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Rated: E · Non-fiction · Biographical · #1947015
Another Kind of Love Story
         I still vividly remember the first time I laid my eyes on Nina: it was in a church activity.  We were both 15.  She was leaning against the wall, crossing her arms and smiling at me.  Someone introduced her: “This is Nina.”  She’s pretty, I thought.  Her short dark hair was cute, and her voice was soft.  Later in that activity she played piano.  It was a difficult piece, but her fingers flew on the keyboard flawlessly and effortlessly; the music flowed like a river under the starry night.  I loved talented girls, especially those who played instruments. 
         My childhood was an unhappy one, so I turned to religion for comfort; and it was pretty girls like Nina that really persuaded me to keep on attending church.  But Nina was even more special: I instantly, madly fell in love with her, and much later I learned that she felt the same way.
         One rule about life, though, is that it’s full of uncertainties.  In reminiscence, I feel there was an invisible hand between Nina and me.  It played tricks and twists on us, drew us close then apart.  Who knows?  Maybe Truman Show is real. 
         But again, maybe it was just us.  We created our own fate.
         “Hey, piglet!  Show us your snout!”
         Till now I still don’t know why, but since I was 6 or 7 my much older brother always teased my look.  He said I looked like a piglet, especially my upturned pig nose.  Everybody in my family laughed at his jokes; except me, of course.  “You shut up!” I would yell. 
         “What’s the matter, little piggy?  I just want to know why you got a snout on your face.”
         “What about you?  You’re like a grown-up pig!”
         “Little piggy said what?”
         I guess I got my quick temper from those fights with him.  And also with other members in my family.  In fact, my family’s communication style was quite unorthodox: whenever we talked, we shouted.  I couldn’t stand not to fight back if anyone put me down.  Unfortunately, I was losing these battles.  “You’re the nastiest pig I’ve ever seen!” At this point I probably would be almost in tears.  I remember a few times I even cried myself to sleep.
         Maybe you can say that turned me into an awkward and cynical young boy.  In school I didn’t feel like talking.  When I became a teen I had no idea how to date girls; I didn’t even know how to talk to them.  If a girl talked to me I would stutter, often followed by uncomfortable silence.  Once there was this good-looking girl coming to me with her friend.  I still remember her smile.  She said she just wanted to see me.  My friends next to me chuckled and looked at me like I was a clown.  I turned as red as a lobster and almost ran away from everyone. 
         “What was that?” one of my friends asked later.
         “Go away!  Leave me alone!” I yelled.  You know what, I thought.  I look like a piglet, and pretty soon she would find me a bore.  Why not save the pain?
         That was how I messed up.  When Nina talked to me, I tried to escape.  I gave her the cold shoulder, pretending not to notice her.  I just answered “yes,” “no,” or shrugged in our conversation; I didn’t even look in her direction.  After hurting her several times with or without knowing it, we gradually went our separate ways. 
         When we turned 19, I learned that she got herself a flawless boyfriend.  He was perfect: good-looking, athletic, working in a good company making some good money.  In the beginning it hurt a bit to see her with Mr. Perfect, but I got over it quickly.  After all, I thought she was never interested in me at all.  We still saw each other in church activities.  Occasionally we talked, even laughed.  Maybe I finally grew up a bit, I was more relaxed with girls.  I even dared to flirt with her a little bit.
         Nina was later engaged while she was in junior college. 
         I, on the other hand, graduated from high school, did some odd jobs including car salesman, electrician assistant, waiter, even thought about joining the army…all ended up coming home defeated.  I was thinking about the next step.  I wanted to go to college, but I was also a zealous church-goer at that time.  My family didn’t complain too much about the church thing—until I out of the blue announced that I wanted to become a full-time missionary to proclaim the gospel.  My mom thought she’d lost her child.  “It would be just a year or two, I promise.” I told her. 
         “But why?” Her face turned red.
         “I want to help people.  Plus, all my friends are going too.”
         “Friends who?  If they jump into a river and kill themselves would you do that too?”
         My quick temper got me.  “What’s wrong with you?  Just let me go!”
         “Over my dead body!”
         We had a big fight, followed by a 3-day cold war.  But I wouldn’t back down from a war.  When she finally saw that, she compromised and agreed with one condition: I would come back 18 months later.  If I didn’t come back, she would hunt me down and drag me back with her own claws. 

