Well, when we saw each other again a week later, and the next day, and the next, and that kept happening continuously…I figured out that we were probably an item.
Also, he said, “We are dating, right?”
Not long after that, my mother asked why I was never home anymore…who was he? Thinking about it now, I’m almost a little insulted. She couldn’t think of any reason more exciting than a man? Maybe I was out adventuring. Maybe I was going out to clubs or had become a drug addict. Maybe I’d gotten a new, night shift job. Unfortunately, parents know us far better than any of us ever want to admit, and mine know that I am not remotely as interesting as I think am.
So I told my mom about my man. That wasn’t so bad. She was sweet and understanding when I needed her to be, as she so often is.
Telling my father, however, was a little weird. Telling my father anything can get a little weird, though, because with him nothing is ever what you’d expect. Let me attempt to put him in perspective. At 19, I proudly told him I passed up an opportunity to try marijuana, and in seriousness, he asked “Why didn’t you?” At 23, I told him there was no way I got a job with a prestigious agency because I’d smoked marijuana in the last year, and he disappointedly said, “I didn’t know you did that.” My father is a man who reads books not for stories, but to temporarily enter another world and absorb the ambiance as though he were wandering in and out of a garden party. He’s a man who isn’t remotely religious, but has read the entire Bible and quieted family dinner parties by pointing out the cruelty in the Old Testament. He is a registered Republican, but hates Mitch McConnell and has voted at every possible turn for Ralph Nader.
Just to give you an idea.
On the subject of boyfriends, my conversations with my father have been simple. When I started dating at sixteen, he told me, “If you can have sex without getting pregnant, that’d be good.” I’d barely even kissed a guy yet.
So when, at twenty-three, I told him about my new boyfriend, I shouldn’t have been surprised when he told me to think twice about marriage, because it makes you legally responsible for all of your spouse’s debt. If they die, you’re the one who pays off those student loans.
(On a personal note, let me say that marriage is something I often imagine. In terror.)
Then, my dad asked me, “Is he black?”
“Yes,” I replied, surprised. “Why did you ask?”
“Some things you just know about your kids.”
I can say with some certainty that I’ve never known my father to be racist. But to my death, I will never understand what he meant by that remark. At the time, it worried me. Now, it merely confuses me.
After a few minutes of talking, my dad said, “Why don’t you bring him to Memorial Day?”
By this, he meant bringing my new boyfriend to my extended family’s Memorial Day picnic. Which was a cool thing to suggest— it meant he wanted to meet him, and it meant that he understood in the things I said how important this man was becoming to me.
But it was also a worrisome, gut-wrenching prospect. Because the picnic was at my grandfather’s house. And my grandfather is a racist.