“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?”
“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 Dr. Forsythe?”
“That’s right. I need– ”
Sandy 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.
Better still were those occasions when she happened to come into the student store in the basement when Jeff was there. In the store there was a backless bookcase set up as a kind of display shelf at right angles to the counter. She could duck around behind it and see him without him seeing her, and bathe in the aura of his nascent greatness as it seemed to fill the little room. Nevertheless, she always maintained the presence of mind to observe what brand of triangle and what weight of leads he preferred. Then, when some other student volunteer was on duty, she could come back and buy the same.
Best of all was when she could watch him sitting reading in the school library. She would carefully look to see what architecture books he was perusing, and if they weren’t senior year texts she’d wait for them to be returned, and read them herself. And 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.
And if she couldn’t see him in the flesh, she could study his beautiful drawings. Almost always he had some project posted in the school gallery. Sandy certainly would not copy his designs, even if the freshmen and the seniors had 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, discreetly following their lead in his plans but at the same time 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.
“But there, too,” Sandy thought now, “I was getting off base. I came up intending to design for the greater glory of Jesus Christ, but halfway though my first year I was focussing on how my work would glorify some guy I met in school!”
But for Sandy in her nineteenth year Jeff Chesters was not just “some guy.” 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.
By the time she returned from 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.
True, Sandy had never actually had a conversation with him. She was never 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 I thought his drawings spoke for him. I was sure 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 she was sure he didn’t know 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, 1982, revised 2013 & 2014. All rights reserved