Daily Prompt Whoa! What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had?
August, 1990 – I am sitting in a circle of preschool teachers on our first day back from summer vacation. We introduce ourselves, go over policies and plans for the year, and fill out numerous forms. Right before our lunch break, we fill out one more form, for a “Secret Pal.” When you spend days and days around two- and three-year-olds, you start to forget how to act like a grown-up. A Secret Pal will leave you little notes and surprises throughout the year, and make you feel like you have actually had some adult interaction.
The form asks things like, “What is your favorite snack?” “Do you collect anything?” This way your pal has ideas about what things you’ll like. The last question is, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do there?” We reminisce about how some pals have used this information to come up with creative surprises- last year a teacher wrote that she would go sit on a beach in the Caribbean; her Secret Pal got her a big beach poster from a travel agency, some paper drink umbrellas, and flip-flops, and put them all in a kid’s sand bucket – it wasn’t expensive, but it was so thoughtful.
I pick Paris as my dream destination.
I went to Europe with friends for a month in 1980 – now, 10 years later, my life is wonderful, but more mundane, with a job, a house, a husband, and two small kids. A week in Paris would be a great adventure. With the teachers around me I chat about our choices – someone suggests a French secret admirer would provide a little lift to anyone’s life, and we laugh, imagining how my Secret Pal could arrange that.
October 1990 – my birthday rolls around, and I find that my Secret Pal has left me a beautifully wrapped present, with French coffee, French chocolate, and a gift card to La Madeleine, a chain of French-inspired cafés! It is a very elaborate gift compared with the things we usually give each other – things like Diet Dr. Peppers and sidewalk chalk for our preschoolers to use. Other teachers make more jokes about a romantic French adventure.
Christmas Luncheon 1990 – the gift from my Secret Pal is a used paperback, in wrinkled, re-used wrapping that doesn’t even cover the book. Did I upset my Secret Pal? Does she have an evil twin? The mystery deepens!
March 1991 – the preschool is closed for the day while all the teachers attend a regional training. I can actually go out to lunch! I arrange for my husband to meet me at the La Madeleine closest to the training location, so we can finally use that gift card. We have a nice lunch, enjoying a meal without the kids. I take the cups over to get coffee refills, and a short, skinny man saunters over to me and says, in a deep French accent, “You look like a woman of mee-ster-ee.”
WHAT??? It’s been months since I received the gift card, I have never been to this La Madeleine, I did not tell anyone at school I was coming here today, I have been sitting over there with my husband for 45 minutes – and who even talks like that? Especially to me. I am a preschool teacher and I look it. How on earth did my Secret Pal arrange this??
I say “What?!” and he actually repeats it. And then I just laugh delightedly. How did the Universe arrange this?
He looks very hurt and slinks back to his table.
I go back to my table, still laughing, and tell my husband. He hasn’t noticed the short conversation, and now he thinks that too much time with small children has frazzled my brain, and I am hallucinating.
I can imagine that the guy is a writer or actor trying out a character, but otherwise I cannot imagine a reason for his behavior. Maybe he sits in the same spot every day, and tries his line on different women, just to see if anybody can even come up with a suitable response. (I mean, when someone tells you, “You look like a woman of mystery, ” what can you say? You could try to look mysterious and say, “Yes, I am.” There’s really nowhere to go from there. Maybe you could try a response like, “The pigeon flies at midnight.” But I don’t think that works with a Texas accent anyway.) For me, after months of sporadically discussing a French adventure, this is a surreal coincidence.
May 1991 – school is over for the year and Secret Pals get revealed. I learn that the lovely Secret Pal of the thoughtful French gift basket moved away during the year, and that I was passed on to a new teacher before Christmas. At least the discrepancy in the types of gifts is explained! But my original Secret Pal never learned how she had actually caused me to have a (tiny) French adventure.