I fear I have alienated my son, though I swore I would never repeat my father’s mistakes.
He came to me yesterday with a ring. How can he ask for my approval to marry a factory worker’s daughter? Of course I refused.
He told me that he never felt accepted by me, no matter what he did or achieved. So he would stop looking for my approval and live as he saw fit. I instantly regretted my refusal, but what could I say?
I let him go. He will come around, in time.
Being with Ella was kind of like a carnival ride—dizzying, almost nauseating—but he didn’t want to get off. She challenged him, questioned him, made him uncomfortable. But with her, he felt a tingling, lurching sensation of being truly alive. She dragged him to party after party, and he tried to shower her with the kind of affection he had only seen in movies.
It felt uniquely American to kiss on the street in the rain, to have picnics in the backyard and dance under the streetlights, to unashamedly display his affection for anyone to see. Here, he didn’t have to steal kisses behind closed doors. Back home it was scandalous to even hold hands in public. Chandler relished this new freedom with intensity.
He took her to the fanciest restaurants, the nicest shopping, the finest theatre. He rented a beach house in Santa Monica one weekend, he took waltzing classes with her, they did wine tastings together. And she insisted they go to every DG party and that he watch sitcoms with her on Thursday nights—because they needed some “normalcy” in their life. He watched her look at him with more and more softness all the time. It made his stomach somersault all over itself.
And then there was the night that changed everything for Chandler.
Half drunk on cheap wine and beer, he and Ella walked, laughing and tripping over themselves, from her sorority house to his. She loved him that night like he was the only man on the planet. At least that’s how he felt.
And lying in bed, running his fingers through her hair, he blurted out without even thinking, “Come home with me.”
She sat up, a blonde curl falling down her shoulder. “What? To China?”
He smiled. “The moon. Anywhere.”
She grinned mischievously. “I’d take Shanghai.”
“You’d take it by storm. It would be a foolish man who would let you loose on that city.”
“A jealous man, maybe.”
He considered her for a moment. She tilted her head and squinted her eyes at him, smiling. She didn’t blink for a long time. Chandler paused.
“Are you playing games with me?” he asked.
Ella laughed, throwing her head back. “Honey, I don’t play games. At least not the ones you’re talking about.”
She ran a finger down his cheek, traced his collar bone, and landed in the center of his chest. Then she looked at him for a moment and smiled.
“I could fall in love with a man like you.”
And with that she rolled out of bed and started picking through his shirt drawer. Chandler watched her from his bed, his head propped up on one arm. He sighed, smiling, his whole body warm. Suddenly Ella looked up, shirt half on, and leapt to the window.
“Did you see that?” she asked, staring out into the night.
Chandler joined her at the window just as a white bird landed on a light post outside. It stayed for only a moment, wings flapping, before it disappeared. Ella looked up at him with a bright smile.
“In Chinese culture”—
“In Chinese culture, I love when you say that.” Ella laughed and tugged the shirt on the rest of the way. It was a red baseball t-shirt. Like most of his clothes, Chandler had only worn it once.
He laughed and continued, talking over her a bit. “In Chinese culture… you know what a dove means?”
Ella wrinkled her nose at him. “The flood’s over?”
“It means”—Chandler paused and chuckled. “Hey, that’s a Bible reference. Real cute.”
Ella raised an eyebrow at him. “You’ve read it?”
He shrugged. “Parts. But in Chinese culture, and I’m going to ignore that face you’re making, doves are a good omen of long life.”
She went on her tiptoes and kissed him lightly on the nose. “Then we are going to live long lives, my Chinese Chandler.”
“And you know what else it means? Peace in the next life.”
“The next life?” She considered him. “You mean like reincarnation?”
He nodded slowly, watching her. She looked away for a moment and her eyelashes fluttered. When she looked back at him her face was very serious.
“Can you choose what you come back as?”
“I guess that would depend on what you did with this life.”
She tilted her head. “I want to come back as a bird. That bird.”
“I want to be something that can fly. To be totally free.” She looked wistfully out the window.
“You know that’s kind of a step down…”
Ella blinked and looked at him. Her eyes unclouded and she grinned. “Well think about it, a long, peaceful life? Sounds good after the hell I’m going to raise in this one.”
She was looking at him sideways, a sly smile on her face. He laughed and pulled her close to him, smelling her shampoo. He felt her relax into him and breathe deeply.
“Let’s do it,” he finally said, voice slightly muffled by her hair.
“China?” she said. He nodded slowly. “Where will we live?”
“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” he said.
She pulled back and gave him that serious look again. “Will you fall in love with some Shanghai girl and run off and forget about me?”
He laughed. “Never.”
“Okay, then.” She reached up and kissed him lightly. “I’m there.”