The most valuable lesson my mom taught me

Author’s note: while this story is one of my favorites about my mom, the writing and point of view are entirely mine as I remember being in fourth grade. My relatively recent discovery of profanity has merely allowed me to express feelings I have had since I was ten. This is not my mom’s fault—she really did raise me better. I just came out like this. Sorry, mom. I love you.

Also, Brian, if you’re out there: no hard feelings.

***

I got my most valuable lesson from my mom when I was in fourth grade. It was my first run-in with heartbreak, and she was the one to help. Not by taking my hand and assuring me my heart would heal. Rather, when I was the one thrust into doing some heartbreaking, it was mom who assured me that not only is heartbreak not fatal, but it’s not my job to clean up messes other people insist on spilling everywhere.

It started when my friend Sierra asked if I liked Brian after school. Liked liked Brian. Our class had collectively discovered what crushes were and were infatuated with getting our hands on one—either first-hand or vicariously through classmates.

My interest fell distinctly into the latter camp. Crushing was a fantastic spectator sport—which is exactly why I was determined to remain a spectator.

So when Sierra asked me if I like liked Brian I…panicked a bit. While I had no problem being the center of attention, I also preferred knowing I had an audience. But if she was asking me this, who else was asking? Who was already talking? How many romantic rumors did I need to preempt?

I laid out a fervent and thorough denial of all romantic inclinations anyone might suspect me having towards Brian and/or anyone else in our class. Brian and I were very close friends, only friends, and friendship is very important, more important than romance even, not that there is any romance, because there is zero. And I’m not really ready for a relationship right now, and even if I was, Brian was not my type. Not that I have a type. But even if I had a type, he’s not it. And if you could please tell anyone saying otherwise that’d be great.

Then I stopped. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh,” said Sierra. “Brian asked me to. Because he likes you.”

Oh.

Shit.

I did as much backpedaling as I could, but it wouldn’t be long before my all-too-clear feelings made their way back to the boy who’d just asked my best friend to ask me if I liked him. Laying bare heart and soul, fourth-grade style.

Sure enough, the next morning Brian moped theatrically past me into class, making mournful eye contact as he slumped into his desk.

I tried to smile and be friendly, because we were friends, God please tell me we were still friends, but he was having none of it. He’d put his heart on the table and I’d, apparently, crushed it.

I quickly decided the best course of action was Giving Brian Space. Everything I’d said was in an attempt to make drama Go Away; maybe acting it like it had would actually work. Plus I didn’t really feel like rehashing the devastating things I’d said, and suspected Brian felt the same way.

Brian…had other plans.

Every time he passed my desk it was with an anguished sigh. Every time we broke for lunch or recess he’d mope on his own, away from the rest of our fourth-grade conglomerate. I had Broken His Heart, and he was making that Very Clear.

And it was working. I was wracked with guilt. I had the power to destroy and I’d inadvertently used it. I was a harpy and didn’t even know it.

The straw that broke my harpy back was the song Brian started singing after school. I found him camped out, suicidally, directly under the basketball net, near the storage shed I was raiding to get a dodgeball. I got close, trying to smile as non-harpily as I could.

Before I could say anything, Brian started singing: “I’m feeling depressed / I’m feeling depressed / Annica doesn’t like me / And I’m feeling depressed.”

It would be another year (via a conversation with a very caring and very honest P.E. teacher) before our class learned what clinical depression was, but I inferred two things about Brian’s sudden-onset depression: (1) it wasn’t good and (2) it was my fault.

And so I started thinking. Not necessarily dating (whatever “dating” even meant in fourth grade), but something. Something to ease this heartbreak I’d unwittingly wrought.

My mom would know what to do. Mom, who’d been my unfailing coach and mentor in being caring. Who’d taught me how to share. Who knew how to strike the delicate balance between being honest and kind. Who’d succeeded and demonstrating and teaching the most valuable skill a fourth-grader could wield: Being Nice. Mom could fix this. Mom would know what to do.

