It was a nice summer day, but my friends were all busy today. I myself had plans earlier, but they’d been cancelled – as a result, I found myself with nothing special to do. Bored, I’d been lazily lounging in my room, surfing the internet, checking my phone in vain hopes of a new text message, and downloading all of the semi-interesting free applications that I could find onto my iPod Touch.
I reached for my cell phone, anticipating a reply for lunch plans – lunch plans for this upcoming Friday afternoon. But it was only Wednesday today, why would other people be planning ahead this much? We live in New York City; plans are meant to be made instantaneously. The text message affirmed my suspicions – it was inconclusive and general.
“Sure, we can try & meet up…text me Friday after you get outta work and we’ll figure it out”
“Well, that’s unfair. I asked a simple yes or no question – it’d be nice if he just said yes or no to me” I thought, irritated by the entire concept of planning lunches in general. I turned back to my laptop with a sigh, opening up iTunes again and blasting some music – probably the lone advantage of having the house to myself that day. I’d been looking forward to today, it was going to be a “nice, relaxing day,” completely devoid of my mother’s usual incessant droning. But with my brother at school and both of my parents at work, I found myself with a silent ghost-like house until 4pm, when my brother usually made his way back home from school. “With plenty of detours along the way, I’m sure” I thought, even though I really had no right to be bitter over his potential detours – after all, I was on vacation and he wasn’t.
Though lunch plans for Friday were well in the making, I then realized I hadn’t really considered what to eat today. Presently, I was reminded by my stomach that it was time to eat, and so I made my way open to the fridge door, slung it wide open, and examined what was within. I pulled out last night’s leftovers – some cold pizza – and heated it. In the microwave. On the dining table. In my stomach. Done.
Just as I was about to head back to my room and the glowing laptop screen, I thought to myself, “This is boring. I want to do something more fun than…than this.” I pulled on my sneakers and ventured outside the house, car keys in hand. But the temperature was so nice outside that I ditched driving somewhere enclosed and stuffy to the fresh outdoor air. Going for a run – the one thing I usually dreaded – seemed to make sense at the time. The clear blue sky, crisp white clouds, and cooling breeze lifted my spirits and seemed to agree with my decision, and off I went for my run.
I stepped out of my house, excited to be out in the great weather. At the end of my driveway, I paused momentarily, pondering my options.
To the left: there was a rather large CVS – they had torn down and cleaned up an old but dear playground that used to exist there prior. Apparently, the county decided that a small little park oasis was no longer necessary. Instead, half of the park was cremated, with concrete poured over the dying plants and grass, and turned into a parking lot. (Actually, this was not true, they most likely tore out all of the greenery before laying the foundations of a parking lot) The other half of the park had been turned into the store itself. I looked beyond the CVS to the busy roadway. Across the street, if one managed to cross the street safely, with no help from the confusing traffic signals at the intersection, there was another shopping complex. Stop & Shop blinked its sign invitingly. “It looked better when all of the letters lit up” I thought to myself. “Atleast I knew I was headed to a legit Stop & Shop, not a ripoff named ST P & S OP” I laughed and turned my head to the other side. I was in no mood to run on a busy roadway by such commercialized store chains.
To my right: the residential street stretched out very beautifully. It seemed like the kind of suburban neighborhood that would be featured on postcards, or inviting “Welcome to Long Island” websites. There were nice orderly blocks that stretched out for about a mile, until you hit the next main intersection. The lawns were meticulously mowed – I suspected that all of neighbors hired the same lawn care professionals – the grass was cut to an identical length, and I was pretty sure, worked on by the same landscaping company. Running to the main road and back would make for a nice two-mile run – plenty of exercise for me – so I decided to go right. And just as my mind made that decision, my feet swooshed to their “3 o clock” position and I took off. As I ran passed the blurred lawns, I remembered how amusing my first experience with Long Island Landscaping had been.
My mother is very obviously a middle-aged Indian women. There is no denying or doubting her age or ethnicity. So when, one similar summer day, she had rushed out of the house to speak with the landscapers across the street, I walked out behind her without being asked to follow. It was easier than having her yell for me across the street – that was pretty embarrassing when I was younger. I did, after all, have an image to keep up. I didn’t want my mother yelling out for me in her heavy Indian accent. But what was even more mortifying was that she wouldn’t even use my actual name – she would use my Indian nickname. Now, Indian nicknames are perfectly acceptable around family and other such people of Indian descent. But when you live in a prominently white neighborhood, you sometimes begin to wish that your mother would learn how to properly pronounce your real name, sans Indian accent.
But I digress. My mother and I crossed the street to speak to the landscapers. I stood a few feet away from her at first, hoping she would be able to figure out how to negotiate a deal on her own. She wanted to hire them for just the summer – whether to fit into the rest of the crowd or avoid having to yell at my brother to mow the lawn every day, I don’t know – and wanted to inquire how much they would charge her, and how often they would come.
