Marketa and Dan, that’s me, two snot nosed, sniffling, stuffed up blue collar working class brats, became good friends before we even learned each other’s name probably because of being left together by ourselves when our mom’s got together to gossip over morning coffee, were often included in things each of our separate families did as if we were family, chose to do most things outside of our immediate families together during childhood whether it was a team activity like basketball, softball, or touch football that turned out to be a cross between tackle and touch, which with the close contact allowed me to learn and come to like how Marketa tasted and smelled, or expeditions we went on by ourselves that gave me some understanding of how she thought and felt, developing a tremendous amount of respect for her like a courageous, trusted fellow warrior, with the bravado to face down dangers encountered during our childhood years.
A lot of times a girl child develops faster than a boy child and in our childhood years Marketa was way more athletically capable than I was. She could run faster than I could, could throw a ball harder and farther than I could, and could shoot a basketball more accurately than I. The first time we played school yard football the opposing team figured they would easily dominate our team because Marketa and one other girl, Daisy, were on our team. I guess they figured the two girls would be weak links but they quickly found how terribly wrong that assumption was. Marketa could outrun and out maneuver any of the boys on either team so that the first two times she got the ball on offense she scored. When she went back to pass she showed that she could throw the football a long distance with great accuracy. And when she went out as a receiver the only times there wasn’t a score was when the thrower turned out to be incapable. On defense, she was similarly formidable showing itself with a couple of interceptions and the ability to run down any of the other teams running backs. For the second meeting involving our team and theirs they desperately wanted her on their team. I wasn’t such a great player but Marketa insisted that if they wanted her on their team they had to have me on their team as well. Things between us have always been like that with each of us taking care of the other. We make great team.
We began playing basketball in a vacant lot where our folks and some neighbors put up a goal to keep us occupied and burn off excess energy giving them some peace, moved on by the time we were almost 8 to play in a pee wee league at a city gym, and by the time the two of us were 9 years old after playing together for more almost 2 years we had become a great catch, pass, run, and shoot two person team, Marketa developing a reputation as a bit of a ball handling wizard along the way.
I don’t think it was out of strict necessity but my dad was a bit of a handyman and could fix practically anything having to do with major appliances, plumbing, electrical, or mechanical systems in the house. I didn’t know what MEP stood for until one day he told me it stood for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing, went on to give me examples of what was included under each of those classifications and went on further to tell me mechanical included anything that rotated like the air conditioner or the air handler on the heater. He had all types of tools and equipment for working: wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, pliers, and a work bench with vise that he did a lot of the work on. The tools were always handy, either behind the bench or in a tool box and I watched and learned from him how to use them and how things worked or how to figure out how they worked. One of the very first times his influence on my mechanical skills development showed itself I was a little more than 10 years old and found an old beat-up, hard to look at bicycle that had been abandoned in the bottom of a drainage ditch that ran behind the neighborhood. It had most of its parts but some had been pretty much worn out, a couple others were missing completely, but the frame was in good shape although it was awfully dirty. I cleaned up the bike, took it apart, adjusted parts that I could, and put it back together using my dad’s tools and the workbench. The tires and chain were worn out but I had saved 15 dollars from chores and birthday money which was plenty to get a new chain and if I got a patching kit I could get by for some time with the old tires. The only problem was that the shop where I would have to go to get the new chain was close to the freeway six miles away. Distance wasn’t the issue especially since I now had a bicycle to ride to get there. But to make the trip I would have to pass through some neighborhoods where being a white child was not a benefit, culminating with passage through the toughest, most gang filled area in the city once you got to within a mile of the shop. Marketa was my best friend and she planned to accompany me on the trip to the shop the Saturday a month after I found the bicycle. Everything was going good until about a mile before we got to the shop the chain popped completely in two, leaving me with the choice to push the bike the rest of the way or abandon the entire trip which meant leaving the bike behind. Once we entered the territory of the toughest of the gangs we were being watched like a pair of mice in a field by hungry hawks.
It was almost 9:15, Marketa and I had been on our trip for about an hour and a half. We turned the corner to go down a street where some gang members, hanging out, desperately looking for something to relieve their boredom, chugging down beers, smoking funny smelling cigarettes, immediately confronted us.
