I started writing a book about a million years ago. When I tried to get it published and it was not immediately swept up by a national publisher, I lost confidence and put it on the shelf. That was eleven years ago. This is my attempt at dusting off the manuscript, and beginning to try to put my stories out there, even if they are in little bits, rather than the book I envision. I'm not giving up on the book---it will happen someday. Interestingly, I never feel nervous about a face book or blog post---I'm a pretty open person, but I have butterflies in my stomach as I put this chapter out there. Enjoy, and feel free to give me some feedback. I envision putting about 10 of these chapters together into a book someday, hopefully soon.
Climbing the Tower
William and I have decided to climb a TV tower. It’s something we’ve talked about doing for several weeks and for whatever reason, we have decided tonight is the night. The tower sits at the top of a big hill, right down the road from our apartments. Usually, people climb this hill for exercise but William pointed out that if you climb a little higher, there’s actually a tower at the very top. He had been curious about it and thought it would be fun to climb sometime. I told him I was game and as I now leave my apartment to meet him, I feel incredibly excited.
Up until tonight I have had doubts about whether William could be truly interested in me. At one point in my life, I would have attributed his possible lack of interest to my own inadequacies. Now, though, my insecurity has more to do with all our differences. After all, he is a quiet, dignified Chinese man and I am an outspoken, American woman who just happens to be his boss.
There have been moments when I have been almost positive he sees more in me, though. The way his eyes seem to look right through me and how a smile always begins to emerge when my eyes meet his. He cannot walk into my office and say anything without smiling and I can’t help but smile back. We could be talking about a student’s assignment or paperwork or any other mundane thing, yet we both have these gigantic grins on our faces whenever we speak.
We see each other and he waves. I wave back and it occurs to me that I have never seen him looking so handsome---which is saying something, because I always think he’s extremely good looking. His white shirt is un-tucked and he is wearing khakis and tennis shoes. I have only seen him in formal slacks, and dress shirts, and he always wears formal blackshoes. He looks so casual and sort of rugged, and I suddenly have the overwhelming urge to kiss him right now and scream to the stars: “I love you William!!” but instead I say “hi”.
We start walking toward the steps leading up the mountain, both of us obviously nervous. We have spent so much time together lately but this feels different. This is the first time there isn’t much of an excuse to do so. We are doing something together because we are interested in each other. I want to spend time with him and he wants to spend time with me, simple as that.
As we climb up the mountain together, it is as if we are climbing into another dimension. With every step we take we are one step further away from the walls of the community in which we live. We seem to leave behind our labels, our categories, our worries. He is no longer Chinese. I am no longer American. I am no longer his boss. There is nothing physical or material to define us because those are not the things that drew us to each other in the first place. Sure, we obviously seem to be attracted to each other but there is more than that, and suddenly I can feel it. There is this unspoken goal of getting to the top of the mountain and looking at each other in a way we’ve never done before. We want to see each other outside of familiar and distracting contexts. It is as if we have known for forever that we are to be together but we need to get away from it all and say so.
Truthfully, as I left my apartment tonight I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it would be a night to remember. As we sneak by the guard toward the tower, William touches my back. He leads me toward the ladder. “Ladies first”, he says. I begin to climb the ladder and he starts climbing behind me. Up we go. When we get to the top of this ladder, we take a few steps and find another one. There are a total of three ladders and each step I take makes me happier and more exhilarated. Granted, it isn’t truly dangerous but it is just risky enough, and surreal enough to feel like nothing short of magic. After all, here we are, at 9:30 on a Thursday night sneaking up the TV tower in a posh community in the People’s Republic of China.
When we finally get to the top I am drenched in sweat. I feel self-conscious and thank God for giving a cool breeze, which helps me to resemble a normal person again. The top of the tower is small, no more than 8 feet in diameter but the view is more than I’d imagined. We stand for a few minutes while catching our breath, looking out at the estates and the stores. In one direction we point out our school, the grocery store, the tennis courts. Behind us, though, is what I refer to as the “real” China. Housing for the workers—temporary shacks that look like a small breeze would destroy them. Further on there are rice fields and open space. Another world.
