I had been in the Air Force for one year already, stationed overseas, and it was time to come home for a while. I wanted to visit my parents, and reconnect with some friends. Actually, I didn't have too many friends, neither in high school nor college. But the few friends I had I wanted to keep, particularly my long time friendship with Lisa and Chris. Our friendship started in high school, and continued through college,as all three of us attended the same institutions.
For me, this friendship was very important, because I was definitely a loner, but not by choice. The truth of the matter is that I couldn't get the time of day with the girls in high school, and I didn't fare any better in college. Well, I did slightly better in college, I dated all of Lisa's girlfriends, without being able to have a steady girlfriend, which was what I really wanted.
Lisa and Chris were my heroes. They had been together since the freshman year in high school, and they were the picture of happiness. In them I saw the kind of happiness I wanted for myself. Chris and I were in the cross-country team in high school, and in college we were classmates in several required courses. Lisa was part of the Student Council in high school, and in college she was totally focused on her studies as a Political Science major, She was interested in government.
Chris was not interested in most of the subjects offered in high school. He was part of the Yearbook team, and he read magazines about different subjects. He was a very relaxed guy, he wasn't too serious about his studies. He was gregarious, liked to talk with others, he was a good team member, and, as I noted before, he was interested in cross- country and the yearbook. He wasn't thinking about college until his senior year. He was thinking about becoming a photographer as photography was his hobby.
As for myself, I just muddled through high school. When I wasn't keeping company with Lisa and Chris, I spent my free time going to watch girl's volleyball, and girl's basketball, and girl's track and field. If I couldn't have one girlfriend, I wanted to adore the bunch of them from afar. Yes, I liked girls very much, so that was my focus in high school.
So I went looking for Lisa and Chris. I went to the apartment complex where they used to live together, but the manager told me they had moved out a long time ago. I knew where Chris's parents lived, and that's where I found Chris. And he told me the astounding news: He and Lisa were no longer together.
"You were so happy together! It is hard for me to believe you are no longer a couple. What happened?"
"Well Rob, we wanted to stay together. We were planning to go to the same graduate school, and remain together. Lisa wanted to attend a university in the East Coast. She wanted to be close to Washington D. C. It made sense. Remember, she was a Political Science major, so she was already thinking about future internships in D.C. So we applied to ten universities. We would choose one that would accept both of us. Lisa was accepted to seven: two with scholarship offers. I went 0 for 10."
"You could have gone with her anyway, Chris."
"You would have done that, Rob. But, look, what was I going to do over in the East Coast? I had no prospects over there."
"So you two broke up. Unbelievable."
"We parted ways amicably. The reality was that Lisa was and is extremely intelligent, and I was an average student for starters. She helped a lot, and she made a better student. She made me a better person too. I had eight years of happiness with her, and I am very thankful for that. Eight years is a lot of happiness, Rob."
"In my case, I knew what happiness was by hanging around with you guys. So, how did she help get through college?"
"She helped with the Math and Science requirements. She saw that I liked to read, and we agreed I should major in English. She encouraged me to read more, and she even suggested some books to read. I was really lost, because when I started taking courses in English Literature, I wasn't doing well with the reading and study of novels. Lisa told me, 'You are a very sociable guy, Chris. I always see you carrying conversations with other students. You have the gift of gab. You like to communicate. You like dialogues. Why don't you take some courses that deals with plays, with drama as literature. Obviously you don't like long narratives, so take some poetry courses also.' And that's what I did. You could say Lisa designed my program of study."
"Wow. I beginning to see the depth of Lisa's understanding and desire to help others. I think I learned from her by osmosis."
"I know what you mean. I would be nowhere today without my life with Lisa."
"I don't know how I made it through high school and college. I didn't have a girlfriend like Lisa. As you know, I had no girlfriend period. My sole motivation was chasing after girls in high school, and young women in college. By my experiences, I learned about futility and perseverance; and about frustration thankfully reconciled by my unending admiration for women."
"I remember we were classmates in several courses in college, and that you had not declared a major. So, in the end, what was your major?"
"Interdisciplinary Studies. History, Literature and Psychology. I selected an emphasis on Gender Studies. You are smiling. Yes, I figured the male / female ratio was going to be in my favor."
"I got to hand it to you, Rob. You are the most consistent guy I've ever met."
Chris said he had to leave for school. He told me he was taking courses towards his teaching credential. We agreed to meet on the coming Saturday for lunch, at Ye Olde Pizza Shoppe, one of our favorite restaurants during our college years. We still had a lot to talk about, and I had some questions to ask him. What was this business about a teaching credential? And I was intrigued because he appeared to be just as happy as when he was living with Lisa. I was happy myself, and I wanted to share the reasons with him. I find the topic of happiness very interesting.
Saturday came, and we met as planned. We refreshed ourselves with some beer, while we waited for our pizza.
I said, "Chris, you look just as happy as when you were with Lisa. What's your secret recipe for happiness?"
"Well,I don't have any secret recipe on how to be happy. I can only speak for myself, about what works for me, and what my opinions on the subject are."
"Lay it on me, Chris."
"Like I told you the other day, I am thankful for the eight years of happiness I had with Lisa. With the breakup, there was a break in my happiness. Others may view or want a non-stop happiness, but that's not the way it works for anybody. We all have our ups and downs, it is normal. Once one acknowledges that, then we are able to move on and be happy again."
"And what about this 'pursuit of happiness' business?"
"In your case, Rob, you pursued happiness, because your foremost desire was to find a woman to share your life with. In your long pursuit, you went through a lot of rejections, but you persevered. You are not the same guy I knew in college. I hope your pursuit is over. I declare you a happy man."