The guy who spoke probably wasn’t the smartest but in this situation being biggest and toughest was what mattered even if the toughness was untested and he was the biggest and toughest looking. I doubt I will ever forget that trip. The big, tough guy started,
“What you two white kids doing out of your cribs?
“Don’t you know you ain’t supposed to be in this neighborhood.”
He seemed to have grown from when I first saw him and after he spoke looked more enormous and meaner. My voice was shaking,
“We’re just passing through to go to the bike shop.”
“Is that right? Well, I will let you pass if you pay me a toll.
“How much you got?”
“Barely enough to buy the chain.”
“I guess this just ain’t your lucky day.”
The change in the look on Marketa’s face from the happy glow of a child embarking on a new venture when we started out to one with a worried face drawn tight, pursed lips, eyes darting from me to the big guy then the others worried me, and I was mad at myself that our friendship had put her into such a spot bad but near the street there was a basketball court, some guys shooting hoops, and I had an idea. When I gave her a quick wink, she stood stony still as I went to her and whispered in her ear. Marketa gave my hand a hopeful, reassuring squeeze and listened as I made my proposition to the tough guy.
“I have 15 dollars. The chain will cost me 9 dollars. And once we get the chain I promised my friend that I would buy her a banana split on the way back which is 2 dollars. That leaves 4 dollars. Will you let us pass for 4 dollars?”
“Hell no, you little honky. Beer is 5 dollars for 2 six packs. So, I want 5 dollars.”
“How about a bet?
“Me and my friend will play you and someone else 2 on 2. First team to 20 points wins. If we win you let us pass for nothing. If you win I pay you 10 dollars and I have to go home without the chain I came to get.”
“You aren’t too smart are you boy to make a bet with someone who spends most of his time shooting hoops.
“But you got yourself a bet.
“You shoot for first to have the ball.
“Any shot you want to try from the manhole in the street. Your team gets three shots. If you make two you get the ball first. If not, my team gets the ball first.”
From the manhole cover to the basket was about 25 feet. I knew Marketa was nervous but I had seen her make two handed set shots from that distance many times although those were made with less pressure. From inside 20 feet she could make the same shot, a one-handed set shot, and a hook shot. From inside 10 feet she could make any shot including a jumper or lay-up.
I had the tough guy pass me the ball he wanted to use, dribbled a couple of times, and passed to Marketa hoping that by handling the ball a bit she would lose some of her nervousness.
“Why don’t you get comfortable with the ball?”
I watched her dribble for about 10 seconds, start a dribble with her left hand in front, move to dribble behind her back, and resume with her right hand on the other side. She followed that up with a couple of spin around moves, drove to 15 feet, turned right, and drilled a hook shot through the hoop with her right hand with the ball contacting nothing but net. She retrieved the ball and dribbled back out, passed the ball behind her back to me, got it back from me, dribbled a few times, turned to her left, and made a second hook shot but this time with her left hand although this time it hit the backboard first before going through the hoop.
The tough guy suddenly looked like he had become the mouse in the field.
“What you got? An ace? Are you a couple of hustlers?”
“No, we aren’t. We’re just a couple of working class kids trying to get bye.
“She and I are very good friends. We’ve been playing basketball together on the same team for over two years.
“Are you rethinking the bet?”
The guy seemed really nervous especially if it meant backing down in front of his buddies but to lose to a couple of white kids with his own ball on his own court would be worse.
“I ain’t afraid of a couple of honky kids.
“But, I got better things to do with my time than to get sweaty winning your money in a basketball game.
“I guess it is your lucky day after all. You caught me in a generous mood.
“So, get yourselves the hell out of here and go on your way. And I will walk with you the rest of the way to get your chain and then get you back through this neighborhood with no more hassle for 4 dollars.”
I figure the 4 dollars was to show his buddies that he wasn’t going to let us off scott free.
We turned the corner and when we were out of ear shot of the other gang members the tough guy stopped and turned to us,
“And if along the way, we happen upon some people who want to play a little pick-up game for money, I want you two to keep quiet while I set up the bet and then play.
“And if I win enough, I will pay for the chain and anything else you need for that bike up to 40 dollars and we can forget the 4 dollars.”
