I Love You, Too

cliff


Not even my closest friends know this about me, but I was once engaged. Well, I should say “engaged” – since this was prior to legal gay marriage in California. (How quickly things change.)

It was right after I had graduated from college, my heart still freshly broken but eager for more stimulation. I was 23, and alone in Los Angeles.

I met him at Trunks, the endearingly ratchet dive bar in WeHo, where the drinks are caustically strong enough to ruin a drag queen’s manicure. He was handsome in a quiet, unassuming way, and he had these big, brown, puppy-dog eyes. Honeyed eyes like pools of melted milk chocolate – I would get lost in them and he’d always look away bashfully. “Stop it.”

The first time we embraced every bump on my body fit into a curve on his, and I didn’t want to let go.

The first time we kissed his lips were cracked dry and they snagged onto mine, and we giggled and put on chapstick… and every kiss after that was perfect.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispered in my ear after we made love for the first time. And for the first time in my life, I believed it.

He wasn’t the first love of my life… perhaps not even the greatest. But he was the only one who has ever said it back to me: “I love you, too.”

So many times I wanted to run away. I knew I wasn’t ready. He was older, in his 30’s, and I was still a scared kid. But every time he said, “Come back to me,” I would. He was quiet and moody like me, but his voice was always calm and soft, and it lulled the other voices in my head to sleep.

It was only five months in when he asked me to leave the country with him. When I told him no, he asked me to marry him. We were sitting in traffic on the 10.

I sighed and looked out at the parking lot of cars. “I can’t leave here. It’s my home. What about my family?” He stiffened at this. He had never met my family. He’d asked before, and I’d put it off, downplaying the overwhelming influence they had over my life. But he knew about all the calls I made to my parents, all the family events that I never missed but also never invited him to. It was too painful to talk about: He wouldn’t be welcome.

Now I wonder if he knew that when I sat at those happy gatherings of the people I loved the most, I felt as empty as the chair next to me. I watched my cousins bring their girlfriends, boyfriends, eventually spouses, with the beautiful engagement parties and grand weddings, and I felt a strangling mixture of joy and jealousy.

The night after he proposed, we were in his bed, and he told me, “Let me be your family.” I buried my head into his chest and cried. The next morning I told him yes.

It didn’t work out, though. Blood is thicker than boys, as it turns out.

A month later he left LA back to his homeland. I drove him to the airport and watched him disappear into the international terminal.

We’ve only spoken briefly since. He has a husband now. I don’t know much else.

Regret isn’t the word.

I feel that the universe moves with us, and it just wasn’t meant to be. I wasn’t ready to leave my family. There is a strangely delightful pain when those you love the most are unwilling to accept you exactly as you are, a constant jabbing that keeps you alert and motivated. This pain that I loved is the same pain that has influenced so much of my life, kept me scared, kept me complacent, kept me resentful.

But that was three years ago. And I am no longer scared.

I only started thinking about him again recently. Because I have found myself at another crossroads in my life right now, where I find myself once again choosing between my past and my future. Once again, my life is about to change… if I let it.

But it is different this time. I no longer am afraid, I am aware of my own beauty, I know my self-worth, I am ready.

And I’m choosing my future. TC mark

Read another essay from Justin Huang in Thought Catalog Books’ new anthology, Boys, here.

TC Site

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