Earlier today, as I was still in the midst of celebrating Ohio State’s triumph over Alabama last night in the 2015 Allstate Sugar Bowl, I stopped in at the local UPS Store to fax some documents up to the Department of Veteran Affairs. The UPS Store happens to be a few doors down from a Panera Bread. Almost instantly, my thoughts took me back to what happened a year ago today. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the Panera Bread conversation.
How I first came across this moment? How I first came across that moment on January 2, 2014 in the Lawrenceville, Georgia Panera Bread actually started 95 days earlier…on September 29, 2013. As I was walking into Turner Field to attend the Atlanta Braves’ 2013 regular season finale with Miss Stillman College, she stunned me by telling me that she discussed a dream she had a few nights earlier with a friend of hers that interpreted dreams. It was the same dream that her and I had laughed off as her being “really tired” as it seemed ridiculous in comparison to a likely reality. Her going to her friend set in motion the eventual expiration date of our relationship, which was relatively brand new at the time (only 3 weeks), and seriously fractured whatever goodwill and rapport we had developed since meeting in July 2013. It was the biggest reason why October 2013 was one of the worst months I experienced in my adult life. For almost 2 ½ months, I tried everything to sway her thinking that the dream was just what it was: a dream. I even showed her an excerpt from Triumphs & Tribulations VIII as proof that I had a certain plan for a certain time when it came to what she dreamed about…no dice. I finally gave up trying to save the relationship and looked towards focusing on at least preserving the friendship. But, it was things that she said—all of which I wrote in Triumphs & Tribulations XIV—that made me uneasy about the demise of the relationship. There were too many times she contradicted herself with words and actions when it came to “the dream”. I had made an attempt to move forward by simply getting out and dating again but something deep inside of me felt like whatever it was between her and I wasn’t finished…not the 2nd chance at a relationship type of not being finished feeling but the unanswered questions type of not being finished feeling. It was overwhelming and I couldn’t shake it. So I told her we needed to talk face-to-face and put everything out on the table. She was reluctant to do so until I suggested we have a mediator sit in on the much-needed conversation. I agreed to a January 2nd meeting at the Panera Bread in Lawrenceville with her older sister as the mediator…advantages heavily skewed towards her. It was an extremely cold and blustery evening as I drove up from Opelika. We talked for about an hour and I put all of my thoughts out there…how I thought she sabotaged our relationship by going to an outside party on something we both could’ve prayed about if it was that serious to her, how I felt that she threw out mixed signals and contradictions in the aftermath. In so many words, I basically hinted that if she wanted to get out of the relationship, she didn’t have to use “the dream” as a reason. Her counter was pretty much restating her thoughts on the dream, which I challenged with pointed questions…enough to draw words of support from her sister as to how I would reasonably come to my stance. I think that’s when she realized that she wronged me in how she went about the scenario in September 2013 and apologized for it. But she also threw shade at me with a “Juan, it was only 60 days” comment…a reference to the time period between us first meeting and us breaking up. Deep inside, I didn’t feel like that was something a person who only ended the relationship over a “dream” would say. So I wrapped things up and decided to leave. As I grabbed my crutches—I had a broken ankle at the time—and proceeded to walk out to my Jeep, she took it upon herself to walk with me out to my automobile. As I was putting the crutches into the back seat of my Jeep, she said “bye” and scurried off back into the Panera Bread. The lasting image I remember was her running back into the Panera Bread as I was hopping on one foot, turning around to open my front driver side door.
What it meant to me then? In the immediate moment, I had mixed feelings about the whole thing. On one end, I was relieved that I was finally able to really put everything on the table. For months, the whole matter had plagued me: lost sleep, lost appetite, lost my focus. Not sparing—or even mincing—words and feelings that night allowed me to break out of that. On the other end, I still felt like she left unanswered questions on the table…despite the encouraging platform provided by the neutral location and the presence of the favorable mediator. A week later, I wrote her an email telling her that while the peace within my mind had allowed for the regaining of lost appetites and full nights of sleep, my heart was still no closer to understanding than it was before the Panera Bread meeting. It was the last communication between us. Even though I gave her a chance to be straight up with no judgment or penalty, I felt she still chose to be dishonest with me. More than anything that happened between us, that hurt me the most. I turned my attention to rehabbing my ankle and starting my program at RIT. Knowing that we frequented the same places and not wanting to risk the awkwardness had we crossed paths, I made the decision to not return to Atlanta, leaving behind a place where I had spent many of my weekends since moving back to the United States in May 2013…not to mention 3 potential high-paying job opportunities, a myriad of personal and leisurely interests, and fertile ground for finding single women.
What it means to me now? It’s been a year since that conversation in Panera Bread…a year since she scurried off into the night and out of my life. Luckily, for me, that happened on a Thursday and I actually made it back home in time to catch the beginning of Elementary. In that particular episode, Sherlock wrote a letter to Jamie Moriarty, his estranged lover and nemesis, that he ended with “fortunately, for both of us, the world always presents the next diversion, the next elaborate distractions from the problems that vex”. For me, the distractions—school, rehab, the heavy travel schedule—didn’t give me time to slouch in my feelings over what happened. And even when I did have time to really think about it, I happened upon somebody new and that situation has blossomed into everything I was hoping to have the latter half of 2013. I would probably say I’ve moved on from that moment…mostly, at least. I still haven’t ventured into the Atlanta city limits with the airport being as close as I’ve gotten.