We had gone 3 blocks when we played the first pick-up game. The tough guy didn’t even play and he won 20 dollars on the first bet. For the second game, he did play and he won 35 dollars. By then I guess the word had gotten sent ahead. The last bet was for 45 dollars and was the toughest of the games. We were to play to 40 points, the other team was ahead with the score 30 to 26 when the guys on the other team said they wanted to increase the bet to 55 dollars. By then we had learned the tough guy’s name was Stephen and once Stephen had agreed to the new bet, Marketa and I started darting around the other team’s players, throwing bounce passes between their legs, and we won by a score of 40 to 36.
It was almost 2:30 by the time we got to the bike shop, a little more than an hour before closing time at 4:00. We walked into the shop. The sight of 2 pre-teen white kids in the company of a big black guy with a beard, pushing two bikes, one with a broken chain, must have been quite something to behold. We walked in and the three of us were suddenly the mice in the field. The shop owner went to the back and when he came back out, the sudden bulge in the waist band was practically being a formal notice that he was packing something big. I could tell everyone was nervous including Marketa. She took my hand which calmed me down and together we walked up to address the owner behind the counter.
Marketa spoke to me,
“Dan, tell the man what you want to buy.”
I turned to the owner,
“I’d like to buy a new chain for my bike, a couple of new tires, and tubes. Can you tell me how much all that will cost?”
The owner looked me over and jotted down some numbers.
“That will come out to about 22 dollars.
“And if you buy it all here right now, you can wheel your bike to the garage and use our tools to put it all on.”
I turned to Stephen.
“Is it all right for you to buy all of that for me?”
Now that we were out of the ear shot of the gangs, Stephen had dropped his tough guy talk.
“You and Marketa have helped me win over 100 dollars today from guys whose asses I have been wanting to kick for some time.
“I told you I would pay up to 40 dollars but now, I want you to get what you need and I will pay up to 60 dollars.”
I turned to the shop owner,
“Do you have bike pumps and a tube patching kit?”
The owner smiled.
“Today must be your lucky day.
“That pump on the left is the best one we have. If you take care of it, it will last your lifetime. To the right of that is a spoke wrench. And on the shelf to the right of the wrench is a tube patching kit.
“I don’t know what has gone on with you two and the black guy but you take those things on the house.”
The owner turned to Stephen.
“It isn’t often that I see what I have just seen. You seem to have made two young white friends today. If what I have just seen is any indication of your friendship you can add me to that group.”
Stephen, looking pleased, knowing that he had generated and was about to generate a lot of good karma, took out his bill clip, pulled off four 20s, handed the owner 80 dollars, extended his hand to the owner, and said,
“My name is Stephen.”
The owner extended his hand.
“I am James Carson. But you can call me Jim.”
“To pay for the things the boy is going to put on the bike you said 22 dollars.
“I would like for you to take the difference between 22 and 80 dollars and set up the rest as credit for him. Can you do that?”
“Yes, I can. But I will tell you what I would like to do. The difference is 58 dollars. So instead of setting up a line of credit for 58 dollars, I am going to set up a line of credit for 120 dollars.”
I had already taken the chain, tires, tubes, and the rest of the things to the garage. Stephen told the owner he was going to walk us back through the neighborhood and asked if he could watch me work in the garage.
Jim walked to the front of the store, flipped the sign to closed, locked the door, and walked with Stephen through the back of the store to the garage in back. I had already finished with the front tire. Marketa was handing me a 5/8 inch combo wrench, an 8 inch adjustable, a #2 Phillips head screwdriver, and a long bladed straight slot screwdriver.
The shop owner and Stephen watched as I finished putting a tire and tube on the rear wheel, spun it to check for out of round, tightened a couple of spokes, spun it again, and then moved on to putting on the chain. It was 3:45 and I still needed to pump up the tires and adjust the derailleurs. I hooked up the pump to air up the tires when the owner turned to address me,
“It’ll be faster if you use the air hose to pressure up your tires. Why don’t you do that and then use that stand to adjust the changers. After that why don’t you load the bikes and the other stuff into the back of the van? And while you are at it, grab that tire pressure gauge off the peg board and take it with you. I will give all of you a ride in the van.
“Stephen, if you want to ride with us you are welcome to do so. I can drop you off on the way to take Marketa and Dan or drop you off on the way back to park the van in the garage when I come back and secure everything. It’s your choice.
