Let's Make Love Bloom
“We should get each other hitched!”
Masashi spat out his milkshake when I said that. And I’ll admit, I did sort of spring it on him out of nowhere. But the idea had been stewing in my mind for a while, and with the announcement on the radio that morning, it couldn’t help but spill over.
As promised, Masashi and I were getting lunch after class. As I’d predicted, he’d fallen asleep about twenty minutes into the screening, while I had been enraptured throughout the whole thing. After shaking him awake at the end, we headed out and he drove us to a local Steak ‘n Shake, our usual haunt. The food wasn’t great, and the retro decor was cheap and cheesy, but this place held a lot of good memories for us. It was a place to be comfortable and relaxed, away from prying eyes. Plus, like, no one ate there but us and some hard-of-hearing elderly couples. It was pretty nice. Anyway, we’d been discussing the movie, and to my surprise Masashi had actually liked what he saw of it. This time it wasn’t boredom that had put him to sleep. As it turned out, he’d stayed up late in what he called a “writing fugue state,” and by the time he came to it was already nine in the morning. And it was about the time he was praising what little he had seen of Fred MacMurray’s performance that I dropped that bomb on him.
“Well, you’re right,” I said, though he hadn’t yet said anything, too busy cleaning the ejected dessert off his lap. “A bit soon for the hitched part. But I figure, you know, start with a few first dates, see where that leads, you know?
“I’m sorry, what?!”
If it’s not obvious by now, I’m very bad at explaining myself.
I had my lesbian awakening freshmen year of high school. In truth, I’d been questioning myself since the pastor’s Romans rant, but then I met Esmé, and I knew for sure. She was a junior at the time, and when I met her, it was like my whole world ground to a halt. By sheer happenstance, we had one history class together, and when I walked in that first day and spotted her… the overwhelming sensations that coursed through my body were like nothing I had ever felt before, and nothing since has come close. It was paralyzing, like my heart had all at once both decided to stop beating and simultaneously pump cold fire through my veins. And from then on, not a day passed where I didn’t think of her. She was the classic tall, blonde, and beautiful sort of girl, rocking ruffled red crop tops and denim miniskirts like no one’s business. Confident and sociable, too. She made a point of talking to everyone in class at least once, including me. And you can bet your ass I was a nervous wreck when my turn came. I’m not sure my name came out audible between clattering teeth. But bless her, she was so kind. She smiled and shook my hand and said “Nice to meet you,” and even when she walked away her whole person was magnetic, inevitably pulling my gaze away from whatever I was supposed to be focusing on. Not that I resisted the pull.
Sadly, like many an angsty teen’s first love, my crush on her never got to be much more than that. Our assigned seating kept us apart, and cliques quickly formed in the class which seemed immutable; not only did it seem impossible to weasel my way into hers, but the thought of even trying was almost as terrifying and paralyzing as realizing that your love would earn you scorn and the label of “sinner” from the most important people in your life. So, all I could do was admire her from a distance. Admire her, and have my heart broken. As I watched, she got a boyfriend, broke up with him, then got another, and another, and another. She went through boyfriends like underwear. I think the longest she kept one was two months, and even that relationship showed obvious cracks early on. Every time she broke up I would get my hopes up, only to have them dashed again by the inevitable, and toward the end Esmé’s luck ran out. Not long into her senior year she got knocked up by her latest (and last) conquest, and those last few months she disappeared from school entirely. She graduated in absentia. The joke that floated around next year went something like this: “Esmé had two deliveries that day: her baby and her diploma.” And I have not heard hide nor hair from her since.
And oh, the regret. Oh, the longing.
I want love. I want it so damn bad.
“And how’s that going to work?” Masashi was asking. “What, do I just walk up to my classmates all like, ‘hey, are any of you lesbians? Oh don’t worry, I’m not a creep or anything, I’m gay, anyway who’s up for a blind date?’”
“Well I mean…” That was a good point, admittedly. It occurred to me then that I hadn’t really thought this through. “Obviously you’ll want to be more eloquent than that.”
So yeah, I hadn’t thought things through. I was too busy thinking about what I wanted; obsessed with the ends, damned be the means. I wanted love. Ever since Esmé, that had been my one secret obsession—secret to everyone but Masashi, of course. Having it in real life felt out of the question for all sorts of reasons, so I turned to scouring the Internet and bookstores for anything remotely queer. And let me tell you, doing that under the watchful eyes of two homophobes was no easy task. But that very danger somehow only compelled me all the more. Sarah Waters became my favorite author. The Wachowski’s first film became my favorite ever. And all the smut which I dare not divulge… Consuming all of this media was at the same time exciting and reaffirming and such (the only time you will ever see me squeal with delight is when I watch two girls kiss) and also excruciating and painful. It filled me with longing, with jealously for fictional characters. I know that sounds completely insane and deranged, and maybe it is, but it’s the truth. Because the more of this stuff I consumed, the more I felt I wanted it for myself. And now, for the first time, I felt like I really could have it. Or maybe I was just inspired. I knew the reality: my life situation hadn’t really changed at all. I was still living the same life with the same oppressive family.