She picked me up an hour or so after Brian went home. She asked me how school had gone. I started telling her about Brian’s broken heart and how it was my fault and that I was trying to figure out a way to make things right.

I hadn’t even gotten to the singing bit when she cut me off.

“Brian will live. You shouldn’t be doing anything for Brian.”

I sat there, stunned, trying to wrap my head around my second shift in reality I’d encountered in that day: not only was I a fourth-grade harpy, but my wonderful, caring, well-spoken, kind-hearted mom…didn’t want me to do anything. Didn’t tell me to be nice.

In horror and indignation, I reiterated that Brian’s heart was broken, that he was singing a song about it, that he was alone under the basketball net waiting for death to take him via an athletic middle schooler.

And she laughed. She laughed and sighed and then said, as if I were the one with an incomplete, childlike grasp on the situation:

“Well I’m very sorry. He’ll be fine.”

My wonderful, caring, well-spoken, kind-hearted mom might actually be a stone-cold bitch.

I spent the evening ruminating on my mom’s dismissal. She talked like I’d done nothing wrong. Like there was no actual problem here. Like this was a playground game. Was she right?

If she was wrong, then I had the power to hurt or heal some very real wounds.

But if she was right, I was off the hook from actually having to do anything.

I decided to give her the benefit of a doubt.

I stuck to my cool-calm-collected space-giving strategy the next day. Brian stuck to his slumps and sighs. I did my best to tell myself: Brian will live. You don’t need to do anything. Brian will live. Brian will be fine.

He was still living awfully unhappily by the end of the day, so I pressed the matter with mom again.

The same laugh-sigh, the same amusement and annoyance and dismissal of my (his?) problem. Then she laid her cards on the table.

“Listen,” she said, “I talked to Brian’s mom. He’s fine, I promise you. He’s just doing it for the attention.”

Two moms! Two moms with two collaborative stories that confirmed this was Not A Big Deal.

I was equal parts relieved and indignant. All that guilt had, indeed, been for naught. I didn’t cause this. “This” wasn’t even a real thing. It was a performance. It was a ruse. I wasn’t just off the hook, I had no stake in this claim to begin with.

I was not a harpy. I was not responsible. I was in charge of my reaction, and that was all the care I was required to provide.

And Brian’s heartbreak did, indeed, fade with some calculated-but-not-too­-calculated coolness and avoidance. We were back to being (just) friends by the next week. Heartbreak, as it turns out, isn’t fatal. It’s not even chronic.

It wasn’t until I was an adult looking back that I realized the amount of trouble my mom’s advice saved me. Turns out manipulative theatrics is hardly limited to fourth grade boys. I would go on to watch boys in high school, college, do the same song and dance. To ask girls why they attended dances with them if they weren’t interested in something else. To guilt trip their exes into a second chance—they didn’t mean to do those things, say those things, they were just so impassioned they couldn’t think straight.

I was lucky. I sidestepped toxic relationships because I could still hear my mom’s words. They will live. You don’t have to do anything. They will live. They will be fine.

Not every girl learns that from her mom. Not every girl walks away from their mopey suitor. Some go their whole lives convinced all love, lust, heartbreak directed at them is their cause, and therefore their fault. That they need to clean up the mess they caused. That they’re the harpies.

My mom imparted more wisdom than she realized navigating me through that first bout of unrequited affection. Fixing Everything and Being Nice are two different projects. And you don’t have to fix everything to be nice. You do not have to respond to guilt trips. You can—you should—walk away from manipulation. You have your own problems to solve.

You will live. You will be fine.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thanks for assuring me I’m not a harpy.

***

EDIT: I told my mom I was writing this and got her side of the story: as she remembers it, the reason she went to Brian’s mom wasn’t that Brian or even myself was in any great distress. It was because the rest of our class was talking about his theatrics and my staggering non-responsiveness.

Which means, in her telling of the story, I was the stone-cold bitch.

I’m…I’m a little proud.

