let's talk about you.
Remember Boston? Back when we were studio mates? I was new, and the only guy and non-Asian besides our teacher, and I guess what mattered at the time was playing scales in tune and perhaps proving a point.
I don’t know what you saw in me. And you see through a lot of things. But as weeks went on, we saw each other around a little bit more and it felt comfortable. Like I missed it when you weren’t there. It was weird - like getting a gold star in elementary school for doing something exceptional except I didn’t do anything; I just saw you. And it made me happy, you know? Like a little bit of excitement when you stumble upon something that you weren’t really looking for but somehow makes your entire day.
I remember going to Giacomo’s as friends. In a blizzard. Why did we do this? My eyelashes were actually icicles. And I’m pretty sure I had more snow in my All-Stars than SoCal has seen in decades, but from inside, it was warm and there’s nothing like eating good pasta when the weather outside is frightful.
I remember coming back from the break. I remember you inviting me over for a glass of wine. Well, more than a glass. And it just felt like the right time to open up. For both of us to open up about a lot of things. Deeply rooted issues that get pushed down into a chasm where dark things lay. Things happened soon after that.
Oh stop, it’s not as sexy as it sounds. I couldn’t stop smiling and I wasn’t ready and she ended up kissing my teeth. Embarrassing. We got the hang of it soon after, though. And so I left at something like 12:30 with ugly maroon-stained lips and checked into my dorm thinking, so just friends, or………?
Okay. So I might have liked you.
I didn’t know how to handle that. In my own very regimented headspace and the need to stay focused or fear of losing it, I wasn’t ready for promises. Strings (haha). Feelings. I valued alone time. I needed space. But then it went from that to wanting less and less space and more and more you. And thus, the gray area slowly disappeared and became something else. Neither of us knew what it was and what it would lead to.
I loved those months. Everything was new between you and me, you know? Things to discover in this college town that I hadn’t bothered looking for in this year and a half, and then all of a sudden, it’s right in front of you when you’re with the right person. I remember The Melting Pot. Our first official date was fondue. It’s gone now.
I remember walking to Uno’s, just the two of us, when it wasn’t an NEC orchestra concert night, and the waitress always seemed to stop by our table when we wanted a little more than eye contact. That’s gone, too.
The first time I slept over. No, nothing happened, but the feeling was so significant to me in that both of us felt small. Small organisms in the big outside world, and we, just miniatures, had a miniscule space to ourselves. A space with you in it. A space for the moment. I felt safe. Like anything with you is a home away from home. Like all the important priorities and to-do list entries fixed as horns on your back just sort of...melt away. Sometimes I wish I could freeze that moment in a time capsule and open it up when I need you.
Okay. So I fell in love.
It’s so gooooooey to talk about it. Mushy, like the word moist. But it was real. And it still is. Some sort of bliss that you just want to get lost in and become tangled for what feels like forever. And we knew it wouldn’t be forever at the time. Things would have to change, but how? I didn’t want to let go. I couldn’t let that happen.
I remember you used to go to the reflecting pool when you were upset or frustrated or just not having the greatest day. I know. I went there too before I met you. Somehow, in the spring, when water returns to the pool and people aren’t around to admire it in the daytime, it’s the perfect place to take a good look at yourself and the shit you got yourself into. We went there together. One of the guards in the electric buggies asked us if we left one of our phones. I wonder what else she saw.
So May. It sucked. It was after someone’s recital and I knew that it was the last time I’d see you for a while and I don’t know but suddenly there were a lot of tears. In a public place. I don’t do this. The first cut is the deepest, I suppose. There would be many more of those in the future. It’s amazing how much someone means to you when suddenly they aren’t there and you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen but you're on a train and you hand the conductor only one ticket with no one next to you because you're alone.
In hindsight, everything that you meant and still mean to me was perhaps why I took time to tell you I love you. Because there will never be a day when I don’t mean it.
There were many things I didn’t handle well. I took far too long to tell my family about us. That wasn’t fair to you at all and you didn't deserve that and I’m sorry. I know they didn’t react positively, either. I just felt they cared about school and school and school and education and job and house and money and part of me thinks how can I blame them? Third world country immigrants with no turning back but to chase the green dollar and a dream, plus my mother’s own marriage that went awry. Maybe they were being cautious. Overprotective. But I should have stood up to that. I’m glad you’re here now and that you have a place in this family and strangely I’m happy that my grandma speaks to you in Patois because she doesn’t see you as a Korean-American from LA anymore. She knows your name and she screws it up all the time but that’s what happens when you belong.
Thank you for coming back to see me in Boston. You brought life to my last year there. From zipcar trips to Cape Cod to pigging out at Yamato to having the Prudential Center to ourselves after all the stores closed. From ice cream at Revere Beach to Pho Pasteur in Chinatown to dealing with persistent vermin in Back Bay. I went back by myself recently and spent time with some friends, but it was empty without you. The Charles was nothing. Neither was Back Bay, or Jackson, or Forest Hills. It was time to go.
