Happy Wednesday! Here is the latest part of the “How I Met My Girlfriend” series! Links to previous parts: Prologue | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10.
As this title suggests, Jas and I go to New York! But first, we took a couple of in-state trips.
In July, my friend and film partner, Liz, sent an email explaining that a short documentary we worked on together was accepted by the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA). The showing date was in early August, and the UICA provided free tickets to its Open Project Night for all filmmakers and their “plus ones.” For the first time in my life, I had a plus one ready to attend.
Jas and I traveled to Grand Rapids for a week to go to this event, to visit friends I had in the area, and to give her a grand tour of my old college campus at Grand Valley. We first visited my college best friend, Tessa. She took us to a beach in Saugatuck, where Jas looked at Lake Michigan for the first time.
This can’t be a lake? She said to me.
It’s a lake!
There’s no salt?
Where is the other side?
Wisconsin, I think.
And she loved how sandy our beaches were; most of the English beaches by the seaside are filled with rocks and pebbles. The waves on Lake Michigan crashed into the shoreline violent and angry that day, and the beach issued warnings to not wade far into the water because of them. Jas—terrified of water—clung to me as we in walked knee-deep. She screeched when every wave knocked into us and laughed every time it receded. The water was freezing, even on this scorching day.
We met Liz a later day at the college campus. Liz and Tessa are cute-ass wlw friends I’ve made while attending GVSU. Both of them have been by my side through some gay-related panics and especially during Trump’s election. They’ve also been really supportive of my relationship with Jas when I talked about her (which can get annoying because of how frequently I do so). Having my friends meet Jas and spend time with her made our situation feel more valid in some ways. Like she wasn’t just part of this hypothetical to them anymore. She was real. She was a person. And she was very much a part of my life.
Attending the Open Projector Night at UICA magnified this feeling. Jas has to miss a lot of important events like this. Like my graduation ceremony, my birthday, my sister’s open house, my panel presentation. Lots of things that your partner would attend if they could.
The woman at the check-in asked for my name. Is this your plus one? She said.
My sister and mom came to support me and paid for their tickets after we checked in. We found some seats and settled in to watch about an hour’s worth of short films. The film I worked on, Filling in the Gaps, is a short documentary about refugees resettling in West Michigan; it’s a project that I put the most energy, effort, and time into while I was at school. And now here I was, celebrating that documentary’s success with Jasmin beside me. Things were exactly as they should be.
I stood onstage afterward with Liz, our co-filmmaker, Elizabeth, and the other filmmakers of the night, introducing ourselves to the audience, answering their questions about the film, and engaging with people who loved our content. The whole experience felt so adultlike and professional. And after the Q&A, that mood kept growing.
I spotted some friends from my writing courses who’d told me they would be coming to see my film. I walked over to them as Jas joined me from her seat in the audience. I introduced them to Jas. This is my girlfriend, Jasmin. They both already knew about Jas. At this point, they might’ve already read some stories I’ve written about her before. I recognize her from the pictures, one of them said. I put my arm around Jas and smiled at her.
In the lobby, Elizabeth asked her boyfriend to take a picture of the three of us who worked on the film. She introduced us to him. After I shook his hand I said, This is my girlfriend, Jasmin. They exchanged hellos and her boyfriend took a picture. Other film classmates I happened to run into there? Hi. This is my girlfriend, Jasmin.
I really just couldn’t say it enough. The way it sounded felt so right in my mouth. Like the words existed and became arranged in this particular order just for me to say it. This is my girlfriend, Jasmin. It felt so natural, so whole, so domestic. Something that I knew would happen at some point, but now I was finally doing it. Like listening to a new album of an artist you loved, but more special than that. Something magical twined in. Like fate was settling into the drumbeat. Settling into your heartbeat. Tingling on your lips when you smile. When she smiles. This is my girlfriend, Jasmin.
