Chloe: Chapter 1: Match.com on Steroids Chloe CHAPTER 1 MATCH.COM ON STEROIDS
Almost everyone is nervous introducing their boyfriend to their parents for the first time, but I was about to pee my sweat-soaked undies because, well, I hadn’t met him yet either.
Since he already knew my life story (at least the parts that mattered), it was “highly recommended” we not meet before the “assignment” to minimize confusion. Which meant my Uber picked me up from the airport and picked him up a block away from the destination, i.e., my parents’ house. Thanks, George, Toyota Camry, for earning your five-star rating by not asking us what the bejesus was going on.
As we waited on my parents’ stoop and the doorbell echoed through my feng-shuied three-bedroom, three-bathroom childhood home, I couldn’t bring myself to look at him. I was sure he was trained to keep the judgment out of his eyes, especially because I was the hand that was feeding him, but maybe the real problem here was that, between the two of us, he wasn’t the one judging me.
My parents flung the door open and exclaimed, “Jing-Jing!” before wrapping me in hugs.
Over my father’s shoulder, my gaze flicked to my “boyfriend” instinctively, to try to explain with my eyes that I had two names. But then I remembered I had only given the company (and thus him) my Chinese name, which was usually only heard between the embroidered wall scrolls of this house. My decision to list my legal but seldom-used name had been strategic in nature: to put it eloquently, I knew my parents would lap that shit up. It had to be true love if he was the first person outside our little Chinese community I’d told my real name to, right?
I’d dubbed myself Chloe in second grade after the hundredth joke about Jing-Jing sounding more like a song than a name. On a whim I’d started telling everyone to call me Chloe, after the universally loved golden retriever in my neighborhood. I think I had unconsciously hoped that there was some secret sauce in the name and that adopting it would make people like me more—which, sadly, worked. Soon it became who I was, more so than Jing-Jing. But the first and last time I had a friend over and she called me Chloe in front of my parents, my mom choked on her soy milk and my dad swallowed a tea egg whole. From then on, I kept my two worlds apart.
With the confidence of an Asian American who is used to lying to her dragon parents—the ones who named me Jing so I would shine in everything I do—I said, “Mamá, Babá, this is Andrew.” Shit. Had I remembered his name correctly? Not that it mattered: his “correct” name probably wasn’t his real name anyway, so Andrew Shamdrew, po-tay-to po-tah-to, right?
My dentist parents examined now-Andrew up and down like he was a mystery specimen under their loupes. I had to hold back a laugh. In some ways, Andrew wasn’t hiding anything, and in other ways, Insert Name Here was hiding everything.
“Ayí, Shushú hao,” he greeted my parents, calling them the polite and more-than-appropriate “Auntie” and “Uncle,” which usually made me pause because the direct translation didn’t make sense to my Americanized ears. You can’t mix cultures that way,
my mother always scolded.
It took me a moment to notice that Andrew’s perfect Mandarin had been spoken with a Taipei accent. Damn, this company was good, like Match.com
on steroids, except they were matching him to my parents, not me.
Andrew smiled a healthy, toothy grin that made my parents’ eyebrows shoot up in pleasant surprise. I wondered whether the company had paid for those sparkling, just-Cavitroned pearly whites.
“Aiyah, you have great oral hygiene,” my dad said, which, okay, if it was that easy, why did I have to pay a make-your-nose-and-gums-bleed amount to rent Andrew today? Good aiyahs weren’t easy to come by, but I guess anything teeth-related was a shortcut.
My mom’s eyes darted to the UChicago crest on Andrew’s zip-up sweater. That nontrivial detail had been my choice, and I still so clearly remembered checking—or I should say, clicking—the UChicago box after scrolling past Stanford, MIT, Yale, Princeton, and, of course, Harvard. I could’ve earned extra mooncake points (my parents would never eat brownies) for Harvard, but it had made the most sense to have “met” Andrew at school. UChicago wasn’t the college my parents had wanted me to attend at first, but they had since come around after it became higher ranked than “most prestigious” Stanford down the street from us.
“Qing jìn. Qing jìn,” my mother said as she ushered us in with over-the-top manners. With guests, she only had two extremes: so polite it was fake or so honest you wished she’d lie. I was grateful it was the first one. For now,
my brain warned.
With a dip of his head, Andrew handed her the box of mooncakes he’d brought. God, was this in his training? Or had he grown up like me, in a traditional, we-stick-acupuncture-needles-in-our-faces-when-we-feel-bad household? I wondered if he also intimately knew the smell of Salonpas, the pungency of which made me simultaneously want to hurl and hug my parents—which, coincidentally, was a pretty accurate summary of my entire relationship with them.
Except… it didn’t matter whether Andrew knew the stink of Chinese herbal medicine and how it sank its bitter claws into everything in the laundry. Because he wasn’t actually my boyfriend.
My father ushered us to the dining room table, which, to my surprise, flaunted a crispy, golden-brown turkey in the middle. It was just sitting there lazily, as if there had been one every year instead of the zhàjiàng noodles, dumplings, and stir-fried hollow-heart vegetables, which now took a side seat but of course were still present—because how could you not have any Chinese food on Thanksgiving?
I briefly wondered what Andrew’s Thanksgivings were like—did his family also eat Chinese food? Did he know the veggies were called kong xin cài?—before I snapped out of it and realized my parents were looking at us expectantly, eyes hungry but not for food.
Game. On. All I had to do was convince my parents that Andrew was the love of my life and theirs. Piece of (moon)cake, right?