Andrea Aribe, 130 YinD
“Look forward, but not too far,” Pii Pueng said.
Her words were simple. Yet, they pulled on my heart strings with such strength.
How she was able to move me with such minimal knowledge of the English language was astounding and a reminder that some things, such as heartbreak, are universal.
It was April 13, and my counterpart offered to give me a ride home after work.
“It’s only a three-minute walk. She’s literally watched me cross the street a million times. Why does she want to drop me off?” I thought to myself.
With skepticism, I hopped in her car. As anticipated, her ulterior motive unveiled itself.
“Are you happy?” Pii Pueng asked.
“Yes, I am happy,” I answered with a smile.
“Your face looks happy, but today, your eyes don’t,” she explained.
Most days, I keep in mind the importance of putting on a brave face and maintaining a positive demeanor in the hopes of better developing relationships with community members.
However, that day I caved. She saw right through me.
Before attempting to explain my feelings in Thai language, I pulled out a 16-month-old photo of me in a wedding dress.
My counterpart knew I did not have a significant other, and the look on her face confirmed she could fill in the rest of the details.
I explained that the next day was the two-year anniversary of when my former fiancé proposed, and while engaged, I applied to be a volunteer.
I thought when coming to Thailand, I would be married and serving with the unwavering support of a partner.
Instead, I switched keys to our newly bought house for plane tickets and the wedding dress stored in the trunk of my car for a suitcase.
We were together for seven years, and one week before the wedding, we decided to go our separate ways.
We wanted to give each other our best chance at living our happiest lives.
There was no lack of love.
I also showed her a photo of myself being a first-time bridesmaid for my host sister in Suphanburi.
For ten weeks during pre-service training, I ironically and cathartically watched her run the same errands I myself fixated over for the entirety of the past year.
I continued to tell Pii Pueng more personal details, and in return, she offered advice and solace.
“You don’t have to forget,” my counterpart said, “Remember the good times.”
The friendships I have made in Thailand with fellow volunteers and locals, including Pii Pueng’s, helped rebuild a support system that no longer felt fully intact prior to joining Peace Corps.
I recognize it’s a rarity to attain this level of openness with a counterpart and aware that not every volunteer has the same privilege.
If there is such an opportunity, take it.
Being honest about who I was, am, and hope to be has brought me closer to the people within my community.
As a result, I have been gifted deep conversations like this exchange about love with Pii Pueng.
“In America, some people don’t say ‘I love you’ right away,” I said, “Some people wait until they think they want to be together forever.”
“I love you,” Pii Pueng said, “Wait. Is that okay? I don’t want to marry you.”
In a car filled with laughter, I replied, “I love you, too.”
Read Andrea’s previous article Omsin and At: The Brothers I Never Had.