• Lijing Cobb

Dream man

The beginning of the 2004 school year was a significant time for me. I ventured outside the confines of a two-bedroom apartment on campus with my then boyfriend who wanted little to do with other people besides his best friend. Despite his protests I charged forward, like a racehorse busting out of the gate, finding freedom under my feet, taking in the fresh air greedily. I made lots of new friends, and found their company refreshing. Among these new friends are my next boyfriend, my best friend, and my husband.

Yes, I fell in love with a fellow graduate student who was brilliant and kind. The prospect of his companionship gave me courage to break off a 7 year relationship that had brought me to a bout of self-mutilation and suicidal thoughts. Although I chose the dullest knife in the drawer and cut away from conspicuous veins that could have led to serious consequences, the flesh opened and blood trickled out, time after time. Yet my cry for help went unnoticed; I thought the world was ending when I contemplated leaving the man who had rescued me from the dark clouds of menace back home. What kind of ungrateful piece of shit was I to leave someone who was once my support, my anchor, my world?

But one day, I was no longer hugging myself into a ball against a cold wall, blinded by tears, guilt, and cowardice. I knew I had grown out of the confines of those walls. The butterfly was ready to fly out of the cocoon.

So I flew right into the arms of the next man in my life. This new man loved playing volleyball, and one day he brought me to the gym to attend a volleyball class with him. He introduced me to the instructor, a handsome man with a warm smile who flew around the courts to take care of about 30 people at the same time: people like me who touched volleyball for the first time in their lives, and people who can jump and spike and scare the living Jesus out of you. Handsome, tall and lean, capable, extremely likable. That’s the man of my dreams, I thought to myself innocently. You know how it is when you have a celebrity crush. You think about it because they are there, in your face on the TV screen flaunting all their sexiness, but you don’t take that seriously.

And I was freshly in love. My new boyfriend was loving and kind in every way possible, and I healed the wounds from my previous relationship soon. For 2 years we enjoyed each other’s company tremendously. We thought for sure that we were going to spend the rest of our lives together.

So time after time we went to the volleyball court together. I attended the beginners class, while my boyfriend, a competent player, enjoyed those two hours on a separate court from me. We were segregated by a huge and heavy divider that draped from the tall ceilings of the gym to the floor. My dream man the coach sometimes played on the other side when attendance was low and they needed him to fill in, but spent the majority of his time on our side, teaching us the basics of how to serve, pass, set, and hit. His patience was boundless. The girls loved him and so did the boys. Those two hours twice a week in those two years always flew by too quickly, except for when he left our side to play on my boyfriend’s side. As my skills grew under his tireless tutelage, so did our friendship. He seemed a super busy man, always running from one thing to the next, never strolling, never sagging, never stopping. But somehow, whenever we invited him for something, he would always show up, sometimes with his fiancé. Of course he was taken.

Once I asked him if he wanted to have lunch together sometime. My boyfriend loved having lunch with his lab mates, and although I was welcome to join them, I’d always felt like an outsider when they started talking about sciency stuff that I knew nothing about. Come on people, how about Nietzsche and Dostoevsky? So I stopped having lunch with the scientists, and took to lunching with folks who didn’t need to talk about their microscopes instead. My dream man the coach was such a candidate. What harm could I do by suggesting?

“Sure.” He said. “When?”

“Tomorrow? Or any other time you are free?”

“I can make tomorrow happen.” He said after doing a little mental calculation in his head about something I didn’t know but wanted to know. “Where?”

It was that easy. He picked me up in his red truck with a bumper sticker that read “Die Trying” the next day, and drove us to a local restaurant serving mediterranean food.

We had several such lunch dates after that. I invited my boyfriend to join us and he said no, go enjoy yourselves. I don’t know if my dream man invited his fiancé. What I do remember was standing at the side of the road waiting for his red truck to show up. The moment I stepped into his car was always pretty surreal to me. Why does this man want to have lunch with me? Does he know that he’s my dream man?

Once we went to a lunch AND a movie. Although we dined alone in the restaurant, his fiancé joined us in the dark movie theater, sitting to his left while I was seated to his right. When the lights went off, his long legs relaxed against the back of the chair in front of him, along with his fiancé’s long legs. Having no long legs myself, I thought that for sure that’s why they were together. Long-legged people belong together.

One time my boyfriend went back to his home country, and I was left in my apartment by myself. So I asked my long legged, already taken dream man if he wanted to come to have dinner with me. I enticed him with food, because that man loves eating. “Sure,” was his usual answer, and he showed up at the appointed time. That man never said no to me!

We ate, and we talked. For ever. It was way past midnight, and propriety said that it was time for him to leave. I gave him a hug, and he went down the stairs and shut the door behind him. What was that? I wondered for a minute. Is it normal for two people in serious relationships to eat and talk like that without supervision? Of course it is, I said to myself. He left, and I did not try to make him stay. I was about to move to California with my boyfriend and start a new life there together. We would probably get married very soon.

