She glanced at her cell phone for only a moment with the faintest hint of nostalgia on the corners of her lips, but with a fierce fire in her eyes. She spoke not a word, but continued teaching without skipping a beat. The students were none the wiser for the slight intrusion that otherwise went unnoticed. Children have much grander things to trifle over.
It wasn’t until much later that day, after the children were gone and the classroom was filled only with the sounds of birds muffled through the thin-paned glass windows, that she took a deep breath and again looked at the text message. It had been, what, ten years since the last time she’d heard from him? It didn’t end well. The time before that had been at least seven years. It hadn’t ended well then, either. In fact, none of the times that he had popped back into her life were worth recounting for too long. It only brought feelings of resentment and pain.
Eric had been her third-grade pal. They’d had a lot in common, even at the age of eight, so it was no surprise that they had become fast friends. As the years passed and the natural progression of things ensued, their affections grew toward one another, but they never seemed to be on the same page at the same time. She would be indignant to his assuming and clumsy advances, and he in turn would be infuriated by her apathetic responses. No matter how many times they’d managed to reconnect over the years, they always seemed to quickly disconnect, and move on.
So, why had he reached out this time? A break up? Another divorce? Maybe a death in the family? Why had he chosen to come back into her life this time? She contemplated the answer, while closely monitoring her heart. Would she let him back in again? Could she? The pain had been so intense, and had lingered so long after he’d gone. So, this newest resurfacing gave her reason for pause. She spent several hours over the next week thinking about how she felt and why she felt it, postponing any response.
Though Eric had first met Dawn in the third grade, he noticed her immediately. He didn’t yet understand why, but he knew that he loved her. He didn’t much care for girls at the time, and didn’t as of yet realize how very much time he would come to spend on the enigma of them, but he knew in his heart that Dawn was special. As the years passed, his feelings for her grew stronger. He had attempted again and again and again to connect with her, but she never fully reciprocated. It seemed like the more he tried, the more she rejected him. It tore away at his pride and his heart, and with each rejection, he buried himself deeper and deeper inside, seeking ways to numb the pain.
He found the one thing in life able to do the trick; riding. It was motorcycle riding to be specific. When he would take a ride on his latest machine, driving the well-loved back country Tennessee roads that he never tired of, his mind would clear and his heart would leap, and he would be relieved of the sting of unrequited love.
She sighed a sigh of surrender and cautiously typed a response.
“Hey, sorry. I’ve been out of town. What’s up?”
Not a complete lie. She had been out of town for the week after the text had come through. It was right around Fall Break and the children had a week off from school, so she’d headed south to her favorite beach and spent the days catching seafood and reading books about adventure and romance.
As it happened, he too was a teacher. He taught college math at the university. As it happened, she too loved to ride, only she was a cager (someone who enjoys the ride in a car, rather than on a motorbike.) Both spoke French, both had an affinity for math, both had a difficult time relating to the rest of the world.
“How have you been?”
It took her all of about ten minutes to ascertain the answer to the question she’d contemplated for over a week. He was single, and nostalgic, and trying once again to kindle the same flame that had eluded them both for so many years. They were both now well into their forties, and life had already unfolded in very different ways. She hesitated to engage in the conversation, fearing the inevitable, but to her surprise, she found it easy to do so. Before not too long, texting turned into talking on the phone. Their first conversation was on a Saturday, and neither of them had plans for the day. So, they wound up speaking on the phone with each other for eight hours that day. She worried about it, knowing what that meant.
There was an unforced rhythm to it. Eric felt it immediately. He knew this time he had to be more patient. He knew this time he had to be more forgiving. He knew that she could be the one for him, and he knew all along that she always had been. His pride had been struck down on more than one occasion recently, and his wounds had humbled him. He thought an eight-hour conversation indicated significance, especially since he had never talked to anyone else in his life for eight hours, not even in high school when such behavior is more easily explained. He proceeded with caution, but caught himself off-guard likewise, being swept away.
How different can two people be?
Eric had become the personification of a biker in almost every way. He was hardened by life, and lost love, and his incompatibility with practically the entire human race. Intellectually, he could run circles around his contemporaries, and he garnered respect on account of it. But, outside of intellectualism, he was unable to grasp humanity on a level that connected with people in any meaningful context. Life for him had become predictable and mundane.
Dawn had grown to love children. She learned how to enjoy the company of children and communicate quite well with them despite their underdeveloped intellectualism. She had patience and kindness and personified a third-grade teacher in every way. But, because she crafted her world around innocence, the forgone passion that she had once known had left her with a predictable and mundane existence.
Maybe in a day and age when texting wasn’t the accepted medium of communication, there could have been less friction. But, fate can be tricky and text is ambiguous, and ambiguity is fuel on a fire. And so, it didn't take long for their old pattern to re-emerge. They fought. They fought, and fought, and fought. It seemed to be all that they did after a while. They grew tired of the fighting. They grew tired of trying. The days dragged on. More and more it began to look like there wasn’t anything left to salvage. They started losing hope.
Then one day, Eric, realizing he was letting her slip through his fingers, said something that changed everything.
“Dawn, I’m tired of coming back to you. I don’t want to keep coming back to you anymore. But, I wouldn’t mind coming home to you.”
They spoke not a word, but he took her in his arms and he kissed her with a passionate kind of kiss that wakes princesses from deep slumbers.
It was not the end of the fighting, but it was the beginning of faith. And that was enough for a beginning.