Somewhere else. I remember that somewhere else. When I came to California for the first time. It was like a different country with a different vibe and different sights and smells and that view of the mountains on the 10. Not like the Southern State Pkwy that I'm used to. There's this notion that I'm supposed to dislike the West Coast because I'm from the East but USA is USA and hey I dig it. I remember the drive to Malibu. And the drive back - I loathed, loathed the traffic on the way back. But Point Dume was a spectacular sight. Well, you made it spectacular. I miss the Santa Monica Pier. And Ktown. I remember meeting your family for the first time. I don't know what they thought of me. But I'm still here and things are different and they understand more English now, so that's great. We can have a conversation now. Life's good. California was good to us.
I remember the difficult decisions of again, what next. Of one weekend just flying to Amsterdam to audition for schools, both of us so jetlagged that it felt like we needed mini toothpicks to hold our eyelids open while auditioning at basically 4am for some of the best violists in the business. I knew staying in the States was better for me and that Holland was better for you. And I knew it meant embarking on two years of long distance. It was going to be hard. Pit-of-your-stomach hard. But I believed in you. I believed in us. And it still blows me away that we took our relationship from less than a square mile in Beantown to spanning thousands of miles from NYC to AMS.
I know it was so much more difficult for you being an international student in a foreign land unable to work, and basically no good Asian food or very many Korean people. And living in a place that's gray 97% of the time is no picnic. It affects how you feel, your day-to-day life, and how you managed to conquer that beats me entirely.
There was always the question of when do I see you? It depended on the budget and the timing and how we could make it work in our schedules with school and festivals and stuff. Sometimes we'd get lucky and have some extra money and we'd be able to be with each other every other month. And then there were entire semesters when we couldn't make that happen. But you know something? I think both of us are individual people when we're apart. There's a level of trust between us now where we don't need to worry and we can put our time aside for a little while and focus on our present lives and what we need to do in the moment. But there's always an opportunity that will come when you count down the days until you can see your most favorite person in the world.
And now? We survived it, ladies and gents and all peoples. I'm so incredibly proud of you for earning your degree. You deserve more credit than you know. And you're back in the States, at Yale University. Ivy League, honey. And there's a little bit more sun and you live in a town that you actually like and hey I'll take a two hour train ride for less than 20 bucks over a 7 hour flight that I can't afford in a heartbeat. We have a cat now. He meows a lot because he likes to be carried and cuddled and enjoys playfully chewing on your fingers and toes. Somehow it feels like a little family. We have more time now. And I can leave the Big Apple and come to a town where I can put aside the horns on my back, or at least try to, and be just a person with you without the pointy responsibilities of the things I do now. It's not always easy, especially when concerts come up and things are due, but you're worth trying for. New Haven can be a sad little place the way it's run, you know, but you seem to find the brightness in it all around. Even when there are far more drugged up people than sober ones on the Green.
I remember August. I remember driving to the Bay in the Subaru with you in the passenger seat. We drove to the Point, got out of the car, and walked over to, well, what ultimately happened. And as the entirety of the Bay was in front of me and I stood absolutely horrified, you were on my right side and I just remember thinking Thank God you're here. I'm so glad you're here. I'm so glad you're here. Because I don't know what I would do if it was you out there. Somewhere floating away in the Rockaways. And I don't know if you remember but when we came back and stood to embrace the man who just lost his beloved wife, he said unfortunately it didn't end up working out for us but you two, you two will be next for this family. And I think that's how everything seemed to come together in my mind. The mind that somehow doesn't always function right when I'm with you because, well, I'm in some sort of bliss that I just want to be tangled in for what feels like forever.
Maybe it’s a different kind of bliss, though. Maybe something not so fresh and exciting and suspenseful but something a little more seasoned, familiar. Like a house that’s had time to have a little dirt and weathering on the siding but the heat still comes on in the wintertime and the doors still lock and I feel happy and safe with you. We can still be unpredictable though. Never for a second is it boring.
I know we have bad days sometimes. Not many, but they happen. And I know that life just gets a bit too overwhelming and outside is too bright and there’s too much noise and your bed is the most secure, comfortable place you can be right now. It’s always hard getting your foot out the door. Or out from underneath the covers. After the first step, things get easier. Life gets easier. We’ve had tough moments. And I promise that we’ll both go through even harder times in life because that’s what happens. But we’re going to overcome everything and take them on head first and I want to plunge into the abyss with you. The abyss of who knows?
I am your rock. You tell me that all the time. But you are my entire universe. Something I realized recently is that everything I think about has some percentage of you in it. And that would drive me insane if you suddenly disappeared. Thank you for being here through trials and tribulations, through great recitals and shitty auditions, and galavanting through cities and little towns and some places that become a little more like paradise with you around. Thank you for showing me the world.
So please, keep being everything to me. And I’ll always be with you. Because the world is never really that big.
I love you, Rubina Lee. Happy 5 years.
*permission granted from Rubina Hyun-Jae Lee.