“And Dan, here is something for you to think about. If you would like to come work repairing bikes on the week-ends and holidays, I will pay you an associate mechanic’s wage. That’s 6 dollars an hour.”
Stephen’s eyes looked like saucers. He spoke to the Jim.
“Do you think you might be able to use me?”
“What do you think you would like to do?”
“Wait on customers, work on the bikes, or anything else respectable that you want to do.”
“I tell you what. If you want to come in on Monday we can talk. I haven’t seen you work on bikes but Dan is really good. That is the kind of skill you can develop, if you have some capability to start with. If you want to work on the bikes learning from him on the week ends, I will pay you 4 dollars until I think you are as good as he is and then I will pay you the same amount as Dan. And if you turn out to be as easy to work with as I think you will be, you can work in sales, parts, or other things around the shop but it will be for a little less. Maybe 3 dollars an hour.”
During the ride Stephen, Marketa, and I told Jim the story about our trip and he laughed so hard when he heard about the last game where we had hustled 55 dollars he had to pull over. Stephen told Jim about my promise to treat Marketa to a banana split, Jim asked me for directions to the ice cream shop, and he treated us all. Marketa and I had banana splits, Stephen had a big chocolate malt, and Jim had a hot fudge Sunday with nuts, whipped cream, and topped with a bright red cherry.
The attention Marketa and I had gotten in Stephen’s tough guy neighborhood was nothing compared to the attention Stephen got when he got out of the van, helped unload the bikes, and extended his hand to me and then Marketa.
“Thank you, Dan and Marketa. You have no idea what you have done for me today.”
With that Stephen got back into the van. Jim handed me a note to give to my dad. Pretty much it said what he had seen and that he had offered me a job working on the weekends repairing bikes making 6 dollars an hour.
Marketa’s folks had seen all of this going on, called her inside, and asked her about it. When she talked about our trip, the basketball game to avoid having to pay a toll to pass through the tough guy’s neighborhood, and Stephen winning money that he used to pay for my bike parts her parents scolded her for not letting them know before we took our trip but I think deep down they were proud and impressed with the two of us.
When I handed my dad Jim’s note, he read through it once quickly, then once very slowly, before he turned to mom.
“Do you know that your son just got offered a job working on bikes on the weekends making 6 dollars and hour? That is a respectable wage for a young man.”
Mom’s face said it all and she sat down at the dining room table.
“What? How in the world did this come about?”
My dad walked outside, Marketa’s dad walked across the street to our house, and he and my dad laughed their way through a cold six pack.
I had already gone back outside before dad finished reading the note and ridden around on my newly refurbished bike. Marketa came up along beside me and we raced all the way around the neighborhood. I had finally found something I could do better than she could. Or maybe it was the fact that my bicycle was in such top mechanical shape. Either way, I finished the 2 mile ride almost 100 yards in front.
She came to a stop next to me.
“Will you work on my bike?”
“I can’t pay you 6 dollars an hour.”
“You are my best friend. We had ourselves quite a day, faced down some tough guys today, kicked some tail, made some people really happy, and I have a really nice bike now. And an offer to make some money that I will be able to put away for my college.”
“I love you Dan. This is one of the best days ever. I really liked it.
“I hope we will always be friends like we are now.”
I went up to her, gave her a big hug, kissed her on the cheek, before I replied.
“I do too.”
Marketa looked so happy. She gave me a big hug and kissed me on the cheek.
“It’s a deal.”
My mom made cabbage rolls and potato dumplings for our supper, the activities of the day had left me really hungry, and over dinner my dad and I talked about the job working on bicycles at Jim’s shop. I started out riding my bicycle and would meet up with Stephen to go through the part before the bike shop but then he started working more hours at the shop and I had to figure out something else since I couldn’t count on his protection any longer. During one of my trips I found an old motor scooter, took the starter and battery off, rigged it on my bicycle so that I could flip a switch, and the electric driven starter motor would allow me to scoot along. It probably would have gone a lot faster than 40 miles per hour but I only used it when I passed through toughest gang territories. One charge would last me almost a month. The first time Jim saw me scoot up on the bicycle after I put the starter on he just shook his head.
“Kids! You can’t tell some of them not to do something.
“You probably ought to get a helmet. You can take one of old ones in back if you want.”
