January 30th 2009 The 100% Perfect Girl (Or, Reflections on a Sunny Afternoon on a Park Bench)

Has a book ever grabbed you and shook you so hard that you felt that your life wouldn’t be complete without it?

I went to campus today. I’m a grad student at William & Mary. Or was, rather. Or maybe is, I’m not sure. I’m taking a leave of absence from The College because I haven’t really been satisfied studying computer science. I’d rather be studying creative writing again (which I also did as an undergrad), or possibly journalism (which, again, I also had time to experience as an undergrad). Anyway, I had some forms to fill out, and due to the bus schedule, I had some time to kill (four hours, in fact).

So I popped into the campus bookstore, which is, of course, a Barnes and Noble. I wanted to check out some books by Arthur Miller, since I’m a fan of his plays (and plays in general from the 1920s through the 1950s, which was a great time for theater, but I digress). They didn’t have much, so I ended up checking out the books by Murakami, a writer with whom I am currently enamored. I found a collection of his short stories called The Elephant Vanishes. Upon opening the book, I turned, by pure happenstance, to the first page of his short story, “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning”.

The short story was, in a word, phenomenal. Short and sweet (it weighs in at less than four pages), the story told an interesting narrative that spoke to me. Since I’m between jobs now (or, more to the point, between incomes), I almost put the book back on the shelf, thinking I’d buy it when I got a job; but then I thought, no, I really can’t live without this book, it’d be like a piece of me was missing, left on a dusty bookshelf for some other soul to find.

I had to have that book—or, more importantly, that short story. I’m sure the other short stories in the anthology are great, and I fully intend to read them, but that’s the only story I really care about.

So I bought it, and paged through it on a bench outside the bookstore. And I was filled with a sense of inner calm, as though, if I opened my arms, I could let in not only the sun and the breeze and the world, but the rest of my life, too. Like something was somehow different, something had changed for the better. Like I had it all figured out.

Like sitting there with that story in my hands, in my head, was where I’d wanted to be all along.