And what did I know about Polish relationships anyhow? Maybe it didn’t work like in America. I decided to forget about this Misiu guy and I turned my direction to Maciek. I mean, I didn’t have a choice, he was hard to ignore. He was everywhere - waiting for me outside of the school after my classes ended, in the morning outside my building to drive me to school (or to be seen driving me to school) or every Monday at 6:00 pm when he drove me to the next town for dinner.
Yes, he had a car which he tried to impress me with, but I’m American, possessing a car by a 19-year old is nothing impressive for me. By Polish village standards back then he was a catch - a catch set to inherit his father’s business some day and oh, the dimples. I had almost forgotten about those dimples.
Once when I went to the City to visit my friends, he was waiting for me at the station when I got off the bus. He spent the whole weekend with us, and it was really a lot of fun. It was also fun to have other people around us to take the pressure off of me because Maciek couldn’t really speak English, and I couldn’t speak Polish. During our weekly dinners, you can imagine that we ate a lot and talked very little.
He really was sweet and tried to entertain me and take care of me in his own way. If he noticed that I needed something in my apartment, he brought it for me. If I looked sad, he invited me for a walk. He was very thoughtful.
But I was 22 and he was 19 and I thought that was an insurmountable age difference at the time. I was stupid ‘cause now, I’d be all over that Maciek, but then…
Besides the “huge” age difference, I couldn’t get over the fact that I felt like an accessory. Like next to the nice clothes, nice car, fancy dinners, and trips to the City, the next best accessory was an American girlfriend. I know that wasn’t the whole reason for his interest in me, but it was in the mix.
It definitely wasn’t going to work. I wanted to break it to him gently. I really did like him, but before I could even broach the subject, he brought it up himself, in the corridor of my city friend’s apartment. I told him it was the age difference, the language barrier, everything. “But you like me,” he said. It wasn’t a question, just a kind of statement of the situation. I answered, “Of course, I like you. I like you very much.” And it was true. It was a long drive back to the Village, but always the gentleman, Maciek carried my bag up to my apartment. I invited him in. He sat down but didn’t take off his jacket.
He idly thumbed through my yellow dictionary and looked up, “It’s Misiu, isn’t it?”
I was taken aback. I wasn’t the only one who had been observant. I protested, “No, of course not. He’s got nothing to do with it.” My voice trailed off sounding unconvincing even to myself.
He got red in the face and grabbed the dictionary again looking for something he wanted to say. His eyes searched following the lead of his index finger down the page. “He’s utilizing you,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
He handed me the dictionary, pointing to the entry and repeated, “He’s utilizing you.” I looked down at the dictionary entry: wykorzystywać: to utilize, to use, to make us of, to exploit, to take advantage of. I got it. I protested again, “Use me? Why? What for?”
“To go to America,” he answered defeated, deflated, with no spite. He wasn’t angry. He just wanted me to be aware. As much as I wanted to deny it, the idea had crossed my mind before - not specifically about Misiu, but about people in general and their motivations for wanting to get close to me. I mean I was American in a small town in Poland (years ago). I was aware of the attraction of the “nowość” factor. I wondered if it was really so desirable to go to America anyhow. Well, for the time being it didn’t matter. This was over and so were the Monday 6:00 pm dinner dates. Pity. Time to move on.