That morning I decided on a whim to go to the mall before heading into the city to meet you- I wanted to buy a new outfit- and I’m not sure why. But I did. It was nothing fancy- light green short overalls from Old Navy and a periwinkle t-shirt with stripes that brought out my eyes.
I took the bus near my parents’ home into the city. I was eating an apple I remember, and a bit of the apple color got on a headband I wore- made of small pearls. It stained. I found my way to the train you told me to take uptown- the 1-9 it was called then. I don’t think there’s a 9 anymore. When I got out, I accidentally went to the gates of Barnard rather than Columbia and waited a while. Then I realized my mistake, and headed over to Columbia. I am always early- so I waited a while I guess. At one point, I saw an Asian man- heavy, dorky, with glasses, who looked like he was looking around. Sorry to say, I darted away afraid that might be you. When I told you later, we joked about how superficial that was of me. But then I headed back to the bench I was waiting on when he walked away. For some reason, I looked up at a patch of sky and cloud, and said to myself or God or whatever, “Whatever this relationship brings, please let it bring glory to you.” Those are the exact words. I had no reason to believe it would bring anything since we’d never met and this wasn’t supposed to be a “date.”
Then, you were walking towards me with a guitar on your back, t-shirt and shorts, saying my name: “Julia?”
You weren’t expecting me to be white, it turned out. And it also turned out you had seen me once before- the Thanksgiving before when I’d been asked to share a few of my songs at a large Korean youth gathering in Northern Virginia. You had been there. You told me you’d said to one of your friends, “She can sing.” And then you looked at me and said, “I can’t believe I’m here with you.”
You raved about a sandwich called NYPD at Hamilton’s deli nearby. When we got there, they were out. I decided on a chicken salad sandwich called “The Clinton.” You got the same. I remember looking around the freezer for the drink I felt like having and wound up with a Very Fine pink grapefruit juice. You insisted on paying since I’d come all the way into the city. Then you led me to the law school where there was a lounge that we could eat at. You ran into your older brother’s roommate there and introduced me. I waited to see if you’d pray for the food and you prayed by yourself.
Then we headed to an empty room you knew in the physics building. You got out your guitar and I got out the books of songs I’d written and brought. We took turns playing our songs for each other. Now I know how humble it was of you to introduce your music skills with the guitar- you could play but not the way you played piano and cello. At one point you had to go to the bathroom and as you turned to go, I watched the way you walked away- dragging your feet slightly like a little boy. I would say- I loved you then. Right then.
Then we headed out to play our music in the chapel- which we found was locked. You said it never was. So, then we headed to another rehearsal area you knew- all of the piano rooms were locked- but there was one upright piano outside the rooms by itself in a corner. We sat there. You played and sang with me- we sang a few worship songs.
After that, you asked me if I’d seen the new Star Wars movie and I said no. I wondered if you were asking me out but you said it was just that all of your friends had already seen it and you really wanted to see it. I said OK. I was enjoying our time together. You suggested we go back to your brother’s apartment to drop off the guitar and get sweaters or long sleeve shirts because the movie theaters were always so cold. You were always prone to being cold…always prone to being cold.
So, you grabbed me something and something for yourself. Inside the apartment I phoned my mom to tell her I’d be staying a bit later. She sounded curious “Do you want to?” “Yes, I do.” I remember answering.
The movie was sold out. We said our goodbyes- and you led me to the nearest subway stairs. I turned around to watch you walk away.
I carried with me in my bag half of that grapefruit juice bottle and when I finished it on the bus ride home decided to keep the empty bottle. “One day I’m going to tell my kids that this was the first thing their dad ever bought me.” This is what I thought. I lay on my bed at home listening to the demo of your songs you had given me. It would be another month before I would see you again.
Back in 1999, it was a record high on Memorial Day. Tomorrow is supposed to be in the 90’s. Our sponsored child in Honduras- the one we chose because he was born on the day we met- will turn twelve years old.