The first time my husband gave me his phone number, I threw it away.
We met my freshman year in college. Sure, we might have fooled around a bit, but I wanted nothing serious. It was my first year in college. I was there to have fun, not to be tied down.
He gave me his number before I went home for Thanksgiving break. I was definitely attracted to him, so why did I rip up his phone number? I didn’t want to rock the boat. My mother and I fought a lot during high school. Some of it was typical teenage stuff. Some of it was because I was straddling two cultures as a first generation Vietnamese-American. Some of it was harder to explain.
One particular argument occurred because a black male friend came over to hang out with me. We were sitting in my front yard, in my mom’s eye shot the entire time. I’m sure he had a crush on me, but I wasn’t interested in him. He was smart, an introvert and spoke softly. He never touched me while we talked. It didn’t matter. My mother exploded. We had one of our biggest fights, with plenty of yelling and just as much violence.
By the time my senior year in high school rolled around, my mother and I had found middle ground. We never spoke of our big argument or what started it. That was fine with me. Vietnamese families don’t spend a lot of time talking about feelings. I accepted that.
When I left for college, I didn’t want to rock the boat with my parents. I never wanted to fight like we did that night. That’s why I threw away my future husband’s phone number.
Eventually, he gave me his phone number again. This time I called him over winter break. We spoke on the phone for 5 hours the first night. Pretty amazing considering he just had his wisdom teeth removed earlier that day. Within a week, we went on our first date. (Yes, you read that right, we did it backwards.)
I didn’t want it to happen, but I fell in love with him. My heart didn’t see skin color. But my parents did.
I explained to him that we had to keep our relationship a secret with my parents. I wasn’t ready to rock the boat. He was patient the first year, a little less so the second year we dated. By the time the third year came around, he was close to graduating and moving away. He was tired of sneaking around whenever I was home with my parents. He wanted to be legit.
We had arguments about it. Why couldn’t he meet my parents? After all, I’d met his mother. He figured once they met him, they would like him. That had been his experience with past girlfriends. I explained again, but somehow it wasn’t good enough anymore. It became the white elephant in the room.
After he graduated we started our long distance relationship. Soon after, I proposed, and we were engaged. Once we became engaged, I decided it was time to tell my parents about him. I warned him about what might happen. He reassured me everything would work out.
I’m not sure how I told my parents that I was dating him. It was agonizing to figure out what moment was the right one. Obviously there’s never a good time. I didn’t say that we were engaged. Just that we were dating. They were furious when they figured out he was black.
My dad yelled at me. My mother cried and gave me the silent treatment. My sister got stuck in the middle, delivering messages to me from them. Thank goodness she was away at college. After my father finished yelling, he tried to reason with me. I remember sitting in silence on their bed, listening as my dad told me what a terrible daughter I was. How I was dishonoring my father and our family. There was nothing more for me to say. Then my worst fear happened: my parents disowned me.
Sure they spoke to me when it was necessary. My dad told me he would support me until I graduated college (only a few months away). When they saw my husband at my college graduation, they acted like he wasn’t even there. They never looked at him, didn’t acknowledge him at all. They spoke to my white friends, though.
For a couple of years we barely spoke. Every now and again, my parents would beg me to leave him, saying nothing good would come out of our relationship. They never even spoke his name. He was “That Black Guy.”
When it came time to plan our wedding, they wanted no part in it. My husband would beg me to keep in touch with them. He know how important family was to me. Each phone call ended in tears. I think my parents kept hoping that the longer we were engaged, the less likely we would actually marry. Up until a month before our wedding, they refused to attend.
I never meant to marry a black man. My heart chose my husband because he’s a smart, funny, and loving man. I didn’t want the challenges and tears that came because I fell in love with a black man. It just happened.
I’m stronger because of this. So is my husband.
Our love is stronger. Together we became stronger.
Edited: Thanks to everyone who commented! To update the story, my husband and I will celebrate our 9 year wedding anniversary this August. We have 2 beautiful children. My parents referred to him as “The Black Guy” but once they became grandparents hubby was referred to by name. Now that we have kids, hubby is totally golden. We’ve come a long way.
This post was inspired by Left to Write‘s May book club selection, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is more than a coming of age novel of a girl in Nigeria and was an incredibly great read.
I received a copy of the book for review and all opinions are my own.