I picked out a shiny black one someone had used to ride a scooter. It was too big for me but after I stuffed in enough paper it was snug although a bit warm. But it felt really good in the colder months.
Marketa’s gift was story telling. Even before she learned to write she was making up stories to tell at family gatherings, friends’ birthday parties, and all other kinds of childhood events.
The parents of her friends were always happy when she attended their child’s party because she could be counted on to keep the rest of the children entertained with her stories. Most of the time one of her stories would lead to another and that one to another and another like sequels, the children sitting on the floor and the edge of their chairs looking almost like it was Christmas day and time for opening gifts, the adults often catching only a few lines of the first story and then sitting down to listen and be entertained like their children. As the audience grew the entertainment value of Marketa’s stories grew until everyone at the get together: children, teens, and parents except for those who had some task to perform were watching Marketa’s gestures and expressions and listening to every word and sound as she carried them along in a stream of twists, turns, and outcomes until it was time for the get together to end.
I don’t know exactly when Marketa made the transition from child to youth but I remember exactly when I became aware that she had started and I’m sure it was before me because I remember reaching out to her as my best friend and coming away feeling rebuffed and hurt like I had been scolded. Loss of my best friend was one of those childhood events that took some time for me to digest. It’s amazing how vivid a childhood memory can be and I still remember Marketa telling me when she saw the hurt on my face that it was time for us to stop being children. I understand what happened and why now but it took me what seemed like a very long time to get over the hurt. But when you have less than 12 years behind you, several months can be a pretty long period. One of the blessings of youth and emotional immaturity is that even though you get hurt easily, you heal about as easily.
The rebuff from Marketa was the start of me joining Marketa in moving on past childhood to my youth years. We still knew about each other but the blind faith closeness from our childhood years had been lost. What I learned later and now realize is that early childhood memories like those can provide a strong foundation upon which feelings of admiration and respect may grow.
Marketa is and always has been more comfortable dealing with people than me. I guess she wasn’t the prettiest girl that I knew as a child but to me she presented herself beautifully, always having her hair clean and brushed, nails trimmed, wearing clean pressed clothes. Perceptive, sensitive but not peevishly so to the point of being easily flustered, she had what in later years I came to call helicopter capability. Just like she had when we went on our journey to the bike shop for my chain, even when all kinds of chaos is flying around she has the ability to rise above it all and smile.
The first time she got a story published for public reading was in the high school newspaper where they were noticed by a publisher in a nearby town. Her second published story was about our trip to the bike shop when we met Stephen. She had kept playing basketball and when she was ready to go to college she received offers for athletic and scholastic scholarships which allowed her to enroll in the university and not work her way through school. During the years when she was studying for her bachelor’s degree she continued to write stories and a publisher was impressed enough with two of them to pay her for the right to publish them in their magazine. The pay for the stories and the scholarship changed her family’s reaction to her choice of career from saying it was a waste of time to being overwhelmingly proud and supportive.
As a child and during my high school days, I was and am still more interested in working with things than people. Figuring out how something works, what controls the outcome, how to manipulate the things controlling the outcome are much more of interest to me than working with people although it is impossible to get around needing to work with people to some degree. To me people are too unpredictable and arbitrary. One time they want something and another time even with the same circumstances they wanted something else. I learned later from Marketa when she was helping me with my English literature elective for my bachelor’s that in fiction there are round and flat characters. What I think is the real people are always round since you can never be sure what they will do even in apparently identical situations.
I think that the difference between whether or not we wanted more to work with people or things was the biggest reason why Marketa and I drifted apart. I had a good amount of success working with things. Marketa developed great communication skills and her creative writing talent had started being recognized before she even started high school.
In high school, my junior and senior year science fair entries got the attention of some process control system companies and resulted in me receiving a full four-year scholarship at the local state university where I started the second year of graduate school a month ago. Electronics engineering is a high demand area right now with starting salaries among the highest for all degree levels. After getting my undergraduate degree a little over one year ago, I planned to go to work full time and be earning a good income by now but the firm that funded my scholarship said they would support me with the same salary as an employee with only a bachelor’s degree but my job would be to receive my doctorate. The payoff for them is they get the first opportunity to commercialize any research I do while in the doctorate program and of course while completing the requirements for my doctorate I am actually their employee which gives them a recruiting advantage over other firms for my future employment. Neither of my parents attended college so this is unchartered territory for them and they can only provide cheering although it really helps to know they’re proud that their son is recognized and has a promising future.