"Thanks, but let's stay with your take on the subject of happiness. What other pearls of wisdom do you have?"
"OK. In general, happiness is not something you pursue. There is no pursuit. Happiness is right in front of our noses. We are just too blind to see it. Anyway, have you ever heard anyone say 'I'm going to pursue happiness'?"
"Absolutely not. What I hear is 'I want to have fun,' or 'I want to have a good time'.'"
"Precisely. And I feel 'fun' and 'good time' have to do with a temporary feeling, and it reflects somewhat negatively on the rest of a person's life."
"I see. Sounds to me like this is related to all the people who go looking for a paradise, in some island in the Caribbean, or the South Pacific."
"Yes indeed, the tourists. And unless you are rich, you have to come back home to reality. That's one group. Another group is those looking for excitement. Thrills and adventure. All of this is fine for others. But I don't identify with the tourists or the adventurers. I can relate to refugees."
"This I have to hear. What about refugees?"
"Refugees do not leave their countries to pursue happiness; what they want is to live in .peace in their new country. That's what I want. To live in peace. And that, for me, is conducive to lasting happiness. You see, there is simplicity in what refugees desire. Simplicity is boring. Complication is interesting. You, Lisa and I, in the eyes of others, are boring individuals. But I'm sure all three of us are happy because we do not complicate ourselves. I am convinced that some people complicate their lives on purpose, because they want to lead interesting lives."
The pizza arrived to our table. I refilled our beer mugs, and said, "I need to have some pizza and beer, while I process what you are telling me." I thought 'Wow, Chris has changed a lot. He is not the loosey-goosey guy I knew.' In my mind, I saw Lisa as an instrumental factor in this change. Chris was more thoughtful now.
We were silent for a while, because we were busy enjoying our deluxe pizza. Then, Chris told I had been asking all the questions, and that it was his turn. I told him to go ahead. He said, "So, how did you wind up in the Air Force?"
"What did you expect? What was I to do with a major in Gender Studies? I felt my only option was the military. I was only a matter of which branch of the service. The Air Force was the best choice. After I took their test, I was told I qualified for Communications and Logistics. After basic training, and I was sent to a service school, and now I work in Communications. Not only that, but I was assigned to serve in Italy."
Chris asked what rank did I have, and I said Senior Airman. He said, "That's great. But you being a college graduate, you could apply to go to another school to become an officer, right?"
"I could, but the Air Force prefers those with degrees in something technical or technological. For those with 'soft' majors, such as myself, it is extremely competitive to be accepted. Besides, that school is in Alabama, I would rather finish my tour of duty in Italy. I have two years to go. Officer school I will leave for future consideration. And furthermore, I have a girlfriend in Italy."
Chris smiled and said, "This should have at the top of the news, pal. I took you half-a-pitcher of beer and a bunch of questions, until you came clean. I said you looked happy. Now the truth is coming out. I demand to hear more details."
"Her name is Claudia. She is the daughter of an Italian pilot. The base is shared by the U. S. and Italian air forces. Claudia works in a store on base. We are going to get married."
"Well, thank you for letting me know, pal," Chris said with mock sarcasm. "You have succeeded in your very long quest. I'm happy for you."
"Thank you, man. Now that I have revealed some important details about my personal life, would you allow me to ask you more questions?" I said with a tone of excessive politeness. He put on a face that was a mixture of patience and resignation, and said, "All right. Go ahead."
"You know, I thought you would become a photographer, or a photojournalist. How did you wind up teaching?"
"Basically, the same way you decided to go into the Air Force. What could I do with a bachelor's degree in English? I went to the Career Center on campus, and I saw a posting for English teachers in South Korea, Bachelor's degree in English, native speaker, experience desirable, but not necessary. I applied and I was hired."
"You told me you were working on a teaching credential now. So you liked teaching then."
"I did. Lisa's guidance prepared me for this. Conversations, dialogues, plays, remember? These students want to learn how to communicate in English, in preparation for real jobs, in the real world. They do not intent to become experts in British or American literature. I plan to return to South Korea for another teaching stint, but I wanted to learn more about teaching methods, educational psychology, and so on. I want to become a better teacher."
"You must really like it over there."
"I do. Besides, My girlfriend is Korean."
"What? And you criticized me for not telling you about my girlfriend at the beginning of this conversation. The nerve."
Chris laughed and said, "I wasn't criticizing you. It was an editorial comment of your narrative."
I said, "all right, let's start with her name."
"Her name is Ma-Ri."
"It sounds close to Marie. The transliteration is M a - R i."
"What other information do you deign to provide to me?"
"When returning to the States, we flew together to Los Angeles. Then I continued on to Kansas City, and she flew to New York City. She is visiting relatives in New Jersey, a small town near New York City."
"Do I get to meet her?"
"You'll be back in Italy by the time she comes to Kansas City. She'll stay here, until it's time for us to return to South Korea. We are going to get married before we leave."
"Well, thank you very much for sneaking in that last bit of information. Congratulations."
I saw Chris once more before I returned to Italy. We met on a Sunday for breakfast. Afterwards, we went walking on a trail bordering the Missouri river. He told me he was still in touch with Lisa. He asked me if I wanted to call her. I said I would prefer to write to her. He gave me her address. She was living and studying in Maryland.
When I returned to Italy, I wrote to her. I told her about my visit with Chris, and about new developments in my life. I thanked her for the positive influence she had over me during our college years, and that I hoped our paths would cross again in the future.
I am convinced Lisa is going to be great in government at any level. She will be a positive influence on many others, and she will make people better, and in doing so, she will make her community better.
As for myself, once I returned to Italy, I stopped being Rob and became Roberto again. That's who I am to Claudia, and I absolutely love being Roberto.