I don’t even remember how we met, though I do remember this tall guy hanging around a lot at the Odeon, waiting to talk to me when I had a moment to spare. I used to work there after school and in the evenings, serving at the canteen my dad owned.
Despite whatever accomplishments I’d made at school, there was no escaping the fact that my background was very working class. I’d had to work every day since the age of 8; like my brothers and sisters before me, I squeezed in my homework in-between movie sessions and did it standing up at the serving counter. During public holidays, whilst all my friends went out celebrating and visiting friends, we had to work even harder, since they were always the busiest periods at the cinema.
This guy, on the other hand, couldn’t have come from a more different background. His days were filled with leisure activities at Sungei Ujong, the local country club (where the likes of me never even dreamed of stepping foot into), piano lessons, squash, parties and whatever else the well-heeled did for amusement.
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight for me, but he put me at ease by making out that he was just playing matchmaker to someone else he knew, who supposedly liked me (obviously a ruse). So we spoke, and he started calling me at home, and we talked and talked, and before I knew it, we were officially boyfriend-girlfriend.
My parents never had a problem with him; my stepmom in particular, adored him. He was always courteous, respectful, polished, soft-spoken, and wore custom-tailored clothes based on the latest London fashion – very metrosexual, in fact – way before it became a trend and a fashion statement.
His parents, conversely, never accepted me. Unlike at my place, where he was practically part of the family (he even went on day trips with us), I could only go to his house when his parents weren’t around. I remember his mom came home by surprise once when I was there. She totally ignored me. I felt lower than dirt.
His dad even visited me at my house once, and asked me to break it off with him. I remember the visit well.
He’d sat down with me and made a tumbling gesture with his hands. His son, he said, was head over heels in love with me. It was affecting him to the point where he couldn’t function properly. His schoolwork was suffering. At home, he was spaced out all day thinking of me. This was just puppy love, his dad contended. We could be friends, but not boyfriend-girlfriend.
His dad wasn’t rude; he didn’t have any airs about him. He just seemed like any regular, concerned parent. Yet, if I’d broken up with him several times in the past, it surely wasn’t going to happen now.
I had been the most compliant kid in my household and was famous for being bullied by my younger sister. Then when I turned 15 a rebellious, angry, defiant persona suddenly took over.
I don’t think I ever grew out of it completely. To this day I often tell people the best way to get me to do something is to tell me why I can’t do it.
I figured my boyfriend’s parents thought I wasn’t good enough for their son because of my blue-collar background. I refused to acknowledge that from what I had seen of him, his dad was a difficult person to dislike.
My friends called him my loyal ‘puppy dog’, sometimes to my face. Mona, my best friend at the time, thought that he was extremely needy and clingy. Even her mom joked about being able to tell straightaway who wore the pants in the relationship.
He used to visit me at our house and leave very late at night, walking through a long, unlit and scary stretch of road on the way home over a mile away. There was no denying he was infatuated with me.
He would record popular love songs onto cassette tapes and give them to me to listen to, with notes scribbled on the cover ‘dedicating’ them to me.
We shared a love for 80s New Wave music, and that’s about all we had in common. He used to be a popular fixture at parties, was a competitive dancer and always had a group of rich hangers-on who I’m pretty sure didn’t think any more highly of me than my friends did of him.
All my social activities, on the other hand, had always revolved around school participation – debating, drama, choir, basketball, etc. – ie. nothing that required paid lessons to get skilled up on.
Yet, we stuck together despite our differences. We were devastated when we found out I’d have to leave for Australia for good – my parents had applied to emigrate under the Australian government’s Family Reunion scheme – and it seemed like the application was approved a lot faster than I had anticipated.
I remember him bringing up the idea that I should stay behind and live with his family for awhile until he could get a job and support the two of us, but I never seriously considered it for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being his parents’ disapproval of our relationship.
Then it was decided he’d join me here in Sydney when he finished his studies in just over two years. We just tried to spend as much time together as was humanly possible before I left, and probably did so in pseudo-denial of the impending separation.
One of the last songs he ‘dedicated’ to me was Air Supply’s ‘I Can Wait Forever’ – cheesy, I know. He saw me off at the airport – and he cried and cried as we finally had to let each other go.
I hadn’t even set foot in this country and I’d already decided I hated it. For the next two years, I refused to wear any red clothing. Red symbolizes joy and good fortune in Chinese culture. In my melodramatic teenage mindset, until I was reunited with him, I was going to be in mourning, much like I was when my mom died.