Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 17

The rest of Saturday evening was a disaster. I’d begged off meeting Chef, claiming I had something with the band that I needed to take care of, and the show was worse. Even Marco asked if I was feeling bad after I’d lost the tempo the third time, causing the rest of the band to scramble to adjust to me.

I just couldn’t get my act together, my mind constantly on Sydney and what I was going to do. There was a simple answer, of course. Just not one I was willing to do. If I’d had trouble saying those three words to her in the moment, because I wanted to make sure they weren’t insincere, saying them after she was noticeably angry at me would basically go against everything I’d said ... and believed.

It only got worse once the distractions were gone and I was alone in my room, staring up at the ceiling, alone with my thoughts. I kept playing the scene over and over in my head, like watching a train wreck. What I really wanted to do was stay in bed all day Sunday, curled up and ignoring the world.

I couldn’t though. I still had a show I couldn’t put off, because I owed too much to the band, and I had to go to training. Chef might let me call off every once in a while, with other responsibilities, but two days in a row, and I’d have to come up with something better than just telling him I had band stuff to do. Lying wasn’t an option. He would smell it a mile away. So I pulled myself out of bed sometime around one in the afternoon and trudged to the Blue Ridge, mostly looking to just get through the day so I could go back to wallowing.

I should have known it wouldn’t work like that. Training was just as much of a disaster as I feared it would be. I couldn’t focus, missed instructions from Chef, and messed up moves I’d done perfectly hundreds of times before. I was a mess. Chef noticed immediately.

“Watch your form! Focus, Charlie!” he barked.

I tried to concentrate, throwing a series of punches and kicks, but everything felt sloppy and poorly timed.

Chef sighed, shaking his head in disappointment. “Do that again. And fix your stance; it’s weak!”

He moved around me as I tried, and failed, to make the connection. There are a lot of things that go into fighting, whether it be against an opponent or just doing combos into the air for practice, but the biggest factor is focus. You can have all the power and speed in the world, if you aren’t focused, your aim will be bad, your power will suck, and you will miss half the things you try to block. Which pretty much summed up the first ten minutes of training after we finished warming up and stretching.

“What is wrong with you today? Your head isn’t here,” he demanded, poking me in my forehead. “Get it together!”

I mumbled an apology, which only caused his annoyance to grow. Confidence and respect were two big keys in the philosophy behind Kung Fu, and mumbling your responses broke both of them. I knew this firsthand after doing many lunges and crawls as punishment while having that lesson repeated to me.

This time, there was no punishment.

Instead, he said, “We’re done for today. Come on with me.”

Before I could say anything, he turned and headed into the restaurant without another word, expecting me to follow.

I trudged after him, dreading the conversation to come. Chef could read me like an open book. How was I going to tell him that the reason I was disrespecting his training time was because my girlfriend was mad at me? I mean, it was, and I thought it was a legitimate excuse, but I couldn’t imagine he’d feel the same.

Chef led me to an empty corner of the dining room and slid into a booth. While the Blue Ridge didn’t close between lunch and dinner, it was a ghost town and only had one or two people in it, not counting staff, so the area far away from the stage, bar, and kitchen was always empty at this time of the day. I didn’t say anything but slid in across from him, clasping my hands nervously in front of me.

We were both silent for almost a minute. I knew he wanted me to explain, but I was embarrassed and felt a little bit foolish about the whole thing and couldn’t bring myself to talk first.

Finally, he opened his palm towards me in a ‘go ahead’ gesture and said, “What’s going on?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat, looked down at the table, and said, “I had a big fight with Sydney on our date yesterday, and ... I think we might be over.”

“Okay. What was the fight about?”

“At the end of our date, she, uhh, said ‘I love you,’ and I couldn’t say it back. Not because I don’t, or at least, not because I don’t like her, but because I’ve seen what my parents went through and how much they keep hurting each other even still. I’ve never really thought about this, not consciously, but as soon as she said it, everything they ever fought about ran through my head, and I just froze.”

“Did you explain this to her?”

“I tried, but she didn’t want to hear it. I could have done it wrong. I told her all about why I was hesitating and that I just wanted to make sure I was completely, a hundred percent sure before I said it, and she took it to mean I didn’t love her and just shut down. After that, she didn’t hear a word I had to say or even look at me. I tried, but it was like talking to a brick wall.”

He was quiet for a minute, his steepled fingers against his chin as he thought.

Finally, he said, “I can offer you two pieces of advice, one that will not be helpful right now, but that I think is important to understand, and another for how you can deal with this.”

“I’ll take whatever I can get because this is killing me. I don’t know what to do about it.”

“Unfortunately, that is my first piece of advice. There’s nothing you can do about it. This is something she has to figure out for herself. You’re both very young and haven’t experienced a lot of life. Experience is the best teacher in life, and for people your age, especially in this area, neither of you have enough experience to know how to deal with the emotions you’re feeling. It doesn’t help that you’re both in the period of life where you’re flooded with hormones, making your emotions more extreme than they would be if you encountered this later in life.”

