Jas flew into Chicago at the very end of June. My brother, mom, and I went down the night before, as the city is about a five-hour drive away. We waited in the airport for her for about three hours after her flight landed. It was such a long year of waiting, and these last few hours were hell. My brother grew weary standing with everyone else waiting for people to join them and settled on the tiled floor. When I finally heard from her, she said her checked suitcase was missing and that she came on her period and suffered crumpling cramps the entire journey. But quickly after the call, the doors finally opened with her on the other side.
I ran around the gate, my brother stood up, and my mom came over from the chair she refused to give up earlier. She smiled at me, a weathered and exhausted smile, but I’d been waiting for just that for almost a year now. I pulled her close and kissed her lips soft and quick after holding her still for a short hug. I towed her huge ass suitcase to the side out of the narrow passageway we were clogging, and my family came up to hug her too. The ride back to my home in Michigan was a long seven-hour journey due to traffic and construction, but I didn’t care. I finally got to look at her again. And I couldn’t stop.
When we came nearer to my house and the cities nearby, I could start to feel it. My stomach turned warm inside, and that heat ran up my body, settling in my chest and probably flushing my cheeks too. She was here. My dad greeted her as she stepped out of the car, and my sister would do the same when she returned from a trip with her boyfriend a week later. My dogs jumped and whined for her attention as she came through the doorway. She fit here, and she fit so instantly.
I finally got to show her my life, and the people in it. The thing getting me through the year—it was happening. She walked in my garden. She sat on my patio. She laid in my bed, sat at the dinner table, on a barstool, on the couch, on the front porch, in the car. She was everywhere I imagined her to be. She saw every person I knew. Finally, I felt okay.
My cousin immediately made plans to take us to the beach. Jas had never seen a lake before. (She will tell you that she has seen a lake before this, but I know the “lake” she’s talking about, and it’s really a glorified pond.) She was pretty mesmerized by this fairly basic beach and facetimed her parents while standing in the water. Kalie and her friends were also mesmerized over Jas seeing a real lake for the first time. And of course, the accent got to them too. Can’t say I blame them. After the beach, Jas had her first Dairy Queen blizzard and asked why they flipped the ice creams upside down before serving it to us.
My grandma threw a little cookout to welcome Jas here. Everyone adored Jas, just as I knew they would. They asked her questions, immediately welcomed her into the family, bought her gifts, and told me personally how much they loved her, and loved us. It really was as they say, too good to be true.
At some moments though, I did wonder, Are they going overboard with this? My sister’s boyfriend didn’t get quite the same welcome wagon, especially from our father. In a way, I somewhat questioned everyone’s motives. Are they overcompensating because we’re gay? Are they overcompensating because she’s British? Are they overcompensating because this is my first serious relationship and the only person I’ve ever brought home to meet my entire family?
I thought even more about it after the fact, after they packed the welcome wagon away, and after Jas left. I’m not too sure if I’ve reached a conclusion yet. But I do know that, had our situation been more traditional, things would have been different with my family. They wouldn’t have hated my partner, but they wouldn’t have been like this. Yet, with how things panned out—being a lesbian in a long distance relationship and all—it gave us some privileges with my family, ones that have not been given to my sister’s boyfriend, and probably won’t be given to anyone my brother brings home in the future.
Some guilt came sprinkled on top of these unwanted realizations, at first. But enough time has passed now for me to reconcile these feelings. Jas and I deal with a lot of obstacles on a day-to-day basis. The distance, the time gap, the mental illnesses. These are challenges that we have to face every single day that we are apart, and some when we are together. It was nice that this was not another obstacle. The ease at which Jas fit into my family was a long-awaited relief. And to be totally honest, it was the least the universe could do for us at this point.
Maybe you will say the selfish side of me won my internal battle. Because I don’t feel the guilt anymore.
A week after landing in the States, my family and I dragged Jasmin on her first-ever camping trip. We went to a place we’ve been camping every summer for years. We packed up our camper, our dogs, and drove five hours north to a place where you can see the milky way with the naked eye. Usually. This year, we spent six out of seven days in the rain, and my sister spent five of the seven days sick with a stomach bug. Needless to say, not our best year.