Why I Don’t Share Things

One of the girls at work tonight mentioned she was going to go see Fifty Shades of Grey with (a) her boyfriend and/or (b) her boyfriend’s parents, to which the rest of us replied “Aaaahhh uhhhhh hhmmmmm” for a variety of our own reasons

And we were trying to dissuade her with our own variety of reasons

And I chimed in with “Dude, if you want to get into erotica, there is better erotica out there.”

Which made everyone look at me funny.

Which feels a bit unfair, seeing as we were, I thought, having a conversation about paying to watch a sexy movie.

How I Celebrated My Twenty-Third Birthday Like A Grown-Up Mature Fun Energetic Young Adult Person

3:15am – Alarm goes off. Wake up totally disoriented and unable to figure out what time it is or why alarm is going off. First words out of my 23-year-old mouth are “What the fuck.”

3:16am – Remember why alarm is going off: Jordan has work at 4:15am.

Hit snooze and go back to sleep.

3:30am – Second alarm goes off. Remembers it is my birthday. Excitement levels are exactly strong enough to get me out of bed without doing any actual waking up.

Take 3:30am disoriented birthday selfies.

wrongly

“Opening on Saturdays will be great,” they said

wrongly

“We’ll have the whole afternoon to DO THINGS,” they said

3:42am – Jordan offers me chocolate-covered espresso beans (two pounds of which arrived in the mail two days earlier and were broken into immediately). Incoherently accept Jordan’s offer.

3:48am – Espresso beans in full swing.

3:49am – Bounce into office where Jordan is eating breakfast and harass him to give me my birthday present. Receive reminder that my present was the two pounds of espresso beans I’d broken into immediately upon receiving them in the mail two days earlier.

Worth it.

4:15am – Drop Jordan off for his shift. Play Mika in the car on the way home.

4:18am – Learn my voice is wayyyy too sleepy to hit high notes alongside Mika at 4:18am. But it can emulate a decent Lumpy Space Princess.

4:19am – Sing along to “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)” as Lumpy Space Princess.

4:30am – Make breakfast and get ready for my own shift. Watch the 30 Rock episode “Mazel Tov, Dummies” during prepping. Determine it is the most quality thing that has ever aired on television.

4:48am – Think about getting married and being a human woman.

Actual footage of me during wedding planning 1.5 years ago

Be grateful I, at twenty-three years old, am all done planning weddings.

5:15am – Drive to work. Sing “Love Today” as Lumpy Space Princess.

5:30am – Open store with fellow twenty-three-year-old supervisor Jenni. Endure quips about the things Jenni was doing back “when she was my age.” (Note: Jenni’s birthday was one week before mine. Exactly one week before mine.)

6:00am – Start serving coffee to early-rising customers. Enthusiastically tell everyone that it’s my birthday.

6:56am – Determine telling people it’s my birthday is leading to a zero percent increase in tips.

Stop telling selfish people anything about my life.

7:26am – Work birthday ass off slinging coffee to everyone in Tigard. How are there this many people in Tigard? Why are they all awake on a Saturday? Why am I awake on my birthday on a Saturday?

8:30am – Wonder why I did not ask for day off. (Answer: January babies who have to go to school on their birthday their whole life are bad at remembering birthday time off is a thing.)

11:15am – Free from work. Eat lunch and lounge about lobby waiting for Jordan to finish his shift.

12:45pm – Pick Jordan up from shift. Run to bank to take care of bank account business. Exciting birthday bank account business.

1:30pm – Get home, eat food, call parents. Discover parents’ surprise and concern that I’d neglected to find myself any birthday cake. Promise to obtain some birthday cake.

2:30pm – Lay down for one-hour birthday nap.

5:00pm – One-hour birthday nap turns into two-point-five-hour birthday nap.

Happy birthday to me.

5:15pm – Shower and get ready to Go Out like a Real Adult whose Real Birthday is tonight. Complete with makeup and everything.

5:43pm – Realize pants I wanted are in the hamper. Lament neglecting to do any birthday laundry.