         Being a missionary meant giving up a lot of worldly things: no TV, no movies, no magazines or books, and surely no internet, only an eye single to the glory of the Lord.  Other than the scriptures, the only thing we read would be letters from friends and family, which we received only once a week.  And of course, no distraction from the opposite sex—we could only talk to men.  If any women were interested in the gospel, we referred them to sister missionaries.  I shouldn’t socialize with another female missionary either; in fact, I wasn’t even supposed to stay with any female creature alone in a room or a car.
         To my surprise, in the beginning of the work I suddenly had my doubts.  Friends around me kept on telling me how wonderful the gospel was, but I quickly learned there’s a difference between being a church-goer and a missionary. I found I wasn’t even sure if God existed. 
         However, maybe I finally tasted the grace of the Lord, or maybe I played my role long and well enough, cause one morning 3 months later I unexpectedly received my “revelation.” We were singing some hymns together, and I got this happiness filled in my heart: this gospel is beautiful!  It is true!  It stayed with me the whole morning.  From then, I became the most passionate believer who knew that our way was the only path to salvation.  The work was tough: we got refusals and insults numberless times, but I kept going.  I would work all day without rest talking to strangers or knocking on doors, even when an ulcer was gnawing my stomach causing me great pain.  I believed what I was doing was the most important calling in the world.  I was a fireball, I desired no other things but the work of God.  I thought this should be my whole life, the only true pathway to heaven.

         One day I was talking to Gary, one of my old friends.  “Nate, have you heard about Nina?” He had this mysterious smile.
         “What about her?”          
         “Her fiancé died.”
         “What?!  What happened?” I was shocked.
         “Head injury.  He had an accident when he jumped from the diving board.”
         “Oh my gosh…that was horrible.  Nina must be devastated.” I felt very sorry for this tragedy.
         But Gary looked at me with a smirk.  “Now it’s your chance, buddy.”
         “What are you talking about!?” I was disgusted. 
         “C’mon, everybody knows how much you like her.”
         “A person died, Gary!”
         The death of Nina’s fiancé was just a sad story to me, however.  I had other concerns.  It was a tragedy, but it wasn’t in any way related to me.  Very soon I totally forgot about it—until 6 months later.
         “Did you know Nina is now a sister missionary?” one day a friend told me. 
         “She is?!  When?” I couldn’t imagine her being a missionary.
         “She came just a couple days ago.  She applied for a one-year mission.  Isn’t that nice?  She’s such a faithful daughter of God,” he said.
         “Yea, isn’t that nice…”
         I was still a fireball, but I more or less got distracted thinking about her.  It must be very difficult for her, the thought lingered in my mind.  Why did she decide to be a missionary?  Heartbroken and looking for comfort?  Forgetting the pain by helping others? 
         One morning, I decided to call her.  Strictly speaking I shouldn’t have done that, but a strong feeling was pushing me; I just had to.  After all, Nina and I were good old friends; surely the mission president would understand that.
         “Hello?  Nina?” My heart was pounding.  I must admit I did feel a bit of guilt.
         “Nate?  What a surprise.  Nice to hear from you.” We hadn’t seen each other for years, so I was amazed that she right away recognized my voice.  “How are you?” My mouth was dry.
         “I’m good.  You?” She sounded normal, not displeased or surprised.  But my hands were still sweating.
         “Ok, I guess.  Hey, I was quite surprised when I heard you came to the field.”
         “Yeah, I kind of surprised myself too.” I could tell she was smiling.          
         “How do you like it?  I mean, the mission.”
         “It’s fine…it’s fine.”
         “I’m glad you said that.  Really, it might not be easy, but I assure you it is worth it.  I promise.” My heartbeats gradually slowed down.
         “Thanks.  I’ll remember that.”
         I still clearly remember the fresh feeling when we finally said goodbye.  I was happy to learn she was adjusting well, not heartbroken or depressed.
         However, that night after I came back from knocking on people’s doors, I got a phone call from Ruby, one of the sister missionaries.  “Nate?  May I ask you why you made that phone call this morning?”
         “Well… I just wanted to show my support.  She and I are such old friends, you know.” Is she going to report me?  I was a bit worried.  I thought about some excuses in case she started accusing me of violating the rules.
         “This must be God’s work!” She exclaimed.  “Do you know what happened at the moment you called?”
         “Her boyfriend forced himself into our room!”