After Grand Rapids, my long-time best friend from high school, Tara, took us to Detroit for the day. Not having spent that much time in Detroit myself, Tara proved a much better guide. (Even though we all struggled to navigate the godforsaken streets—Siri included.) Apart from my sister, Tara was the first person I talked to about Jas. And even though they’ve talked to each other a few times too, having them meet was incredibly special. Tara absolutely adored her.
I could feel how happy Tara was for us in small little things. The knowing looks she gave me when Jas wasn’t paying attention. The jut in her bottom lip any time Jas held my hand. The way she let us get lost in Michigan’s largest used bookstore. The smiles she gave me when she caught me taking candids of Jas. Having Tara see how happy I was, and to see this reflected back at me, this was just as validating as the night at the UICA.
Jas and I spend so much of our time craving a sense of normalcy with our relationship, and Tara gave us that gift when we spent time with her. Feeling this genuinely made me cry. It still does sometimes. Taking Jas to the UICA premiere, spending the weekend with Tara; these things are part of that life we envision having together. Most of the time, we just want to have a normal life like this.
Other times, we decide to book a trip to New York only one week in advance. (((Despite the fact that we were both running out of money and one of us (me) had upcoming student loans to pay back and no job yet secured. We do not recommend this.)))
Although the trip to NYC was a complete whirlwind of joy, we ran into two major bumps. Normally I only talk about gay-related stuff in this blog, and this is kind of a tangent, but it’s worth the detour. In my small town of almost exclusively white people, I’ve never come across many racially-charged situations. And even though I literally made a film about refugees and discussed topics related to racism, accusing POCs of terrorism, and deportation, I’ve never really experienced situations like that first-hand. Until New York.
Jas and I took a Greyhound bus from Detroit to NYC, making stops in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey before reaching our destination. On the way there, our bus rolled into a station in Cleveland, Ohio, where a group of ICE officers waited outside the bus. When we stopped, two officers boarded the Greyhound. My heart pounded as they walked toward the back. Though I had no reason to be afraid, I could feel my heartbeat all over my body and sweat dewed up with every other inhale.
The officers walked to a Middle-Eastern family at the back of the bus, asking for their travel documents. After several minutes ticked by, they asked the same of a man in his twenties sitting across the aisle from us, also Middle-Eastern. I knew Jas had her passport on her, stamped with the date she was allowed to stay. She still had plenty of time. But the sweat kept building up and my heartbeats quickened as the officer waited for the man across the aisle to find his documents. He turned to us next.
How are you ladies today?
Good, how are you? Jas said, her accent as obvious as the color of her milky skin.
Good, thanks. And the officers carried on to the front of the bus.
In a similar situation, Jas and I waited to purchase ferry tickets to see the Statue of Liberty. The woman at the ticket window demanded to see the passport of the Middle-Eastern man she was serving. He didn’t have it on him. The man yelled across the courtyard for his wife, explaining he needed his passport. The wife dragged her and their three kids and spent over five minutes shuffling through their bags trying to find passports. Finally, the wife found them and handed them over to the woman, and she issued the family ferry tickets. When Jas asked for two ferry tickets, the woman at the window did not ask for her passport.
Both times I wanted to say something. Maybe just ask the question, “Why are you asking them for this?” Or some other casual way to step in. I should’ve. My skin color gives me that kind of privilege and responsibility. Yet both times, I fell silent. Too much fear of what could’ve happened to our trip—or even Jas—if something went wrong, kept me frozen. Although unlikely, the possibility of such planted too much fear. I vowed to myself, never again. Next time, I speak.
For our four-night trip, Jas and I bought city passes for three days. The passes allowed us to visit just about every tourist stop in New York—Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Radio City Music Hall, Statue of Liberty ferries, Central Park tours, Coney Island, and plenty of museums. The catch was, you had to cram as many attractions into the three days as possible. As you could imagine, this was the most exhausting vacation of my life. But we loved every second.
Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building were similar experiences to being at the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Physically being in an entirely different perspective than usual puts your mind there too. Overlooking a city crawling with eight and a half million people feels like fate showing herself. Like she’s saying, look at all these people. I could see cars stocked up on the street where the streets are wide enough for the skyscraper crevices to be this visible. She’s saying, there are eight million people, just in this city. There was an ocean on the horizon, and, if I squinted, I could see the Statue of Liberty perched on a fleck of land, lighting a path for the rest of the world. She’s saying, you already found your person though. Jas and I kissed on rooftops, and it wasn’t the first time I knew that finding Jas had been more than chance.
We rented bikes for Central Park, which was the most stressful part of the trip. We had a late start to the day for one, which automatically panicked me. We planned to see the Bethesda Fountain in the park—the same iconic statue used in plenty of films and TV shows, but for us, Doctor Who was the winning ticket. Jas also wanted to see the monument dedicated to John Lennon. (Another true British stereotype—they all love The Beatles.) The whole park expedition was supposed to be an in-and-out deal. However, the park is a lot bigger than expected. We got lost. Instead of our speedy plan, we biked the entire six-mile circuit. And being on two separate bikes rather than our trusty tandem from Mackinac, that loop sure did wind us. We pulled over to look at a map at one point, and both of our sweaty and lost selves almost shed some tears before we pulled ourselves together for the home stretch.
We packed sandwiches and wraps for lunch almost every day. We called it being economical, but really when you’re blowing this much money on five-day vacation anyway, what difference are a few meals going to make? So, we had a few good food splurges. Jas and I had every intention of spending over $10 on a rainbow bagel featured in a Facebook video that we couldn’t stop drooling over. There have been zero regrets. That was the absolute best bagel I have ever had in my entire life. Although, afterward our shit was green for like, three days. So correction: there was one regret.
For a cute date night, we had dinner at a hipster mac and cheese place with mismatched chairs and mason jars for flower vases. They baked custom mac and cheeses with your meat and veggie choice and served it in an iron skillet. For dessert, Jas and I went to a cookie dough confections place that served over a dozen different cookie dough flavors like it was ice cream. My brownie batter flavor was so rich I was eating it for the rest of our stay in the city.
On my favorite day in NYC, we spent the evening at Coney Island. Our city passes granted us wristbands at Luna Park, and the sun sank below the ocean as we held hands on carnival rides. Lights glowed on her face, through laughs and smiles and some screams. Somehow, I convinced her to join me on the carnival swings that rose way above the park and spun fast enough to fling the swing sideways. She gripped her eyes closed almost as tight as she held my hand.
We took a ride on Deno’s Wonder Wheel. It’s a huge Ferris wheel in the middle of the park, but some of the carriages on the wheel move as the wheel turns. When your carriage reaches a certain position in the wheel, it rolls forward on a track suspended above you. It gives the illusion that your carriage is going to fling itself off the wonder wheel. It then does this again, but backward.
Jas and I decided ahead of time that we wanted to live dangerously and go for the thrill ride. Exactly no one else was in line for the moving carriages, and we boarded the wheel immediately. After planting my feet tense against the steel floor, and squeezing Jas’ hand numb on the fling forward and back, we exhaled together, practically panting from the adrenaline. When our carriage reached the bottom, we prepared to get out, but the workers did not approach the door, and the wheel kept turning. Maybe if we knew the ride dealt out two rotations, we would’ve opted for a stationary carriage.
At the top of the second turn, fireworks cracked streaks of red over the beach and rained golden glitter as it faded away above the sand. From here, the horizon was as gaping and open as ever. Maybe this is as close to the other side of the world as I’ve ever been from my own country. It didn’t matter right now, with Jas so close we were hip-to-hip and hand-in-hand. But only a few more weeks would pass before the east horizon became my enemy again. Beautiful, cold, and unforgiving.