Elizabeth Marie, or Eliza for short, was many things. A fighter, a dreamer, and an artist. But above all, she was a thinker. More often than not, the time we spent together was spent discussing her latest thoughts on what she called “Social Conventions”. I had never heard of it until she came along. I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was hot outside, at least 90 degree weather. I wanted nothing more than to stay inside where the AC was, but my mother had decided I’d be better off outside. She had told me to swing by the local pool, maybe talk to my friends. I would have been fine with it, but there was one problem.
I was never really good at friends. I couldn’t socialize, and I didn’t see the point in trying. I was that kid you often see at school. The one who never says anything, and chooses the seat in the back of the room. That kid that everyone looks at and forgets their name, even though they’ve been in school with them for years. I never really minded, being alone most of the time. I usually took the opportunity to write in my poetry book, or sketch a few pictures.
I had my notebook in hand as I walked to the pool that day, a towel slung over my shoulder. I was walking along the chain-link fence that surrounds the pool when I saw her. Her brown hair was cut short, framing her face. She was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of cut off jeans, an old pair of converse and a beanie on her head.
I watched silently as she looked at the fence before her. The thing was at least six feet tall, and she couldn’t reach the top if she jumped. It was at least a foot taller than she was, so you can understand my surprise when she began to climb. Almost like a spider-monkey, she scaled the fence. Without thinking, I called out to her.
“Hey, what are you doing? You know it’s free to swim here.” She sighed and jumped off the fence before turning to face me. I nearly forgot to breath when she met my gaze. Her eyes were a vibrant violet color, filled with confidence.
“What was that? I couldn’t hear you.” She asked, taking a few steps closer to me.
“I-I simply meant that you didn’t have to sneak in. It’s free.” With her hands on her hips she turns to glance at the fence before looking at me once again.
“Well what’s the fun in that?”
“Well what’s the fun in just walking in? Why not try to sneak in instead.”
“I never thought about it.” I replied with a shrug.
“Oh, so you’re one of those.”
“What do you mean ‘One of those’?”
“You know, follows the rules, always stays in line, all that stuff.”
“I guess I am. Is that a bad thing?”
“Only if you think it is. I’m Eliza by the way. Eliza Wilson.” She steps closer yet again and soon we’re walking along the side walk, the trip to the pool forgotten.
“I’m Jeremy. Jeremy Collins.” She nods. “So I’ve never seen you before, did you just move here?”
“My family moved here at the beginning of the summer, just after school let out. I start school here in the fall. What about you?”
“How long have you lived here?”
“My whole life really.” She just nods.
“So tell me about yourself Jeremy Collins.”
“Why do I have to go first?”
“Because I asked first. Now tell.” I begin to panic. What was I supposed to say? Hi I’m Jeremy and I’m a socially awkward teenager. I have no friends. Yeah, I don’t think so.
“Uh… well what do you wanna know?”
“I don’t know. Just tell me something about you. Give me three things.” She holds her hands behind her back, keeping pace with me. She isn’t looking at me directly. She instead looks off into the distance, as if her thoughts are something visible.
“Okay, well My name is Jeremy Nathaniel Collins. I’m 17-”
“Stop right there.” She interrupts. “That’s great and all, but things like age aren’t you.”
“I’m not sure I follow…”
“Tell me about what you dream of doing. Your moral values, your flaws, things you believe in. Tell me who you are.” I’m dumbfounded. No one has ever asked my opinion on anything. Ever. No one ever really cared to know about me as a person. It was always a passing glance, a simple wave. No one ever really bothered to care about what I thought. I’m not entirely sure where we’re going, so I ask.
“Care to tell me where we’re going?”
“On an adventure.” Is her only reply as she skips ahead of me, causing me to pick up the pace.
“Listen...Eliza...I know you haven’t been here for very long, but there’s not much adventure to be found in our little town.”
“Of course there is. You just have to know where to find it.”
That’s how I ended up standing in the middle of a meadow, just outside the town limits. I didn’t understand how there was any adventure in where we were or what we were doing, but Eliza seemed to. She just stood next to me, her gaze focused on the tall grasses of the meadow.
“Isn’t this amazing?” She asks softly.
“Once again, I have no idea what you mean.”
“Just listen. Close your eyes and just listen.”
With a reluctant sigh I do as she asks, listening for whatever it is I’m supposed to be hearing. All I get in return is silence. And then...Eliza’s voice.
“Have you ever heard of something called ‘Social Conventions’?” She asks.
“I can’t say that I have.” I open my eyes to see her now lying on the grass, staring at the clouds above her.
“Join me young one. And I will educate you in the ways of social conventions, and societies view on peoples.”
“Don’t you mean ‘people’?”
“I meant what I said. And I said to get down here.” She grabs my hand and pulls me down next to her, both of us now looking up at the crystal blue sky. I'm not sure exactly how long we lay there, just watching as clouds pass over, Eliza sometimes pointing out shapes in the sky.
"You see that cloud?" she asks, pointing to one directly above us. "It looks like a robin." I don't see what she sees. To me, they have no shape. They look like what they are. Clouds.
"How do you get a robin...from that?" I ask, gesturing to the white above us.
"Oh? Well what do you see?"
"A cloud Eliza. I see a normal cloud."
"Well who defines normal?" This question throws me off guard, as I had never honestly thought about it. I had always assumed that normal was normal. Eliza continues. "Society tries to force everyone into their view of normal. Like if everything isn't picture perfect, then it's not worth it."
"So what's the answer?"
"What do you mean?"
"Who defines normal?" She sighs and looks to the sky once more.
"That's for you to decide." With that said she stands to her feet, dusting the dirt from her jeans. Extending a hand, she helps me to my feet and we walk away from the meadow and back to town. I want to ask her more. About herself, her thoughts, and more than anything I know I want to see her again. But as the sun begins to set, I realize we've been out all day, and it will be late by the time I make it back home. I don't have to say it. She already knows.
"You better get home Collins. You'll have mommy dearest worried sick." She kicks some of the gravel lying at her feet, her eyes downcast in what appears to be sadness.
"Do you need me to walk you home?"
"No. I think I can manage." I should've walked her home, but at the time the thought hadn't crossed my mind. I nod and turn to leave when she calls out behind me, and I turn to face her one last time.
"A bit of advice Collins? Nobody ever made a difference by being like everyone else." I stand in silence as I watch her walk away, until she finally turns the corner and she's gone.
It's been four years, and she's gone. The quirky, nerdy, one of a kind girl that I had met had been killed in a robbery gone wrong that very night. The regret I've felt since then weighs on me now just as it did then. So I do what I can. I do what she did. What she dreamed of doing.
I defy society's idea of normal, and the social convention that girl hated. I live for her. The girl who taught me that being normal...it's monotonous. And it isn't what she would've wanted for me. I have a feeling that she would be proud of me. Of how that one day changed my life, and how I decided to be me, despite society's standards.
So I'm going to spend every day of my life as she would've. Filled with adventure, imagination, and anything but normalcy.