Here’s Tenx9 newcomer Sally Amkoa’s wonderful story from our October 2017 theme “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.”
There’s a pretty big difference between a music teacher and a private guitar instructor, who delivers sandwiches on his bike half the week. I sat across from the man, seething in annoyance. At war with his perfect, pleading, pale green eyes, his natural tan, that head full of thick, shiny brown hair and his beautiful body, as he explained that he had only lied to get a date with me. In my defense, the brilliant, Ivy League graduate (and real teacher!) whom I’d wanted to marry and have a family with had just dumped me by text. I needed this exquisite musician to happen to me for a little while as I recalibrated.
What he lacked in disposable income, he made up for in intrigue.
Here was a white man from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who was so well versed in racial issues that his conversation oozed with nuance. I once bumped into him on the street, with a copy of Between the World and Me peeping out of his jacket pocket. When he watched I am not your Negro, he sought out every piece of literature written by James Baldwin. He didn’t say dumb things like “I don’t see color”. He saw my color, and he loved it.
He was one of two guys in his entire friend group, who showed up for the Women’s March. He held my hand, and proudly raised a sign that read ‘I’m With Meryl!’, as we chanted passionately with the crowd.
He was a hot nerd. When I told him I had never read Salinger, he promptly got me Franny & Zooey, and then briefed me on the order in which I was to read the rest of Salinger’s works for maximum effect.
We’d spend hours in his room, listening to “real music” on his vinyl player. His eyes would glow with excitement as he gave me tidbits of information about the artistes he was playing: from the heartbreak that inspired one Bob Dylan song, to the time Duke Ellington told Charles Mingus that his music was crap! He loved that I was an eager student. At the end of every lesson, he would turn up the volume to max so we wouldn’t disturb his housemates.
Whenever I asked what he was thinking, he’d also tell me how what he was thinking made him feel. And he could always tell how I was feeling, sometimes even before I’d processed my own emotions. We opened up to each other, uninhibited, like a blooming flower greeting the sun on the first day of spring. It felt like he’d walked into me and set up camp.
Then first the crack appeared.
We were relaxing in bed one night, when he casually mentioned that his dad had taken him to renew his car registration that morning. That kind of stuff was just too complicated for him. I sat up involuntarily, quite puzzled. I’d moved to the US on my own at 19, applied for a social security card, put myself through graduate school, got a job, moved to a new city, got an apartment, a driver’s license, bought a car, registered said car all on my own. And I was younger than him.
“What other things do your parents do for you?” I prodded.
He suddenly sank into himself, like a child who’d just realized he was in trouble. Turns out his parents paid for his health insurance, gave him a car…you know, things like that.
He was 28 for God’s sake! What would he do if his parents weren’t there to help him out?
“I just wouldn’t get health insurance,” he said.
But what about when he had a family and kids?
He didn’t want kids.
I was rattled by that jolt of reality. He held me tightly, trying to reassure me: we just started dating, he said; it was too early to be talking about kids; who knew what we’d want in 5 years; maybe he’d change his mind.
Sometime later, I discovered the Dave Ramsey podcast. I was so excited that I couldn’t stop talking about all the cool things I was learning about saving, budgeting and having financial goals. “Honestly, I find this topic very boring,” he said in exasperation. The tune he had been playing on his guitar suddenly turned into emphatic dissonant chords, before a tense silence staged a coup. He knew he was never going to make any money, he said finally. And he was okay with that, as long as he had his music.
We had just got back to my apartment after a quiet hike a few weeks later, when I told him our relationship had no future. He was confused. Why would I want to end it when we clearly loved each other? If you loved someone, you made things work.
“I think about marrying you,” he pleaded.
“We want very different things,” I asserted, amid painful sobs.
After he left, I knew I was in trouble. I felt like I was punishing myself by letting him go. So what if he didn’t ever make any money? Plenty of people lived very happily with very little. I was an emotional mess. I couldn’t really confide in my girlfriends because as far as they knew, I was only dating him for fun. So I resorted to crying in my car during my lunch breaks, feeling like the biggest idiot alive for giving him up. He rebounded on someone, I rebounded on someone, and two months later, we were back together.
He invited me meet his family that Christmas.
His parents were wonderful, welcoming people who lived in a gorgeous Murfreesboro suburb. He gave me a tour of his home, a little embarrassed by the size of it, and the numerous photos of him and his siblings at every awkward childhood phase.
His parents had been very involved in his childhood: they took him all over the country to see his favorite musicians in concert, to watch various World Series games, even to watch tennis at Wimbledon. When he was admitted to study jazz at a top music program in Boston, they fully funded his college education. Their gifts to him that year included multiple paid trips to exotic locations abroad. I couldn’t blame him for thinking budgeting was boring.
I built him a website for Christmas. Now he had a platform to share his original music with a wider audience. He could use it to connect with other musicians, and maybe even build a fanbase. Eventually, he’d be able to make money playing his music. He loved the website! He had lots of great ideas for sprucing it up. He just never got around to doing it.
On the drive back to Nashville, I was torn. I wanted to give my children the same things his parents had given him, but that was the opportunity cost of his love.
Last month, he moved to New York City to pursue his dream of being a struggling musician, and to be with a new girl. I cried and cried until, eventually, he only came to the verge of overflowing from me, teetering on the edge adamantly. In those moments, I wished for tears, convinced that each one was a piece of him, and if I could just shed him, the pain would stop. I often imagine him out and about, exploring obscure New York neighborhoods, arm in arm with another free spirit, happily living from paycheck to paycheck in a tiny, and maybe crappy New York apartment. And I’m slightly comforted by the fact that I really don’t want that.
After our breakup, another striking musician asked me out. My dreamy date played guitar in a local band. He too had studied jazz in college. He wasn’t a spoiled rich kid, but he didn’t like to think about money, or the massive college debt he was in. He only cared about the music.
This time, I ran.
Sally Amkoa is a business analyst at eviCore healthcare by day and an avid Swing dancer by night. She is from Kenya, but lived in Cincinnati, OH for five years before moving to Nashville 1.5 years ago. She believes that if your twenties don’t chew you up and spit you out, you are not doing them right.