6:30pm – Get text from Jenni—she’s already at the Ringler’s Pub.

Get beaten to my own birthday party by Jenni.

7:07pm – Find Jenni in Ringler’s Pub. Meet with a few other people while there. Eat some dinner. Drink some drinks. Have the twenty-three-year-old “adult” birthday party.

Neglect to order any birthday cake.

9:00pm – Pay tab at Ringler’s Pub. Go to Crystal Ballroom for All Decades Video Dance Attack with other twenty-three and twenty-two-year-old friends Alex and Savannah. Have the twenty-three-year-old “young adult” birthday party.

Real footage of real chic party people partying heartily

Real footage of real chic party people partying heartily

9:20pm – Get tired after four songs. Water break number one.

9:45pm – Realize in all of my two decades, I did not pick up how to dance to any genres from any of these All Decades. Realize no one else knows how to dance to anything either, so who the hell cares.

Water break number two.

10:05pm – More dancing. Announce water break number three.

10:06pm – Water break transforms into booze break, per friend Savannah’s offer.

10:08pm – Happily down rum and coke, but spend whole time wishing rum and coke was cup of water. How do people do all this dancing without water? Should a twenty-three-year-old need water this badly?

10:12pm – Water break number three.

10:20pm – More dancing. Get excited enough to get on Jordan’s shoulders and “lead” room in “Gungham Style.”

Try to decide whether the fact I’ve forgotten most of the moves to “Gangnam Style” is encouraging or disappointing.

10:24pm – Simultaneously really, really hope someone puts me leading “Gangnam Style” on Instragram and really, really hope they don’t.

10:54pm – Water break number four. Wonder how anyone dances and drinks alcohol at the same time. All my body wants is water. All my body misses is water.

11:15pm – Water break number five.

11:45pm – Water break number six. Also, admission that I don’t have it in me to party all night and need to rest. Tell friends that I am channeling Cinderella and need to leave the ball by midnight.

12:02pm – Take final great Bruno Mars song (“Uptown Funk”) followed by final terrible Bruno Mars song (“Young Girls”) as divine sign the night is over. Wind way back to coat check and out of building.

12:08pm – Birthday selfies outside the pub.

More oriented than 3:30am, which still isn't very oriented

More oriented than 3:30am, which still isn’t very oriented

12:12pm – Jordan drives us home. Realize all my twenty-three-year-old joints are sore and I’m dying.

12:13pm – Check Instagram. No pics of me leading “Gangnam Style.” Small disappointment is overshadowed by large relief.

12:40pm – Arrive back at apartment. Refuse to get out of car on account of all my joints are busted.

12:41pm – Walk to apartment anyway. Collapse on entryway floor. Let cats examine my dead twenty-three-year-old corpse.

My Honest Cover Letter

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Annica Gage and I am writing to apply for the Copywriter position with your company. Based on the responsibilities of this position, I think I would be a reasonable fit. Not one hundred percent everything you’re looking for, but willing and able to do the vast majority of what you want and convincingly bullshit my way through the rest.

I recently graduated with my B.A. in English and minor in Religion from George Fox University, where I learned a multitude of skills I can bring to this position, plus maybe sixty percent of the things you are formally asking for. Which is not to say I cannot pick up the things you are asking for. So well, in fact, that you may mistake me for an expert a skill I developed a mere night before. Learning on the job is a talent every employee should have, and joining your company would allow me to take this ability to the next level, plus prove an incredible boon to you. While you may think you are looking for someone who knows what’s going on all the time, I can offer you something more important: someone who appears to know what’s going on all the time. Clients respond well to this, and I am happy to prove my skillset to you.

The primary hole in my qualifications for this position is formal work experience: I have not yet completed the preferred four to six years in marketing or advertising, as I just finished my degree and spent my time in undergrad telling myself that the real world will wait while enrolling in electives like Quaker Studies and Badminton. But please, do not assume that a few gaps in my formal training in any way make me an unqualified worker. I have a number of skills gained from other jobs and internships that I plan to bring to the table.