         “Her what!?” Never saw that coming!          
         “Her boyfriend!  He drove his Mercedes for 400 miles, found where we lived, hammered our door till we had to open it to let him in, and demanded that she go and marry him!”
         “My heck!”
         “We tried all we could to get him out of here; we threatened and we coaxed, but he wouldn’t budge.  You know what it’s like to have a man in our place?  A man!”
         “What did Nina do?”
         “In the beginning Nina wasn’t sure; I guess she might still have some feelings for him, she couldn’t decide.  But then you called!  Talk about good timing!  After your call, she thought for a while, then told that guy she would stay.  He threatened if she stayed, she would never see him again.  My brave Nina, you know what she said?  ‘So be it.’ What you said to her probably did the trick.  Thank heaven!”
         “Guess that’s the sign for her to obey the Lord’s commands,” I finally managed to say.  But another voice kept on asking myself: Is that fate?  Maybe that is a hint from God about Nina and me? 
         Then the invisible hand drew us even one step closer: after several months, we were assigned by the office to serve in the same town. 
         The moment I saw her, I instantly understood why that Mercedes guy wanted her so bad.
         She was amazingly gorgeous.  Unbelievably attractive. 
         As a young girl she was good-looking.  But now she was enchanting; it was in her face, her dress, her moves.  The most captivating of all, however, were her eyes—I wondered why I had not noticed it before, but her irises were totally deep black.  It was like her eyes could talk, and they were whispering to me.
         I couldn’t concentrate anymore.  All I could see in front of my eyes was her.  Obviously, many other missionaries couldn’t focus either.  No matter where she went, there were always a flock of missionaries around.  They chased her like bees around flowers.  We missionaries were all very young, single, and…well, young.  No one could resist her natural-born charm.
         In the beginning I still managed to handle it.  I saw her as a co-worker.  I talked to her as a good missionary would to his good friend.  However, as time went by I found myself sinking deeper and deeper.  I thought about her constantly, I longed to see her every minute.  I wanted to talk to her, listen to her, watch her smiles.  When I was in the chapel I couldn’t help but looking for her; if I ran into her on the street I would find any possible excuses to stay with her; I purposely wrote some spiritual quotes on the blackboard in hope she would be impressed if she oversaw them; every night I looked at the phone and tried very hard to withhold the desire to call her.  It bothered me; I wanted to focus on my work, but it was just impossible.
         Other missionaries desired the same thing too; and to my dismay, she seemed to respond to their flattery.  One day I saw her with another missionary in a room, alone.  He seemed to be giving her something.  I was mad, then realized I was jealous.  This had gone too far.
         I decided to cut it out.  I stopped talking to her. 
         Nina noticed my change.  She was well familiar with the treatment.  I felt bad: it wasn’t her fault working here and being so attractive at the same time.  But I was afraid I would lose it if I talked to her again, so I kept on this silent treatment.  I could see the disappointment in her eyes.  It hurt me, but I believed it was the best for both of us.  I decided that would be the way it was until one of us was transferred somewhere else. 
         However, that plan was easily broken by a tiny accident.
         One afternoon, I was riding a bike with other missionaries on the street looking for an address.  It was a one-way street, but I was too lazy to follow the rule.  I thought if I rode slowly I would be ok.
         I really didn’t see the car coming from the corner.  When it was right in front of me at high speed it was too late.  Suddenly I found myself flying up in the air, then landed heavily on my bottom. 
         I struggled to stand up.  Luckily, except for some aching bones and a slightly damaged ego, I was alright.  But my bike collected all the force for me and was now twisted like a pretzel.  Though without serious injury, I couldn’t go on for that day’s work.  They sent me back to the chapel. 
         While I was carried by a friend holding my arm and lumping my way into the chapel, I could hear Nina’s panicking voice echoing from inside: “What do you mean Nate got hit?” I was moved—because of my silent treatment, she’d learned to avoid me.  But now she rushed out of the door and hurried to my side: “Are you ok?”
I could see the concern in her eyes.  “I’m ok.  Thanks.” I smiled at her for the first time. 
         She helped me rest on a big sofa and sat beside me.  We started talking again.  Though there were other people around, we felt a long overdue re-connection.  It was like we were alone in the room.

