“Mrs. Schmidt,” Sandy addressed the secretary in the Architecture School office, “Professor Robbins says there’s a grant I can apply for and you have the forms. Could you get them for me?”
“Certainly, Sandy,” said the secretary. Sandy leaned on the counter, watching Mrs. Schmidt as she extracted the forms from a filing cabinet. It was a sunny day in November, and the light streamed through the tall narrow office windows and reflected rectangles like illustrations from a geometry book on the white-painted wall of the waiting area.
Just then another student erupted into the office and rapidly approached the counter. His face and hair intercepted the light from one of the windows and were thrown into high relief, like a figure in a Baroque painting. It was Jeff Chesters, and she had to suppress a gasp of delighted wonder.
“Mrs. Schmidt!” he called out to the secretary. “Can I get an appointment with Dr. Forsythe?” His two arms were spread wide apart on the counter as if he were claiming it for his own.
“Of course you can, Jeff. Just wait till I get this paperwork for Sandy here.”
As if noticing for the first time there was a third person present, he turned in her direction. For a moment their eyes met, but his held no acknowledgment or recognition. His glance was neutral, accepting her merely as part of the environment, like a chair or a potted plant.
“Whew!” she sighed with hidden relief.
She was glad simply to drop her eyes and be absolved even from daring to say Hello. What could she possibly say to him without making a fool of herself? She satisfied herself with wondering what his business with the principal might be. It must be important, she was sure. Jeff Chesters and Dr. Forsythe: she could see them consulting nearly as equals.
Mrs. Schmidt brought her the grant forms. “Here you go, Sandy. Be sure this section is completely filled out, and this one, and here’s where you sign. If you have any questions, just come in and ask me.”
“Yes, Mrs. Schmidt. Thank you.”
“Now, Jeff,” she turned to the young man, “you were needing to see the principal?”
“That’s right.” His voice was confident, even commanding. “I need– ”
She wished with all her heart she could hang around until she learned what it was about. But she had no excuse. Still, she left rejoicing in having shared the same small space with him even for two minutes.
Then there was the first time she happened to come into the student store in the basement when Jeff was present. His back was to her as she entered; even now she remembered the Pink Floyd t-shirt he was wearing that day. An inner voice urged her, “Hurry up. Get what you need off the shelf and stand in line behind him. You’ll be that close to him and it will be perfectly all right.”
Did she dare? The 30°-60° triangles were right there, at the end of the display shelf closest to the counter. As she stood by them, hesitating over which one to buy, she could just feel the aura of his nascent greatness flowing out, filling the little room.
“You’re stalling,” the inner voice said. “Choose one and get in line. He might even speak to you. Don’t blow your chance!”
She blew it. On purpose. She didn’t dare. Jeff finished talking to the student clerk, took his purchase, and whisked by her, leaving only the breeze of his passing to prove he’d been in the room at all. In his wake her legs were under-designed columns about to fail her, her hand seemed fused to the edge of the metal shelf as if by an unbreakable weld.
“You ok?” said the junior behind the counter.
“Sure. Sure,” she said, recovering herself. “I just . . . I just biked over too fast after lunch. I’ll be fine.”
She never trusted herself so far after that. If Jeff and she were in the student store at the same time and she still had business to do, she would ever-so-casually duck around to the other side of the shelf unit and pretend to examine the merchandise over there. From between the rolls of canary tracing paper and the boxes of erasers she could with beating heart gaze upon him without him seeing her. Nevertheless, she always maintained the presence of mind to observe what brand of drafting board cleaner and what weight of leads he preferred. Then, when some other student volunteer was on duty, she could come back and buy the same.
Much safer was watching him read in the Architecture School library. She would choose a carrel in the gallery and observe him at his favorite table on the main floor below. With her sharp eyes she could usually discern what architecture books he was perusing, and if they weren’t senior year texts she’d wait for them to be returned, so she could read them herself. And when she did . . . to think that his capable hands had touched them, and his artist’s eyes had gazed upon these very words . . . the idea was almost too wonderful to bear.
These times of seeing him in the flesh were precious and rare. Even so, between times she could feed her soul with the study of his beautiful drawings. Almost always he had some project posted in the school gallery. Sandy certainly would not copy his designs, even had the freshmen and the seniors been assigned the same projects. That would be plagiarism, and dishonorable. But she could emulate his style of printing, the way he drew his North arrow (with a little alteration of her own, so it wouldn’t be obvious), the firm, confident ground line under his elevations, the way he arranged the various smaller drawings on the larger sheet.
As the weeks passed and she learned more, she could also recognize and learn from the way he paid homage to the great Modern architects like Wright and Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. She observed how he discreetly followed their lead in his plans while making the design his own. “I can do that,” Sandy thought to herself. And she sketched and studied and persisted, and in time her own individual work also gave honor to Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies– and Chesters.
She had come up to Mt. Athens intending to design for the greater glory of Jesus Christ. But halfway though her first year she was focussing on how her work would glorify a fellow student.
But for Sandy in her nineteenth year Jeff Chesters was so much more than “a fellow student.” The second semester brought a happy change in her studio arrangements. She managed to get in the class taught by Professor Ruben, whose studio was on the second floor. Of course she had picked his section because he was the best architect who taught freshmen; the fact that being in his class put her closer to the staircase most of the seniors used was just a bonus.
Since Christmas break she had gotten over the silly notion that it was wrong for her to admire Jeff’s body as much as she did his work. But of course it wasn’t just his body, it was also his mind, his soul, everything about him she admired– and thought she loved.
Not one conversation had she had with him, ever. She was not invited to the parties where Jeff was likely to be. He had an apartment with some other guys while she lived in the dorm, so she never saw him outside the walls of the school.
But his drawings spoke for him. Anyone who designed that beautifully must have a beautiful heart as well.
Was he a Christian? Of course, he had to be. Obviously he wasn’t Jewish or Moslem. And if he were an atheist, she was sure she would have heard something about it. People like that (she drew on her limited experience) tended to be very outspoken, especially on a college campus.
So since he had to be a Christian, it was all right to think of him . . . to think of the two of them, he and she . . . together . . . someday . . . wedded in a true partnership of architectural design and Christian love. At the moment he barely knew she was alive. But the time would come, if not now, then later, once they both graduated and were out working, when he would discover her and love her deeply for the excellence of her design and the beauty of her soul.
For awhile that hope was enough to make her content.
But not for long.
by Catrin Lewis, 1983; revised 2013 & 2014. All rights reserved