It All Started At Grinnell…
Once I realized I was going to live, and that the most beautiful, dangerous boy I’ve ever met did not subject me to a short life of lost T-Cells and opportunistic diseases, I had a new lease on life. I was sixteen, after all, and I wanted to do something with my life. When I received the invitation to the Grinnell College Summer Institute, complete with creative writing and literary discourse, I begged my parents to go.
This would be where I would talk about my boyfriend at the time, how he lived closer to Grinnell than to my home town and thought this would be the best summer ever because he could break into my dorm room and blah, blah, blah. Not this time. I’m done talking about him. I’m done thinking about him. Above all, I’m done worrying that he’s going to try to finish the job he started when he tried to strangle me in his dorm room two years later. If Yaoi Con taught me anything, it’s that I need to let go of this irrational fear that he’s out there waiting for me to leave my bodyguard/husband/Lemur’s side. He’s moved on. It’s been eighteen years.
Within the first five minutes at Grinnell, I made a startling discovery for a white girl from small-town Iowa: I was one of four white girls in a group of fifty people, and one of them had an accent (Israeli). There was one white dude. The rest of the group were a mixture of black and brown, short to tall, ultra-feminine to super-butch. In short, these were people I had read about in books, but had never met in person. Thanks to our library’s focus on multicultural literature, my opinions weren’t as stilted as my non-reading classmates, but my roommate, Chuck, called me “ignorant” the first day she met me, and she held that opinion for the whole month.
The big black dude beside me had glasses and the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. I made some comment under my breath when the RA was talking, and he giggled. GIGGLED.
That’s my Ro. Disarming smile. Witty comebacks. Childlike giggle. Heart on his sleeve, and willing to give it freely, even to careless, unavailable me. We played volleyball after our first meal where he had to inquire on the ingredients of the chicken cordon bleu so he didn’t die (food allergies aren’t fun). After volleyball, he followed me back to my dorm and met Chuck. One of us (probably me, since I’m such a sucker for swimming) suggested we should go to the pool. I think Chuck called me ignorant for that, too, since I’d never heard the stereotype that black people can’t swim. I’m not a good swimmer, but we all knew how, and we played in the Olympic-sized pool, bobbing under the lane markers and jumping off the diving boards.
Grinnell was one of the hardest experiences of my life. I learned that my creative genius suffered under boyfriend pressure, that I wasn’t as talented as my high school teachers thought I was, and that, while I will always need to write as a creative outlet, writing literary novels wasn’t for me. I gave up writing for fun altogether for my final year of high school. In college, I minored in poetry rather than fiction. I still like to play with words, but I also like to build worlds. I wasn’t ready for world-building at Grinnell. I wasn’t ready for world-building until I met my D&D-loving gamer husband, but that is another story for another time.
I never planned on staying in touch with anyone from Grinnell. Chuck and I got along, but we weren’t besties. Roget was the only one I’d want to contact, but he’s also the one I most needed to avoid if I wanted to keep my insecure boyfriend. Said boyfriend burned every picture I have of Roget after I returned home. He broke up with me for a month when I shared that we had fallen asleep together on my bed while studying. I know I said I wouldn’t talk about him, but I’m mentioning this because it still makes me mad.
Roget and I sent letters to each other. Graduation announcements. We talked on the phone occasionally in college. I went to Northern Iowa. He went to Stanford. STANFORD. I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy to have a friend who insists on staying a part of my life. I have made it a point to move through life without making lasting connections. I blame my parents for moving when I was five, moving me to a small town full of bigots and small-minded people, people who called me the N-word because I was the blackest thing they’d ever seen. I wish that was an exaggeration.
And still, I fell in-step with the big black dude with the big smile. I made a lasting connection with a man who loves me unconditionally, who tells me to stop beating myself up all the time, who wants what’s best for me, and who never tried to capture my light for himself. Do I deserve him? Hell no. HELL. NO. But when he asked me to come to Yaoi Con because he thinks I need to make more connections and put myself out there,..the first time, I said no. I hadn’t finished my series. I had nothing to shop. This time? I said yes. I said yes because 20 years sounds like so much more of an accomplishment than 18. Because the flight was so cheap I couldn’t refuse. Because AMY LANE. And because Roget has made more of an effort to stay in my life than my best friend from childhood, the one who still lives in the same state.
I said yes because a trip to see Roget is a gift to myself. There are people in this world whom I flee because they hurt too much. Ro is not one of those people. He makes people smile. He fucking shines…did you see that Monochromicorn horn? He brings out the best in people, and it’s a joy to watch him photograph adorable cosplayers. I would have missed that side of him, if I’d missed Yaoi Con.
He’s my best friend, and I’m done trying to justify that to people who don’t understand. He just is. Deal with it.