         It was Christmas.  The mission president decided to do something fun.  His plan was to have some people traveling around different mission regions and perform a couple plays to entertain everyone.  He asked around if there was anyone with theater experience.  I couldn’t understand why my name was brought up.  I didn’t even talk in schools, and the only theater experience I had was this once in Beauty and the Beast, the school play—I was a fork, one of the living utensils.  Now the president called me and wanted me to organize a team.  That was just purely crazy.  I voiced my concern, but he put his hand on my shoulder and said: “I trust the Lord, and I trust you.”  Well, I’m afraid you can only trust one of us, president.  But I guess I had to obey him like a good missionary.
         I finally managed to find 7 other people, including Nina, and another missionary named Sam—someone recommended him to me.  He looked like an interesting guy.  We gathered together at the mission office, which was 2 hours away from the town where we worked, brainstormed and rehearsed the plays for a week.  Then we traveled to 3 different regions to perform. 
         The whole thing was bad from the beginning.  We first had a meeting to brainstorm ideas.  Since I was “the leader,” I was expected to give some brilliant thoughts that could win Oscars.  After hearing my ideas, however, they sat quietly without a word.  I tried to salvage those pathetic ideas by adding more ideas, but the silence only grew heavier.  I was at my rope’s end.  Finally, some offered a few plans, and they started talking. 
         Fine, just don’t use my ideas cause I know they suck; I can live with it.  I thought.  But then they asked me to play the main character, a homeless man.  I only knew how to play a fork, now they wanted me to go out there and be a movie star?  “Uh…no?” I refused.
         “But you’re our leader,” one said.  It might be a trap, but I finally very reluctantly accepted.  I knew it was a bad idea, but I just couldn’t handle it when people asked me nicely.
         We started our rehearsal.  And indeed, it was obvious that I struggled on stage; it was painful to see me acting—even visiting dentist would be more pleasant.  Nevertheless, nobody said a word.  I guess none of them wanted to be in my position.
         Maybe I was too sensitive, but I felt I disappointed everyone, and they might think less of me.  Would Nina think less of me too?   
         Two days later, we were invited by a church member over for a dinner.  “So, how’s your rehearsal going?” the member kindly asked.
         We looked at each other.  “Everyone has a lot of good ideas,” I finally said, “I think we’re ok.”
         “With faith and prayers, everything will be fine,” the member half-jokingly said.
         “Well, we probably should pray quite hard if you ask me,” one of the team members said in a somewhat sarcastic tone.
         “Don’t worry; even if we fail, the church is still true,” another member said.  Everyone laughed.  I didn’t feel like laughing.
         After the dinner, people were all chatting while I sat quietly in the corner.  Nina came over: “The dinner was great, wasn’t it?”
         “Yea, it was,” I nodded.
         “I probably ate too much…” she saw a scale underneath a sofa.  “Oh, that’s exactly what I need!” She went over, pulled it out, and stepped on the scale.  Though I was just next to her, I swear I didn’t see anything.  But she quickly stepped down, stared at me fiercely and growled in a low voice: “If you dare to tell a soul about my weight, you’re dead meat!”
         I gulped, then turned away laughing.  I guess she did too.
         I opened up and told her my concern: “This is going to be a disaster.”
         “Well, I think it will be ok.”
         “Thanks.  You’re wrong, but thanks.”
         “You think too much.”
         I think too much?  In less than 3 days you would wish you were in a dentist’s office instead of the play.  I didn’t say anything though; I just sighed.
         The big day quickly came—and lo and behold, it was a disaster.  Now the president had learned the lesson about who not to trust between the Lord and me.  The plays were intended to humor our audience, but you probably could hear more laughter from a group of cows.  “It was nice,” people came to me afterwards and still tried to be positive and friendly.  I’m not sure I liked it.  We sucked.  I sucked.  Maybe just tell me, you know?  Just let it out instead of pitying me…  Ok, I must admit I might not be able to handle the truth either.  Anyhow, I couldn’t wait to get out of there and leave everything behind.
         The office gave each of us a bus ticket to send us back to our places.  When we looked at our tickets, however, both Nina and I were surprised: we would ride on the same bus for 2 hours.  Alone.
         I guess the office probably thought there were enough strangers on the bus, so we weren’t considered “alone.” The problem was we would sit side by side for 2 hours, and what they didn’t know was we were already attracted to each other.  I went to the office and asked if this arrangement was a mistake.  They gave me a blank look.
         I boarded the bus with a mixture of guilt, excitement, and anticipation. 