I am a quick learner who spent many days in undergrad becoming a semi-expert in a variety of topics literally overnight. I am part of a network of professionals in a variety of fields who will let me bug them for whatever information I need (and who I actually want to talk to now that I do not have to share dorm hall showers with them). And I have extensive experience collaborating with clients, co-workers, and supervisors alike, and can respond to requests, both clear and passive-aggressive, with a perfect mix of professional attention and personal apathy objectivity.

Also, I know we’re not supposed to talk about this, but can I just tell you? You can pay me less. This is my first real foray into the workforce, which means I still think twelve dollars an hour and the most basic insurance is an amazing deal. Just something to think about.

I can be reached by phone any time, except the very irregular hours I am at my current retail job, at (212) 664-7665. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns. (Although I would appreciate it if you did not actually call with concerns. I agonized about even including the offer in this letter, as I am a little concerned a potential employer calling me at home to discuss reservations about my skill set may cause me to literally melt into the floor.)

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Annica Gage

“How’s Married Life?”

According to the website we set up to collect wedding RSVP’s, Jordan and I have been married 124 days. Within those 124 days, I have been asked “So How’s Married Life?” 268 times.  That’s a rough approximation, but it has to be close. There’s one problem with this, though: despite being asked 268 times, I still don’t have an answer to this question.

I’ve been trying and trying to come up with one. “Good” isn’t quite accurate: it only encompasses one broad, vague aspect of what’s going on within this arrangement, and anyway it’s not a very interesting answer. But just because it’s not “good” doesn’t mean it’s “bad,” which of course is totally wrong and a terrible way to move forward with small talk.

Words like “Tricky” and “Enlightening” and “New” get a lot closer to the real answer, but the conversation rarely goes well after I say something like that—eyebrows furrow and a look of panic crosses the eyes of the poor sap who wasn’t really looking to have this conversation, and I wind up backtracking to assure whoever I’m talking to that my husband and really do love each other and are having a good time, really, and wondering once again why I don’t just stick with the answer “good” when people ask me this damn question.

“How’s married life?” is turning out to be the third-hardest question I’ve ever had to answer, right behind “So what do want to do when you grow up/once you graduate/after the wedding?” and “You’re Jordan’s girlfriend, right?” in between breaking up with one Jordan and starting to date another. (I answered that one with “Depends, which Jordan are you talking about,” and yes, my life is a sitcom, in answer to another question you were wondering.)

It’s not that married life isn’t good. It’s that a lot more than just “good,” more than can be explained quickly or neatly or, sometimes, in polite company. I can’t think of the right answer to this question because there are too many answers, all of them true but none of them fully encompassing the right answer in and of themselves.

Here’s a sampler of just a dozen. In the last 124 days, married life is:

– Sharing everything. Not just apartment space or chores or roommate stuff, but everything. A bed. A bedtime. A bank account. A laundry hamper. Weekly schedules. All the food in the fridge (including that slice of pizza that I thought was mine, guess not). I don’t think I’ve been this much in sync with another person since getting my driver’s license. I didn’t have to be. Now I do.

– Coming home to debrief from work and having someone there who will automatically take your side. They have to, because they don’t know anyone else from your work—or, even if they do, they love you best.

– Sleeping naked. Reading naked. Hanging about the apartment naked. This space is our realm now. We make the rules, and the rules no longer require pants.

– Hashing out the crush you have on that dude at work with your husband. So that’s different.

– Having zero secrets. See last two above.

– Feeling like your spouse is being ridiculous about this and just needs to apologize, dammit…then feeling petty and childish for being so worked up about this when they do.

– Experiencing an irrationally heightened sense of sadness when you discover the person who’s supposed to be your soulmate doesn’t share your appreciation for That book, game, movie, artist, or other Really Important Thing. I’m still wrapping my head around Jordan’s apathy towards the Muppets. And I’m grateful he didn’t divorce me upon discovering my “meh” attitude towards Firefly.

