Nepthalia’s Vision, Second Part—Clark Humphrey
The young Nepthalia had always loved spring, because it meant her forced seclusion was at an end.
The unpaved country roads were no longer ice but had not yet turned to mud. The snow slowly disappeared from the wheat fields. Travel was possible; and not just the one trip into town during the week and another to church on Sunday. Nepthalia could visit her friends and “neighbors” (though, as she had always said, it was hard to call expanses of 200-acre farms a “neighborhood”).
The young Jill, on the other hand, hated spring, because it meant the other girls in school would soon sport their new spring clothes. Some of those girls would challenge parents and administrators with the clothes’ shortness, tightness, and risqué T-shirt slogans.
To Jill it was all vanity, frivolity, idiocy. Jill hated teenagers. She was so glad she really wasn’t one. Whenever Jill needed a mental escape from the stupidity and puerility around her, she remembered her previous life as Nepthalia, a pioneer wheat farmer from the 1900s.
Nepthalia had grown up knowing hard work and few trifles. Everyone in the family had worked on the farm, pretty much as soon as they could walk or grasp things. Her mother had instilled in her a sense of propriety and morality. As the mother had always explained, men tamed the land and built settlements, but women tamed the men and built communities.
Nepthalia maintained a sense of purpose about her all of her life. Jill tried to do likewise. Jill strove to excel academically, even though she was not naturally “gifted” as a learner. In PE she was never the cutest gymnast or the or the most agile basketball player, but did well enough in track and field activities, where she could achieve a solo goal through intense effort.
Jill also strove to comport herself as a proper, upstanding young lady, just as Nepthalia would have done. It wasn’t easy, at home or especially at school. There, even the “Christian” girls prattled endlessly about clothes and hair and which guys would be the hardest to resist having sex with until they got married. And, yes, the girls ritually giggled at the sound of the word “hardest.” How COMPLETELY juvenile.
But, in Jill’s hierarchy of idiocy, at least these girls pretended to care about family, charity, and achievement. Some other girls in her school didn’t even pretend.
Among the worst offenders, in Jill’s eyes, were Ellen and Tara. Jill had first made enemies with them in sophomore English class. It was they who labeled her “Jill the Pill,” over what they called her “no-fun attitude.” Since then, their vocabulary of insults only grew. To them, and to the school’s other so-called “popular” girls (whom nobody really liked at all), Jill was a scowling hag, a judgmental shrew, the Judge Judy of the school cafeteria, a girl who could be pretty if she wanted to but who deliberately chose to be a homely cow.
So it was on one particularly ill fated afternoon. Jill’s last true friend in school, Roxy, had taken early graduation and, in a Nepthalia phrase that frequently ran through Jill’s head, taken “a fast escape on a slow train.” Jill was alone in a hostile milieu. No one was at her side when the strode purposefully through the hallway. As she opened her locker door, Ellen and Tara snuck up from behind. Jill smelled their bubble-gum breath even before they had a chance to scream something unintelligible at her. She turned around to find them dressed as much like common barroom tarts as their parents and the school would allow.
They stared at her for five long seconds, until Ellen started her trademark nasal drone voice. “You KNOW it’s almost spring break week. It’s warm out, if you didn’t notice. You don’t HAVE to look like you’re about to trudge through a four-foot snowbank.”
Normally Jill would silently ignore the taunts. But this day, she succumbed. In her best trying-my-patience voice, she calmly stated that she “dressed for comfort and for my own tastes, not to appease the judgments of others; especially not the judgments of two insufferable would-be strumpets.”
Ellen and Tara probably didn’t know what the word “strumpet” meant, but they could tell it meant something bad. Tara grabbed the hem of Jill’s wool sweater long enough for Ellen to give Jill an impulsive shove up against the lockers. The scuffle didn’t last long before adults saw and stopped it.
Jill shortly found herself in the office of Principal Maitland, receiving a standard grilling about the incident. The counselor first informed Jill that Ellen and Tara had already claimed, in a separate grilling, that Jill had started it.
In Jill’s past sessions with Ms. Maitland (and there had indeed been several), the principal had been gruff, demanding. But this time, she seemed sympathetic, almost conciliatory. She held a different countenance this day. She looked Jill in the eyes, warmly.
Ms. Maitland said Jill could trust her with “the truth.”
“The truth as it really is,” Jill queried, “or the truth as you want to hear it?”
“The truth as it really is.”
“That’s a long story. A REALLY long story.”
“Then you’d better start telling me now.”
Jill told the “short version” of her story, which was still more than she’d ever told her own mother. She told of knowing since she was seven that she was reincarnated. She told of experiencing this previous life through random memories that came to her, of sights and sounds and smells and sensations and phrases. She told of how she’d never looked up to see whether this pioneer woman had really existed, because “she’s real to me and that’s all that counts.”
Jill told of the lessons she’d learned from Nepthalia’s life of dignified struggle. She told of learning that a woman was only as good as her word, her inner strength, and her ability to resist corruption.
Ms. Maitland said that was all impressive to a point; but that “in the modern world, where most women must expect to work outside the home, it’s just as important to get along with others as it is to pursue individual goals.”
Because Ms. Maitland had copied Jill’s formal, almost stilted way with words without making fun of it, and had looked deep into Jill’s eyes while doing so, Jill felt something she’d rarely felt and Nepthalia had almost never felt. It was the feeling that someone didn’t merely tolerate her, but actually understood her.
Jill’s eyes widened. She relaxed her stiff posture.
“Promise you won’t tell my mom and dad about any of this?”
“Only that you had a loud but short argument in the hallway, and that you’ve assured me it won’t happen again.”
Jill sighed and relaxed a bit more. For a second, Ms. Maitland thought she almost saw a teenage soul inside that teenage body.