         We talked non-stop the whole time.  We talked about our past, our worries, our mission works, and our hopes.  I remember looking into her mysterious eyes; the sensation of sitting so close to her, the smell of her clothes, and her soft voice.  She was sitting next to the window, it looked like she was a figure painting, and the trees outside flying backward were the background.
         The 2 hours flew like 10 minutes. 

         Finally, my time was up.  The president politely thanked me for my service, and encouraged me to keep on serving the Lord and His Kingdom. 
         It was my last night in that town.  I waited till everybody wasn’t around and picked up the phone.
         “Hello?” That familiar voice. 
         “Yes, Nate?”
         Suddenly I struggled to find words.  Finally I said: “I’m leaving tomorrow morning.”
         “I know.  Good luck.  Are you excited?”
         “Yes…No…huh, it’s complicated…” What am I doing?
         “You know… I thought about the trip we were on together.”
         “Me too.”
         “I had a good time.  I mean, not only the whole play thing...”
         “The plays kind of suck though.  Guess I should never go to New York,” I sighed.
         “You’re fine.  I actually kind of like the plays myself.”
         “Yeah, right…anyway.  Nina… How much longer do you have?  Like 7 months?  Six months?”
         “Six and a half.”
         Now I knew why I was nervous: it was what I was about to say.  But should I say it?  Finally the emotional side of me overcame the righteous missionary me.  I plucked up all my courage: “I’ll be waiting.”
         She paused for a few seconds.  “OK.”

         After coming back from the mission, I seriously considered going to college.  It would be far away from home, but going out and getting a higher degree had been one of my dearest dreams.  For some reason I always craved to be a college student.  When I looked at those delighted students walking on the street I envied them; they looked so happy and proud.  The lights glowing from those college buildings at night fascinated me; I wished I was one of the noble students in those beautiful buildings reading those big books.  None of my family members went to college.  I guess that probably was one of the reasons why I wanted it so badly.  I began preparing for applications. 
         Meanwhile, my mom and some annoying relatives urged me to start looking for a job.  They thought that was much more practical.  I hated looking for a job; as a high school graduate I couldn’t find the job I liked.  Eventually, however, I found a fun job as a van driver in a tiny kindergarten.  I had to stay there and stand by all day to pick up and drop off those cute little kids.  It wasn’t a job they saw as having potential, but I was happy.
         I wanted to write to Nina, but it was forbidden, not to mention phone calls.  I got information about her through some old friends serving the same mission region.
         Without warning, however, what I heard upset me.
         “How’s she doing?” I asked one of my friends over the phone one day.
         “Well, same old same old: she’s surrounded by all those boys; if you want to find her just look for the biggest crowd.  Gee, those guys really are annoying!  And she just didn’t know how to say no.”
         “What do you mean?”
         “Guess she’s just trying to be nice.  I don’t know.”
         In my simple-minded, self-righteous thinking , I was disappointed at her: how could she?  The single purpose of our lives is to serve God, she should know to avoid those boys and any other distractions…is she doing what she’s supposed to do?

         One day, I unexpectedly received a letter from a woman, Victoria.  I’d met Victoria about 6 months earlier when she was just being released from mission work.  She congratulated me for completing my mission, and shared some thoughts about post-mission life.  “The most important thing for me is to keep my thoughts untainted and my daily scripture reading ritual.  It isn’t easy, but I learn so much from being persistent,” she said.  I was moved at that time: That is a faithful sister.
         Physically she might not be as charming as Nina, plus she was a bit older than I was.  But she had a cute smile.  She was the “lead sister” of the mission, which meant her efficiency and spirituality impressed the mission president so much that he made her one of his assistants.  I admired her.  I felt so flattered to get the attention from a devoted woman like Victoria.
         We started exchanging letters.  Then she gave me a book.  It was a self-help book, talking about having faith in oneself and the importance of determination.  I loved that book so much that I often forgot to eat. 
         A couple weeks later, I got a phone call from her.  “Do you want to go out?” She asked.
         Maybe I should have hesitated at least a bit, but I found myself quickly responding: “I heard there’s a very good art exhibition.”
         We had our first date.  What was displayed in that exhibition I couldn’t remember, because we didn’t care.  We were just talking. 
         “What’s the best movie you’ve ever seen?” she asked.