But still. I couldn’t explain why, but some part of me was sure: right then, I had a chance. And so, in my excitement, I delivered that shock to Masashi’s soul with neither warning nor explanation, and shameful as it is to admit, it took me a good few seconds to realize that I’d messed up.
“Right,” I said, blushing in embarrassment. “So, uh… I can explain.”
“I sure hope so.”
Here’s the rub: getting a date for myself is… not impossible, I’ll admit, but it’s significantly more difficult and risky than it needs to be. Dating apps on my phone are a no-go; despite being nineteen, I still have one of those invasive parental monitoring things installed on it. Mind you, being the computer science major that I am, I’m more than capable of removing it or finding other workarounds, but I’ve yet to find a way to do so without the folks noticing. Messing with that’s just inviting a shitstorm—I know because I’ve tried. Our home only has one desktop computer to share between the whole family, so using that for anything that looks like something other than schoolwork would just be inviting questions I don’t want to answer. Granted, the school library does have computers open for any student to use at any time, but… look, if I’m being honest, I just do not have the stones to try to log on to a dating site and flirt with strangers in a public space where anyone could walk by and see what I was doing. What if someone I knew saw me? What if the news spread? Nope, no thanks. It’s true enough that with enough caution and time and courage I might be able to pull something off, but until recently, I’d been suffering from a deficit of at least two of those things.
The last obvious option before the insane idea I was pitching to Masashi was this: just talk to the girls in my classes. Easy, right? Yeah, if only. Being on the computer science track as I was, the gender ratio in my core classes was… not great. And more to the point, for pretty much my whole life I haven’t been in the habit of viewing my classmates as potential romantic partners—with, of course, that one notable exception. (And even that was more just my body supersaturated with hormones screaming at me to jump in that girl’s pants. It wasn’t like I actually knew anything about her.) And besides, approaching your classmates with just the one thing in mind… I don’t know, that feels seedy. I think I’d gross myself out if I tried to pull a stunt like that. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely made the few friends that I could (given my limited pool of options), but as romantic partners, they’re all non-starters. And then there’s my whole paranoia about “well if I start dating someone in my social circle, that’s going to become public knowledge, and then if words spreads back home…” and then my mind follows the cascading dominoes of increasingly worse worst-case scenarios resulting from that, and I just die a little inside.
What I’m saying is, despite my infatuation with the idea, when it comes to romance, I’m just a complete wreck, okay?
And then there’s Masashi’s situation to consider: quite similar to mine, though to hear him tell it, his is not quite as dire. Just like my own, his parents seem quite eager to see he and I tie the knot. In fact, we started keeping track a while back, and as it turns out they do broach the subject 1.583 times more often than my folks. (Oh yeah, we did the math.) Aside from that, though, they’re generally less overbearing. He’s not constantly being monitored like I am, and he isn’t even one hundred percent sure his parents have an unfavorable stance toward us gays. The one thing really holding him back—much like myself except, I fear, much more potently—is fear. Which I get. I’ve got that same fear. The question of my getting a girlfriend is not one of if but when; this, I’ve long since made peace with. My family will react poorly, and I’m prepared for that. Assuming I can find someone who loves me enough, if I can’t get my folks to accept me, then I think, I hope, I’ll be able to leave them behind, for the sake of my own happiness. Hell, if I get enough red flags from them beforehand, once I’ve graduated, I might just run off hand-in-hand with my (theoretical) gal without so much as telling them, just dodge that heartache altogether. I could live with that. It would hurt, but I could do it.
For Masashi, though? That wouldn’t be so easy. He loves his parents too much to do any of the reckless nonsense I’m prepared to get up to. He’s told me that if he started dating someone, while he might keep it on the low at first, if it went on for a while and got serious, he’d have to introduce the lucky guy to his family, not out tradition or obligation but just because he doesn’t want to have to lie to them. And he’s scared that, if he does that, they’ll reject him, disown him. They’ve been nothing but loving, and to lose them over love… the thought was inconceivable. It’s not that he doesn’t want to date, he’s just too frightened to get out there and do it himself.
Enter my genius (read: terrible) idea: let’s help each other out. Let’s find each other dates! It’s genius!
“And why the heck,” Masashi said, staring longingly into his now-empty milkshake glass with a tear in his eye, “do you think that’s in any way a good idea?”
“So my thinking is,” I said as I leaned in across the table, “that it’ll make it easier for the both of us. I know that whenever I try to talk to a girl and so much as think that I could ask her out, my brain just short circuits. And it’s pretty much the same for you and guys, right?”
“I mean…” Masashi tucked a lock of hair behind his ear as he tried and failed to come up with any counter or excuse before finally giving in with a sigh. “No, yeah, you’re right.”
“I know I am,” I said, grinning.
“Oh, shut up.” But we were laughing.
