On our first date, you took me to your favorite Asian fusion restaurant. It was a busy little place not far from the park where we had first met. We sat at a little square table with a red paper lantern in the middle. The girl who seated us gave us menus printed on old yellow paper. You didn’t even bother to open yours. Instead, you offered me a suggestion as the girl left us to decide. You said that their pad thai was the best in the city and that I should try that. Of course, I have never liked to to eat what others recommend for me… especially given that everyone’s tastes vary, so, I decided to keep looking.
“So,” you said, tapping your fingers on the table, “you’re an elementary school teacher?”
“Second grade teacher over at Parkside.”
You nodded, and then asked, “Is it hard?”
People always ask teachers that question, and I never know what to say to it.
“No harder than your job, I’m sure.” Your fingertip-tapping was annoying. Yet, I couldn’t help but remember your laughter at the park after we had fallen. Your laughter had showed me a side of you that I had wanted to explore. I wanted to get to know the man who laughed like that. “I’m a security guard at Saint Joseph. That’s the psych ward at the hospital down the street.”
You had wanted to be a cop. We had grown up watching the same buddy cop flicks, and the message we got was the same: SAVE THE WORLD. I wanted to save it through education. You wanted to protect it, but you weren’t able to make it through police academy. You had never learned how to handle rejection. After that, you grew depressed and food became your only solace. I would try to help, but there was so little I could do for such an unwilling man.
You ordered the pad thai and offered to share. I got the Godzilla roll, mostly for the name. We split the bill; you offered me a ride home, but I said I’d walk.
“I’ll call you?” you offered, a bit shyly. I considered my options, and figured that a second date couldn’t hurt. You smiled; you needed braces. We shook hands, and then we parted ways. You called me half an hour later to make sure I had gotten home safely, and we made plans for our second date.
I love my job. You know that, right?
My second graders are so smart and courageous. Despite what you believe, I know that there is a better future awaiting them than the one you predicted. They will not be doomed to repeat the follies of their parents. I trust that each child that passes through my care has a future beyond what I can imagine. The greatest gift of humanity is our ever-changing natures, after all. I know, for instance, that who you were at twenty-two isn’t who you are at twenty-six. You changed so much on me, Josh. Did you realize that? You let your bitterness at the world consume you. What happened to your beautiful laughter? What happened to that man I fell in love with? What happened to your dreams, Josh?
Did I change? I feel like as you changed, I changed as well. You infected me with your pain. I became bitter–my discontentment turned cancerous. The end of us was inevitable, one way or another, I realize now. I must admit that our breakup has caused another shift in me. I am freer now, living my life without you. True happiness cannot be far off. I must find contentment within myself.
For now, I will enjoy my second graders and the time I have left with my dog. The vet said she had two weeks. That was three months ago, right after you left me. I wonder if I should tell you about Peppa. Despite your frustrations with her, you did love her; I know that. Should I tell you? Your number won’t have changed. You wouldn’t have even considered changing it. Still, I hesitate. What right do you have to know about Peppa?
Besides… how can I move on if I keep looking back at you?
I have to stop this.