Now, I was in eighth grade at the time, and taking my first year of Spanish. My mother, of course, took that as her cue to brag to all of my relatives that I knew how to proficiently speak the language. I didn’t. She went right up to the man mowing our neighbor’s lawn and began speaking yelling at him, catching his attention over the loud whirring of his lawnmower’s engine.
“¡Hola! ¿Comostas?” she proudly stated. I struggled to contain my laughter. The man blinked at her several times, turned off his loud machinery, and then replied. “¿Si? Estoy bien. ¿Como ayúdate?1 At this point, my mother threw a desperate glance in my direction. I opened and shut my mouth several times before deciding that starting over was the best option. I said hello to him (making sure that the “h” in “hola” was silent – a rule my mother refused to acknowledge as truth) and then stood there awkwardly, mumbling to my mother that I had no idea how to apply what little Spanish I knew to real-life conversations. I hadn’t even gotten past the present tense yet!
But still, I tried my best to explain to him what we needed. Not knowing the Spanish equivalents of “mow” or “lawn,” I improvised. “Necesitamos tu ayuda para nuestra casa. ¿Cuanto Dolores para este servicio? ¿Y cuanto tiempos come a la casa cada mes? 1 I finished with a triumphant smile. I’d conveyed atleast a portion of my mother’s inquiry properly. Meanwhile, I snuck a glance over to my mother, who had an extremely smug smile. The slightly arrogant smirk said what my mom didn’t – “See, look at my daughter. Isn’t she awesome?”
But that’s when things had gone downhill. The worker, after laughing at my roundabout attempt to ask him a rather simple question, answered me back in Spanish. I looked at him. Blinked. He repeated himself. I thought to myself, tried to process the words I had picked out and piece them together into a coherent answer. He repeated himself again. The words blurred past recognition – one long jumbled construct of consonants and vowels that flew right past my comprehension. I had no idea how to respond. I had no idea what he had told me. I had, however, picked out the following menagerie of words: “dos, meses, llamate, fines de semanas.” Trying my hardest not to let my mother down, I told her: “Mom, they come every other weekend. And they…call us? I think.”
“And how much do they charge per month, beta?” she asked me. I hated that word – beta – especially in public. Why couldn’t she use English endearing terms – words like “hun” or “sweetie” – in front of strangers? At any rate, I tried several times to relay her question. But each time, the worker did not understand my question. And when he spoke, I couldn’t piece together what he said either. All in all, it was a failing enterprise, and presently, the worker decided that the best way to be rid of my mother and I was to ignore us.
“No speak English. Sorry,” he stated. And with that, he turned away and started up his lawnmower again.
My mother gave me a disappointed look, and told me to go back to the house. “Why do you go to school? You’ve been taking Spanish all year now, and you can’t even ask a simple question?” she had said. Stinging from the uncalled for insult, I had spun away and ran back into the house, but not before composing, in my head, a biting reply. I took out a piece of computer paper and wrote a long detailed note to her explaining my complaints about her upbringing. At the time, it had seemed like a brilliant plan – the end to all of my troubles even.
I’m really mad that you wanted me to speak to that guy in Spanish. I’ve only just started learning it this year, and it’s not fair that you expect me to be perfect at it. You have to stop thinking I’m smart – I’m not a natural genius like dad, trust me. And I’m not even that good at math. Spanish is weird, and our teachers don’t really tell us how to talk to people, they only tell us how to correctly conjugate verbs. And I even mix that up sometimes. So maybe in three years, I’ll be able to have a full conversation, but I don’t know enough verbs to even try to speak to somebody right now. I hope you manage to hire the lawn mower guys though. Also, you need to stop yelling at me all the time. It’s mean.
I had folded up the letter carefully, found a Sharpie, and then carefully labeled the front “TO MOM” in large block letters. I put this on her dresser and went back to my room.
I was halfway to Jericho (Street) when I was rudely snapped out of my reverie. I’d run right into a wall of muscle – a wall of muscle by the name of Shane. He’d been running as well, but I’d been so preoccupied with my thoughts that I hadn’t noticed as our shadows slowly began to mingle. And it is when they were almost upon each other that he whipped his head around and yelled “Watch out Pry” in caution. But his words flew out in vain, as our bodies collided anyway. I had, in effect, the wind knocked out of me, and I’m sure his back hadn’t appreciated the impact either. “I’m so sorry Shane! Are you okay? Oh god, I hope I didn’t hurt you. Are you sure you’re okay? Does your back hurt a lot? I..I’m so sorry, I wasn’t paying attention…” I rambled. “Hey hey, stop, I’m fine. ‘Sup?” he said calmly, making me blush at how awkwardly I’d handled the moment.
“Not much, I was just running because I wanted to…run. yeah umm…how about you?”