– Having a built-in date to every other event you’ll ever be invited to.

– Counting impromptu nights out as “dates that will ultimately strengthen your marriage” rather than just “spending time/money we may or may not have,” thus making the whole endeavor more justifiable.

– Gritting your teeth and bearing mostly terrible advice from every single person who finds out you’re a newlywed. (Protip: can you replace the words “wife” and “husband” with “mother” and “eight-year-old” and have your advice still make sense? If so, then you’re not giving marriage advice, you’re giving parenting advice. I’m not interested. Goway.)

– Having every decision you make affect another person. I guess technically, in the Butterfly Effect sense, that’s always true, but marriage makes that truth extremely apparent. This person is your family that you made, you two are responsible for this plus any other people you may make later, your well-being depends on theirs and vice-versa. No pressure.

– Having the day end with my favorite person not only still around in the apartment, but in the same room, in the same place, right next to me.

“How’s married life?”  It’s these things, plus a bunch of other stuff that I’m sure I’ll run into tomorrow, and next month, and next year. It’s an answer whose tone changes daily depending on what my husband or I did or didn’t say upon heading out the door. It’s not a very good small talk starter, really, unless you’re ready to listen to a detailed and all-too-personal answer.

But 124 days in, it is interesting. It is enlightening. And it is good.

Marriage is whimsically posing in the grass. Okay maybe not. But that's fun too.

Marriage is whimsically posing in the grass. Okay maybe not. But that’s fun too.

Updates

The things that have happened in the last 33 days.

I went to Moscow. I saw the circus. I rode the metro. I read the street signs (poorly). I got frozen feet at the Kremlin. I fell in love with St. Basil’s. I still sit and stare at its picture sometimes.

I went to St. Petersburg. I got lost in the Hermitage. I danced in the snow. I saw the ballet. I wrote a poem at Dostoevsky’s apartment (poorly). I read Crime and Punishment in the window over Nevsky Prospekt. I did not try the vodka. It was not delicious.

I broke my laptop. I got help from a roommate, a native and a taxi driver to get it fixed. I got cozy in the computer lab. I learned how dependent I am on electronic journals. I realized how much I appreciate Skype.

I went to Rome. I ate gelato. I ate ravioli. I cried in the Sistine Chapel. I walked to the Colosseum—but remained locked out. I wished in Trevi Fountain—and my wish came true. I rode a train, plane, bus, automobile, metro. I got very lost and very saved by three people who made me understand the word “godsend.” I apologized to everyone in Lithuanian instead of Italian.

I saw a show at Klaipeda’s theater. I bought tickets on my own, in Lithuanian. I bought intermission snacks, in Lithuanian. I explained to the usher I was in the right seat, in Lithuanian…but I told her my seat number nine was duodi. Devyni means “nine.” Duodi means “bread.”

I ate Thanksgiving dinner two days late. I had beef instead of turkey. I ate with Ukrainians instead of Americans. I had no leftovers. The meal was wonderful.

I shopped on jamam, which is Black Friday but Black Saturday and marked by the general trend of shopping rather than Thanksgiving. I bought presents…for me. I made up for it later by going to the amber market later and buying real gifts for other people.

I drank at least 20 cups of tea.

I sent at least a dozen postcards.

I felt more at home and more homesick, at different times, than I’ve felt all semester. I was blessed and humbled by the generosity of friends and strangers alike. I spent the bulk of my stipend on foods and gifts. I’ve become all the more grateful for people who care about me, and for people I care about. On this side of the world and back home.

My last half is halfway down, and it’s been the most full so far. I can see the end, and it’s exciting, but so is being here. So I will be here a little longer, and be grateful for every day I get.

