Nepthalia’s Vision—Clark Humphrey

Nepthalia’s Vision—Clark Humphrey

Only a few trusted friends got to call her Nepthalia, or even to learn that name, which she had long believed to be her “real” name. To her family, her teachers, and other authority figures and/or strangers, she remained Jill, or “just plain Jill” as she’d often said to herself; she’d been using the phrase years before she learned there’d been an old time radio show called “Just Plain Bill.”

That was just one of the mysteries she’d explored on her own, telling only a few trusted friends over the years. She didn’t want to become the center of any media circus. She didn’t want “experts” showing up, to tell her she was just making up an elaborate fiction about being reincarnated. 

She just knew what she knew. Some of it she knew for sure, deep in her heart. Other parts of her past life she just had vague visions about.  

The parts about which she was absolutely sure included: 

• Having lived in Eastern Washington at the turn of the last century, in a homesteader family that came over on the Great Northern to farm wheat.

• Having raised a daughter who died in a car crash on a primitive country road, and a son who died in World War II—and not even in combat, but during a routine training mission gone horribly wrong. 

• Having had exactly four sexual partners in that life: a nameless, faceless male relative who’d done something to Nepthalia as a child that Jill can’t remember; the “popular” high-school cad; her husband; and a shopkeeper in the next town over, who was known to be both generous and discreet with his favorite female customers.

• Having lived a plain existence of numbing drudgery and low-key tragedies, interrupted by moments of excitement or even happiness.

• Momentary sensual memories. The texture of a gingham dress. The warm light of the lighted dial on the living-room radio. The noise of the tractor engine during the tilling of muddy soil.

The parts about which she was hazy included most anything that could be either proven or disproven by historical research. Names, dates, places, all that.

Nepthalia/Jill had only performed a little such research so far, and always on her own. In a sense, she’d decided, she liked not knowing whether she really was an old soul or just a kid with a really good imagination.

Her personal obsession began plainly enough. Ten years ago, her mother had taken her to the American Girl Store in the Alderwood Mall. The seven-year-old Jill was fascinated by the dolls and the storybooks about girls who lived in other times and places. Jill’s mother was sold on the larger concept of teaching girls about the history of everyday life—i.e., “women’s” history—as something just as important as the history of great warriors and inventors. 

Jill gazed in awe and wonder at all the dolls, each with her own official storyline. But she stopped at Cynthia the Western pioneer girl.  

Something about the doll’s facial expression and appearance struck Jill. A wealth of images, sounds, smells, etc. suddenly came to her. They were all about a girl/woman whose name, appearance, wardrobe, and life story were different in countless ways from those of the fictional Cynthia. They just “showed up in my head all of a sudden,” she told two friends later that week.  

Her parents and her older brother did notice a change in Jill. Almost immediately, a typical frenetic rambunctious child became a quieter, almost solemn creature. She soon tired of much of the normal nonsense a primary-grades female was supposed to love. But not all of it, not right away.

She still had a grade schooler’s body, hormones, and vocabulary. She still had arms and legs that wanted to move instead of sit still. But when she got out of the classroom at recess to move, she now moved differently. While the other kids still had to be told not to run in the hallways, she purposefully strode everywhere. While they climbed the Jungle Gym, she used it for chin ups and other traditional calisthenics routines.

Jill’s mother treated the changes as just normal childhood “phases,” to surely be followed by later, equally sudden personality swing. Instead, the serious seven year old became a serious eight year old, then a serious nine year old, etc.

She made few friends, and chose the ones she did make for their potential loyalty. 

She came to use words few people of her age used very much, such as when she regularly dismissed her peers’ fads in clothes and music as “trite escapism.”

At thirteen, she got branded “Jill the Pill” by the school’s mean-girls clique. The nickname stuck. She didn’t even seem to mind it. A “pill,” she once proclaimed at the bus stop, was something you took in order to get better. A good thing. 

Her older brother had to live with her regular scowls of disapproval, over everything from his “wasting precious food” at the dinner table (either eating what she considered too much, or not eating everything on his plate) to his desires for needlessly expensive athletic shoes.

Her father often felt like Jill was trying to parent HIM. Like the time when she was fourteen and had to use his computer to look up something for a class project. She lectured him about having too many applications and windows on his screen at one time. How, she asked, could he possibly accomplish any real work, with email and Twitter and silly video clips and stupid games always there to distract him?

Jill’s mother had her own worries about the girl. Yes, the daughter was studious and forthright, and seemed to truly loathe other kids’ drinking and smoking, and had yet to fall under the and was honest at least up to a point. 

But the mother could tell the daughter didn’t confide in her about everything. Whole regions of Jill’s thoughts and feelings were off limits. The mother knew Jill continued to be interested in American history, on the everyday-life side. She didn’t know about Nepthalia. 

One evening at home, Jill’s mother tried to deliver the universal “beware of boys” lecture. Jill was 15, or approximately 108 in Nepthalia years. The mother stumbled half-nervously to explain how a girl Jill’s age might really, really want to do something, but that particular something wasn’t necessarily the best thing for her to do at that time.  

Nepthalia/Jill looked up at her directly and calmly. “Of course I have a mating urge, mother. So do most people. I also sometimes have an urge to throw Ellen and Tara from English class into an oncoming truck, but I’ve never done it.”

Nepthalia/Jill stared at her mother with the knowing, almost elderly stare that her mother knew meant she didn’t dare laugh or even smile back at her.

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About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on February 20, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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