desperate or not, after all it is only a book, but for a brief moment, it is like I need shelter and this tall, well-meaning stranger is the hero. It seems like hyperbole, but it is real. I need exact change!
“Thank you. I will pay you back as soon as I can get back to my room and get some change. I really appreciate this. I…”
“Don’t worry about paying me back.” His response is so calm and soothing, yet somehow I still don’t take notice of him beyond our short discourse. Our to-the-point exchange comes while waiting in line to buy a book for our first class while studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. The store clerks announce, in rapid-fire Spanish, that we must pay with exact change. Of course, not being fully prepared, I don’t have that, and upon turning around in my panicked-stupor, he is the first person I see standing behind me. I wonder, will this guy take pity on a complete stranger and help a fellow student? I am so embarrassed, but have no choice but to ask this somewhat tall, thinly built, blonde haired, guy to help me out. He has freckles. They are endearing.
As usual, my anxiety reared its ugly head. I let myself get freaked out by the littlest things, and this guy seems so calm. He must think I am rude, or crazy. Or maybe both. As our first encounter ends, I go about my business for the rest of the day. I don’t give this guy much of a second thought.
The money-loaning guy and I have subsequent chance meetings, bumping into one another in the halls or outside one of the academic buildings, but it takes several of these “fated” meetings before we really notice each other. I am sitting alone in my dorm room, which is tiny, and sterile. It’s more like a booth than a bedroom, but I make it work. The walls are white-painted cinder blocks with no adornments, no paintings, clocks, or posters. The size of the room is so small the bed butts up against the desk and chair as if they are just one giant piece of furniture. The floor space is like a postage stamp, and when the door is opened, it swings midway into my room, cutting off access to the closet. It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t need the door open for ventilation or just to realize there was an outside world. Despite the room’s miniscule size, the Spaniards apparently value having individual sinks, and so in the micro enclave behind the door is a vanity area. My very own sink. I have never had one in my American college life, and it makes the miniature room feel almost big enough, almost luxurious. We have a fair amount of free time when we are not in class, and so I lie on my bed (mostly because being on the bed is the only way to fit in the room) and listen to music. The music is tinny as it seeps out of the cheap, tiny speakers connected to my cheap tiny CD player, but I relish the sounds; It is one of the few enjoyments I could bring from home. Good thing it isn’t the size of the stereo I am used to. I can’t imagine the room being able to hold it; it is almost reaching maximum density as it is. As the music plays, the tall, blonde, freckled guy from the book line cruises by my room, stops at my open door, and peers inside.
“Is that Live?” he calls into my room. Startled, I turn away from the white cinder blocks, surprised that someone was talking to me, unprepared for his seemingly random question.
“It is, do you like that band?” I say the first thing that comes to mind, probably not the best response ever, but it works. Despite its triviality, he seems hooked on this new conversation, or maybe I’m hooked.
This time, during this ever so brief conversation, I find that I actually enjoy talking to this guy. It just took a more intimate situation for things to click. I am glad fate gave me another chance to say something more profound to him other than begging for his spare change. I notice more about him than I did earlier. Jason is a very caring, giving human being. With his awkward “pick-up” line, and cheesy grin, he seems dorky, and fortunately (for both of us) that is my style. I get the impression he is trying hard to find a reason to talk to me, and that alone is attractive. He fumbles a bit with his words, going on about the band and how they’re from York, Pennsylvania and how the lead singer’s voice is such and such. Despite some uncomfortable moments, I can tell Jason is sincere. As the conversation slows, and neither one of us can think of what to say next, I am desperate to keep it going. I don’t want this moment to end. I say the first thing that comes to mind, “Did you bring any books with you from home?” He looks at me incredulously, and says, “Come with me.” I go to his room under this guise of borrowing a book, and after showing me his extensive collection, including several Steven King books (which is impressive considering I have no idea where he stores them all in our closet-sized rooms), I end up talking to him for three hours, never taking a book with me. It is so enjoyable talking to him; I think I may never read a book again. Through his words, I understand his strong need for independence and his adventurous spirit, which lead him out on his own, hundreds of miles from his home, as soon as he graduated high school. His spirit is sometimes feisty, sometimes mischievous, and somewhat argumentative with whomever he doesn’t agree. While he may be an independent, strong-willed person, he is also fun-loving, hilarious, and extremely bright. All these attributes and others, such as his love of beer, music, and books, makes him an attractive, well-intended man.
We go back and forth stopping by each others’ rooms, each knowing that we wanted to spend more and more time together, but never actually saying those words. I’ve never had much of a religious frame of mind, but I do feel that everything in life works out the way it should. Some force greater than us knows when to bring things together and when to tear them apart.
Saying it out loud, “I want to spend more time with you!” for the other to respond, “And I with you!” seems like a waste of breath. We have a mutual understanding that that’s what should be said, that’s what we want to say. Being with Jason is the easiest thing I’ve ever done. In little time, I know I love this guy. From that day on we were inseparable. I still don’t remember us ever exchanging names.