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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Near Marriage - January and February 1991

About a month before the end of the Gulf War in January 1991, I joined an Asian dating agency. Chiho and I had broken up just a few months before, and just after my 19th birthday. In my mind, it was important to get out and meet new prospective dates, if I was ever going to be able to get over her.  My attraction to Chiho was not an anomaly – years of growing up in Hong Kong had contributed to me developing a strong attraction to Asian facial features. For me, the face was always the most important physical characteristic in a person followed by their figure. My attraction at that time was for the most part, to the Asian facial features. Therefore,  if I was going to join a dating agency, it made sense to me that it should be an Asian one. It turned out to be primarily Filipino, and was run by two Filipino women.

I went down to some second floor office at a non-descript building on West Broadway Ave in Vancouver  to apply for membership to this agency. After handing over the $325 joining fee that I raised by selling some of my stamps, I completed a questionnaire about my dating preferences and then one of the women, Rosa interviewed me. She then made three recommendations for prospective dates and proceeded to set up the dates for me. I went on two dates and in both cases, the women involved told me that they had no interest in pursuing things further with me. Naturally, I felt that this was the fault of the agency for setting me up with incompatible dates. My, oh my, how naïve I was – to actually think that these outfits actually did any real screening and matching! This was yet another example of my Asperger’s induced naivete. So I went back and spoke to Rosa, who was visibly annoyed with me. After much discussion, she came back with two more prospects: Perla and Ronalyn.

Perla was a very short and slender Filipina woman who lived up on Main and 22nd, which at the time was a somewhat seedy part of the city. She was all of about 4’10 or maybe 5’, but she was sweet and easy to talk to. We went on several dates and talked on the phone for hours. She really seemed to like me and after having encountered so much rejection to that point, I was hooked. I never really stopped to think about why it was this easy. There were some indications though, that all was not what it seemed even early on. There was this one time, I think it was our third or fourth date, where she would not hold my hand in public because as she put it “People talk and they will see me”. But then when we got into a movie theatre to watch a movie she literally put her hand in my pants and told me that she was “feeling heat”. Talk about a mind fuck.  I knew it wasn’t quite right, but I just couldn’t get away.

After about 2 weeks of dating, she began to invite me into her place, where I was to meet her family -  her sisters, her uncle and other relatives. I would sit and sip tea and chat sometimes for hours. Little did I know that what was really happening was that I was being sized up – evaluated for my suitability as a husband for this girl. Then in the third week of dating we all went out dancing together and to another event together, which was odd to me, because Perla and I were not alone together that week. Then after another week Perla called me and told me to come over because her uncle wanted to talk to me. I got to the house and was told to wait in the living room for her uncle. I should mention at this point, that the entire family lived in a basement suite that had five and a half foot ceilings, so you had to stoop over to avoid banging your head. The rooms were criss-crossed by clothing lines that had clothes hanging up to dry as well. Finally,  there were futon mattresses strewn on the floor in the main living area in front of the TV. So most of the time, when I was asked to wait, I waited on one of these mattresses. This time I waited for about 20 min and then her uncle finally appeared and motioned me over to a small table where he sat and poured himself a drink. He looked at me seriously.

Uncle:  “Chris, I can tell that you are a responsible man. I’ve watched you and how you are with Perla. I am concerned about what your intentions are though. Perla is a nice girl who can have any guy she wants. But she is also naïve and needs to be with someone who can protect her and defend her honour. Do you understand what I am saying?”

Me: ”Yes, I think so.”

Uncle:  “I know you and her have a thing for each other – she tells me everything. Now it’s ok. Don’t worry. I don’t mind, as long as you do right by her. I think that the time has come for you to ask her to marry you. You do want to do the right thing don’t you? Be a real man rather than a boy?”
These were potent words. I did want to do the right thing. But the problem was that I didn’t know what that was. I barely knew this girl, and while she seemed sweet when she wanted to be, I wasn’t sure if she really liked me for me. But what this man was saying had so much power over me I found myself almost in a trance, agreeing with him and saying that I would marry her in a month’s time.  I left the house feeling a mixture of excitement at finally not having to live alone and worry over what my life with Perla would be like. I remember being out at the Mountain Shadow pub in Burnaby on their Karaoke night and calling Chiho to tell her I would be getting married (she and I were still talking as friends). Chiho of course was concerned, but I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I then called Mom to tell her after I went home. Mom was really, really against the idea and told me that I wasn’t allowed to do it, which really made me mad – my parents still trying to control me from Hong Kong! Never mind the fact that I was so lost and pathetic at this point that I really did need to be controlled. So I did what all defiant 19 year olds do: I told my mom that I was going to marry her and that was that. She hung up on me she was so angry.

A couple of more weeks went by, with me seeing very little of Perla, which was odd. Every time I called her she was either too busy with work, or she had prior arrangements to see some other guy who she assured me was just a friend. When I objected to this she asked me if I was always going to be this jealous after we were married. I felt bad, so I sheepishly said “no”. It was pathetic really. Then finally, and I remember this day very clearly, because the U.S had announced that victory over Iraq was at hand and it was all over the newspapers that morning, she told me to come over and meet her at her place. It was a cold, rainy Sunday morning. I headed on the bus up to Main and 22nd and got off. I went over to her place, descended the steps to her basement suite and knocked on the door. One of her cousins answered and ushered me in to the living room. I took a seat and waited. Finally, Perla appeared and seemed really off. She didn’t sit next to me, nor did she hold my hand, or hug me – none of the things you would expect from someone you were about to marry. I asked her what was wrong. She told me that her uncle had “grounded” her. I asked her why and was completely unprepared for what was to follow.

She explained that she had not come home until 5:30 am. She had apparently been out with that other guy on a strictly platonic date. They had been out late, past her 11pm curfew and he had apparently driven her home and stopped right outside the house. She didn’t want to wake anyone in the house up. So rather than do that by knocking at the door, she simply had this guy park the car right in front of the house and went to sleep in the car. “Nothing happened” she said. And then, just for the briefest of seconds, a micro-expression  flashed across her face. You know the kind that flashes across someone’s face when they are lying. It’s impossible to describe, and if you aren’t paying attention, you will miss it because it comes and goes in a flash. However, once you know it, and you see it, it is impossible to miss. In the space of about 30 seconds, I went from concerned, to realizing just how much of a fool I’d been played for. I calmly got up and told her that I didn’t believe her and the wedding was off. I added that I never wanted to see her again. There was a single tear down her cheek, but underneath the feined look of sadness was a sneer. I’ll never forget that look. She just looked up and said. “I never loved you. Goodbye”. And that was that. I left and didn’t look back.

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