“Just running for fun too, its such a nice day”
“Mhm, its nice. And I was so bored at home over break, this is a good change”
“Yeah, so how’s college been anyway?”
“I love it! How’re you doing at yours?
“It’s pretty chill. I hate driving every day though, you’re lucky you get to dorm”
“Yeah…I was lucky.”
He gave me a quizzical look, but I let the conversation lapse into silence after that comment, mentally reproaching myself. If it hadn’t already been awkward, I had definitely made it weird after that last comment. “I was lucky…what the hell Pry…way to bring up the past” We’d fallen into step, and he was running alongside me, our feet hitting the ground together. I adjusted my pace, coordinating my left foot with his. Our feet leapt from one step to the next, and for the next few minutes, I enjoyed running in his company. He could have ran so much faster if he’d wanted to, so I appreciated his companionship. He had been star of our High School Track Team, and had kept up grades to match. Our senior year of high school, he had taken AP Physics and AP Calculus with me, and had gotten 5’s on both exams. I thought dismally of my own scores, and again marveled at the fact that now, I was attending New York University, and he was still living in dismal New Hyde Park. Don’t get me wrong – New Hyde Park is a lovely suburban neighborhood, but it is much too easy to conform. I looked once again at the identical houses, and shook my head at the attempt of such diverse families to make the façade of their houses so similar. “As if by changing their landscaping, they’ll fit in any better…as if it’s even necessary to fit in that much”
“What’re you shaking your head at?” Shane asked, once again bringing me out of my pensive mood. “Just admiring the symmetry and repetition here – I don’t see that too often in the city,” I told him, slightly breathless at this point. My two mile run had turned into a bit of a marathon with Shane by my side, but I was enjoying it. We were running alongside Jericho toward the high school, and, I guessed, would probably loop back to our houses after passing by the school. A few minutes later, he sensed that my pace was slowing down, and politely suggested we take a break. I gratefully slowed down to a leisurely walk and caught my breath.
I suddenly wanted him gone. I was trying to lift the fog from my thoughts so that I could rationalize this rather sudden but strong reaction with myself. I had been enjoying his company, and I’d definitely missed his presence since High School had ended. But around him, I had to keep up a certain personality – the one he’d known in school. I wanted to keep my hair down, though it was more practical to tie it up in this weather. I wished I was wearing a prettier outfit. I wished I’d worn cuter flats, although, of course, sneakers were what I was supposed to wear while running. I kept subconsciously checking my nails and hoping he wouldn’t notice the chipped nail polish on my right index finger. At the same time, I wondered if he’d noticed my new haircut – a drastic impulse I’d had while shopping in Chinatown with my roommate. He was filling my brain with questions, when the entire concept of running had been to avoid thinking much.
I was surprised that I still had such strong feelings for him. I’d assumed that after we had gone to different schools, I wouldn’t feel this way for him anymore. Once we’d broken up last summer, I was supposed to have moved on. But running with him by my side again – it was comfortable and natural, something I missed and lacked sorely at college. He was a remnant of the past, yes, but he was a remnant I wasn’t yet willing to part with. “I still like him goddamnit,” I said to myself 2. I looked over (and up) at him, wondering how we’d drifted so far apart. I wondered what he was thinking right now, walking next to me as we had countless times before, in the past. I looked down to our hands; his were swinging loosely by his side, carefree and laidback, like the rest of him. I looked at mine, fingers instinctively curled in to hide the chipped nail polish, and sighed quietly.
He must have heard me, because he turned his head, looking down at me. The expression on his face brought back painful memories. He had a…a soft look in his eyes as he looked at me. I had often told him how much I loved his eyes. Thinking back to all of those times, I whispered, “I still love your eyes.” He sighed too, his memories and thoughts reflecting mine, and gave me his customary reply. “And you have a gorgeous smile.”
The last time we’d had this particular exchange was months ago. I missed him so much – he was what I’d been missing at college. He was the reason my laugh had been slightly hollow, and my smile slightly pasted on. But now that I was with him again, everything was better. “Maybe it’s better that he’s not gone. It’s better that we’re here again, together. I still love him,” I thought, “but it’s probably not the same. He’s probably dating somebody else…”
“I know that look Pryanka, I’m not dating anybody else. And I miss you…every single day,” he said to me, reaching over and holding my hands in his. I felt a sudden warmth spread through me, a state of contentment that I hadn’t felt in a while. In the hustle and bustle of New York City, and the quiet but lonely weekends on Long Island, I had missed the feel of his strong hands holding mine. We kissed.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you too,” I responded, not needing even a moment to think about it. It was true.
We walked back to my house, holding hands and telling each other all about how college had been. “Ignoring him was a stupid decision…this is how it should have been all along.” I looked into his eyes, smiled, and snuggled closer. His arm was wrapped around my waist, and the familiar weight felt right. I felt alive. Alive, awake, and ready to give us another shot.