It was time for my inner-city girl, wannabe journalist self to roam free. When she asked where he grew up, I said France, quickly choosing to edit out the part about Africa. I told her my relationship with Quinn was off and on. He graduated and found a sought-after desk job crunching numbers and salivating over spreadsheets.
After my fair share of empty make-out sessions on the weekends, I started fully embracing singlehood without much concern over finding a boyfriend. He cooked African cuisine and introduced me to plantains for dessert. Throughout my relationship with Qinisela, I lied by omission (the worst kind of lying, in my opinion) every time his name came up in conversation with my parents. I was running my student magazine, planning photo shoots and designing advertisements.
He extended a hand and introduced himself as Quinn. Quinn wore cowboy boots, dressy slacks that were too big for him and a fitted T-shirt with ugly swirl designs on it. The next day, he took me on my first grown-up date. The desire to please my parents suddenly became secondary to my desire to tell the truth. “Quinn is black.” The jaw of my strong-willed, outspoken Italian mother dropped. After a few months I moved out of my parents’ house and into a row home in South Philly to begin my journalism career. She roared with laughter, thanking me for being upfront. As I dangled the keys of my new house in my hands, I explained that I didn’t really click with the guy.
We danced a few more songs and spent the rest of the night flirting. He goes by the American version because he thinks it’s easier for new people to pronounce. Our night ended at a diner with mirrored walls and bright lights. Silence filled our picture-perfect, antique-inspired living room. I started my postgraduate life much like my undergrad one — as a single woman with no dating prospects. I called my mom to tell her I had forgotten a few of my belongings at home. I broke the news that my new romantic prospect was Republication, knowing that wouldn’t sit right with my blue-collar Democrat family. She offered to deliver the last of my stuff the following day. I kissed my parents on their cheeks, saying goodbye.
He was born in Mali, Africa and grew up in Paris, France. Under them I could see the muscular definition in Qinisela’s arms and better inspect his sexy skin that was the color of my parent’s fears. My mom threw her hands up in a bewildered, flabbergasted fashion. I said that if my boyfriend had been white, I wouldn’t have needed to tell her. As they left, my dad put his light, fair-skinned arm around my mom’s deep olive-toned shoulder.
I was saying goodbye to my mom and dad as I watched them raise their eyebrows at the mob of diverse freshman unloading their college supplies. Knowing the dynamics of the word “home” were about to change, I let a nervous giggle escape without unleashing my usual well-meaning but uniformed 18-year-old ideas about racial injustice.
“Don’t come home with a black boyfriend,” my dad said in a raspy whisper as he pointed one finger unintentionally at my heart and gestured towards my co-ed dorm. A perpetual comedian, my dad’s parting words were not unlike his jokester self.
I could see the muscular definition in Qinisela’s arms and better inspect his sexy skin that was the color of my parent’s fears. But like every daughter of an Irishman knows, there’s a bit of truth to every sarcastic remark. They were everywhere — complimenting my dress on the street, asking to borrow a pen in class, and filling my beer at parties. But I drifted to anyone who was different from what I was used to.Between water refills and a shared plate of quesadillas, we realized we had nothing in common. Throughout my time in North Philly, my dad’s harsh command never came up. I don’t believe my parents are racist, but they’re uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. It was time for my undergraduate liberal education to put me in a cultural blender and press puree on everything I thought I knew about religion, feminism, and race. The first involved age — no going on dates until I turned 16.The second was about sex — no boys allowed in my bedroom. The only boys that ever saw where I slept were glossy ones I duct-taped to my bedroom walls from magazine cutouts. So did a third (and final) parental limitation on dating.It was freshman move-in day at my large urban university in North Philadelphia.My family had just finished lugging plastic bins of backup paper towels, picture frames with faces I would replace and an extra fluffy mattress pad. I held my breath and shook my head, saying nothing.