Slow Boil

by Michael Reiss

 There is a woman, Ana, who married one of her students in the high school at which she used to teach.  She met this student on eHarmony, where the student posed as much older than he really was.  The student was 15, almost 16, but Ana felt he was mature beyond his years.  She was almost pleasantly surprised to find out that the student, Phil, was in her class and was not just some other random guy from Jacksonville – Ana had been on a few rough dates from her time on eHarmony.  She knew it could get ugly.  Phil would probably be great, she thought, and secretly, she thought, he might even do a lot of what she wanted a boyfriend to do.  That would be a nice bonus, she mused to herself.

     Phil made racial comments every now and again.  About Koreans and Chinese and other cultures that he felt were within reason to come under the microscope of his humor.  Ana liked these jokes.  She thought they were charming and counterintuitively insightful and at least they weren’t targeting the cultures that were more often blasted by racial and racist humor, cultures like the blacks, the latinos, Muslim and Arab culture, Jews, and such.  Ana thought “it’s just the Chinese – there’s a lot of them and they must have a somewhat decent sense of humor, right?  Who can’t laugh at themselves, really?”  She liked the one “China – a billion people, one haircut.”  Simple, elegant, harmless. 

     By the time they got married a couple of years later, Ana’s new husband, Phil, at 18, thought they, the Chinese, could have killed us all if they really wanted to.  So we should feel kinda lucky they hadn’t.  Ana felt lucky, sure, but for different reasons.

     The newlyweds, Ana and Phil, went through the routine of slowly transforming into homeowners and parents and so many of the trappings of the middle class allure, of these young and upwardly mobile spirits, so desperate to run in the race, so far from anywhere to run to.  But, so far, they’ve got themselves, they’ve got each other, and also their memories.  It was nice, they thought, that they had met and now they were married.

     Sure, Ana is now as happy as can be with all they’ve put together, slowly arranging what she is certain from research is a great life of believable love and building an inventory of all these things and treasures, while Phil tries valiantly to put together his version of “all the money”.  It brings a kind of ironic bitterness into the world.  High hopes.  Basking on the shores of effort and wonderful, healthy compromise.  How some of us are always wanting the best for our family?  Family comes first.  Family comes first.  Family comes first… 

     For a long while, it seemed she liked Phil a little more each and every day!  Ana had been reading some books on the subject over time.  Ana broke down and read some of the books on love that had been given to her at birthdays and at Christmas.  Of course, Ana has been scouring books for years for answers and consolation.  Things go a lot faster when the biological clock is ticking.  So far, no problems.

     Her mother Wendy had wanted Ana to have a second chance and now it seemed as if she’d got it – Ana now has a child.  She had the child with Phil.  So now it’s a little past the point of no return.  Ana feels really happy, too, she’s sure this is all in the name of love and she’s sure it’s the right thing so far.  And, so far, no one ever really has found out that she was with Phil when he was 16 or 15.  Water under the bridge.  Almost two years of keeping it under wraps.  It was really difficult for Ana and Phil.  But they are in the clear now.  Phil is almost 19 and they have a kid, so the people who have their suspicions just let it go now, they don’t want to seem like they’re trying to take anything away from Ana and Phil.

     Ana is still very fragile emotionally.  She hasn’t found the source of these uneasy feelings.  She’s been teaching for years now and that should allay some of the anxiety in her life.  She should be feeling the wisdom and soul-nurturing of her years in the service of others.  It seems right.  Also, she brought the children, the babies, into the world thinking it would make everything that much better, she would continue to grow and find herself and, well, it was her right after all.

     Her friends still want the best for Ana, even when they have uneasy feelings at times about their feelings of Ana having married an alleged 18-year-old.  And wasn’t he sort of around a bit for a couple of years before the wedding?  Some of Ana’s friends are sure they saw Phil in Ana’s car once or twice.  He was that boy from that other school, wasn’t he?  They try to be tactful and subtle.  Sometimes they can’t make it over for dinners at Ana and Phil’s for certain reasons, they politely decline invitations a certain number of times.  

     Phil is very enthusiastic about what he does.  It is all very serious to him.  And Phil’s concerns are Ana’s concerns and vice versa.  Phil goes to sleep at night planning how the business projections he has in mind are going to work.  Phil knows he needs to carve out an empire for himself.  Is he doing it for Ana?  Ana knows that Phil is a little bit too ambitious, that it’s all wrapped up in there in his head sometimes, that something really big is going on in his mind, and she doesn’t want him to stumble all over himself.  Phil is not such a bad guy, trying to make something of himself, loving Ana for who she is.  It’s just a life.  It’s just what people do.  And as for his plans, it’s just business.  No one should be able to judge or say no to his heart, to his direction in all of this.

     Ana had a bad depression a few years after getting married.  It kicked her butt pretty badly.  She was ready to turn her back on Phil and the children they had and the years spent struggling and paying bills.  She hung on nicely, though, with the help of medication and a somewhat decent health plan.  Not a great health plan, but pretty good.

     Ana and Phil really have become a bit more conservative about things in general since they’ve become parents, but why not?  Things are more real and really different when you have little ones to consider.  No one should be able to judge that.  It is difficult to raise kids in today’s social climate.  But America was still a really swell place to raise a family when you’ve got all that youthful enthusiasm, when you’re charged and your responsibility is to someone other than to yourself.  Not like those narcissistic people who never had children and never will really know what it’s like to be a parent and fully an adult, Ana thought.  Everybody should have children – of this Ana was certain.  She fired three people at the school on that day of lucid certainty.  Sent them packing.  She felt very confident that it was the right thing to do.  

     The anti-depressants really did save Ana’s marriage to Phil.  That and a little love and understanding.  Ana has a lot of love and understanding in her heart.  Most of the time.

     Some of Ana’s friends think that Ana may be a little bit angrier since she’s been on anti-depressants, that she sometimes seems like she’s a little on edge.  But it’s hard to tell, because she’s pretty congenial, pretty nice, most of the time.  So they let it go.  It’s okay and they understand.  Some of them get angry themselves, too, and they know what it’s like to be a mother and to need to let off a little steam.  Who is anyone to judge?  We’re all a little eccentric, humorous, and flawed.  We make mistakes.  Sometimes really big ones.

     Everyone has a right to sail their ships and to make a mistake or two every now and then.  People are a little mystery, even to themselves.  Ana, Phil, those cute kids they’ve brought into this nutty world.  It’s okay.  It’s not so bad.  It’s all “gravy”, as some people like to say, it’s all “gravy”. 

     Life went on with the good times and the “gravy” for a little while.  Then Ana died of old age, after getting past a protracted bout of ovarian cancer.  Then Phil drove his pickup truck into a tree one night.  He shouldn’t have been driving and the night was dark, the road was slick.  And the kids went along for a while, too, also eventually dying years later.  

     Not so bad.  And Ana never really was considered a pedophile, much less convicted.  

     The sad part is that Phil never made much money, not the amounts he had dreamed of so lustily.   When his ribcage was driven into the steering wheel and the light went out of his eyes during the crash the night he died, he was quite sad still that he never did realize his dream of having one million dollars in his personal savings account.  Ana didn’t cross his mind, for some reason, as he expired.  

Michael Reiss has been writing for 30 years and has also worked in the film industry.  He lives in Rochester, works at the Central Library and does DJ work at WAYO.