I’m glad Erika emailed me on Monday. I had taken Monday off because I had a new refrigerator being delivered. My old one was still working, but only under audible protest. Perhaps the biggest challenge of being a teacher is that one must be good at compartmentalizing. My classes can’t just be cancelled except under serious emergencies (i.e., I get sick or injured), so I need to be able to put aside whatever crap is happening in my personal life and play the part of a patient, well-put-together, educational professional, emotional distress be damned. I didn’t have to put on a happy façade to give a lecture, despite having being dumped.
I’m not really sure I can call that being dumped. I suppose I’ll give some more details. I may retread some old ground, but it’s all in the interest of summarizing everything to make sense of it all. Erika and I broke up early January, about a week after I visited her family for Christmas. As I journalized, she sent me that email that sounded much like a I-Want-to-Break-Up letter if not an actual break up letter. I’ve spent too much time and emotional energy wanting girls who didn’t want me back, so when a girl conveys that she doesn’t want to be with me, I oblige. I guess I was technically the one who broke us up, but only based upon what she said.
She was mad at me and sent that subsequent nastygram. Thankfully to the community here, I didn’t respond in kind. I instead sent her a short, calm email explaining my side succinctly. She responded a few days later with an apology email, and we spoke that weekend to resolve everything. Obviously, we didn’t get back together. After everything each of us said, it sounded like we should continue as a romantic item until we could do so in a more conventional manner (read: not long-distance).
I didn’t hear from her for about a month until she had the falling out with her friend, Mary. In her turmoil, she reached out to me for encouragement and support. She has friends where she lives who provided comfort, but I think I was the one who most understood her pain. What’s funny is that right after we broke up, she made a bunch of dramatic posts on social media, and she repeated the same public venting a few weeks later when she and Mary had they’re spat. I had to explain to some mutual Facebook friends that only that first week of her ranting and raving was in regards to me. The next three months were all in relation to Mary.
My point being, we were talking regularly again. Most frequently, we would text, but we would talk once or twice a week, usually when she was upset over Mary. During the beginning of that reconnection, I picked up many a phone call from her that began as follows:
Me: Hey, Erika!
Her: UNCONTROLLED SOBBING “UNNNNHUNNNHHUUUUUNNNHHUUUUUUUUUNHHHUUUNNN!!!!!! Inhales giant ball of snot “HUUUUUUUUUNHHHHUUUUUUUUNHHHHHHUUUUUUUN!!!!!”
I’d usually have to wait a few minutes for her to compose herself before she could actually tell me what happened. Seems like one would compose herself before calling, but women will forever be a mystery to me. I remember being shocked the first time I picked up one of her phone calls to hear her chipper voice greet me because she was just calling to catch up.
All that aside, that’s how we proceeded until mid-September. We weren’t an item by any means, but we were friends and there were definitely feelings between us. My intention was as it had been prior to our break up. I’d hit my two-year mark at my current position before looking for options that would allow me to relocate to Saint Louis. After her birthday on September 17th, our phone calls stopped, or should I say her phone calls stopped? Maybe that’s what brought this on: she was calling me much more than I was calling her. Calling people, especially women, is hard for me because I’m a loser. At least, I feel like a loser. I hardly had any friends as a child. What few friends I did have were friendships of convenience more so than actual compatibility. In school, I was always the pariah, tolerated and ignored at best. Then I’d go home and my brother would pick up where the school bullies left off. That was the message I received for the first 18 years of my life.
There was an experiment conducted with the wall-eyed carp. The wall-eyed carp is a fish, and when you stick it in an aquarium with a bunch of minnows, he’ll soon be alone. Minnows are what he eats. However, if you stick a glass pane between him and the minnows, he’ll try to get them, bump into the glass, try again, fail, wait a little bit, try again, fail, wait a little longer, try again, fail, and eventually give up. At that point, if you take the glass pane out of the aquarium separating the two, he still won’t eat them. In fact, the carp will starve to death with his favorite food bumping in the gills, because that pattern of continual failure has extinguished his behavior.
I wanted to call her, many times, especially after she stopped calling me, but did she want me to? Was she busy teaching, recording, going to rehearsal. Would she resent me for calling her at an inconvenient time and saddling her with an expectation to call me back? The first week in October was the anniversary of that trip we took to Nashville. Was she feeling sad about that? Would my calling at this time make her feel worse? Then, of course, Thanksgiving would be the anniversary of her meeting my family, not to mention Christmas the anniversary of me meeting hers. With all these once sweet memories metamorphosing into bitter ones, doing nothing felt like the dominant strategy. Wait a little bit, I’d think to myself. Push it off one day at a time, and the days become weeks, and then I get a farewell. This is probably the best way things could have ended. I suppose all I can do is put it behind me, learn a lesson, and move forward. I still feel like crap for having failed.