“No, but seriously,” I said, getting back on track. “We can’t get past that step of actually asking people out. But, talking to people of the opposite sex doesn’t pose the same problem. Like, somehow it’s not nearly as nerve-wracking to talk to people about love and stuff, or hell, maybe just about stuff in general, when you already know that there ain’t a chance in hell of actually hooking up with them, right?”
“Well, yeah, we are living proof of that.”
“Right?! So let’s take advantage of that! When the fall semester starts up, I’ll get to know some of the guys a little better, fire up the old gaydar and see if any of them are your type, and if I do I try to see if I can set you two up on the blind date. And hopefully, you can do the same for me.” There was quiet for a moment as I leaned back in my seat, feeling pleased with myself. Masashi had gone wide-eyed, stunned, as he tried to process what I’d just told him.
“So?” I said, prodding him. “What do you think?”
“I…” Masashi let out an even bigger sigh than before. “I think that idea is completely insane for a number of reasons.” I felt briefly deflated, but just as I was about to plead with him, he broke into a grin. “But you know what? Screw it, let’s do it!”
“Hell yeah!” I said as I high-fived him across the table.
“Hell yeah! …But why wait for fall, though? What about our current class?”
I rolled my eyes. “Come on. Did you see our classmates?”
Dinner that night was tense. At least, for me. Mamá and Padre were, as usual, oblivious to my discomfort. Hey, give me some credit. I’ve been living here my whole life, you bet your ass I’m good at putting up an act in front of them: an act of being calm, polite, complacent. Not that I had given them zero reason over the years to suspect I was anything other than the perfect doting daughter, oh hell no. I still remember the absolute look of horror in Mamá’s eyes and the indignant fury in Padre’s when, in high school, after for the first time being trusted with my own hygiene and left to my own devices at a hair salon, I came home with my hair cut so short I might’ve been an army recruit. (The farthest I’ve let my curly locks grow since is just enough so that they tickle my ears.) No, my folks know I’ve got some radical ideas about what I want to do with myself. But they’ve also got a sort of “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” attitude about it. As long as I’m playing the part they expect of me in front of them, no nasty arguments tend to erupt.
So, what was there to be tense about that night? What topic of conversation came up that tempted me to break from my part and stir such a nasty argument? Three guesses.
“Did you hear what was on the radio this morning?” Padre asked Mamá over our dinner of Chinese takeout (yes, we’re that cheap).
“Yes, how terrible!” she said. “This country’s going to the dogs.”
I smiled and said nothing.
“Bah!” Mamá exclaimed. “I don’t want to talk about this nasty business over dinner. Ruin my appetite. Sara, dear, how was your day?” I mean, really Mamá, how do you not connect the dots? I’m not the most butch woman you’ve ever seen, but I’m pretty damn close, if I do say so myself. I’m practically a stereotype. How does the idea that I might be one of the people all caught up in that “nasty business” not cross your mind? I guess, for some people, it’s far too easy to not see what you don’t want to see.
“It was good,” I said, keeping my smile plastered on as I offered the most basic response I could manage without coming off as rude.
“Good, good. And Masashi?”
“He’s good, too, yeah.” Alarm bells were going off in my head. It was all too easy to tell—we had another code straight coming up.
“I’m glad to hear it. He’s such a sweet boy. You know, with how much time you two spend together, it really is amazing that you haven’t married already. Why, when I was your age, your father and I were already celebrating our one-year anniversary!” Yep, there it is. It took every ounce of my self-control to not roll my eyes at that frankly disturbing statement. Married at eighteen? God forbid. “Come now, haven’t you thought of how lovely it would be to be Sara Sanada?” No, but I imagine you’ve enjoyed that fantasy plenty. I swear, if I had a quarter for every time Mamá teased me by calling me “Sara Sanada,” I’d have enough money to move out and a few months’ rent to spare.
“No, I’m just focusing on school,” I said, maintaining my veneer of politeness.
“Of course, of course, and you know we’re very proud of you.” My inner cynic and optimist came into conflict again, unsure whether she was being sarcastic or genuine. I had reason to be believe the latter—after all, I was the first in our family to go to college. But then, I also knew what she, what both of them, really wanted from me. And that still hurt.
Once dinner was over, I excused myself from the table, returned to my room, fell into bed, and curled into a ball. I tried to focus on all there was to be happy about, despite my home life being so anxiety-inducing: the court ruling was wonderful, and Masashi agreeing to my silly idea made me nothing if not elated. Finally, I felt like I had a chance to break free from my family’s expectations and forge my own life. And that had to be worth celebrating.
I know my silly plan alone won’t get me out. In the end, it’s up to me and me alone when I finally pack my bags and get out of here. I know that. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to upend my life, leave behind everything I’ve known. But if I’m going to have a good life, that’s just what I’ll need to do.
I can’t do it yet. I just can’t make myself. I’m still stuck, still rooted, and even I barely know why. But I will get out. I will. And maybe, just maybe, this’ll give me that one last push I need.