It’s not every day I walk out of work with three heaping bouquets — two of roses, and one of carnations. But this day, where I feel as if on the brink of living out a girlhood princess dream, is not not any day. It is Friday, July 26, 2002 — my birthday, and the day after John’s last day of work.
I could never get used to how people in China look so curiously at me, as a foreigner. I was always a shy girl growing up, nervous about public speaking, worried about a public mistake that would be the talk of the school. It’s not any easier with two bouquets of flowers cradled between my arms. Everyone in the office seems to have stopped their work to get a glance at me, craning their necks from even the farthest corners, as if I am a visiting Miss America. While I flush with embarrassment, I find it hard to admit the truth — that, as anxious as I am before my coworkers, I revel in the attention on my birthday. Sometimes, even shy girls like a little attention.
But I am not as interested in their attention as John’s. Over the week, I have drifted closer to John, and he in turn has left me spellbound with his attention. On Wednesday, July 24, after work, he accompanied me the entire evening — from the gym, to dinner, and even all the way to my apartment door, only a breath away from a kiss. John nearly missed the last bus back to his apartment because of this evening, but that is what you do for love.
I don’t yet want to call it love, because I called love too soon with Frank, and love left as fast as it came. It is hard to call it love with John, because I’ve never experienced love quite like his — a love that speaks in an entirely foreign, but thoughtful, tongue.
“I hope to come around the office every now and then,” he wrote me in a text message.
“Really?” I wrote back.
“I’ll be like a supervisor, to see how you are doing.” Only John could turn “supervisor” into something romantic. I’ll be watching over you.
John would be watching over me tonight. “I’ll be arranging a birthday program for you this evening.” I Â almost laugh to hear him call it a “program,” as if my birthday is yet another ceremonial event in China requiring a dose of stiff formality. Still, just as there is comfort in the presence of bouquets, there is comfort in knowing someone has plans for your night.
Still cradling the bouquets, I take the elevator downstairs, filled with curious coworkers craning their necks to look at my flowers and asking me enough questions to fit into a 12-floor descent to the lobby. I smile and answer everything graciously, pretending, secretly, that I am Miss America, or even living a childhood princess fantasy.
When I get out of the elevator, I pass through the doors, and walk down the stairs to find John, in a red T-shirt and jeans. I give him the bouquets to carry as we head to the bus. And, later that evening, I will give him my heart.
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.