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Two young women, caught in a loving, friendly embrace in my old, poorly lit high school cafeteria, in that depressingly small town of Gardiner, Maine, surrounded by their peers and the lunchroom personnel. All of them grateful for the dismissal bell, and anxiously waiting for track or lacrosse practice to begin, for the buses to clear out so they can drive home, or to finish emptying the cash register and check out. Each day, the ringing sound of soothing freedom would bring hysteria and chaos to the high school, students rushing one way or another, putting away their books, getting other books to use at home, getting athletic equipment, socializing, fighting, hugging, kissing hello and goodbye, and each with their own story to tell.

Two young women, standing in the center of it all, caught in their embrace and smiling at the camera: a moment of happiness caught for reflection. A few months prior to the picture, drama was severely rampant, blood was boiling, jealousy was raging, and people were screaming and crying. There was no loving embrace. I was caught in the center of the morass of young infatuation, juvenile relationships. It always starts off so simple, so innocent with good intentions, and always ends up with inexperienced and unhardened hearts broken because they hadn’t been calloused by the inevitable pain of love. I, the fiend, the core reason for eradicating all of their smiles, and the reason they fronted them then in such sincerity in their picture together; I had no sympathy for their vulnerability because I had already been scarred to a state of complete insensitivity. I was the older one, and I held their peace of mind in the palm of my hand.

The blonde: the first victim of my merciless immaturity and lack of compassion. She trusted me, obsessed over me, worshipped me as if I was something above human—above what I could ever truly become. She looked at me with the adoration due a hero, when I was merely an upperclassman: smarter, more mature, and better known than all the people she had dated before me, and she was convinced that I was something worth keeping; she didn’t even know me. Still, she smiles for the camera, shrouding her true feelings of depression and deceiving those who see the photo. I was her first real relationship, and while she poured her heart and soul into me, I stood back in my mind watching as a third person, and analyzed our relationship day by day as if it was some psychological experiment, and not a commitment of the heart. I removed myself almost completely, and she did nothing to resist my onslaught of manipulation, but stood there with her hands on her hips, a fake smile on her face and tears waiting to escape from behind her eyes.
Mind games were played each and every day, and I slowly chipped away at her sense of self-control and self-esteem until she was less than a person—a blind fool following her heart that told her she loved someone who had nothing to give in return. She never knew what I was thinking, or how to read me, and had to yield helplessly to the flow of my overwhelming position of power as I manipulated her mind and exiled herself from her own being. I never lost my control over her, and any attempt to be on top for even a moment was completely in vain, because I knew what to say and what to do to bring her back down into her submissive state of mind. I remember once when she was angry at me for not calling when I told her I would (just a silly little fight), and it was undeniably my fault, I got mad at her for bringing it up and didn’t talk to her for a couple hours until she said she was sorry. It was borderline pathetic, but it just goes to show how easily our irrational emotions overpower our logical minds—there is little reasoning when emotions are heavily introduced. I chewed her up, spit her out, left her alone and moved on to my second victim.

The brunette: my second victim, another soul caught in a trap of the heart, shackled to me by her own need for comfort. I would give her no relief. No simplicity. She would be forced to spend a year with a man—no…less than a man, a boy who had no idea what he wanted, and only cared what happened to his own feelings. She “stole me” from the blonde, and blonde was crushed, but I did nothing to console her. I spent my time with my new prey. I spent every day with her, and all she wanted was for me to give in, to say she was the only one I cared for, that I was content, that I was more of a person than what she had heard so many times from so many people: a worthless, insensitive guy who would only screw with her head. Sadly, nothing changed for that entire year. I was still the same. I didn’t want to get attached or commit, and she was the one who paid for it. I wanted to keep it simple by investing as little emotion as possible, and she thought it would be easiest to give in to each other despite the chance of getting hurt. Neither of us got what we wanted.

The blonde’s jealousy grew daily. Her discontent was apparent on her face and it was so strange to see her smile; rarely was one seen on her face, and almost never was it unforced. Whenever she was around the brunette, a magical transformation occurred and she went from a disheartened mess to a happy-go-lucky kid again. It was very strange to see them smiling side-by-side. They stood there cheek-to-cheek, but the truth is not as pretty as the picture. Both distrusted each other, both jealous of the other for having had me at one point; they struggled to be friends and to get along, but nothing went deeper than the surface. The brunette was paranoid all the time of me going back to the blonde, and the blonde had a mental breakdown attempting to understand what the brunette had that she didn’t. It was never a straightforward situation for either of them where all questions were answered, everything was coherent, and they could have that comfort which knowing something for certain can give. So they stayed close to each other, always looking for their answer and peace of mind, searching for a clue or a tidbit of information that they could use to exploit or connect things; they attempted an impossible friendship.

