I went to the mailbox with my mother to check. Our entire neighborhood had one mailbox. It was huge and red, and we went there together because she was headed over to my grandmother’s and I was headed to my apartment after having lunch with her.
I remember the sun was warm. I remember I was very tired. And I remember that my mother had her arm draped through mine. We had been talking about Bekah and she had not been terrible. Since the ring, my mother seemed to have lightened up a bit about Bekah. It seemed as though Bekah had been put in her place by Rose with the statement the ring made, and Rose in her victory, had eased the battle just a bit. She had laughed and eaten, and we had our first pleasant visit in months.
When we got to the mailbox, I found a large envelope with the emblem of SMSU, the college that Bekah was going to in Springfield, printed on it. I turned to my mother with wide eyes.
“It’s here!” I said.
Rose grabbed her mail as quickly as she could and headed for the car. She did not say goodbye. She did not wait.
“Hold on, this might be it. I might have gotten accepted. It’s a big envelope. Do you think that is a good thing?” I stuffed my other mail under my arm and began ripping at the envelope as my mother jerked her car door open as fast as she could and dropped in. “Wait, I have the letter right here. Wait, this might be it!”
She started the car and backed out fast spitting gravel. She turned the wheel and was headed for the road.
I read the letter as fast as I could and ran after the car screaming. She drove as fast as she could until she looked behind her and saw that I was waving my envelope and sprinting after her. She finally slammed on the brakes. The gravel snarled. I came to the driver’s window and she rolled it down staring at the road.
I held the letter up to her. “I got in!” I said. Ecstatic. I had never expected to get in. I looked at her and saw rage on her face. She nodded, made a bit of a grunting chirp, and through grit teeth she said, “That’s great. She got you in. Good for her.”
Rose stomped on the gas and spit gravel, as her tail end swerved, and she sped away.
I looked after her and only then did Servant realize Rose did not want him in college. She did not want him educated. She did not want him to rise to a different level of life. She had always told him she wanted the best for him. But now, now it was different. It was not happening how she wanted. And he remembered the time she tried to force him to quit school and he dropped the letter. He dropped the booklet. He dropped it all and stared at his mother blazing away. A wind kicked up and he let it take the acceptance letter.
He watched it flap away for a few seconds and decided he would call the school and reject their admission. He would not leave if his mother did not want him to. He watched the letter get about twenty feet. It lifted into the wind and Guardian burst forward.
He ran, chasing the paper until it hit the ground, and he stomped on it. He looked down at his acceptance letter with his boot on it and he smiled. When he showed it to Bekah, she asked about the boot print. He told her he had been so excited when he opened the letter, he had dropped it and accidently stepped on it. She laughed at him and kissed him. She congratulated him and told him she was so proud of him.
It was the Chinese incident all over again.
One day, early in our relationship, I had told Bekah she could pick any dinner she wanted, and I would take her there. She could pick anything. She looked at me with eyes alive and said, “Chinese! Let’s get Chinese!”
I pulled back in horror. “That is the grossest thing you have ever said. Chinese is the worst. That is not even food. It is dogs and cats.”
Her mouth dropped open. “What? What did you just say?” She shook her head staring at me appalled. “You can’t mean that!”
“You eat that trash?” Shadow said.
“It’s not trash, and I eat it all the time. It’s amazing. I can’t believe you don’t like it.” She looked me up and down and back into my eyes. This was in the beginning, back when we were making playful demands.
I told her I could not live a life where my wife referred to a washcloth as a warsh rag. I told her that if she was going to be my wife, she would not warsh our clothes, she would wash them.
She laughed, and though it had been in her dialect all her life, she changed it. Never said it again. It was things like that. Playful little demands about the kind of life we could lead.
She looked at me and said, “I can’t live a life without Chinese food.” She shook her head. “I can’t do it. I won’t. You don’t have to eat the exotic stuff. They have like burgers and other stuff, but you can’t make fun of it and you can’t act grossed out. This is important. You have to take this seriously.”
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll watch that beautiful cute little mouth of yours eat dog if you want me to. No complaints.”
“Stop saying it’s dog! It is not dog, that is racist.”
“I’m sorry. I am. I’ll shut up,” I said. “We can go, let’s go.”
“What dishes don’t you like? Like, do you just hate the way they do chicken? Or what is it exactly?”
“I don’t know. I have never tried it. My family just doesn’t eat Chinese. I have always heard that—”
“Heard? You mean you have never tried it?”
She grabbed me by the arm and jerked me to my feet. She pulled me all the way to the car and stuffed me in the seat.
I laughed, looked at her and shook my head.
“You’re trying it. You can’t say you don’t like something if you have never tried it. It’s not fair,” she said.
“It’s not fair.” I chuckled. “I think they are doing just fine without me.”
She slammed on the brakes and spun to face me. She said maybe the most important words anyone had ever said to me to that moment. “It is unfair to you for other people to tell you what you like and what you don’t. It is unfair to you for other people to make these kinds of decisions for you.”
I sat back stunned. I stared at her.
“You’re going to do it, right?”
“Okay,” was all I could muster.
“You’re going to use the chop sticks.”
“I don’t know how to—”
“I can teach you. I can teach it all to you. I would go to Misuk’s, but I think we need a buffet. You need to be able to try a bunch of different stuff. So, we will go right here.” She pulled into a spot right next to my house. “If you use a metal fork on Chinese food it changes the taste a bit. Chinese was meant to be eaten with chop sticks, so you taste the food.”
Guardian looked at her in awe. He had never seen anything so beautiful. She had a sledgehammer and was taking it to a pillar of my life, one of the things that made my family what it was. She was swinging and snarling. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He was scared, and in love, and almost crying.
“Listen, if you don’t like it, I will never make you eat it again. But you can’t go through life letting other people tell you what you like. That is no way to live. I’ll stop with the warsh rag thing. You will stop letting other people dictate your life.”
We made it out of the car. She sat me down and went to make me a plate. We talked for five minutes about chop sticks and the mechanics. Then while looking her in the eye I took my first bite of Chinese food.
I can see her face. It wasn’t victorious. It wasn’t cocky. It wasn’t any of the things that my mother would say it was later. Her face was just happy. Happy to be showing me something new. Happy that I had the respect for her to let her teach me. And happy that I loved every fucking bite. I tried everything they had. I ate until I could not see over the bulge of my belly. There was some stuff I liked better than others, but I liked it all.
College was the same thing. My mother wanted to tell me no, that it was not for me. That I needed to be in St. Robert. But when I had told her about the Chinese meal I had eaten and how delicious it was, she had found out Bekah was changing everything.
She was unwilling to watch it again.
Bekah and I walked campus hand-in-hand and dreamed of what it would be like to live in Springfield. No more weeks away. No more waiting to see each other. I would see her every time I rolled over in the morning in our apartment. I would see her every time I took a shower in our bathroom. I would see her in every room of our house, and we would come here together, break off in different directions and learn, and when we were done for the day, we would go home to study and live together in love and perfection. I was sure there would be tough times, but I could not see them.
I chose my classes. I went to the book store and bought all my books. We set it up. We were ready. The next part was to search for apartments. We drove around a few areas and wondered what our life would be like in this place away from parents telling us everything.
See, Springfield was a promised paradise for us. A place we could be together. A place where all our big problems would go away. A place for just us.
But that is not what Springfield was at all. Springfield was an acid that ate its way through us. We just didn’t see it yet.