Vincent in Love Vincent has fallen in love with a horrible girl.

Her name is Maria, Maria Teresa Avila Concepcion. Maria sits in the front row in English class, by the window, with friends draped all over her like a pair of dangling earrings: Jennifer W. on the left, Jennifer B. on the right. Vincent sits in the back, alone, underneath the corkboard tacked up with pictures of Shakespeare, Cervantes and Langston Hughes. Vincent knows the answers to most of the questions, but never volunteers. Yesterday Mr. Spietzer chose Vincent to read a scene from Romeo and Juliet with him. Mr. Spietzer is tall and skinny, with a scrawny beard. He wears thick glasses, encased in black plastic frames with masking tape on one side, and drives a dented Honda with a broken rear view mirror. “It’s pronounced SPEE-tzer,” he said on the first day of class. “Not SPIT-zer.” (The Jennifers call him Spitter. He’s so naive that he tries to correct them. He doesn’t even know that he’s being played.) Vincent trudged to the front of the classroom as if walking through a foot of snow, then stared at Maria through the whole scene, wishing that Shakespeare’s words could serve as a surrogate for a tender heart. How could anyone refrain from staring? Maria has long, straight black hair, and lovely brown eyes and braces on her teeth. She was wearing a pretty black dress and twirling her hair around her finger, snickering every time the Jennifers did. Was Vincent the only one to see a glimmer of understanding in the way that she briefly returned a person’s gaze? She is amazing. No one ever looks at Vincent, except after a haircut. Vincent’s latest was self-inflicted, with mother’s electric razor. The point was to cut off everything, to purge all sin, but when Vincent looked in the mirror it was as if someone had torn it all out by hand, clump by clump. Vincent’s mother was horrified, threatened to send Vincent to a psychiatrist. Vincent and mother do not get along. Vincent makes a habit of pointing out all the ways she’s failed. Corrupt. Corrupt is a word Vincent uses. A movie called Maria is playing in Vincent’s head, 24 hours a day. It’s so much easier than trying to talk to her. How the fuck do you introduce yourself to someone anyway? What do can you possibly say in five minutes that could ever possibly sum up the insane contradictions contained within even the most seemingly normal person? You’d sound like a lunatic, wouldn’t you, if you said what was truly in your heart?

After weeks of deliberation, Vincent decided to write Maria a two-page note. (Three pages would be excessive; one page trivial.) It took three days to compose because everything sounded so stupid. What Vincent wanted to say was this: I like you, you’re beautiful, I’m in love with you, let’s be friends, I need you, I want to fuck you, I’m sad, I’m happy, I can’t stand myself.

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Vincent decided seven times to tear the message up. But Vincent couldn’t bear to get rid of it, continued carrying it around, sweaty and smeared, folded four ways, waiting for a day when both Jennifers were sick. (The Jennifers are often sick, and usually in tandem.) And so it came to pass that two days later, on Thursday, April 29, at approximately 10:58 AM, Vincent handed Maria the note. Vincent’s pulse was racing. Vincent could barely walk. Maria smiled and quickly placed the note in the front pocket of her backpack. The next morning Mr. Spietzer was running late. By the time that Vincent arrived, Jennifer W. was already reading the note aloud and pointing at Vincent, giggle-sick, holding her hand in front of her mouth, laughing at the words that Vincent had labored over endlessly, but had never heard read aloud. “I want to hang out with you, be your friend, tell you what I’m all about,” Jennifer read. “I want to kiss you, be your boyfriend, your lover.” “Ooh,” Jennifer B. said. “That ugly girl thinks you’re a lesbian, Maria. You’re not a lesbian. You’ve got a boyfriend.” Vincent isn’t a lesbian; Vincent is a boy, in spite of the undeniable physical evidence. Vincent has always known this, ever since Vincent was five years old. How can a person deny what they know in their heart? “I need to see you afterward, okay Vincent?,” Mr. Spietzer says as she returns to her seat. A few students are snickering. “Simmer down, everyone. Now, what can any of you tell me about Christopher Marlowe?” Not a whole hell of a lot, Vincent thought.

There was a pep rally that afternoon, but Mr. Spietzer let her stay with him, Xeroxing handouts. He gave her a stack to start with while he went out for a smoke. When he came back, he offered her some peppermint gum. She refused. “This is yours,” he said, handing her the note. “I didn’t read it. I promise.” “I don’t want it,” she said, voice more wobbly than steadfast. Mr. Spietzer crumpled the note into a fist and buried it deep in the recycling bin. Vincent started crying again. “I don’t know why you’re having so much trouble this semester,” he said. “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but you’re smarter than all the rest of them. By far.”

Vincent knew that Mr. Spietzer was trying to be kind, but she was barely listening. “Everybody I know had an awful time in high school,” he said. “Everybody decent, anyway.” It was awful, just standing there, a target of consolation. Finally the bell rang. “You need a ride anywhere, Vincent?,” he said, as they carried the stack of photocopies back into the classroom. “No, I’m fine,” Vincent said. (Even she isn’t that uncool, to ride home in that car.) Was there one day when you learned to lie? Did your lies become a performance? Or do you make it your art?

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