         “Hmm, off the top of my head I’ll say Schindler’s List.  Have you seen that?  Do you remember the last scene when he received the ring and then regretted not saving more people?  Oh, it moved me so much.”
         “Did you cry?” she grinned. 
         “Well, uh, you know…” I was too embarrassed to admit it; I never felt easy about the crying thing.  “I forgot.”
         “You forgot?” Her grin was bigger.
         “Maybe a bit… now, what’s your movie?”
         “I like the Princess Bride.”
         “Yea?  Why do you like it?”
         “It was such a cute movie.  And I just love it when he says: ‘Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.’ Do you think it’s true?”
         I felt very easy with her, never needed to pretend or act.  She was such a great listener, and I liked the way she smiled and looked at me.  Talking to her was like a cool breeze on a summer’s day.
         But we still had our differences.
         One day we were in a car; I can’t remember where we were going.  Victoria was driving, and her younger sister, Zoe, was sitting behind us.  “So, Nate, did you enjoy your mission?” Zoe asked.
         “Of course.” In fact, it was a very tough time, but a faithful Christian would never complain.
         “Is there anything you didn’t like?”
         “Well…” I thought for a while.  “You know, some missionaries weren’t so tidy.  Living with them was not very pleasant.”
         “I know some apartments those missionaries lived in were infested by bugs,” Victoria said.
         “Ew,” Zoe frowned.
         “Even some sister missionaries were too lazy to move a finger.  The plates in the sink piled up like a mountain, and their room looked like a twister just came by.” Victoria shook her head.
         “Not in your apartment, I assume?” I said jokingly.
         She turned to look at me, and replied in a firm and proud voice: “Of course not mine.”
         I was impressed.  She’s a wife material.          
         “So your job is driving those little kids, huh?” Zoe changed the topic.
         “Yup,” I nodded.
         “He loves those kids,” Victoria smiled.
         “Is that what you’re gonna do?  Or you got some other plans?” Zoe said.
         “…I don’t know, maybe…maybe I’ll go to college.”
         “Yea.  I want to go.”
         “Hmm.” Zoe sat back.
         A few seconds of silence.  “Would you consider moving away from here?  Like going to the east coast?” I asked Victoria.
         “No.” She responded promptly and firmly.  That surprised me a bit.  I didn’t pursue the question further.  Of course, I thought: she is a good Christian woman; she wants to settle down.
         Do I want to settle down?
         One evening I was chatting with a friend on the phone.  He mentioned Nina.  “You saw her?  How’s she doing?” I asked.
         “She’s fine.  But I heard a missionary is really into her.  They went to a state park together on their day off for a picnic.  The park wasn’t even in their mission region.”
         “What!?  They went alone?”
         “No no no, with other missionaries.  There were like 6 of them.  But she and that guy are the senior leaders, they made that decision.  Some supervisors were not very happy about it; in fact, one talked to her about the whole thing.  She promised she would be more careful.  I kind of think that’s not really a big deal though.  Sometimes people just want to relax, so what?”
         Maybe.  But not by my standard. 
         Hanging up, I thought for a while, then began writing another letter to Victoria.

         Nina came back from her mission.  Two weeks later, she called me.  “What’s up?  Want to go out and get some fresh air?”
         I hesitated a bit.  “Sure.  Where do you want to go?  How about… the garden?” There was a huge beautiful garden 1 hour away from our town.  We used to go there for church activities.
         It was a sunny afternoon.  We took a bus.  She gave me a poem, and I burnt her a CD of George Winston, my favorite solo pianist.  Because of her classical piano training, I also asked her a favor to transcribe some of the music for me. 
         We relaxed on the meadow and talked.  I lay down, felt comfortable and happy.
         “So, what’ve you been busy with?” she asked.
         “Well, mostly nothing, just babysitting those kids and wasting time.” We laughed.
         “And waiting for the results of my applications,” I later added.
         “I’m applying for some colleges.”
         “Where?” She stopped playing with the grass in her hand.
         “One in Maryland, and two in the mid-west.  But my first choice is Maryland.”
         “You’re leaving?”
         “I don’t know, they haven’t accepted me yet…but are you surprised?”
         “Well... kind of.” She looked at the grass.
         “But I thought I mentioned about going to college before?” I sat up straight.
         “I know, but…”
         We fell into silence.
         “Are you sure?” she asked.
         Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure.
         Two days later, I received the result from the college in Maryland.  I was accepted.  I held the paper in my hand and stared at the wall for a long time.