Before I packed all my things, which was not a lot aside from my books, I had a moment of doubt. Was I making a mistake to leave a place where I had friends and fun now, to go all the way to the other side of the country, there to finish writing my dissertation and wrap up my graduate degree remotely? What am I leaving behind? What will I find?

The day before my boyfriend and I set out for our all planned out 6 week drive across the United States, I drove to my dream man’s home to say goodbye to him. I confessed my hesitation. It felt like I was grabbing for something.

“If you are not sure, don’t go.” He said. “I’ll take care of you.”

What does he mean by that? Feed me when I’m hungry and give me a bed when I’m homeless? My mind was too busy and overwhelmed with the cross country move that I didn’t dwell on that invitation too long. He’s always so kind to everybody. I was used to him saying nice things to me. I was one of the many lucky ones he called friends, and he would not hesitate to give the shirt off his back to any one of us.

Tears streamed down my face as I hugged my dream man one last time, not knowing when I would have lunch dates, movie dates, and dinner dates with him again. “I’ll call you when I come back to visit. You’ll have to put me up when I come to defend my dissertation!” I said, certain that he would say yes again. He did.

After we landed in a one bedroom apartment on the other side of this vast country, my boyfriend plunged himself into his postdoctoral research, and was scarcely available to me for companionship. He needed to establish himself as a valuable asset to his lab and boss, who was paying a handsome stipend to him for his work and contribution. I understood that, but my loneliness didn't. My daily routine consisted of finding myself a quiet spot either in the university library or the local cafe, with all the books and notes I needed for the day, there to think, write, revise, draft after draft of the lofty manuscript that would crown me with the laurel of a Doctor of Philosophy, which would open doors to a job, money, and stability.

My dream man called me often, and we had long conversations in my quiet solitude. He told me that he had finally broken off his engagement. He promised me that he would visit us, and visit he did. I started teaching Chinese at the university and made a good friend who took me in often for company and conversation. Outwardly, I was fine. On target to defend my dissertation. Busy with writing and work. Having supportive friends by my side. Inside I started to feel that the walls were collapsing over me again. Why was I there when the man I moved there for chose work over me every time? Why did I feel so cold and miserable inside when the sun was always shining and warmth perennial? My California girlfriend just had a baby when I got there, and it was her maternity leave that gave me the opportunity to teach in the university in her stead. Seeing her with her new baby reminded me of my own wish to have children. My mom had my sister when she was 20. My mom’s mom had my mom, the oldest daughter, at the age of 20 as well. I was then at the ripe old age of 30, having no prospect of children, because my boyfriend wanted none.

Fate would have it that I should plan a trip back to China upon graduation. Fate would have it that my boyfriend would bow out of that trip because of work. And fate would have it that since I knew my dream man never says no to me, I asked him to go, and he went.

As my boyfriend. My dream man, in my country, with me. For nearly 3 years as my coach, my lunch date, movie date, dinner date, confidante, never knowing that he was my dream man, always saying, yes my friend. Now he was by my side. He was mine.

2 years later we got married. 2 years after that we had our first child. Now we have 3. He would have more if I wanted. That man loves children.

When we replay the movie of our life, what was once fuzzy and uncertain turns out to be the veil in front of our eyes that we were not yet ready to lift. Turns out that my dream man, my husband, was crazy about me from the very beginning, all those years ago when I wore a pair of silly short shorts and ran around on his court chasing after an unruly ball, floundering like a fool and pining after him only in my dreams. Although he loves to talk and is ever ready to give advice, he never told me how he felt until I was ready to hear it. I imagine that it was hard for him to choose to do the right thing when he knew what he wanted, but he said yes to the hard choices as well. The man has integrity, and despite his handsome face, long legs, and skillful volleyball hands, integrity remains his sexiest appeal.

You know how people always say, in life as in movies, that what we want is always right in front of our face? When we watch others, we know, and we judge the others for not knowing. We wish they knew too, it is so damn clear. But when we live our own lives, it becomes so much more complicated and harder to know, because we think that what we want is somewhere else, inaccessible to us, a dream to chase after for the rest of our lives. So we waste our lives pining after our dream man, not trusting our instincts that say, here he is.

How many times in our lives are we given that opportunity to seize the day and arrest our dream? Every freaking moment when we draw our breath. That’s how generous this universe is. All we need to do is to open our eyes and hearts, and say yes.

Hello, my dream man. Say yes to me as you always do. I’m listening with my eyes open and heart warm.

My dream man in 2005

My dream man with his long legs on a dark and stormy wintery day in my home country warming my heart in 2008.

At home with my mom and sister, happily trying all the dishes in front of him, bundled up in all the clothing he brought to China, unprepared for the indoor cold but still smiling

On a cruise boat in Hawaii in 2008. He went everywhere with me, no matter the destination.

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