The change from their apparent getting along and happiness, to depression and jealousy was so fast that it was imperceptible. They are in the blonde’s truck, and the blonde is smiling at me (completely unauthentic) while I take a picture of my two victims being so “joyful” together, and behind her, the brunette’s true mindset comes out when she can’t be seen by her “friend.” The façade of carelessness and excessive jovial enthusiasm that she usually had while in the blonde’s presence disappeared. It was replaced by that spacey look of pensive sadness so clear on her face which surfaced as my attention is, for a moment, taken by the other; their friendship is again proven to be feeble.

Gardiner is a small place. Its inhabitants are for the most part very simple people with simple lives. "Wealthy" and "luxury" are not thought of when the town is mentioned. There was poor lighting in the schools, rundown lunch tables and chairs, incompetent lunch ladies. The blonde, from a very “wealthy” family by Gardiner standards, drives a piece-of-junk pick up truck. The town is small, with practically no capital, and it isn’t a prime place to meet someone you can be happy with: small town equals limited options. These two girls were so set on keeping me, because they felt that nothing else was worth having. It makes sense when you look at the numbers and human desire. Most people desire companionship, so we look for friends wherever we interact with people. In my school, we had roughly seven hundred and fifty people who attended. In my own experience, I had only one or two good friends who I can say were more than just acquaintances and who would be there for me through thick and thin—the kind of people who will still be around after a disagreement. A friendship needs to be resilient, because no real relationship of any legitimate length is ever all happiness and smiles. With those friends, we had a lot in common; we enjoyed each other’s company and trusted each other. Out of the people in my town that I interacted with and were around my age, I will say half were guys and half were girls, and I only had two good friends that I could find among that limited selection. One of the main reasons these women had such a hard time controlling their emotions and avoiding that manipulation is that they knew that to find someone they could really get along with, spend time with and trust was hard enough without adding in the factor of attraction. So, they donned their façades, pretended to be friends and to be happy, pretended that life was peachy in all their snapshots, but when the wielder of the camera turned away, and all eyes were off them, those smiles flipped and the true feelings came out.
People’s outer appearances are, on many occasions in life, superficial. You have a bad day or an argument with someone, or are just very depressed, and to avoid people asking questions you put on the appearance of normalcy. “We put on faces to meet the faces that we meet.” (unknown) It’s a coping mechanism for many, but sometimes it is used as a tool as well, like with my female victims. They want to play with the minds of others, to poke at them and prod them under the illusion of friendship. Car salesmen attempting to dupe a customer put on an enthusiastic buddy-buddy persona to work them into submission and a sale. Men afraid of looking weak put on a front of hyper-masculinity and bravado, and I wonder how many of those men on however many occasions fight themselves to the death to do the manly thing instead of just crying. How many people can a person say they truly know? How many people can say they truly know themselves? Or even more importantly, how many people could handle someone bearing his or her soul to them? Our world is a paradox of the unfathomable depth of the human mind, and the camouflage we use to make it skin deep.

If you were to spend time in my high school, you would see face after face, expression after expression, and hear conversation after conversation, yet still you would know nothing; you’d barely have scratched the surface. You wouldn’t have begun to delve into their genuine selves, to glimpse at their unadulterated self-images hidden away by social influences, their inhibitions, unseen agendas and intangible desires. I would walk down the halls going from class to class, to lunch, or whatever, observing all the small talk and displays of attention getting from the younger girls to the older guys, the hormone-controlled boys flaunting whatever it is they have to flaunt; people spoke with each other, argued, laughed, gossiped, and all of this is normal, but nevertheless, it’s irritating to think that I might as well be watching actors. Where was everyone? We were all somewhere else, sometimes deep inside ourselves completely hidden, sometimes on the verge of bursting from our skulls at those moments we just wanted to scream what was on the tip of our tongue. The only time you would catch a moment of honesty was when someone exploded in emotion, but this is no way to know a person: how can a person be defined by his moments of unreason? One way or another, the soul seems obstinate to remain concealed.

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The following comments are for "A Photographic Essay Missing Its Photos...Large spaces are all that's left"
by CarlosDickens

Romeo Where Art Thou
This is a modern tragedy, nice imagery and detail. I feel bad for the "victims", although as in all tragedy it would be a good story with out them.

( Posted by: ChristianAlbert [Member] On: March 26, 2005 )

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