To Thine Own Self Be True
Lithgow, New South Wales
I became aware of Greg in my first week at university and knew straight away that he was the man of my dreams. It would have been difficult not to be aware of him, because he was a person who had everything. He was tall and good looking, athletic and popular, but I felt straight away that he was out of my reach. Not that I was unattractive, but I was inclined to be shy and did not know how to get to know him. Nevertheless by the end of the first month I decided that I was going to do everything I could to win him. I was really smitten. If I had been a school girl I would have drawn hearts all over my pencil case with our two names entwined: Greg and Sonia.
We were enrolled in the same course, Political History, a subject that is known to be difficult. I knew it would be no trouble to me because I was what was known in those days as a brain or an egghead. Nowadays people like me are known as geeks or nerds, and are not particularly popular socially.
Greg, who had to be smart to be in that course, was always surrounded by a gaggle of girls. He also had plenty of friends among the males in the course. Obviously he had no trouble getting along with people, in spite of his brains.
I didn’t see him every day. In lectures I sat near the front and was busy making notes but he always sat somewhere at the back. We were in different tutorials so if I wanted to be near him I had to somehow manipulate things.
The girls who surrounded him were the pretty, chatty girls. They wore up-to-date clothes and they exuded confidence. I watched them carefully and decided that in my efforts to win Greg I would outdo them. They obviously came from different backgrounds to mine. I had kind and loving parents but they were somewhat, well, puritanical. My mother always saw that I had good clothes but they were sensible, practical clothes, just like my mother herself. Our home was comfortable but not modern or showy.
Well, here I was at university, away from the restrictions of home. I did not have to be modest or well-mannered. I decided to blossom – and win Greg. I taught myself to chatter and giggle. I hid my studious ways. Whenever we received an assignment back we girls compared our marks, but I never told them mine. When asked about my results I simply gave a non-committal smile and said mysteriously, ‘Well, I managed to pass.’ A Credit or Distinction remained my secret.
Although I did not manage to sit near Greg at lectures, I arranged to sit at a table near his in the cafeteria. Here I excelled myself in personality. I giggled; I shrieked in a girlish way. I talked enthusiastically of inconsequential things and never mentioned Political History. The girls I sat with began to call me Giggling Gertie. By mid-term I was always surrounded by girls of my own ilk – the non-studious scatterbrains. I caught Greg looking at me often but he still seemed remote.
I looked in the mirror one day and decided that I must do something about my plain appearance. I began to wear make-up, loads of it. I wore mascara every day and the fluttering of my eyelashes was nearly enough to cool the whole classroom on the hottest day. I wore tight skirts with high heels and my jumpers were so tight they could have been painted on.
I wore myself out by staying up late at night studying. This allowed me to show cheerful unconcern during the day. Nobody saw me with my head in a book. When I went to the library I sat behind a pillar so no-one would know how diligently I studied and did my assignments. I had decided that the way to a man’s heart was through glamour girl behaviour.
Time passed and towards the end of the semester an announcement appeared on notice-boards. There was to be an essay competition for first-year students. The prize, offered by a business in the city, was a substantial amount of money which would pay for fees and books until graduation. My parents, whom I adored, had made sacrifices to enable me to have an education. This prize would make their lives and mine so much easier. I determined to put as much effort into this essay as I was putting into winning Greg’s heart.
It was a challenge – a five thousand word essay on a topic that required a lot of research. My furtive visits to the library became longer; my nights of studying became later; I wore eye-shadow and caked on make-up to try to hide the dark circles around my eyes. During the daytime I was the bright good-time girl, ever popular, and nobody guessed how hard I was trying to win that competition.
In due course I handed in my essay and allowed myself a few early nights. I was so exhausted that I relaxed my efforts in over-dressing and over-acting for a while, and kept what they call a low profile.
It was after a lecture in the crowded lecture hall that the chancellor came in to announce the winner of the competition. When he announced my name the whole room seemed to sparkle – it was a sparkle that came from somewhere inside me and radiated out. I felt dazzled as I walked up to the stage to receive my prize.
The chancellor then did something unexpected. He announced a runner-up: Greg. I don’t know if he felt dazzled but within a few moments we were standing on the stage together – Greg and me.
After the ceremony I walked straight to a phone box to ring home. When I left the phone box Greg was standing there, waiting for me. Without hesitation he asked me out on a date.
On that first outing he said to me, ‘I was attracted to you right from the start and I wanted to ask you out. I didn’t because I thought you were a flibbertigibbet. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen you as you really are – a genuine, sincere and intelligent person, and beautiful.’
He is now sitting opposite me, hunched in his armchair He is correcting the manuscript of yet another book which is soon to go to the publisher. Occasionally he glances at me and smiles or winks. He is a professor at the university and I am a lecturer. I gave up work for a few years to bring up our four bright and bubbly kids. I get up to make a cup of tea and as I walk past his chair he gives my hand a squeeze.
I have often told my children what Shakespeare wrote, ‘This above all, to thine ownself be true.’
Bio: Winsome Smith loves stories of all kinds and loves sharing them. Her latest book of short stories, Tales the Laundress Told, is available online from Balboapress.com and Amazon.