However, on our one good-weathered day, my dad, brother, Jas, and I took a trip to Mackinac Island. For all my non-Michiganders with us today, here is a quick synopsis of this little blob of land:
Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-in-awe) is a teeny island in Lake Huron. Fort Mackinac, a military ground settled by the British, situates itself at one of the highest points on the island, overlooking the coasts and the Great Lake. The island’s circumference is about eight miles. Mackinac is known for: biking, a huge ass beautiful rock, carriage rides, Mackinac Island Fudge, prank shops, a really expensive hotel, silly hats, and having absolutely no cars on the island at all apart from emergency vehicles only.
On the ferry, we all decided to take a bike ride around the whole island. Jas loves biking, and I had never biked on the island before, which is something both my brother and sister did on their fifth-grade field trips. She and I opted for a double-seated tandem bicycle.
If you’ve never ridden a tandem before, it’s pretty much as terrifying as it sounds. Especially when you’re the designated driver because some of us (Jasmin) refused to steer. I definitely almost crashed into several people; the bike was nearly impossible to slow down or stop within 30 feet or less. Once we got out of the clustered tourist area though, it wasn’t too bad. In fact, the eight miles whizzed by with two people working the wheels. Jas and I hardly felt winded at all by the end of it, but my dad and brother heaved up the last few hills, t-shirts slick with sweat.
After the ride, we went into some gift shops. When we walked into the first shop, Jas characteristically bought about sixty-dollars-worth of souvenirs. This included t-shirts for everyone in her family, an extra t-shirt for herself because SALE, and whatever else the cashier talked her into adding at the checkout. I walked out with a new baseball cap. And then, of course, we bought loads of fudge.
After being home for some time, we took a trip with my mom to St. Louis, Missouri. A good friend of my mom’s lived in the area, and I really wanted Jas to see the Gateway Arch. Plus, the daughter was gay, and us homos love crossing borders to congregate. (Three gays counts as a congregation, right?)
I’ve been to St. Louis once before, but this time was even better. Something about experiencing things with Jas; everything is better with her by my side. I felt parts of the real me coming back. Something about her made me almost fearless, almost a risk-taker, almost spontaneous. When we’re together, it’s like I’m getting closer and closer to the person I want to be. I don’t know how she does it, but it makes me fall for her more.
Perhaps though, we took a little too many risks, because we cut the time for our Gateway Arch liftoff a little too short, and actually missed it. We waited around about an hour to catch an open time slot. Then, we jumped into our pod and rode the 630 feet to the top of the tallest manmade monument in the entire western hemisphere. We peered out the window slits along both sides of the arch, cramming our faces against the glass anytime someone moved away from a window. The city glowed at nighttime. We could make out the Mississippi River only by its blackness in comparison to the lights.
The city veins stretched across the river, across the state border to Illinois, across all the visible land laid out before us and slammed into the horizon. The same horizon covered by trees from my bedroom window. Most of the time, this horizon, this stretch from me to there, is the bane of my existence. It extends the thousands of miles that I always long to cross, unraveling completely at ease. I try not to look at it, if I can help it. But tonight, with Jas next to me, crammed so tightly in the small space, cheek-to-cheek, I stared into the horizon in one long, still moment. Tonight, it couldn’t mock me.
One of the days we went out to the City Museum, which was really a huge indoor playground for kids and adults alike. My childlike heart could’ve spent the entire weekend in this 13-floor collection of slides, ladders, crevices, climbing walls, ramps, and glow-in-the-dark hideaways. Not to mention the Ferris wheel on the roof or the ten story slide taking you back to the entrance.
It was a hot summer day, and Jas tied the plaid flannel she left the house in around her waist when we got outside to the roof. The father of the family we stayed with said something to Jas like, did something happen when you were here? And my heart thumped loud and thunderous, the sound physically beating in my ears.
She folded her arms in, looking away from him.
No, my mom said to him.
I only stared at him.
Before jumping over to Jas, whisking her up the nearest steps, and telling them we were going for some slides. When we got to the top, she put the flannel back over her arms. I can’t believe that happened. I touched her face, apologizing on the behalf of someone else. Someone else’s what? Curiosity? Ignorance? Blatant assholery? I hugged her for a moment, apologizing again. This time for being so completely taken aback to even get a word out of my mouth. But I didn’t tell her that I was ashamed at myself for being frozen like that. I said, let’s do these slides, okay? I said, you don’t have to hide, okay? I said, I am not ashamed of you, okay? She said okay. But she kept the flannel on until our car ride out of St. Louis.