We stand for a while feeling a little nervous and finally we began to talk. The conversation goes on forever and yet goes by too quickly. We talk openly and honestly. We are sharing everything--unfulfilled dreams and regret, as well as hopes and ideas for the future. We talk about our families and our responsibilities toward them and the love we have for them. We talk about the past and the future and as he talks to me, there is some kind of transformation that takes place. I suddenly can see everything.
I can see our pasts and our futures and I can see them intertwined. I know that as a child I lived in America and he lived in China but I can see us together. All of a sudden I am aware that when I was ten years old and Jake Marley was taunting me on the playground, William was there. When I was in high school, thinking there must be more to life than cheerleading, Friday night dances, and superficial boys, William was there telling me there was definitely more. When I couldn’t sleep due to anger at things that had hurt me, or a society that wasn’t fair, or a dying Father, or a struggling Mother, William was there singing me to sleep. When I forgot about the beauty of life, William told me to wait, there might be a reason to hold on. When I accepted a job in China and then promptly wondered what on earth I was thinking, William was there to assure me it was the right thing to do.
I didn’t know his name was William and I didn’t know that the encouragement I’d gotten my whole life was tied to him. But at this moment, as I stand here listening to this man, something in his voice and in his eyes and in the way he carries himself tells me I know him. I see his past and I really see him. I see our future and our children and grandchildren. I see a life together and it is as real as anything I have ever known. He belongs to me and I don’t know if he knows that. I am not sure if he knows that I belong to him, but suddenly I hope more than anything that he does know it and that he recognizes me. I recognize him. There is no doubt about it. I know this man before me and I pray to God that he knows me too.
He tells me that he came to Guangzhou from his hometown in the hopes of finding a good job. He didn’t want to teach English but there were no positions available in the business fields he was interested in. “When I came to Guangzhou I got confused.” He says this as though he is still trying to figure it out. He came in search of any job other than teaching English and he ends up doing just what he didn’t want to do. Something about what he has just said makes me love him. There is something in his honesty and humility, as if he is saying it to the stars and admitting that he is still confused about how he ended up here. Even after he had the interview at my school, he wasn’t sure he’d stay in Guangzhou. He did though. As he looks straight ahead seemingly still thinking about why he became confused when he came to Guangzhou, I want to say something kind of bold. I don’t know how he’ll react but I suddenly realize that I mean what I’m about to say and I have to say it aloud.
“Maybe you came here for a reason.”
He smiles. He smiles a big, genuine smile as if he already knows this and is glad I have caught on. He looks down as if to gather courage and says, “Maybe now I have a reason to stay.”
We both smile…a lot. Where does this go now? What have we just said to each other? He answers before I can ask. “Do you know what I’m thinking right now?”
“No, what?” I ask.
He takes a big breath and says: “I love you.” His smile becomes even bigger. He stands up taller and says it again, as if to be sure I have heard him: “I love you.”
For me the world and more specifically the tower is spinning. I am so glad he said it twice because if he hadn’t, I might not have believed it. I cannot find words. I just stare at him as he wears this gigantic smile that seems to get bigger and brighter with every second that passes.
“William,” I begin, “I…I’m so happy you told me that because…because I feel the same way. I love you too.”
I didn’t know if that was adequate. I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t believe any of this was happening but it was. He looked at me and said: “May I embrace you?” Months later, we both had to laugh at that. His English was good, maybe too good, as he hadn’t thought to use the more informal “hold” or even “hug”. Nevertheless, I said “okay” and he did in fact embrace me.
Then, he turned me around, gently pushed the hair out of my face and said less formally this time: “Kiss you?” and then he did. And nothing has been the same since.