For the past four days, I’ve been trying to move along with a little more care and love for myself. Today, for the second time this week, I indulged in a Toonie chair massage at the mall. As I sat back in the chair, I closed my eyes, ate some chocolate, and thought about the rest of my day — three more students, and then hot pot. I was looking forward to an authentic culinary experience with my Chinese student that night. Surely, it would make me forget my broken heart for a while. There wouldn’t be room for my tears among the spicy chilies, fish tofu, Chinese vegetables, and meat balls. At least, that was what I thought as I ate my chocolate, with dry eyes.
After our lesson of Christmas trees and Jingle Bells, my student began chopping cilantro, mushrooms, and a bunch of other veggies I couldn’t pronounce. I asked if I could help, and she handed me her iPad, so that I could select the music. Although I could help her with English, she was probably wise to keep me out of her kitchen. Selecting songs wasn’t much easier as most of the artists I had never heard of. I settled on some Chinese instrumental music, and my student gave me a look, and said, “This makes me want to sleep! I have Exo!” So, we listened to a Korean boy band while she prepared food, and I started taking pictures.
I wanted to document this hot pot experience….Little Sheep Hot Pot sauce, dried chilies, special oil in one side of the pot, and just water in the other half. Then she laid all the fresh ingredients on the table — Thai shrimp, meat balls, fish tofu, mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, white gourd, and Beijing peanut sauce. In our bowls, she mixed the sauce with cilantro, then put the meat in the boiling pot, and as it became ready, she grabbed it with her chopsticks, and plopped it in my bowl. Slowly, I got the hang of it, and started fishing in the hot pot by myself. She laughed at my poor chopstick etiquette, and on more than one occasion, my mushroom fell back in the boiling water. I began to feel a blister forming on the roof of my mouth, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t remember the last time I had enjoyed eating so much. And then I did remember. It was with him.
As I peeled the shrimp, all these memories started to flood my head. All of a sudden, eating felt like a chore, and I excused myself. In the washroom, I let the tears fall, and then I took a long hard look in the mirror. My puffy eyes and mascara stained face was quite a sight. Get yourself together, I told myself. And I did, until I sat down at the table, and the tears began to silently stream down my face. My student placed the box of tissues within my reach, and asked me what was wrong. At first, I don’t think she understood. She grabbed her iPad, exclaimed,”Translate!”, and then showed me the words on the screen. The next five minutes read like this:
“Turn grief into appetite.“
“Will be good, will be the past.”
“You really broke up?”
“You are very good, work progresses day by day.”
“Fortunately, you don’t drink, otherwise you would drink down.”
At the end of these exchanges, she asked, “You smoke?” I shook my head. She grabbed her pink cigarette case, and a candle from the coffee table, and sat back down. She offered me a cigarette again. By this point, my tears had stopped, and I began to laugh. She lit up, and a big smile crossed her face, “You make me smoke!” I asked her, “How many have you had today?” She replied, “One with my husband, and two with you.” We both looked at each other, and I knew she’d been where I was before. I wiped my cheeks, embarrassed. “Thank you. You have a good heart.” Our eyes met, she put her second cigarette out in the ashtray,”No problem. I have happy heart. Maybe he was not good guy for you.” I thought about that for a moment, and wished that was the case, but it wasn’t. He is an amazing guy, and he made me feel special. Then she pulled me from my thoughts, offering, “You will find the best guy for you.”
To be honest, I’m not happy we’re through. I don’t want to find someone new. I haven’t accepted this break up. I still have glimmers of hope; being without him is not my reality yet. One thing I did learn tonight, over hot pot, is that despite language and cultural barriers, when it comes to matters of the heart, we can communicate with each other. We can communicate support, concern, and hope. And even though I feel alone sometimes, I’m not.