December 23, 2006
I wasn’t a dedicated Seinfeld fan (Friends was my favorite 90s sitcom) so I probably wouldn’t have much interest in recalling Festivus every year if it weren’t for the Airing of Grievances. It comes at a good time in the midst of all the striving for good will to all, acting as a brake on a sweetness that threatens to spill over into the saccahrine.
The first grievance I aired, for Holidailies 2004, was about being annoyed by other people who were airing their grievances about Christmas being stolen or suppressed or some such nonsense. Last year I got more personal and wrote about how a cousin’s sharp words about my turning away from Catholicism to Lutheranism had hurt me.
I’m getting personal again this year, airing a grievance that has gone unresloved for thirty-four years. (What was that I said in November about holding grudges?)
I started teaching in the fall of 1969, expecting to be in that situation only one school year, after which I was going to join my college boyfriend in Pittsburgh where he was working as a community organizer. Those plans changed just after Christmas when he announced he was marrying someone else. I indulged in the Screaming Broken-Hearted Miseries for a while, then picked myself up and re-visioned my life. I enrolled in a graduate program, found a new apartment, and took a job at the school I would remain in until I left the profession in 1998. And at the first faculty meeting I met E., the track coach, who leaned over to me and said something amusing about the argument raging in the front of the room about whether or not faculty should have to pay the $1.00 ticket price for entrance to the football games.
We began dating. Fridays we went to the football game or the basketball game, Saturdays we went out to dinner. We didn’t see each other on “school nights.” I went to all the track meets. I went to graduate school that summer, and when I got back in August we started up again. We did this for two years. Sometime during the second year (early in the second year, actually) I began to believe that the relationship was stalled, that it wasn’t going to be any more than what it was. And I wanted it to be more. He’s not interested in commitment, a teacher who’d known him a long time told me. She said I’d lasted longer than any other girlfriend she’d known him to have. I decided to keep on, hoping things would change.
That second spring we were together things started to wobble. He wouldn’t accompany me to a friend’s wedding because he had offered to be a ticket taker/usher at the state wrestling tournament the same weekend. “I’m getting paid $35 to do this,” he said. “I’ll pay you $45 to take me to the wedding,” I countered. It was the only real fight we ever had.
When I came back from Vermont in August of 1972 things had definitely changed, I knew that. E. seemed more distant than usual. We went out for a few more weekend dinners and movies, but when school started that stopped. He was helping with the varsity football coaching, and they had the games plus planning meetings and film review sessions and all.
And then, some time in about October, he simply stopped speaking to me. He’d be sitting in the faculty lounge in the morning and I’d come in and say hello and he’d barely even nod. I thought he was absorbed in whatever math teacher journal he was flipping through. It took me a week to realize he was speaking to everyone else who came through the lounge door. Not long after that another teacher made a reference to E.’s new relationship with the math department clerical aide. When I gasped, the other teacher said, “Oh my! You didn’t know this? Why, they’ve been dating since June!”
And that’s how it ended. He was twenty-nine years old, we’d been together for two years, and that’s how he broke up with me. The department aide eventually dropped him and we went out a few more times. And in the years that followed we restored the friendship. We both married. He took a teaching/coaching position at the school my daughter attended and though she never had him as a teacher I would see him from time to time at school finctions. We have friends in common and find ourselves at the same gatherings every now and then. I still bear him great affection, and I think he knows that, and returns it.
But tonight I’m airing this grievance, saying things I should have said thirty-four years ago:
“That was a crappy thing to do, E. After two years I deserved better than that. Why did you treat me with such disrespect? Were you really that heartless? That socially inept? That immature? You were twenty-nine years old. You were capable of better than that. I wonder sometimes if you know how very much you hurt me. And I hope you’ve taught your son to do better by the women whose hearts he will capture before letting them go.”