There is a man.
There are lots of men but this one stands out above the rest. Literally. He’s super tall. I have to crane my neck up to look at him but I don’t mind. It reduces the chance that my double chins will show. This man is such a man that I can hear him walking in a crowd. Yes I said hear. His stride is wide and each step is loud, bearing down on the ground with purpose in his designer loafers. But I don’t need to see or hear him to know he’s coming. I can feel his presence along my skin like a physical brush, even when he’s 50 yards away. I know exactly when he’s walking toward me and I can tell when he’s noticed me. My senses are honed to pinpoint his location, like a radar pinging a torpedo.
I try not to look but I look every damn time. I have to. It’s my addiction. I do it casually though from behind my sunglasses. Glance and then resolutely look away as if to say “Yes I recognize you but you’re not important enough to hold my attention”. As if. The man radiates confidence. He doesn’t need my blessing to exist. So I glance, sometimes from the corner of my eye as I read a book or play on my phone. If I stared, things would get creepy.
I’ve never admitted this out loud to anyone before. I know what they’d say.
“You’re happily married to a really great man Jackie. Why the hell would you go looking for some other piece of ass?”
Ah see but they don’t understand my infatuation! It’s not about getting something on the side. Not at all, even though he is some pretty scrumptious eye candy. No, what I’m mainly attracted to is his LIFE.
When I first heard about the new Chinese teacher at my daughter’s school, I was surprised. This crappy low-budget school can afford a Chinese teacher? And why Chinese? Most of the kids here already speak Spanish and English and I know all of three people who could actually speak Chinese. The rest of my acquaintances aren’t likely to fly to Hong Kong any time soon. So in the back of my mind I scoffed. Chinese. Really? But I kept my opinions to myself because learning a new language, no matter how unhelpful, is still knowledge.
The first day of the new Chinese class I asked my daughter how it went. And she started singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in Chinese.
“yī shan yī shan liàng jīng jīng, man tiān dū shì xiao xīng xīng…”
I shit you not. THE FIRST DAY. Well Mr. Mandarin, you’ve officially colored me impressed. And peaked my interest. I began looking for a little old Chinese man in the halls at school, curious as to why he chose here to work of all places, the lowest performing school in the district. Did he come here because he had no choice and needed whatever job he could take? Was he a generous soul looking to better the community by adding a little class to the establishment? Or did he really just love to teach kids about his culture and share in it with them? What a nice old man! I was suddenly glad he was here for the kids and my heart warmed toward him.
I was punched in the gut when one day, after school, my kid pointed out her miracle Chinese Teacher (whom I had been calling Mr. Mandarin this whole time since she could never remember his name).
“That’s Mr. Mandarin mama!” she shouted and ran over to a titan of a man who greeted her with a booming “Ni Hao!” I looked around. What, you mean he’s behind that behemoth? I blinked and let reality wash over me.
Oh. My. God.
HE WAS THE FURTHEST THING FROM A CUTE ELDERLY CHINESE MAN THAT A PERSON COULD GET!!
Tall. So tall! Tan skin as if he’d lived in the Santorini his whole life. Perfectly combed-over, thick, medium brown hair. Hazel eyes that showed crinkle lines at the corners from smiling a lot. Tasteful casual clothing. A serious face though. Intense. And then he spoke and it felt like he had a megaphone lodged in his throat. I was surprised my hair didn’t blow back from the wind of his voice.
“Ni Hao! Nice to meet you! I’m Mr. Bond!”
You have to give me some credit here. I didn’t ask if he was 007, although with his physique he could be. I did smile and shake his hand and introduce myself, desperately trying to hinge my metaphorical jaw back into place from where it had dropped on the ground.
It had been a very long time since I was physically aware of another man after marrying my husband. Not in a sexual way but everything in my body stood UP and LOOKED at this man. He was magnetic and his personality was a giant bubble surrounding him that made you notice he was there. A white hole (as opposed to a black hole) of a man. He pushed his energy OUT.
I observed everything and took detailed notes.
Firm hand shake. Warm hands. Softly musky cologne. Voice that sounded like a really intense surfer brah. He tended to elongate certain vowels and say “uhhhhh” a lot. A very intense, clipped surfer. He bit off every word, pronouncing it clearly. I suppose that was the Chinese coming through. I turned on auto-pilot as we spoke more, thanking him for coming to the school and telling him my kid was singing in Chinese all the time now. My mouth was moving but my brain was disengaged.