“So we’re just overreacting?”

“That isn’t what I’m saying. I’m saying that her first reaction might not be the one she’ll land on if she had more experience. She was disappointed, expecting one response from you and getting another, and her immediate response was anger. That very well might not be her end response. Yes, you explained why you wouldn’t say it back to her, but it’s likely she wasn’t really listening. It’s hard for people your age to look past your immediate feelings in the moment, especially when those feelings are overwhelming. Given time, she might change the way she feels.”

“So, wait and do nothing? You’re right, that doesn’t make me feel much better.”

“I know. If you were older, her reaction would have probably been different. Right now, every decision feels like the most important thing in the world, every rejection like an unrecoverable setback, every setback like an end to all options. Experience will eventually tell you none of that is true, but nothing I or anyone else could say would change the way you feel about it. I don’t mean for just you and how you’re dealing with her response, but for her too. It’s why she took your ‘not yet’ as a ‘never’ and reacted the way she did. You don’t need to do anything with this, just keep it in mind. Her response and your feelings about this are both vast overreactions that only time can fix.”

“Okay,” I said.

It made sense, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with that information. It didn’t change how I felt or her response. Maybe it was true, but I still felt like crap.

“Like I said, it won’t help you right now,” he said, reading my thoughts. “The other part, and the one you can do right now, is to learn patience. Focus on what you can control, your reactions and choices, and just wait on the things you can’t ... like how someone else feels.”

“I’ve tried that. I thought back to what you’ve said about the tenets and tried to meditate, but it didn’t make it go away. I can’t just stop feeling what I’m feeling.”

“I’m not suggesting you stop your feelings, and I’m not saying what you’re feeling isn’t valid. There are different ways to exhibit patience, and none of them require you to pretend like the thing you’re waiting on isn’t happening. What they require is that you continue with your life, knowing that these things are happening and understanding that you can’t do anything about them at the moment.”

“How do I do that?”

“It’s not easy, and I’ll admit that I struggled with this as well. What helped me was understanding it better. There are three keys to patience: forbearance, acceptance, and perseverance. I was taught in the temple that mastering these three things would help me find inner peace.”

“I could use some inner peace.”

“Everyone could. The first is the easiest of the three to grasp, although that doesn’t make it easy to understand. Forbearance is counted as one of the six perfections on the spiritual path. My master told me that the key to forbearance was to be a calm pond on a windy day, my surface refusing to be moved or swayed by the winds above it.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” I said, trying not to sound frustrated.

“I know. While these principles sound simple, they’re actually incredibly difficult to master. Men spend lifetimes at the temple trying to understand these ideas in their fullness.”

“I don’t have a lifetime to study these. Sydney’s pissed at me now.”

He chuckled at that. I hadn’t meant it as a joke, and I knew he wasn’t laughing at me, but it still annoyed me.

“I was trying to make it clear how difficult these ideas are, and that it’s okay to not get it right away.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Good. The simple way to explain this is that you have to recognize that life has its own rhythm that we cannot control; much like the pond can’t control the wind. You can try, but all you’ll do is make waves, and the wind will still be there. What you need to do is embrace the moment, resisting the urge to rush ahead to the next one. Those who master it live for now and wait for the future to come as it will. I’m not saying you need to do that, but the thing to take away from this is that you can’t control what’s happening.”

“You always told me that just reacting is waiting to get hit? How isn’t this the same thing?”

“Because it isn’t about reacting or not reacting. It’s about approaching a situation with a calm mindset, resisting the urge to act impulsively. Allow the moment to pass over you, react with calm and considered thought. It makes it easier to de-escalate conflict.”

That sounded impossible, really. No matter how mad someone else got, I was just supposed to stand there and take it, hoping things got better? I mean, I guess I understood what he meant, and it wasn’t bad advice. I should think things through calmly instead of flying off the handle. I’d actually been thinking about that a lot lately, but he made it sound a lot easier than it was.

“Okay,” I said, knowing he could lecture on this for a very long time if I let him and ready to just move on. “You said there were three parts.”

“Yes. The next is acceptance. It’s actually more important than forbearance for dealing with conflict. Forbearance is more like step one. Giving yourself the time to do what’s next, which in this case is acceptance. You embrace and acknowledge the reality of the situation and your feelings. Understanding that other people’s feelings are valid and accepting that it’s how they feel, even if you don’t agree, which is how we have empathy. You don’t think your girlfriend was listening to you, which seems fair from the way you described it; but what you have to accept right now is that this is how she feels. You can tell her she misunderstood what you are saying, but what you can’t do is tell her she isn’t feeling upset and unloved. Once you accept her feelings, you can then address them and try to work through them. Trying to gaslight her into feeling something else will either not work, or it will work but also build up more long-term resentment, which you don’t want.”

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