The first time that I realized I loved Johan was when I imagined his death.
Twisted I know.
Being an irrational worrier, I have semi-annual nightmares about my parents dying an untimely death. Once from drowning, another time from tuberculosis. Each time I would wake up bawling my eyes out.
But here’s the thing, I would only ever worry about my parents dying, never anybody else.
So a few month ago when the thought of Johan dying flashed by and left me in a panic, I realized: I must love him.
So when Johan whispered to me “I love you.” on that rock, I wanted to say it back. However, having never said it before, I hesitated a tad too long.
There’s no doubt that I love my parents, but I’ve never said “I love you” to them either. It’s just not part of our Asian customs. This may be hard for North Americans to understand, but imagine greeting strangers with kisses. Totally normal if you are French, just plain weird if you’re not!
So instead of replying, I reached up and Frenched him.
Afterwards I tried again, but the words got caught in my throat and the moment was over.
“Are you upset that I didn’t say it back?” I asked after some silence.
“I didn’t say it to get a response.” He stroked my hair.
“It’s just that… I’ve never said it before. It’s kind of a big deal.” I attempted to explain, “If I say it now, it would seem like that I’m only saying it coz you said it….You know???”
Bless him for even trying to follow my logic, but he nodded understandingly.
“It’s ok. I guess the reason I wanted to tell you now it’s because…” He sat up and stared off into a distance.
I sat up as well and listened intently.
“Tomorrow we’ll find out if I get accepted to Toronto.” He was referring to the university and thus the ambiguity of our future together next year depending on whether he gets in. “And I didn’t want the results of that to taint this.”
He continued speaking while looking away. “I’ve been feeling it for awhile, so I decided that the next time I felt it, I would say it.”
“I think I feel it too…”I confessed, “It just may take awhile for me to get used to saying those words.”
“I get it. I’ve ever only said it to my parents.” He smiled and turned to face me.
“What was their reaction?” I was curious because his parents were Asian too.
“They just stood there looking shocked and uncomfortable.” He chuckled.
“Hahaha!” I bursted out laughing. “Sorry…but they didn’t say anything at all?”
“My mom hugged me stiffly and my dad mumbled something under his breath then continued watching TV.”
I laughed some more and was grateful that he understood having grown up in an Asian household. My ex-boyfriend could not understand and was frustrated with me for not saying it back. At the time, I wasn’t sure what distinguished “love” from “like”, and felt wrong saying it if I wasn’t sure. As if those words had certain weight and responsibilities attached to it, not to be used lightly.
I thought maybe I was just being too serious. North Americans say it all the time to family, friends and lovers. “You’ll just know.” was probably a Hollywood invention and perhaps saying “I love you” did not always require such obvious and powerful feelings. However, I still couldn’t utter those three words to Bob, it just didn’t feel right.
Looking back, I realized I was never in love with him. However, I am in love with Johan. The feeling was palpable. So why couldn’t I say it aloud?
Maybe I AM too Asian.
I may love American television and prefers going Dutch at dinners, but deep down, I am old school Chinese. I’d much rather buy you a giant gold ring than voice my true feelings.
Just kidding, I am also cheap.
Some time later…
When Johan’s brother was in town, we took him to La Cava Bar for free salsa lessons. None of us ever tried salsa before, and most people took refuge at the bar.
Johan and I decided to take the lead and went up to the dance floor first. However, with the both of us having two left feet, we were hardly a sexy sight. After many failed attempts at spinning me, Johan stopped to observe a particularly skilled couple.
“I got it!” He proclaimed and took my hand again.
Just when I thought we would finally get it, he stepped on my foot and our forehead smacked together. We let out a simultaneous “Ow”.
I started laughing uncontrollably at our clumsiness, and without thinking, I said “Oh I love you!”.
Johan took my hand again, spun me around into his arms, this time with no injuries, and dipped me the way you see in movies.
“Welcome to the dark side.” He smiled and bent down to kiss me.