I was overwhelmed. I kept my first interaction brief because I was quickly becoming “tongue-tied high school geek” all over again. I had to save face. Especially when I realized I had MADE stuff for this man. At the beginning of the year I always write nice cards to my daughter’s teachers and principal, wishing them a good and successful year. I usually draw a silly picture on the front. He received one of these. He told me it was hanging in his class room and the thanked me for all my generous gifts.
Kill me. KILL ME! It gets worse!
I give gifts to all the teachers around Christmas time (I had yet to set eyes on Mr. Mandarin until after winter break) and that year I made everyone tote bags which I filled with movies and books and goodies to last them over the break. I gave him a really neat book on Dollar Bill Origami folding and a movie called “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. Because really, what do you get a man you don’t know as a gift?
“It was nice to meet you Mr. Man–Mr. Bond. Have a good day.”
He barked something in Chinese to my kid and then loped off in the opposite direction.
As I walked away from the Chinese speaking Titan, I looked inwardly at myself in horror. What had been a gift meant for a respected, elderly Chinese man who might get a kick out of my selections were now sitting in the library of a man like THAT? Geezus.
From that day on, I had no choice but to notice him. I realized that he had been walking down the same hallway that my daughter’s classroom was on every afternoon since the beginning of the year. How did I miss that? Oh, right, because my nose was always stuck in a book. The day after we met, when I felt my hackles raise in awareness as he was walking down the hall, I saw him hesitate as he neared me, as if he wanted to talk.
YES!! I screamed.
NO!! GO AWAY!! My fearful side screamed louder.
Fearful won because he kept walking, giving me a wave and continuing on. Sigh of relief/disappointment. I was not myself with this man. He was too MUCH, too SMART, too strange. I did not understand my attraction to this loud, intense man. I do NOT get rattled by people, much by men. My whole schtik was to let everything roll off my back and be an amiable person, easy to get along with. Everyone was treated with warmth and welcoming. Facing Mr. Bond I de-evolved back into my awkward, blushing high school self and it completely embarrassed me.
It wasn’t until summer break rolled around and I was able to get some distance that I really began to understand my attraction.
During the rest of the school year I slyly quizzed a few of the teachers about the hot new mandarin teacher and they were more than happy to let me in on the scoop. Haha, such gossipers. I love school. He was, apparently married. I was genuinely happy to hear this fact. A man like that could make single ladies go mad if they knew he was single too. He had two kids, two boys, one of which was already in school. He spoke seven languages. Yep. His wife was Vietnamese so he spoke that with her at home and she knew Chinese as well. They were teaching their kids to speak both. They both knew English, of course. He grew up in France, apparently, and traveled to Germany at some point. I never knew what the seventh language was but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t be more impressed. Or jealous.
And there it is.
I, a housewife of seven years, a mom of two little girls, had never been farther than Utah. Before I had my family I had big dreams of traveling and racking up all kinds of memories before settling down. I wanted to study abroad and go volunteer somewhere in Africa. Get some culture and some experience under my belt.
A surprise pregnancy cut those dreams off permanently. So I continued to armchair travel. I read books and watched the Discover Channel, dreaming my traveling dreams in silence. Mr. Bond had lived the life I wanted. He got to fly to exotic places first, eat different food, stand in awe of history and beauty and then settle down. He even met his wife overseas and they are now able to share their combined experiences with their spawn. What do I have to give to my kids? The odd french phrase I remember from my High School french lessons.
My attraction to Mr. Bond was to his LIFE. I wanted memories of seeing Mount Fiji, not memories of pictures. I wanted to taste authentic ‘Pan au chocolat’ and sip ‘un tea citron’ under the Parisian sun.
Once I figured this out I was able to sever my attraction to him by sucking it up and embarrassing myself fully the next school year. I gave in to my bumbling high school geekery and presented him with a card that made him blush and (internally) roll his eyes. Don’t go there. It wasn’t naughty. But I noticed he had trouble receiving gifts from people, stumbling over his words and not making eye contact while thanking them, and mine was extra colorful and extra loud. It would disrupt the sharp austere and very Chinese class room with its rainbow throw up.
I never went back into the class room to see if it was hanging there. I didn’t dare. I’m free of him now but every now and then I’ll feel my hackles raise and I’ll unexpectedly make eye contact. Awkward but I can handle it now.
Mànzŏu, Mr. Mandarin and zhù nĭ hăoyùn!