         One evening, after dropping off some kids, I headed back to the kindergarten.  The orange lights illuminated the dark road.  The streets were empty.  I was alone.
         Should I go to college?  This job doesn’t have much potential, but I love it, and it’s enough for me to save some money.  If I save enough money I might be able to open a small business.  I can get married, settle down, and have kids.  I’m not an ambitious person: all I want is an adequate and peaceful life.  A steady job to feed some mouths.  Should I risk everything just for the sake of the higher education dream?  Do I really know what I’m getting into?  After all, the church says getting married and raising a good family is the most important thing in this life.  If I stay, I would be following the teaching of the gospel.
         Looking into the night sky through my windshield, I pictured what it would be like if I stayed and settled down: I saw myself being a faithful Christian, marrying a virtuous wife, and having some well-behaved children who feared God.  I would, with God’s mercy, work an honest job: maybe a driver, carrying those cute preschoolers to school and being called “Uncle Nate;” or a shop owner, getting up before dawn every day to inventory the stock and/or supply the materials, serving customers all day, and closing after 9pm.  I would come home dog-tired, but my wife would welcome me with a hot meal and a kiss, and kids would greet me with hugs.  We would study scriptures together every morning and pray before bed.  I would give talks in the church, saying how much I appreciate my humble and peaceful life, and though I didn’t get to go to college, I got something much more invaluable.  I counted my blessings. 
         It isn’t a bad life…but would I really be happy?
         The stars gazed back at me.  I loved stars; they were mysterious.  My friends laughed at me and called me nerdy, because I knew things only a big nerd would know: somewhere in the universe there are pure diamonds the size of our earth; the iron in our blood and calcium in our bones are the products of a supernova before our sun was born; if we travel near the speed of light we could live almost as long as the universe…
         I also knew that birds are direct descendent of dinosaurs; orcas eat great whites for lunch; Queen Marie Antoinette never said “let them eat cake;” and yes, I agreed with Adler that sex is not as critical to human behavior as Freud suggested…
         Suddenly, it dawned on me: call me a nerd, a geek, or a dork, but I was always eager for more knowledge; it was in my blood.  I wanted to see and experience the world.  That was why I craved to get out of here and be a college student so badly.  I would never be truly happy as a high school graduate.  This settled down life might be a good life, but it was never for me—not now, at least.  That was not me.
         Everything was clear now.  I’d made my decision.           
         A week later, I got a letter from Victoria.  She asked very bluntly: “What do you think about me?”
         We’d dated twice and exchanged quite a few letters.  I admired her, and to be honest, I sometimes gave the idea of building a family with her some thought.  But now I was determined to go to college, I thought she should know that.  I wrote back and let her know what was on my mind.
         Her next letter was so depressing it upset me.  It was a short letter, and at the end she said: “May you have a happy and fulfilling marriage.” I was very anxious: that absolutely wasn’t what I meant.  I instantly wrote back and explained: no, that was completely not a rejection.  It was just that I’ve made up my mind to go to college.  I don’t know how it’ll work out between us.  But who knows?  Why not keep it in perspective and see what’ll happen?
         I couldn’t tell how she felt or what she was thinking from her next letter.  Maybe my answer was too uncertain and ambiguous, she didn’t know what to feel or think.
         After I booked the plane ticket, I called Nina to ask her about the transcription of the music, and also said goodbye.
         “Hello?” A man’s voice answered the phone.  I right away recognized it was her older brother Jack.  “Hi Jack!”
         Jack was 4 years older than I was.  Tall, talented, handsome, and neurotic.  The first time I met him he was teaching us in the church about being faithful, and he was nice and funny.  I liked him—till he suddenly for no reason turned nasty.  I didn’t know why till a while later: he did that to anyone attracted to his sister, or who his sister was attracted to. 
         But it was years ago.  I thought it should be time now for both of us to look back and laugh about it.
         “Who is this?” Jack asked.
         “This is Nate.  What’s up, Jack?”
         “What’s that shit?  I’m not your pal, you hear me?  Don’t give me that shit.”
         I thought I misheard.  “Excuse me?”
         “Don’t give me that shit, that’s what I say.” Did I miss something?  Or is he high?  “Uh…” I didn’t know how to respond.
         “What do you want?”
         After I recovered, I managed to say: “Is Nina there?”
         “What do you want to talk to her about?”
