So I am thinking. What is it about the good things that happened in the past that made them so good I could go on? I think I felt I could go on when Nata was alive. Life was wretched, but I think I could do it. There was some reason for hope.

Then she died. I lost the friends I had with her. Was it the intensity of the love we had for each other that helped so much? It might be. I don’t think that will happen again. I can’t create that to make life bearable for myself.

What does give me joy? The puppy outside gives me joy. C gives me joy. There are periodic moments of joy in the classroom that are genuine and real. But I was leaving the classroom and surrounded by PP students who wanted high fives and fist bumps and the special Class IV I love you handshake and I realized how exhausting it is—just to give all of this love and warmth to kids every day. I like my job, but it’s also this mask I have to try to hold up every single second. I would like it a lot more if it weren’t like that.

So what is different about C? What’s different about the puppy? The difference is that it is genuine and natural and I chose it. My students I care a lot about, but it is duty. It is my duty to teach them. It is my duty to develop a connection with them so that feel safe in my classroom and can learn. It is even my duty, perhaps, to give fistbumps to little kids so that I can work in some English with them and give them an idea that English is fun.

But C is not in my class. She has never been in my class. She didn’t even really ask for my help. She complained she didn’t have time to study and seemed very distressed about it all one day and later I told her I wanted to help her. So then eventually she told me how I could help her. I really don’t need to go out of my way for her. I didn’t need to tell her I would meet her at school at 7:30 in the morning every single school day. I told her that because I wanted to. I came to care about her naturally and gradually over the course of two school years just because I observed her mostly being a good person. Not a perfect person. Not a Bhutanese 2×2, but someone with her heart in the right place.

It is different even from my relationships with my colleagues here, whom I also care about, because I have relationships with them in part because I need them. I need to not be completely isolated. I need to have people to small talk with and give me company. I do care about them and I like them as people, but of the staff I am closer to, it’s sort of handful of people out of a slightly larger handful. But I don’t need to have friendships with students. I don’t need to have any relationship with C at all. My relationship with her is entirely chosen.

And maybe it’s this idea of choices that makes a difference to me. It’s completely, entirely genuine. It is with the puppy too. Loving C and the puppy are the two things I do every day that are immediate, real-life, real-time I absolutely do not have to do.