Annie Zhou

I.

I attribute my complete lack of a love life to my parents’ separation. Such is the happy lot of a Child of Divorce: I am wounded, broken, an unfortunate casualty of adult affairs at their most incomprehensible. Everything I do henceforth is a logical byproduct of the trauma I sustained from witnessing my family’s gradual falling apart. That 72 percent in calc? Thanks to the divorce. Falling down the stairs and breaking a leg? Looking at you, divorce. Being a Child of Divorce seems to grant me a Get Out of Jail Free card when it comes to the affairs of the heart, and the card never expires. There are a bunch of psychological studies out there indicating that Children of Divorce are more likely to be equally unsuccessful in love; and you really can’t argue with Psychology Today. The violent return of a door to its hinges, the clamor of an argument they thought you weren’t awake for, the pretense of civility binding the air afterward — no matter how hard you try to repress these memories, they stick to you like gum on a shoe and alter the tectonic plates underlying the world as you see it.

II.

I had my first crush in second grade. I don’t remember how it began or what made the boy in question so attractive to me in the first place. Maybe it was the fact that he’d been elected the class “Da Dui Zhang” (the most senior leadership position available to a student), and the only position I had ever held was “Xiao Dui Zhang,” which was at least two steps below his in the complex hierarchy of second-grade class politics. Looking back on it, the power differential could have been an aphrodisiac. Or maybe it was the fact that he did kung fu, and martial arts was the coolest possible sport I could fathom as an elementary school student with limited exposure to most other sports.

I do remember the long, excruciating process of harboring this crush. I remember the diary pages I filled with my invisible ink pen—each word slowly revealing itself under blue light—how meticulously I would dot every “i” and all the exclamation marks I used in terminating my sentences. “I’m in loooooove with Kevin Xiao!!!!” I’d write, and with each lopsided letter and press of my pen I’d give shape to the warm, blooming feeling that languished in the pit of my stomach. In these pages, I documented every close encounter and pared them down in the exaggerated, nonjudgmental way children do. In these pages were the worlds I’d assembled, clandestine and deliciously illicit, for my eyes only. All mine, to roll around in my head and to feel in my fingertips and weigh and consider, life collapsing into wonderful, blinding technicolor, the radical mushrooming of a world in which I could like-like a boy and he could like-like me back and we could spend the rest of our days together sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G.

But it was unrequited. And with this first boy who didn’t like-like me back, it began.

III.

In itself, the process of having a crush is pleasurable. I would argue that at times, it is even more pleasurable than when the crush actually comes to fruition. When I have a crush, I am both extremely delusional and deliriously happy. Even a brief sighting of the boy I like can draw that sparkling champagne feeling of “does-he, does-he-not” up into my cheeks.

For me, it’s all about the prospect of it. When I have a crush, I get dressed each morning with giddy awareness, hyperconscious that today might just be the day that I run into him. Maybe we’ll brush shoulders on the way to Language Arts, or make eye contact in the cafeteria. Every day that I go out into the world with this dizzying secret on my sleeve feels open-ended.

Learning that your crush likes you back, I imagine, must be the most wondrous thing: a validation of every wayward thought cast in his general direction, a total repudiation of every deep-seated insecurity. I imagine that revelatory moment to be like that line from Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”: “O victory forget your underwear we’re free.” Staring up at my bedroom ceiling, at the tender spot where it slopes in, lying with the surprising knowledge that this boy to whom I’ve consecrated the world thinks the world of me too — I imagine I would forget all my underwear.

IV.

I attend these parties at college. My friends and I go together. I always enjoy going and appreciate the opportunity to let loose and escape from academics for a moment. But what I’ve realized is that I always slink back to the suite at 2 a.m. after these parties, bone tired and feeling terrible about myself. I’ve tried analyzing the reasons behind this, and have recently identified the cause to be the fact that I don’t get much attention at these parties.

We are at a Sig Chi party on a Friday night. I feel a little more at home in this particular mildewy basement, as I am Asian and Sig Chi is known as the Asian fraternity on campus. If there were ever a party at which I could be in my element, this should be the one.

I dressed up. I am wearing a tank top and a plaid skirt and had spent an hour applying makeup. I feel pretty. Confident, even.

We are dancing. A few boys approach, eyes skimming over our little group. I feel too seen. I look away. Their eyes swivel past mine and light up when they fall on two of my friends.

I become acutely aware of my limbs, how they rise and fall and swing at these awkward angles. My heart sinks. As these boys crowd into our circle, I am slowly edged out. I make sure to remain with the group, to at least keep one leg in the circle. My friends begin kissing these boys. I try not to watch, the music is too loud, I feel alone. I get this irrepressible urge to leave, so I make up an excuse about a Chinese presentation and leave.

