More than a month ago, John’s duffel bag mysteriously appeared in my apartment — as he moved in with me. Now that blue duffel bag had turned into a maroon wheeled suitcase we bought at the corner supermarket, and that suitcase would be leaving with John for Shanghai. There was no mystery in it — John was going into a master’s program in psychology at a university in Shanghai.
We had our official sending-off dinner at the formal dining room in Hangzhou’s Town God’s Temple, perched on a hill just above Wushan Square. As we walked up the winding trail to the restaurant, weaving in and out of the shadows of pine and oriental plane trees, I sang “Rainbow” by Yuquan, a song that had become ours ever since John gave me the CD with it on my birthday. Yuquan was John’s favorite Chinese rock group, and now I was using the music he romanced me with to romance him back.
But, even as I sang to John — in the music John loved best — he wore a salmon, Italian-style buttoned shirt and slacks, one of the many outfits I had bought after discovering that, in fact, John had only two decent T-shirts, a worn pair of jeans and polyester pants with frayed hems that fluttered in the wind.
So much of our recent lives had been lived together, and influenced in subtle ways by our shared presence.
At dinner, we talked about John’s psychology program, about living in Shanghai, about our next trip together — to meet during National Day week in Beijing, where my company was sending me to attend a conference. And, of course, about how much we would miss each other — especially because John would be leaving while I was at work.
The only thing I seemed to be able to do was buy, and then fuss over, the contents of that maroon suitcase.
“Did you pack your jeans? And your new long-sleeved shirt?”
“Shide,” said John.
“What about your electric razor?”
Then I saw his soccer shoes. “You’re not bringing these? I thought you liked to play soccer.”
He shook his head adamantly, as if I was an overprotective mother sending him off to college. “Unnecessary!”
I cocked an eyebrow at him. “Are you sure?”
We went through item after item, filling the little maroon suitcase until there was no room left to fill — and only John’s departure to await.
On Thursday, September 19, while I was at the office, John left for Shanghai. But when I returned home to my apartment, I walked impulsively over to the guest room, where John and I had packed his things the night before.
The maroon suitcase was gone — but not the blue little duffel bag, the same one John had brought when he first moved in. He had still left a part of himself here in Hangzhou — and in my heart.
Did you ever have to be apart from your girlfriend or boyfriend? Was there something “left behind” that gave you courage in your relationship?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.