Bus 15

In retrospect, I was already trying to find a coffee shop I couldn’t remember the name of on a street sorta near one I was pretty sure I knew; maybe adding a bus that that mix wasn’t the most solid idea. But the one-lita tickets were already in my wallet and Sheldon (my laptop) was getting heavy, so I figured riding a stop or five down into old town Kalipeda couldn’t hurt. I was already on the street I needed; it would save me time, and I needed all the time I could get to write this draft for Biblical Interpretation due in two-point-five hours. It wasn’t going to write itself. That’s what the previous two nights indicated, anyway.

Which buses go into old town again? Six, eight, fourteen for sure. Three comes back this way, I’m assuming then it goes out too. What other numbers have I seen coming back. Two, maybe? And fifteen? Five’s a bad bet, I’ve seen fives but five doesn’t feel right.

I check the times: six, eight and fourteen just left. Two has ten more minutes; fifteen about three. Unless it just left too? The buses are notoriously on time here; maybe it’s more so than I am.

A bus rolls up: five. I’ve seen fives heading up and down the streets I frequent, but nothing solid enough to make me take it. Five rolls off.

Another pulls up. Fifteen. I’ve seen fifteens coming out of town before. Maybe they go in too?

The people shuffling forward and the heaviness of my book bag on my shoulder convince me. Fifteen is a good bet.

Fifteen boards up and closes its doors and pulls away from the shoulder. And doesn’t squeeze into the left lanes. Normally not a problem, except the right lane just turned into an offramp with signs reading things like “Palanaga” and “Kaunus.” I just need the coffee shop downtown…to the south…somewhere…

Instead, I sit and watch my street disappear under me as fifteen loops up and around, onto the offramp and over a bridge, heading due east.

Oops.

Okay, what do I know about how buses work? The come and they go on the same routes. So that’s okay, I’ll find another shop and cross the street when I’m done with my work.

Two, three stops. I spot a café. Not bad, but three stops isn’t worth it. No use wasting a perfectly good wrong bus ride. I ride out some more.

Four, five stops. A park stretches to my right, bordering—is that a river? How come no one on campus has ever mentioned it? No comfortably distanced bus stops on the other side, though. Plus a park won’t have anything to eat. Hmm. I’ll spot something else.

Six, seven, eight stops. The city’s becoming increasingly industrial. Shops and cafés have all but disappeared; auto body shops and office buildings take their place. Maybe there are no coffee shops to be found on this side of town. Maybe I can ride until fifteen takes me back into town.

Nine, stops—or is it ten now? We’re still heading east? This road just sprouted a divider—how am I going to cross? When does this bus turn around?

Eleven stops. Uh oh.

Twelve stops and finally—I spot a Pica Express on the other side. Not a coffee shop, but pizza and a place to sit can do. Also it looks like—a thrift store? And letters on the building listing it as some a shopping center, I think. Is my Lithuanian right? It looks like old apartments, but the number of people coming in and out of the buildings suggest otherwise.

I look across the street: a returning bus stop and a crosswalk to get to it.

Sold.

I got off fifteen, and got much more than just a place to sit and grab some food. The old apartment buildings have been turned into its own little hodgepodge shopping center, with various fast food-ish restaurants, tons of thrift stores and a tiny street market lining the main area into the place. Walk through and there’s a little sunny square full of very old people and very young people, walking and talking and enjoying their sunny Tuesday afternoon.

I browsed the thrift shops and stuck my head into all the restaurants, delis and bakeries I could find. I checked out the fruit and homebrewed honey at the street market—might have to return for some of that. I wandered up stairs, trying to find the weird old apartment entrances to the stores I could see through the windows.

I abandoned studying and Pica Express for a kebabas stand and a Coke. I ate it in the square, in the sun, eavesdropping on two old women. (They spoke Lithuanian, but whomever they were talking about was clearly quite interesting.) I never did break out Sheldon: my lessons for that afternoon would be in navigation, apparently.

I got the wrong bus, the wrong lunch, the wrong things accomplished. Now I have a coffee shop and a kebabas stand to revisit. Plus perhaps a park, a street market and a plethora of thrift shops. And they’re accessible by bus stop…so long as that bus stop includes bus fifteen.

Not bad for a failed afternoon.