During my undergraduate school studies, I bought most of my clothes at one of the resale stores a couple of miles away. I am still doing that and at some point that may change but for now I continue to get most of my clothes there. After a good washing, drying, and ironing the clothes look good. It helps in buying my clothes there to be able to wear medium sizes in everything. My jeans are 32 inches in the waist and 33 inches at the inseam. Shirts are 15 inches neck and 33 inches long but since I rarely wear a tie the neck measurement doesn’t matter much. I still get my dark brown almost black hair cut to a medium length at the university barber shop and have practically no facial hair. Marketa pushes me from time to time to buy more of my clothes new and sometimes I do but most of the time she just shakes her head and leaves that alone.
My fourth undergraduate semester turned out to be one of the most pivotal and consequential of my life. I was enrolled in the English lit class as an elective and Marketa was enrolled in some higher level creative writing courses.
Martin, Marketa’s boyfriend between her junior year in high school and the beginning of that second semester of our sophomore year, is probably going to be the manager of a car dealership someday.
He was a wrestler in high school, a little shorter than me, athletically built due to working out with weights and the physical training regimen, and being on a team he spent a lot of time talking to others and honing his knack for small talk and social interaction. Marketa and he had enough common interests for their teen relationship to develop and he and Marketa started dating the spring of our junior year in high school and after he took her to the prom they became a steady couple at the rest of the high school social events. The thriftiness of my parents was one of the stronger influences in my life and because I was saving my money for college I didn’t socialize much. My parents offered to provide funds for my socialization but with all the other demands on their income and no real interest in social interaction on my part I declined their offer. I just couldn’t see the point. At the university, Martin was spending most of his time socializing which for him seemed to really mean talking someone into doing something for him that he should have done himself. I must not have had anything he wanted or else I was just too dumb for me to realize he was trying to get me to do anything for him but he probably tried. Knowing him for a long time and seeing him in action, I had learned to never trusted him, and not to say yes or even give him a positive or encouraging maybe.
Fat Tuesday after the start of that fourth semester, I saw Martin holding hands and walking with a very pretty girl other than Marketa. I later learned her name was Hannah. Pretty, shoulder length, shiny, auburn hair, nice figure, and stylish clothes that looked expensive. She was wearing some light brown jeans, a cream colored long sleeve cotton blouse, and black running shoes. They were coming out of the student union building after the first morning class ended. Marketa had classes first and second periods and so did I but that day I had a walk the second period so I was taking it easy and enjoying myself people watching. Hannah and Martin seemed to be getting along well. Knowing him like I did I figured given half a chance he would cheat on Marketa with little regard for hurting her. My early friendship with Marketa had left me some residual childlike feelings and I must have still had some protective feelings for her because I vowed that I wouldn’t stand by and see her get hurt physically, mentally, or emotionally. I shouldn’t have worried because even though Martin regarded himself as a smooth operator, he was not nearly as cool as he hoped he was and Marketa was way too perceptive for him to put anything by her.
Two days after seeing him with Hannah while getting my lunch at the student union building, I spotted Martin and sat down across the table from him. About the time I was finishing my cheeseburger Martin motioned to the girl I saw him with to come over.
He introduced us. “Hannah, this is my friend Dan. He and I go way back. He is one of the smartest guys I know. What is that you are majoring in?”
Hannah asked me, “And what do electronic engineers do?”
“Lots of things but I want to develop computer control systems for automation.”
“I have no idea what all of that means. I know some engineers from one of my dad’s companies. They are all smart but they sometimes talk about things I know practically nothing about at a level I can’t even understand.
“I am going to get some more tea. Would you guys excuse me for a few minutes?”
Martin continued giving me the low down on Hannah, letting me know that he was interested in her because her father owned some car dealerships in town but he wanted to keep Marketa as a backup “just in case”.
I told him that I hoped he would just make it a clean break with Marketa and not just string her along. He told me it was his business to do whatever he wanted but he was determined to not let her feelings keep him from getting his way. He went on to say that since Marketa and he had never had sex that he felt no real commitment had been made.
