Ever since I can remember, I've dreamed of finding my soulmate. I began looking for him surprisingly young, starting with my nextdoor neighbor Alex who I wrote a lengthy love letter to after he shared his chalk with me one hot summer afternoon. I told him we should “get mayreed” but he must not have agreed because he never spoke to me again. I cried in my mom’s arms until she gave me the most important advice I would ever receive: “Sometimes fate makes you wait”. Of course at 5 years old I didn’t understand fate or its infinite wisdom but I understood what she was trying to tell me, that if Alex wasn’t my true love then someone else would be. My mom and I entrust everything to fate and why shouldn’t we? Fate is the only thing that can bring soulmates together, and they come when you least expect it. My mother certainly wasn’t expecting to meet my father when she was scooping ice cream at her summer job when she was 19. I love hearing the story of how they met, especially because when she tells it her eyes sparkle with excitement, like she’s letting me in on a secret.
“I remember it perfectly” she always started theatrically “He came in with a blonde bombshell but we couldn’t stop looking at each other. He got two scoops of strawberry. She got -” with a shudder for dramatic effect “a small scoop of butter pecan.”
The blonde bombshell didn’t last long. The next day my dad came back and asked my mom to the movies. A month later they were married and a year after that I was born. My eyes were just like his according to mom. Sometimes when she’s not home I pull the small envelope of photographs out from the bottom of her sock drawer. In my favorite picture of him, he is leaning against a shiny red car and smiling widely at the camera. At my mom holding the camera, the way I like to imagine it. As much as I try I can’t quite see his eyes in the picture or in my memory. I racked my mind for any trace of him but always came up blank. It's unsurprising considering he left when I was only 2 years old, but I always try anyway just in case there's a sliver of him hiding somewhere in my subconscious just out of reach.
There’s other pictures in the envelope too, of men whose stories I know just as well as I know my father’s. It might be strange but I take equal comfort in these photos. Jonathan, my mom’s tall and serious prom date who’s dark eyes are just as intense in this faded photo as she describes them. “We simply weren’t compatible” she says with a sigh. Not a sad sigh though, my mom tends not to dwell on the past. When she talks about her lovers of old she speaks with the breeziness of someone talking about the weather. She happily tells me of their memories together with me playing the part of enraptured audience member. Her face beams at the romantic parts, and she shakes her head forlornly at the sad parts though it never seems personal, more as if she’s telling a fictional story and is expressing the appropriate emotions to enhance the show. But regardless of how sad their breakup seems she always ends with a reminder: “It just wasn’t meant to be. Sometimes fate makes you wait a little bit.”
Fate has made my mom wait a lot. After my dad there was Luis, who she dated for two entire years. It seems like an eternity to me but Mom says two years is just a hiccup in the grand scheme of things. I can actually remember Luis. His photo in the little envelope has him tossing me in the air. When I look at it I can hear his big booming laugh and my manic high pitched giggles. It was Luis who comforted me along with my mom after my 2nd grade boyfriend Josh dumped me because he liked another girl better.
“He’s a fool. Boys never know what they want,” He told me firmly “they don’t even really think about it until they get older and wiser.” I remember him sharing a small smile with my mom and how badly I wanted to share secrets with someone just by looking at them. Luis made my mom happy, so I’m not entirely sure why they broke up. My grandma says she cut him loose but my mom says Luis went to California and she didn’t want to go with him.
I can’t imagine dating someone for that long and then breaking up. My first major break up was with Oscar Anderson. We had been together for four and a half months when his parents got divorced and he decided to move in with his dad who lived two hours away. He started going to a different middle school and called me on the phone to tell me he didn’t think we should do long distance. I was curled up on the floor clutching the heart shaped necklace he got me when my mom came home from work. As I choked out the story between sobs she rubbed my back and told me about how distance can separate adults too. She reminded me about Luis and his dream of moving to California.
She asked me, “What would we have done in California? Our life is here.” And she’s right. I wouldn’t have wanted to live so far away from Grandma. To cheer me up she treated me to her Heartache Special. Strawberry ice cream topped with chocolate sauce and M&Ms.