         Now I was mad.  That’s none of your business, pal! You crazy stupid brainless shithead!  “I just want to talk to her.” I tried to remain calm.
         “Save it, she doesn’t want to talk to you.  You leave her alone.”
         After the mission, my quick temper was under control.  But now it got me.  The fight with my older brother surfaced in my mind, and I was boiling.  You thought I was one of those young horny guys trying to pursue your baby sister?  You can’t be more wrong, stupid jerk!  For your information, I’m not even interested in her!  I just want to ask her a question!
         But then I saw Nina’s face.  She was crushed; her innocent eyes were in tears.  I knew if I told Jack what was on my mind, that would be the face I had to confront.
         He was still enjoying himself talking nonsense.  I knew what I should do.  “Ok, I’m sorry.  Thanks.” And hung up. 
         Then I realized: I loved her—in my own way.  It might not be the romantic love that led to the desire of passion and having a family together, but it surely was enough for me to care for and think about her.  If she needed someone to be a bridge over troubled water, I believed I would lie myself down.
         A couple days later, she called.  There was something in her voice I couldn’t understand; and she was much quieter. 
         “What time is the plane?”
         “Next Tuesday morning.”
         “I’ll see you off.”
         “Thanks.  Hmm… you know I called?”
         “Yes.  Actually, that’s why I’m calling you.  I just want to say I’m sorry.”
         “C’mon, you know it’s not your fault; it has nothing to do with you.” Instantly, I wasn’t so mad at Jack anymore.
         “So… you really are leaving… it’s so far.”
         “Well, I’ll try to come back once in a while.”
         As I recall it now, I want to laugh at myself: That’s not what she really meant, dummy.
         “I just…I have this feeling.”
         “What’s that?”
         “You’ll regret it.”
         What does she mean?  I didn’t understand then.  “Well, maybe.  But I’ve made up my mind.” My answer was straightforward.  I guess too straightforward.

         Five people came to see me off at the airport, including Nina, and Sam—the guy performed in our horrifying Christmas plays with us.  I didn’t see too much into it at that time.  I don’t know why I was so slow.  We talked and laughed, and everyone wished me luck.
         As I boarded the plane, I turned back to see her for the last time.  At that split second, I got caught in her mysterious eyes: she was not looking at me, but the sky far away.  In these eyes there were thousands of words, and I didn’t understand any of them.  But she noticed I was seeing her, and right away politely smiled at me: “Bye.”
         I was speechless.
         After I got to Maryland, I wrote a letter asking Nina about her last glimpse.  She replied:
         “I didn’t anticipate you would notice.  To tell you the truth: at that moment, I was telling myself: This is it; this is the end between you and me.
         When I came back from my mission, you didn’t do anything; not even a call.  On the other hand, there’s someone… he started pursuing me right away, and he’s trying very hard.  I know he loves me. 
         You don’t have to guess who he is.  Pretty soon you’ll know.  Anyhow, I wish you the best.  Take care.”
         I smiled with all mixed emotions.  I wrote back and sincerely congratulated her. 
         A year later, Nina and Sam were married. 

         When I came back to my hometown for a visit after a couple years, I had a chance to see Nina and Victoria in different occasions.  Nina was 5-months pregnant, and Victoria was preparing for her own wedding.  Victoria’s husband-to-be was a good-looking and nice man, in my honest confession a better choice than me.
         Nina was glad to see me.  “How’s the new life?” she asked.
         “It was alright.  How’re you feeling?” I looked at her and patted my own belly.
         “Fine, just can’t wait to get it over with.”
         “Well, one of my instructors, a middle-aged woman, said once a pregnant woman told her she wanted to give birth right away, just to get it over with.  My instructor looked at this pregnant woman and said: ‘No you don’t.  I have 3 kids and I know.’”  We both laughed.
         “Are you nervous?  I mean the labor.” I asked her.
         “No, not at all; people say it hurts, but I’m not afraid of pain.”
         “Good for you,” I said in amazement. 
         She looked at her watch.  “Sorry, Nate, but I have to run some errands.  It’s so nice to see you.  You better study hard, you hear?”
         “Yes, ma’am.”
         She smiled, nodded and turned away.  Looking at her, I had this strong urge to say something that I couldn’t seem to find a right moment to tell her.
         I’m sorry, Nina; for the things I’ve done that hurt you.

The End

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