When Hannah rejoined us, I said my cordial “nice to meet you but I have to go to classes” and left. Hannah wished me well and I went to my after-lunch class.
That semester, I was taking the English lit course as an elective, a subject way out of my comfort zone, Marketa was taking math as a required course and a chemistry course as a science elective, so she and I were getting together for study sessions a couple of times a week. We would go over my lit assignments, her helping me complete the course requirements, me helping her with her math and chemistry. The Thursday after I first met Hannah was the last of our study sessions for the week, she was a little late coming to our session, and it looked like she might have been crying. I learned that Martin had told her that he wanted to start seeing another girl. I asked her if she wanted to skip the session and she told me that was the last thing she needed. Instead she wanted to keep busy for a while to keep her mind from trying to make sense of what Martin had told her and done. We went over the chemistry first and then the English lit. With our study sessions over for the week, we stopped for ice cream on the way home. A cup of coffee and a dish of Dutch chocolate ice cream work wonders.
Marketa asked me if I would do her a big favor by letting her talk to me a little about Martin and her breakup. I said I would be happy to listen and asked if she wanted me to say anything. She said wasn’t looking for answers but she needed to talk about it.
“Marketa, when you and I were kids we were best friends. You are my oldest friend and although we’ve drifted apart over the years with the study sessions this semester a good bit of that old friendship has been freshened up. So, if you think it will help you, we can discuss it.”
She said that Martin had told her that since Hannah had something to offer that he wanted and Marketa did not he thought it was time for her to either put in something a little extra or he was going to move on. I was a little confused about that all this meant.
“I don’t know what putting in extra means.”
“He wants me to have sex with him or he is going to move on.”
“You should not feel obligated to put anything into a relationship that you aren’t comfortable putting in. I think it’s pretty obnoxious to threaten someone or try to intimidate them into doing something like that! It’s something for a boy and girl to want to do with each other not as some form of payment or fulfillment of an obligation.
“So, the bottom line as far as I am concerned is that Martin should have known that you might not be willing to put in something a little extra to appease him. And now! Now, he is going to have to live with the result of his threat.”
Marketa said, “And so will I. But I think I will heal quickly now. Thank you for still being my friend.”
I asked her if she wanted to talk more about the break up. She said that she was okay for then and it would just take a little time for getting past the initial hurt. I told her that if she needed or wanted to talk to me more to feel free to do so.
During our study session that evening, we had been discussing my English literature assignment and I was still a little unsure that I was getting the story,
“If you don’t need to talk more about you and Martin right now can we talk a bit about the English lit story. I’m a little unsure that I’m understanding it.”
Marketa helped me see the big picture: what the story was really about and how the story was unfolding; I was really glad to have Marketa to guide me.
Marketa’s strategy to move on past Martin worked and by Palm Sunday almost six weeks later, she had stopped seeing Martin as anything other someone from her past.
Meanwhile Martin continued to see Hannah but Hannah’s interest in Martin although not very great initially was already waning. Marketa and I were spending a lot of time together outside of our study sessions. I had never really thought about Marketa as anything beyond a good friend from my past but the more time we spent together, the more time I wanted to spend with her. I think she may have felt the same way because once Martin concluded that his relationship with Hannah was not going to be taking him where he wanted to go he started trying to resurrect things with Marketa but by then Marketa had moved on emotionally. She told Martin she wished him well but she was no longer available to Martin as a girlfriend. I guess Martin was really upset. He wanted to be the one that had moved on first.
The two of us were continuing our study get togethers but had moved our sessions to one of the small private meeting rooms in the library because it had a chalk board which made talking about the math and chemistry easier. By the first of May each of us had completed our projects, had nothing pressing so I was reading a book that wasn’t even required just because I liked the story and watched as Marketa put a chair under the door knob to keep it shut, stood up, and asked me if I found her attractive. I told her that I had never thought of her like that and she asked me if I would think of her that way now. It took a long time for me to take in what Marketa was saying to understand the situation as it was unfolding. Marketa, blushing, sitting on the chair next to me, touched me gingerly on the face, and gently spoke,
“We have been friends for so long. I don’t want to lose that but I wonder if you think we can be sweet hearts and still be good friends?”
“What about Martin? How do you feel about him?”