The Heartache Special is delicious but I’ve actually never seen my mom have it after one of her breakups. Since Luis she’s had many dates and even a few boyfriends though most only lasted a month or two. Only one has lasted long enough for me to meet him. I liked Harris. He was a bit older than my mom, with silver hair and a speckled black and gray beard. He would come over and cook dinner every Friday night. When they first started dating he would make pasta and fish and sandwiches, until finally one night he put his fork down and announced that he couldn’t cook for us properly without a grill. I told him we didn’t have a grill and the next week a shiny new grill was sitting on our patio. After that it was all sorts of juicy, tender meat. Mostly steak, which mom and Harris loved. I liked to sit outside and do my homework while he grilled with my mom next to him. Every Friday our backyard would smell like savory smoke and it lingered in our house until the next morning when I would come down for breakfast.
I actually thought he would move in with us at some point, maybe even be my stepdad. I think Harris thought so too. But fate had other plans and after one last Friday dinner they had a hushed argument in the living room. Harris slammed the door on his way out. I forgot to pretend I wasn’t eavesdropping and ran downstairs in tears to check on mom. She had her back to me and her head bowed low. Her hand was on the doorknob but she wasn’t moving. Since then I’ve speculated that she was deciding whether or not to go after him. She must’ve decided not to because she heaved a deep sigh and turned to me with a serene smile and said “It wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”
I waited up all night straining my ears for any faint sound of her crying, ready to offer her the Heartache Special. If she did cry there was no sign of it because the next day she was her normal cheery self. She even spent the day rearranging all the furniture in the house. I felt like screaming at her, demanding that she go apologize to Harris. It wouldn’t have made any difference, every time I even said his name that week she would interrupt with a reminder to trust in fate.
It was hard for me to trust in fate then. Harris and my mom couldn’t have picked a worse time. Not long before I had faced my most painful heartbreak to date. Derek Rhodes had eyes as deep as oceans and two dimples on his right cheek. I spent months working up my nerve, analyzing every minute interaction over and over searching for signs of reciprocated feelings. Every time I spoke to him my thoughts turned into mush. Movies and love songs would automatically call his face to mind. I had it bad, my mom said. Her advice, as always, was to tell him how I felt. And finally after rehearsing it in the mirror with myself for a week, I cornered him after class and told him I really really liked him. Mom advised against using the word love, so I settled for the next best thing.
To my surprise Derek Rhodes did not reciprocate my feelings. Ever the gentleman, he said he was “flattered” and that I was “a really nice girl”. The worst part wasn’t that he didn’t like me back, it was how unsurprised he was. Like he had been watching me make a fool of myself for months. Maybe he had even rehearsed his rejection. It was all too humiliating to bear and then a week later Harris was gone too. Two heartbreaks in one, and I seemed to be the only one feeling the pain. My mom certainly wasn’t phased, soon after she was putting on her special first date lipstick and curling her hair. The mourning period was over.
I, however, can’t recover so quickly. Derek’s rejection was a bruise to my pride as well as my heart. And I was starting to lose faith in fate too. I’m only 16, I have plenty of time, but my mom is starting to get silver streaks in her hair. How could fate ignore someone as open armed as her? Would she have any time left at all by the time she met her soulmate? Had she already met him and they were just cruelly destined to stay separated?
I spread out the pictures in the envelope again. Jonathan, Trent, my dad, Luis, Phil, Harris. Every photo was alive with emotion, each man gazing adoringly at my mom. Though she looked different in each one, a few more lines on her face, her cheeks slowly losing the cherub like effect of youth, her smile was just as radiant. How could she let fate take that feeling away?
I shoved them back into the drawer beneath all the socks and made a promise to myself to never end up like my mom. If I ever meet someone I love that much, I won’t resign myself to fate. My eyes stung with tears but not about Derek this time. Maybe the Heartache Special could cure other types of heartache too.
With an icecreamless freezer I had no choice but to walk down to the grocery store to pick up supplies. My hair hung limply and my face was blotchy but for once it didn’t matter. The grocery store was nearly empty. An outdated pop song played halfheartedly over the speaker. Dragging my feet, I dumped everything onto register number 4.
“Tough day?” a male voice snapped me out of my haze. A perfect voice actually.
The cashier was beautiful. Suddenly my blotchy face felt even blotchier and my lips yearned for pink lipstick. I gave him my best shy smile.
“You have no idea. What’s your name?” I asked.
He grinned and held a hand out to shake. “Jude. I just started here last week.”
Of course. When I doubted most the universe had other plans. Sometimes fate makes you wait.