It was my engagement weekend at a very ritzy hotel in South Pasadena with my Chinese-American fiancé. My white family was several time zones ahead on the East Coast. Andy’s parents live in Hawaii. Andy’s parents were the first to find out we were getting married.
And that’s where I made my first tactical error. Andy’s Chinese-born father had begun asking questions I felt were intrusive and sexist in order to calculate the probability that his grandchild would be male. I went into the bathroom and did my feminist foaming at the mouth in peace, rather than screaming at my future father-in-law.
I should never have retired form the field of battle. I should have stayed in the room, wiped the spittle off my mouth, and presented Andy’s parents with the wedding plan I had come up with during dinner, fait accompli. But this was my first skirmish against Chinese parents. I was a rookie. I let Andy handle the conversation with his parents and stayed in the bathroom.
A little later that evening, Andy’s phone rang as I brushed my teeth. “I don’t care if the lab is on fire,” I yelled. “Tell Frank there’s no way you’re going in this weekend!” Frank was Andy’s boss at his Top Secret Place of Employment. I didn’t know what Andy did there. I did know that Frank called Andy into work on the weekends way too much.
It wasn’t Frank. “Hi, Ma,” Andy said. Like he hadn’t talked to her less than an hour ago. I stopped brushing my teeth and listened.
Andy: “Yeah…next year…I don’t know. Sometime in the fall.” He called out, “Honey, what day are we getting married?”
I replied, “October 15th!” Andy told his mom and hung up. I finished with my teeth, and we climbed in bed. I was foolishly pleased that Andy’s mom was interested in something besides the likelihood that my uterus would spit out a boy grandchild.
I was asleep when Andy’s phone rang again. I sleep a lot lighter than Andy, though. I had to hit him to get him to wake up. “It’s your phone again. Ugh. Tell Frank you’ve had too much champagne and no way are you driving in.”
Andy fumbled with the ringing phone, finally got the right button, and answered. “Hello? Hi, Ma…”
I rolled my eyes and rolled away to the far side of the palatial king-sized bed. Despite the covers I pulled over my head, I caught a few words here and there. “Church” and “Autumn,” and “wedding” were among them.
I rolled back over when Andy hung up. “What’s this about a church?”
“Ma expected us to get married in Hawaii. Like my sister. At the church at the end of the road on the water.”
“What?!” I sat up, turned on the light, and fumed aloud. “Why does she expect that? Doesn’t she know the bride gets to pick the venue? And the venue is the Olde Nowhere Inn, on the lake in Nowhere, New Hampshire!”*
Andy patted my arm. “Don’t get upset. That’s what I told her.”
“Okay. So long as you told her. Did she get upset?”
“No, no. She’s fine. She just can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to get married in Hawaii.”
We turned out the light. Andy turned off his ringer. As soon as he turned it back on the following morning, it rang.
I yawned and mumbled, “Tell Frank there’s a sigalert on the 405.”
But it wasn’t Frank from work. It was Sunny.
“Good news,” I overheard Sunny say to Andy. “The church is free on October 15th!”
“OH MY GOD!” I shouted, going from 0 to Psycho in .05 second flat. (That’s a genetic gift, once necessary for being able to beat the shit out of a wild animal that attacked in the middle of the night. It worked well on siblings, too. But in the kinder, gentler world of today, it only scares nice boyfriends.) Andy hastily backed away and hit the mute button on his phone. “You told me you told her we were getting married in New Hampshire!”
“I did tell her,” Andy said. “Twice.”
“Then why is she trying to book the church in HAWAII?”
“Because she doesn’t listen.”
“You are just not saying it right! Give me the phone.”
I snatched it out of his hand, unmuted the phone, and said, “Hi, Sunny. It’s Autumn. Now, about the wedding…” I went into a whole spiel about how I love New Hampshire in the fall.
Sunny said, “New Hampshire?!” like this was the first time she’d heard of this plan. Then she said, “But…so far!”
I proceed to outline our New Hampshire plans for several minutes.
Sunny said, “But Hawaii is beautiful. Everybody want to get married in Hawaii.”
“Not me,” I said firmly. “I’m glad you’re so excited for us. But thanks for understanding that we are GETTING MARRIED IN NEW HAMPSHIRE and not Hawaii. Here’s Andy.”
I passed the phone to Andy, patted myself on the back, and went to find coffee. I discovered the ritzy hotel had coffee AND pastries. I loaded up. Then I took my pile of goodies and a patronizing attitude back to our hotel room. I found Andy sitting on the bed, staring at his phone.
I handed him coffee and said, “You just have to be firm. Just like I was. I know there’s this whole respectful kowtowing to elders and authority in Chinese culture, but that’s crazy. You’re an adult. Act like one, and they’ll treat you like one.”
Andy sipped his coffee. He ate a croissant. He nodded in all the right places, like I was absolutely right, while I lectured him for five minutes on having better communication skills.
Then he pulled his phone out again. “So while you were getting coffee and I was in the bathroom, I got this voicemail.”
Me: “Was it Frank? Damn it, not today!”
Andy shook his head and pressed play. I heard Sunny’s cheery voice: “Hi, Andy! I just want to tell you, I put a deposit down on the church. The one where your sister get married at the end of the road. Okay? For October 15th next year. We are all set.”
I grabbed the phone. “No way! You must have missed it, she must have sent this last night, BEFORE I talked to her…” I checked the time the voicemail had been left. Exactly seven minutes ago.
I sat on the bed, shaking my head. “I don’t understand. I told her.”
Andy patted me on the back. “I know, honey. I know. They just don’t listen.”
Andy’s phone rang.
I said, “I hope that’s Frank.”
*Even the places in my blog have pseudonyms. There is not actually a town called Nowhere, New Hampshire. Although the NH natives have a pretty good sense of humor about their rural communities. There is an Effingham, NH, with a wittily named farm that raises mean, award-winning turkeys.