This is how these nights usually end: with me, on a solitary walk back to Old Campus.

On these quiet walks back, envy often swells within me, but not for any of the right reasons. It’s not like a clumsy basement hookup is exactly my idea of romance. But sometimes, it sucks to not be chosen. To be the person hovering like a sore thumb in the corner while boys chat up my friends. In some painfully surface-level way, I wish a boy would come up to me and test out a terrible pick-up line. “Girl, are you from Tennessee? Because you’re the only 10-I-see.” Maybe I’d like it. Who knows?

When I get back to my room, I immediately peel off my tank top and skirt, which now feel sweaty and foreign and somewhat intrusive. I want them off. I hear my friends return much later in the night, their arrival announced by loud bursts of laughing and boisterous conversation. They are gathered in my common room, probably dissecting the night. I stay in my room and pretend that I’m asleep.

I lie awake in bed, feeling sorry for myself. The careless neglect of the boys at the frat party seems to signify something greater.

V.

I cried when 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush ’48, died. I didn’t cry because I liked the man; in fact, I had always disagreed with his politics.

Then I read a Washington Post article on my Facebook timeline. The article was about Bush’s relationship with his wife, Barbara, who had died in April, and contained a video of his second son, Jeb, delivering a eulogy at his mother’s funeral. Up at the pulpit, Jeb described the great romance between his parents, mentioning how his father wrote his mother these love letters. He read from one letter in particular. The letter went: “Will you marry me? Oops, I forgot, we did that 49 years ago.” At this, the congregation in the video laughed and I laughed along with them. Then the letter shifted: “I have climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara’s husband.”

It seems like too much of a coincidence that George H.W. Bush died mere months after his wife. They say what finally got him was the Parkinson’s. But maybe it was also a natural, instinctual bodily response to the process of heartbreak, something modern medicine cannot decipher, this deeply necessary desire to be reunited with the woman he loved still.

Then there’s the photograph I saw online of Bush at his wife’s funeral, a picture most likely taken out of context: Bush sits in his wheelchair with his mouth hanging half-open, as if mid-howl. His despair is tangible.

VI.

I called my mother after reading the article. I was crying for seemingly no reason whatsoever. My mother didn’t know what I was crying about but didn’t need to. She told me what I needed to hear.

VII.

When I think about true love, I think about Auntie Joanne and Uncle Gerald.

For as long as I can remember, we’ve gone to Auntie Joanne and Uncle Gerald’s house on Friday nights. They were close family friends whom we’d met at church, who would host these catechism classes at their house every Friday for us young children to develop our faith as Catholics. I would look forward to those Friday get-togethers all week: to being with my friends, to the cheese and cracker platters Auntie Joanne would put out and to Uncle Gerald’s jokes. When I think back, now, on those increasingly distant Friday evenings in Auntie Joanne and Uncle Gerald’s house, I can recall how it felt to have that weekly ritual. To be in that space with friends who knew me inside and out, to shout-sing “This Little Light of Mine” and feel accepted. But most of all, from those nights I recall the casual intimacy between Auntie Joanne and Uncle Gerald: their light, playful bickering, their not-so-subtle hand-holding beneath the dining table, how they’d look at each other and seem to see the world.

VIII.

In Catholicism, matrimony is one of the most blessed of sacraments. It signifies the coming-together of two souls. Marriage is the ultimate manifestation of God’s love.

IX.

My mom cites Auntie Joanne and Uncle Gerald’s marriage as everything hers was not. She’s afraid that her relationship with my father would ruin my perception of marriage so she directs me to them instead. “Look at them,” she’d say. “That’s how it should be.”

I think that when my mother says these things, she says it with a spoonful of bitterness. Maybe even jealousy. I know this because it’s only human and because I’ve felt it, too: this intense, irrational sense of injustice that rises like bile on those Friday nights at Auntie Joanne and Uncle Gerald’s place — an anger that they were given this perfect slice of love, while my mother, the only person whom I love completely unselfishly in this world, was given something that fell short.

X.

I meet someone new. Someone from an extracurricular I’m doing. He has brown hair and kind eyes. I like him a lot. When I think about him, something warm and new blooms in my chest.

I don’t know whether I will ever find True Love in the capitalized letters sense of the phrase. But I know I am complete as I am, and my mother is complete as she is. We repeat this like a mantra, as our own little prayer. With each successive time that we repeat this, we believe it a little more. But still, in the darkened coatroom of my mind, the words I’d read from a poem once linger: “It’s a summer day,/and I want to be wanted more than anything else in the world.”

Macrina Wang | macrina.wang@yale.edu .